Judith Hill on Finding Hope, Roaming Where the Wind Takes Her and Fave L.A. SpotsBy Michael Tedder
Judith Hill has been making music since she was four. That’s just what happens when you grow up in Los Angeles around musicians and artists, she says. You can’t help but be inspired.
As recounted in the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” she has backed legends like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder on tour, but is also comfortable standing in the spotlight, either as a contestant on “The Voice” or on her solo albums “Back in Time” (produced by Prince) and last year’s “Golden Child.”
Her new single “Upside” is premiering in Renaissance Hotels’ “Discover This Way” campaign film, which is inspired by the idea that every trip tells a story, and how Renaissance Hotels’ Navigators are there to help you discover the unexpected in your travels, from local cocktails and culture, to secret haunts and hot spots.
The film follows a guest on a bespoke journey of discovery, aided by a Renaissance Hotels Navigator who helps him unearth hidden gems in neighborhoods around the globe.
Marriott Bonvoy Traveler caught up with Hill to hear how traveling inspires her and what to check out next time you’re in Los Angeles.
The lyrics of your new single “Upside” have a message of holding onto hope, even when facing adversity. Is that a feeling that comes naturally to you?
I think that it’s always about finding hope and looking at the positive side of life. You can always find inspiration and power when you do that, even if there’s a lot of craziness going on in the world or during your personal life.
It’s always important to look on the bright side, on the upside, and you’ll be surprised what gems you’ll find when you do that.
As an artist, how does traveling inspire you?
I love traveling. It’s one of my favorite things. I’m constantly touring all over the world because I’m always performing.
I get to see so many cool places, and when I travel it just really inspires me and shows me a different way of thinking and seeing how people live differently. It opens your eyes. It humbles you. I’m just really inspired every time I go out into the world.
You just finished up touring Germany and Amsterdam. Did you get a chance to hang out at all?
A little bit, but we had such a tight schedule. I really loved Berlin. I got a chance to walk around, and I love that city, and Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities. We also had a chance to go to Budapest, Hungary, which was beautiful, and Estonia.
How much of a city do you typically get to see while you are touring?
It depends on the schedule. Usually, when we’re on show day, the schedule is you fly in and get to the hotel for an hour and then you go straight to soundcheck, so you don’t get to see much.
But when we have days off, that’s when you really get to explore. When I had a day off in Estonia, I walked around, and the city is so old and has a lot of history, so we were able to just soak that up.
Even with a tight schedule, what is your favorite thing to do when you’re exploring cities?
Well, I’m a roamer. I love to walk outside my hotel and let the wind take me, and I like to eat at really cool restaurants. I like to visit historic sites. I’m big on buildings and history of buildings, so whenever there is a city square, I love going to places like that.
Of all the places you’ve visited while traveling on tour, where do you think impacted you the most and stayed with you as an artist?
Ironically enough, I’m gonna have to say that [it’s] Bangkok, Thailand, which is where we shot the music video.
It really spoke to my soul because I had a lot of free time and I had a chance to visit the rural areas … and the chance to hang with some of the people that lived there, which was really humbling and really opened my eyes to just what it’s like to live without all the luxuries of the First World and electronics.
Just to strip all that away and experience beauty and light, just in its own purest form, it really spoke to my soul as an artist and just inspired me.
Was there a place you visited that really surprised you?
I think that one of my favorite cities that I wasn’t expecting to really blow my mind was Stockholm, Sweden. I absolutely love that city. It’s one of my favorite places. The people are just awesome, and it just has so much art and beauty.
You grew up in Los Angeles; what was that like?
It was a very sunny experience. We have such great weather here, so it was lots of playing softball and being outside. I was surrounded by musicians, so it meant a lot of jazz sessions and going to people’s houses and performing.
Our family did a lot of trips up to the mountains. California is such a diverse landscape. You’ve got the beach, you’ve got inland, you’ve got mountains. I experienced all of that.
How do you think growing up in Los Angeles has shaped you as a songwriter?
I think that definitely being in L.A. has shaped me because it’s just the place where a lot of artists and musicians live. It has really shaped me and inspired me musically because there’s been so many awesome people that I have been inspired by and worked with here in L.A.
For me, being biracial and coming from so many different communities, I feel like I’m this bridge where I’m not 100 percent one people group, but I can relate to so many different communities because I’ve grown up in so many, and that’s kind of the life I’ve had in L.A.
My dad’s family is more of the Palmville area, so I have lots of friends in South Central L.A., and that’s a very different experience than living in Pasadena, which is a very different experience than living in Malibu, so you can experience being middle class, but also not having anything in the extreme extremity of that.
You can literally be 20 minutes away from poverty or having wealth. So it humbles you to understand so many different people and not just to be boxed into one mentality.
Renaissance Hotels’ “Discover This Way” campaign encourages guests to explore local neighborhoods and uncover hidden gems. As a local musician, where would you suggest someone see live music in L.A.?
I like going to The Troubadour, that’s one of my favorite venues to perform and listen to music. I also like the Greek Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, the outdoor theaters and places, and The El Rey is a cool venue.
Where do you like to hang out when you have downtime in L.A.?
I love going to downtown L.A.; that’s one of my favorite hangouts. I love Korean barbecue, so I go to Koreatown or Little Tokyo. I love Little Tokyo. I also love going to the Westside. I love the beach. I love Santa Monica, but I would say downtown L.A. is definitely my favorite.
When a lot of people think of L.A., they think of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. What do you think are some things about L.A. that people who don’t live there might not understand?
Well, it’s such a diverse place, so you’ll experience lots of different communities of people and pockets of places you can go. It’s almost like this Ellis Island on the west side of culture. I encourage anybody who visits L.A. to experience that and visit all the communities.
Go to Little Tokyo and all the communities and just experience that, and also experience the land, the hiking in beautiful mountains. There’s so many really beautiful landscapes to visit. Visit Huntington Garden in Pasadena, which is where I’m from, and you can go up to the Westside, and there’s just so much to do, lots of beautiful museums, lots of really good food.
I would say that’s one thing you[‘ve] got to do if you come to L.A. is experience the food. Especially the Asian and Mexican food is so good here.
If someone were going to be in town for one evening, what’s the one thing they should do, and where’s the one place they should eat?
Ooh, that’s tough. Let me think about that. Man. I think you need to go to a really good Mexican restaurant and have some nice tacos.
I think you should start on the East Side and go to Huntington Gardens and definitely go to downtown L.A., and then work your way to Malibu and [the] Santa Monica area, visit the pier, and go shopping because I think you can do that all in one day.
You were in the backing singer documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” and you have backed Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and worked with Prince. When you meet these icons, is it tough for you to keep your cool?
No, I think that it’s always really nerve-wracking and exciting to meet somebody who has been your inspiration and somebody that you’ve been such a fan of, so the first meeting is always really exciting. It’s a crazy feeling. You can’t believe that person’s in the room.