Marsha Ambrosius isn’t going to tell you that it gets better. Her video, "Far Away," is an all-too-real take on gay bullying and suicide that’s inspired by her friend’s attempt at taking his own life. The song is also the lead single from the English singer’s very personal Late Nights & Early Mornings, her first solo album after parting ways with R&B duo Floetry.
We caught up with Ambrosius, who opened up about the inspiration behind the bold video, how people are reacting to it and why it’s breaking color barriers, too.
GC&E: Why is the issue of gay suicide so close to your heart?
MA: I’d gone through a situation with a friend of mine who was battling issues with his sexuality, and not being accepted and the feeling that there’s no other way out than to take your own life. To try to deal with someone who’s in such a dark place, it was very disheartening for me – the bestie that’s all smiles, ensuring that the world will be OK. But when you’re not living that life for them, there’s nothing you can do. So it was only right that when the song was chosen for the single that I did a video to go exactly with what I was feeling emotionally.
GC&E: Did he commit suicide?
MA: No, definitely attempted – and not once, but a few times. Thankfully, he’s still here, but there have been many stories in the press as of late of people taking their own lives because of the same circumstance and I just felt like it was only right to get that story to the demographic that listens to my music.
GC&E: Do you think you’re reaching people that aren’t aware of these issues?
MA: Definitely. For me, it was important for those voices that don’t get the opportunity to speak to be heard loud and clear.
GC&E: Comments on YouTube and on blogs range from Biblical references condemning homosexuality to ones that saying this video saved their life. How do you feel about the buzz surrounding the video?
MA: It’s so overwhelming. It was never my intention to cause a stir, but I wanted to get a reaction and I’m thankful that it’s opened a line of communication to people who wouldn’t speak to each other at one point. Whether it was a fight against what’s right or wrong or what’s love and what’s hate, people are speaking and I’m changing minds.
All I want for people to see with this video is that hate is hate no matter who you are. When you can’t be accepted for who you are in this world, that’s all you have. It’s getting people talking and disagreeing – or agreeing – so I’m thankful for that. On YouTube, there will be like 150,000 "likes" and maybe 100 "dislikes," so, you know, majority rules. (Laughs) I’ll take that, but for the ones who are still opposed, I say genuinely grasp onto what is being said and what is being taught here.
GC&E: Someone tweeted you and called the video "fag shit." How do you respond to comments like that?
MA: I’ve said, "If that’s what you took from this video, so be it," and just ended it there. I wanted the video to get a reaction, and it is.
GC&E: It’s rare to see black gay men portrayed in such a loving, open way as they are in the video. Do you think there’s a race divide when it comes to gay people in the media? Did you consider that when you cast the video for "Far Away"?
MA: Initially, it wasn’t on my mind. It was just how I portrayed my scenario as if those were my friends, and I wasn’t thinking of it as breaking color barriers, too. I think for two openly gay males – black males at that – to be shown in the light that they were was a very surreal moment for many.
A point in making the video was to make the mark that they were happy and in love and open to loving one another in front of whomever, and to establish their relationship outside of what the world thought; they thought the world of each other. (Director) Julius (Erving III) did a fantastic job putting together a video that showed the story in its true art form.
GC&E: And you didn’t go with the down-low approach, like R. Kelly did with "Trapped in the Closet," which seems like a common portrayal of black gay men.
MA: Right – and I even saw some comments like, "What is this with gays on the down low?" There’s nothing down low about this. This is broad daylight in New Jersey, somewhere in the sunshine, looking into each other’s eyes lovingly. This is an open relationship for two people that are in love.
GC&E: How did it feel making this album solo versus as part of a duo?
MA: It’s a weight off my shoulders to not have to make room for another opinion. This is everything that I feel and I think and I want to be as an artist. It’s who I am, and I’m just ready to give away my heart.
I’ve always been a solo artist; even in Floetry, we were two solo artists who came together to be something that worked very well together creatively. And you know, three albums in, Natalie (Stewart) went solo. Same thing with me: I wanted to produce and to write for many other people, and I think now that I have the opportunity to do my solo record, I’m ready now for me – and it’s been a journey because I get to learn what I want to say and what I don’t want to say and things in music that I’ve never explored before, because I never had to be 100 percent. I could lean on someone. Now I can only lean on me, and I have to do all the work. (Laughs)
GC&E: You say that going solo freed you. Do you think you could’ve been so bold in your approach to the "Far Away" video if you were still part of Floetry?
MA: I’m not sure. I couldn’t even really answer that. I think it would’ve been a difficult subject to approach in a group because you might have two conflicting opinions and there would be too many ways to show how either of us felt about it, so I’m glad that I got to execute it from my perspective in a straightforward, black-and-white approach.
GC&E: Why all the heartbreak on the album?
MA: There’s really not much heartbreak on the album. I guess there are three songs conceptually that could be heartache records: "Far Away," "Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)," which was written for a friend who went through a bad break-up, and "The Break-Up Song." The rest of them are just about having great sex: great make-up sex, great break-up sex. (Laughs)
GC&E: Is this based on your own personal experiences?
MA: Oh, most definitely. With the title, Late Nights & Early Mornings, it’s how I lived life. It was just late nights in the studios, maybe at a show, waking up the next day to go travel and perform somewhere, wherever. And it’s a continual cycle. Even in a relationship, as sensual and seductive as it gets, you want that late, hot and steamy night with the one that you want to be with – and then wake up to a nice early-morning breakfast.
GC&E: What was the best early-morning breakfast you had?
MA: Belgian waffles, whipped cream, powdered sugar, a cup of hot cocoa, a side of fresh fruit – and him, with his 6-foot-3 chocolate self. (Laughs)
GC&E: You don’t hold back on "Hope She Cheats on You," and it’s written almost like the way a man would write a break-up song.
MA: Exactly – because I think there are certain things that women want to say but don’t for fear of that neck-rolling, finger-snapping, attitude-having version of ourselves that no one is seeing anymore. So I just wanted a fun record where I could stand there, suck my teeth and be like, "Yeah. What?"
That’s just me. My approach to writing is to never hold back regardless of the circumstance. I can’t hide behind my music. If you really want to get to know me, listen to my music.
GC&E: Are you that forward in everyday life?
MA: Oh, I have to be. I’m a Leo. (Laughs)
GC&E: Based on a line from the song ("Hope that she Kim Kardashian-ed her way up"), I take it you’re not friends with Kim Kardashian?
MA: I don’t even know her, but she is such a sweetheart. On the record I’m actually giving her a compliment, and how I got that line together was, yeah, I may have just known her from a sex tape that she did with an R&B singer at one point, but she turned that around and made herself a million-dollar mogul and a marketing machine.
I’m not gonna say that an R&B singer is going to release a sex tape of him and I tomorrow, but it’s not to say I haven’t sent a sexy text message that someone could just then say, "Oh, I’ve got Marsha’s tits!"
GC&E: But there’s no sex tape with a 6-foot-3 chocolate lover?
MA: Who knows!