Don’t use the word "jazzy" when describing Because I Want To, the new album by rising Denver singer Wellington Bullings.
Yes, she loves jazz. Yes, back in the ’90s, when she was thirteen years old, she came across a Billie Holiday record at a garage sale, gave it a spin and decided to start singing jazz. And yes, she went to Berklee College of Music, where she studied jazz.
But the term “jazzy” is generic, she says. It’s insulting. It connotes musical theater — which she studied at Tara Performing Arts High School in Boulder — more than depth, and Bullings is after depth.
And on Because I Want To, which drops July 16, she delivers.
Boasting an enviable voice and a mastery of melody, dynamics and tone, Bullings is not beholden to pop trends, and while she spent several years entertaining crowds with jazz standards at clubs like Dazzle, Nocturne and the Soiled Dove, she’s untethered herself from that canon to do her own thing. It hasn't been easy: She suffers from a toxic perfectionism and a need to listen to voices other than her own, even when they’re not helping her creatively.
“As an artist, I’ve gone through the process of not feeling like my work was good enough to put out,” she explains. “In the industry, there are so many different opinions and standards about what is good and what is commercial. I struggled to own my sound, because I doubted myself. People would say, 'It’s too jazz' or 'It’s not commercial enough' or 'It's not pop enough.' I got to a point where I was like, 'This is the music I want to make.'”
Growing up on Sugarloaf Road, in the hinterlands of Boulder near Nederland, Bullings was part of a music-loving family. Her father, who's from Jamaica, blasted calypso and Jamaican ska; her mother, who played guitar and aspired to be a singer but never quite managed to get there, played ’90s soul.
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“As I got older, I started writing a lot,” Bullings says. “My mom got me this little recorder, and wherever I went, I’d start writing random songs. I fell in love with it and decided that I wanted to perform. Every time my parents had a family event or someone’s birthday, I was always the person to stand up and sing. ... I started to realize that when I was singing, it made people happy, and I wanted to do more of it.”
She took vocal lessons in high school, then went on to study at Berklee in 2011, returning to Denver to perfect her performance. A couple of years back, she took off a year from performing in order to write Because I Want To, a collection of tracks about love and rising from the ashes after love burns you. Her hope is that the songs inspire other people to find power within themselves, whether it be creative freedom or the ability to flee a destructive relationship — something she sings about with glee in “Better Without You.”
There are songs about soul-searching and trusting yourself and your vision in life, others about breaking barriers with people and allowing yourself to be vulnerable — even a couple about the pleasures of being in love.
Bullings traverses genres on the album, sometimes infusing songs with samba and jazz, other times with R&B and soul.
Her hope is that the project introduces people to her songwriting and what she is capable of as a singer. The tracks are simple. Her goal was to create a straightforward representation of her music, not gussy it up with high-level production.
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“I wanted this project to be an accurate introduction to who I am as an artist and as a songwriter,” she says. “I definitely want to grow my fan base and have music out in the world to show people what I do — to say ‘This is who I am as an artist’ and have that be the next stepping stone in my career.“
After Bullings finished the project, she sat on it for a while, waiting for the perfect time to release it...which seemed to be this spring. She had shows lined up to promote it, singles to drop, a coherent plan to make a proper splash. Then COVID-19 struck the world, and with no gigs on the horizon, she pushed back the release to mid-July, still unsure whether the timing made sense.
“I’m not expecting anything to be perfect,” she acknowledges. “I’m trying to let it go: Is this the best thing to be doing? No one knows if this is a good time, but I feel like this [pandemic] has been going on for a long time, and I’m ready to finally release this music."
Find out more about the new release at the Wellington Bullings website.