SM PIER — While she isn’t a huge fan of Los Angeles traffic, or of crowded airports and airplanes, musician, vocalist and New York native Meshell Ndegeocello is a fan of Santa Monica, a place she’s visited many times to escape the stresses of the music industry.
“Sometimes I feel like people only think L.A. is Hollywood or sometimes Burbank, for the record labels,” Ndegeocello said. “But Santa Monica for me is just a safe-haven, somewhere to go and experience the beach culture.”
Ndegeocello — who has been making music in many forms since the early 1990s and has performed or recorded with the likes of John Mellencamp, Sting, The Rolling Stones and famed composer John Cage — will rock week two of the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series on Thursday, July 18.
The artist’s latest work, “Pour Une Âme Souveraine,” features Sinead O’Connor, Lizz Wright, Valerie June, Tracy Wannomae, Toshi Reagon and Cody ChesnuTT. The 14-track album is an homage to music icon and civil rights activist Nina Simone and took just 10 days to record.
Of her creative process, Ndegeocello said it’s not very romantic. She doesn’t have a specific method for writing her music; it just comes to her.
“Sometimes it’s on an airplane or taking a walk or just finding time to be alone and sit with myself,” Ndegeocello said. “It comes and it goes. I just wait for the transmission.”
Much like Simone in her day, Ndegeocello refuses to conform to or be defined by a single style of music.
“I feel like I experiment with all styles, but at the end of the day, in Western music there’s only 12 notes, so it’s just music to me,” Ndegeocello said. “The genres, I guess, aid people in selling the music, but I stay away from that. I just try to play interesting music and I try to play interesting music well.”
Labeling yourself puts you into a box that’s hard to get out of and one that stifles creativity, the Berlin-born musician added.
Though Ndegeocello was born outside of the country — her father was stationed on a U.S. Army base in Germany — Los Angeles is no strange and far off land to this bass-playing diva, who lived here for several years early in her career.
Ndegeocello used to drive to the Westside early mornings and “spend a lot of time at the beach, walking, strolling, watching the world,” she said. “People-watching has always fascinated me.”
It was during this period in her life that Ndegeocello embraced environmentalism. She credits the formation of this ethos to the people she hung out with at the time.
“I’m only one tiny person on this planet, but I try to do what I can,” Ndegeocello said. “The world doesn’t make it easy.”
It’s hard for touring musicians to sustain an eco-friendly lifestyle, Ndegeocello said, which is why she prefers recording music to being on the road.
“The downside of a tour bus is just your carbon footprint,” Ndegeocello said, adding she also doesn’t like airports.
After performing at the pier, Ndegeocello is off to the Les Cinq Continents Festival in Marseilles, France where she will perform with George Benson.