On “Find The Way,” your vocals come in two different keys on two separate channels and it creates an interesting effect when you listen to it in stereo. What inspired you to do that and how does that work out when you perform it live?
Well, I won’t say I was the first person to do it. If you listen to certain rock bands and some Beatles records, if you pan all the way to left or right you’ll only hear the guitar if you pan all the way to the left you’ll just hear drums. I’ve never heard it with harmonies but…to be honest with you I stumble across my ledger so much. I can’t take much credit for “Find The Way.” I know God is real through song writing. I often write songs that I’m not wise enough to know what they mean, but for them to later teach me. I did a vocal where I sang the same song high and then I sang it (low). I panned one to the right and then to the left. “Find The Way” is me battling with routine and purpose. I was so stuck in my routine that I may ruin our purpose. The high note is really his emotion and the low note is his reality. I really wanna go upstairs with her right now, I really do. If I hug her and go to my car she could be my soul mate. But if I go upstairs she could be a jump-off. So when they sing “how can I have you and not really have you…” they are saying the same thing but it’s two parts; your heart is saying one thing and your mind is saying another. To put your headphones on and listen to that song I love people’s reactions. There are people who have had that song for years and didn’t now that record did that. It’s just trying to tell a deeper story and expose more of ourselves through a song…”
Another favorite of mine is “Def Ears.”
When I went on a date with a girl I would pray that night and ask God what her purpose was in my life. A lot of it was me praying for her, but I was also asking ‘Who is she?” Should I be investing in her? “Def Ears” is a gospel song. I’m going to God for answers. If you really listen to it, the first word in the first verse and second verse is ‘God.” We’ve all been there, shook to the core but someone’s presence. We don’t know why we came at this time. I did that record with two producers and Thaddeus Tribbett and Daniel Soray who are pretty much gospel producers, so the overall feel of it had spirituality in general. We were praying before we wrote songs. I can’t’ say that I really thought out what I was writing. I just started playing the music over and over and the words just showed up. I remember the time and day we wrote that song. I remember thadeus brought the idea over to my house and it was 1 am i nthe morning. I wrote it in like an hour and I started recording it right there.
How do you decide which MCs to work with?
I don’t think it’s a heavy thought out process. Phonte is one of my closest friends in the music business. I would love to have him on every single record. It just comes down to what fits. I’m surrounded by so many talented people that a lot of time it’s because they’re in the room with me. Jean Norris-Baylor of Zhané was on the last record because she lived down the street from me. It wasn’t really rocket science.
You had a brief relationship with a major label in the 1990s. Why stay independent as opposed to having someone back your movement?
I’ve never seen someone happy enough in those situations to give up the control that I have. I’m still the guinea pig for my company. Things always change. When we started there was no iTunes or Facebook. As we fine tune it we may to the point of putting out other artists. but my purpose is the same, to grow old doing music to really feed my hunger for music. I’m only doing music that I would be searching for as a music fan. We had to fight to get where we’re at and the truth of it all is those labels now are trying to get so much younger and i’m about to be 40. they trying to get rid of the 40 year old artists they got. [laughs]. We’re having a good time and we’re growing. If we weren’t’ growing I might maybe question it a little. But as long as we’re growing I’ve got no worries.
The video for “Still” is dedicated to breast Cancer awareness. What made that subject important for you?
My family has dealt with a lot of Cancer and I wanted to bring some awareness to it. What helps the success rate of any (illness) is awareness. We wrote the song about losing someone. I didn’t necessarily write the song about losing someone to Cancer, but when it came time to do the video we said lets amplify this vision and maybe educate people. While touring a guy came up to me and said he wanted to thank me because he was watching the video and his daughter asked him what’s Cancer and he had a conversation with her about it. He told me he probably wouldn’t have had that conversation if we hadn’t seen the video. I hope it shines a light to people that we need to get checked out and amplify the awareness.
Kendrick Lamar turned the rap world on its ear with his verse on “Control.” Does R&B need a similar kick in the pants?
Yes and no. I do like that what he brought to the forefront was lyricism. Some of the people he was bold enough to name I think are stepping it up. But I think competition is good. If I’m in a show, whether I’m opening or not, I’m trying to steal that show. The crowd deserves that. I want my band to see them and say “They just killed it and we gotta step it up.” The people who were offended by it might not believe in their talent. Artists in general can always use a shot of adrenaline. I don’t know if it’s me calling out Jesse Boykins, III or something [laughs] but I do think we challenge each other. When Andre 3000, a hip-hop artist, came out with “The Love Below” and did a soul album better than soul artists, that was a Kendrick Lamar moment. That was a kick in the butt. Go get your game up. These rappers are singing and doing better than you. We need another one. I hope that one of my albums that has done that for somebody. That’s what we should all be doing. Doing music to make somebody say, “Wow I wish I wrote that.”
How soon can we get some new music from you?
We’re recording already. We’re doing a small celebration of The Vault 10th anniversary and I’m finding some other unreleased songs from that era. Then I have a record called “B-Sides, Features and Heartbreaks” where I’m featured with other artists. Early next year around March or May you should expect a new studio album from me.
If you’re in NY make sure to catch Eric Roberson at Sol Village tonight and every month at SOB’s. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS
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