In addition to her problems with the IRS, Lauryn Hill has a reputation for being uncommonly difficult to work with. While her talent is undeniable, her eccentricities are extreme.
We spoke to one of her former guitarists, Davin Givhan, who also fronts Los Angeles indie pop-rock act Detangler. Givhan performed in Hill's band during shows in Senegal and New York City in 2006. His memories of her weirdness still linger, as do those of Brandon “Eugene” Owens, who has performed with her and served as her music director on and off since 2005, and who plays soul and psychedelic funk under the name Slow Learner. (We tried repeatedly to contact Hill for this story but got no response.)
Ahead of her shows at the Wiltern on Friday and Saturday, then, here are her strangest habits, according to the guys.
She has a shit-ton of clothes.
According to Owens, Hill has an affinity for Le Méridien hotels, where she rents three suites for a month at a time, and one suite is exclusively for her clothes. He adds that she's known to tour via three private jets, but on commercial flights her wardrobe racks up luggage fees as high as $30,000.
She's very particular about the way she's addressed.
It's “Ms. Hill,” not “Miss” or “Mrs.” but “em ess period,” as she spelled it out to Owens and Givhan. “She is very adamant about this,” Owens says. “She explained to me that it is a respect thing with her. It's a little extreme, but it's just what she prefers.”
Her mom is her chauffeur.
Valerie Hill, who goes by “V” (and also calls her daughter Ms. Hill), drives the singer around in a black SUV. Ms. Hill rides in the back with “stacks of books on philosophy and religion,” Owens says. From Givhan's point of view, “Her mom seemed to be her assistant-slash-slave.”
She changes song arrangements constantly.
Givhan says that during two weeks of rehearsals (none of which were attended by Hill), the singer wanted the band to rearrange her older songs with elements from the music of disparate influences including Led Zeppelin, Mars Volta and Big Brother and the Holding Company. “It was weird,” Givhan says. “Didn't really work.”
She considers herself a revolutionary.
Both Givhan and Owens recall an incident from the Africa gig when Hill asked her band to do extra rehearsals at their hotel. When they inquired about compensation for the additional hours, Hill was furious. “She went into this long monologue about how we were all mercenaries and that we should be paying her even to be in her presence,” Owens says. “At one point she was slamming her foot against one side of the hallway and her hands against the other side, calling herself a modern-day Harriet Tubman.” Givhan remembers Hill declaring herself a “revolutionary” and comparing herself to Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Her band is a revolving door.
Hill is known to hire a different set of musicians for each gig. After the show in Senegal, Givhan says she felt her band looked “too young,” so she brought in the drummer and bass player of Living Color for her next concert in New York.
She pays the band in cash.
Or, more accurately, Hill's mother would deliver envelopes — containing tens of thousands of dollars — in person to Owens for him to divide among the band. The designated dropoff point was a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan near the band's rehearsal studio. “It's a little moblike,” Owens says.
She doesn't shake hands.
“The first glimpse of Ms. Hill that we got, she was not that friendly,” Givhan says. “I think someone actually tried to shake her hand, and she said, 'I don't do that.' ”
Lauryn Hill plays the Wiltern tonight and tomorrow night with Nas, another rapper with IRS troubles. Detangler's new EP is available on Bandcamp. Slow Learner performs Dec. 17 at the Que Sera in Long Beach.