The "British Ambassador Of Soul" shares a ride and an in depth conversation through the streets of London town with the soul superstar..
Recorded in London in person, October 13, 2009
It was touch and go. He was about to do his very last date in a week or so successful sweep of Europe, his first cross-Atlantic tour in eleven years. Steve Ripley, the London independent promotion and PR man who has been working arduously to make it happen has already told me that the artist in question NEVER does interviews on the days he’s performing. He’s ending his trek with a sold-out show at the Brixton Academy in London in Friday, October 13th. I see hope slipping away…until Steve sends me a text asking me if I’d be willing to do my interview traveling from a train station to a hotel…
I meet Maxwell after he walks through the doors after getting off the famed Eurostar from Brussels. He’s unassuming, dressed casually and with throngs of people scurrying back and forth through St. Pancras International, no one accosts him for an autograph or stops him to ask if he really is the music man who just a week or so before held the entire audience at the Hammersmith Apollo in the palm of his hand as he mesmerized with a great, solid performance that included his classics and new material from his much-anticipated latest CD, “BLACKSummersnight.”
As we walk through the terminal, I share with him that he is the fourth person I’ve ever interviewed in transit from one destination to another. The first, Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White (in a 1975 conversation that changed literally changed my life and my spiritual direction) flying from Los Angeles to Seattle; the second later in ’75, riding in a limousine from JFK to Manhattan with renowed Philly producer/songwriter Thom Bell (just as impactful from a creative standpoint); and the third, a few days after my conversation with Thom with the artist he had just produced, the legendary Dionne Warwick – who provided my introduction to soul music eleven years earlier with “Walk On By” – driving from Union Station to her hotel in Washington D.C. where she and Thom were promoting the brilliant ‘Track Of The Cat’ album.
Maxwell seems elated that he’s in such esteemed company, that he follows White, Bell and Warwick as my fourth traveling interviewee. We reach the car and Maxwell, fourteen years into his recording career, coming off a seven-year hiatus from performing is relaxed and engaging….
David Nathan: This is an interesting way to do an interview, in a car going from St Pancras Station to the hotel, and I’m talking with Maxwell, who has just gotten off a train from Brussels. Were you performing in Brussels?
Maxwell: Yeah, we did a show last night. There’s a really incredible scene over there, apart from the [great] waffles and the chocolate, there are some serious, serious soul music lovers. I saw a few familiar faces from other sectors in Europe, so it was amazing to see re-occurring faces. It’s interesting to me, because being 36 now, I’m always very proud to say that, because I feel like I’m much more of a man than I was, even though I was able to purport a great deal of maturity in my 20’s, but the beauty of Europe has just blown me away this time around. So much so, that I can honestly see myself finding some place to sort of settle here, not permanently, but just as a getaway, go somewhere else kind of place.
DN: Wow! Is there any particular place in Europe that has appealed to you in that way?
M: I’ve got a few on the list, so I’m still sort of figuring out what would be nice, but of course, Paris, London, I thought Brussels was amazing, but I guess between those, it really kind of set me off because of the architecture and the beauty; it’s amazing.
DN: How have you found the European audiences to be for the most part?
M: Surprisingly, I’m shocked by the demographic, and the wide range of demographics. I thought I was going to see people who were in their mid-30’s like myself, and older, sort of like the revival audience, so to speak, but I was shocked to see kids in their 20’s and college students. I was kind of amazed by that. The other thing that surprised me the most, and it kind of shocked everybody else too, and everybody who is a part of this team is from America, was that the new music was received with just as equal a roar, so to speak, as the old stuff. I thought the old records like ‘Til the Cops Come Knockin’ or ‘Get To Know Ya’ or things I had done before would be the things that people would want to hear the most, but when we get into ‘Pretty Wings’ and things like ‘Stop The World’, ‘Help Somebody’ and ‘Playing Possum’, which is an acoustic set that we usually do within the show, it’s kind of like coffee in a perfume shop almost. It was just amazing to me to see that so many people knew the music and were into the new music. It’s just a huge compliment as you move through your life and career, where you don’t feel like you’re just doing the ‘greatest hits’.
DN: I know it’s unfair to compare, but how are European audiences different from American audiences, would you say?
M: It depends on where you go. The English are very reserved, and they can be completely blown away, and it’s almost like you wouldn’t know that they are. Then you go to Paris, and they literally want to jump onstage with you and actually perform with you. I’m not one to judge how people react to what I do. I’m just grateful that there’s an audience there. Sometimes I’m actually shocked that people get up in the morning or get up that evening, that they get all lotioned-up and they put their nice-smelling good stuff on, and girls get all pretty, and the guys come out because they are trying to get the girls that are single in the audience, and it’s shocking to me. Eleven years after the fact, to come to Europe and have such a wide audience? I’ve seen bankers and businessmen and people in their 50’s and 60’s, and then I’ve seen 21-year-old girls, and I’m just like, “What is going on here?” It’s really amazing.
DN: I noticed, because I came to see your show at Hammersmith, that one of the things that struck me is, you express a great deal of gratitude at different times, and I could tell it was heartfelt. It wasn’t just something to say. I was just curious, because it seems like you really do feel that. It’s really in what you just expressed, that people get themselves ready, they put on their clothes, they pay their money…
M: They get babysitters, they get dinner plans together and money is not the same as it was before. We don’t live in a world of credit cards like we used to, where we’re just in a fantasy land about what we actually own, so when you see people coming out to see you, to represent and not only support me, but I have probably the illest band in the world, I think. Of course I’m biased, but…
DN: Well, you’re pretty correct. Your horn section is ridiculous.
M: They’re amazing, and they sing, and they all have their own separate records. Chris Dave is just a virtue. He’s a genius at playing. He’s literally got like 6 drums; he has no toms. It’s not anything traditional in terms of his drum setup. Then you’ve got Robert Glasper, who is like the illest pianist out there in terms of jazz. He’s got his own album out called Double Booked, which was #1 on iTunes in America. So, everyone’s pretty accomplished, and they’ve given me this great blessing, this great gift of being able to support my music that I had written 14 years ago, and over the course of my life. It’s pretty unique and special, and it is heartfelt, because I don’t take it for granted. I think being away for so long, the absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s kind of like that. I really appreciate the audience. I’m not over it, you know like how people can get after a while?
DN: They get kind of jaded?
M: Yeah, they get jaded, and also, I feel validated for who I am musically now, not who I am in terms of a style or in terms of a haircut, or in terms of a movement in music or a trend, or a fad. This is a real individual feeling that I didn’t have when I stepped into the game when I first came out in ’96.
DN: I don’t think I’ve ever read in any interviews where anyone asks you why the title of your album is called what it’s called. Maybe you have answered the question, but I’d like to ask, why is it called BLACKsummers’night?
M: Well, it’s a trilogy, and each of those three individual words sort of exemplify the tone of each album. BLACK being the more sort of heartbroken, love lost record; ‘Pretty Wings’ is indicative of a relationship that didn’t work, and you’ve got all these other songs like ‘Cold’, and ‘Stop The World’ and Phoenix Rise’, which those two are the only two optimistic records on the album. Summers’ is a more uplifted feeling. It’s all sort of the BLACKsummers’night feeling, but for me, summers’ is more what you’ll do when you hear it, because it’s all been written and done. All I need to do is some overdubs just before mix and mastering on the two that are coming out, but there’s an African Gospel connection that I always wanted to flirt with. On the third album, it’s just a straight-up bedroom, it’s almost like a goodnight to the entire trilogy itself, so that’s probably why it’s called BLACKsummers’night.
DN: I did want to talk to you about two songs in particular. ‘Cold’, one of the things that struck me about the song was the rhythm of it. It has a really interesting rhythm pattern.
M: It’s a windshield wiper.
DN: What is?
M: The rhythm.
DN: You’re kidding.
M: I don’t know if they even have this, you might be able to download this, but on iTunes, there’s a 10-minute documentary on the album, so you can get a sense of who played on the record, because everyone that you see, save three members in the band, LaTina, Timbali and Robert Glasper, everyone except them have played on the record. One time, it was funny, I was going to meet my ex-girlfriend who I actually broke up with that night, funnily enough, and the windshield wiper was kind of doing this thing. My engineer drove me over, and he had these really bad windshield wipers on his car. It was terrible, it was raining, and it was doing this thing where it was going “Whoosh whoosh”, so what we did is, we dropped the microphone down from 10 stories, we recorded the windshield wiper, and then I kind of looped it and did some drum beat stuff on it, and that’s the makings of ‘Cold’. I kid you not. You can hear it too. If you listen closely, you’ll go, “Oh, that’s a windshield wiper!”
DN: I want to ask you about the lyrical content. Given that you just shared the story that you just did, was that song written based on the breakup that you just referred to?
M: Yeah, on some levels it’s all kind of indicative of losing a relationship or just having a relationship end, I guess to apropos, step into it this way, because art is really only understood through some sort of anguish or pain. If I come in all chipper and happy like, “Oh my God, I’m just floating through the clouds, everybody” I don’t know if people really will like it, I don’t know. My favourite songs are always the sad songs, or the optimistic songs like gospel music. That gets me excited, but a happy-ass song, that doesn’t do it for me.
DN: I understand. I think it’s probably true to say that when you hear a sad song or a song that has some anguish in it, it’s reflective of certain emotions obviously, that people experience, and I tend to agree with you. That’s kind of how I feel. Songs that have a bluesy flavour to them, that’s what I naturally veer towards. There’s nothing wrong with a happy song though.
M: Honestly, I think people need something. They need a sage, they need a conduit, they need something that will help them metabolize and deal with whatever it is that they can’t actually process. I think music and art, literature, and even sunsets and sunrises and thunderstorms have a way of being that ‘get out of jail free’ pass.
DN: It’s cathartic. It’s like music can sometimes be the way that you process the emotions that you’re experiencing.
M: It’s not like I created this experience and made it all up so I could be the guy who is writing the sad songs, it actually happened to me. I went away for 8 years, I met girls who didn’t know me, and I met people I had to introduce myself to, which was so refreshing. I loved every minute of that. I can’t even tell you. I knew that if someone felt something, they really felt it for who I was as a person. It wasn’t about…
DN: What you do for a living.
M: Right. So, I’m grateful for that, and I’m just happy that something good came out of something bad.
DN: You kind of touched on something that I was going to ask you. How was your everyday life for 8 years? Did you just get up and do the ordinary things? Well, I can’t say ordinary things because we all do ordinary things, but did you spend your days doing the things that people do when they’re not recording or performing?
M: Well, I was always recording. I definitely wasn’t performing. I definitely loved being able to not care about how I looked. I could eat what I want, do what I want, and be what I want. It was really nice, especially after cutting my hair, because the anonymity level just went to 10, and I could just sort of re-engage myself into society. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not Michael Jackson, I’m not the Jonas Brothers, I don’t presume myself, even when I was at my height, at the beginning of my success, that the world would come flocking and mob me somewhere if I was walking down the street. It wasn’t likely that was going to happen, but generally, it was just refreshing for me, because I’m not into celebrity. I don’t carry myself like that. I actually sort of think there’s something quite pathetic about it, being singled out and separated from humankind at some level, and I think your work has a tendency to suffer from it; when you are somewhat sequestered from everyday interactions.
DN: I’m right there with you. I totally get it. It’s actually unusual to hear, I mean I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my life, and it’s very unusual to actually hear someone say what you’re saying. Many people live in that kind of lofty, almost insulated life, and they lose touch with everyday life, everyday emotions and everyday experiences because they are living in some other reality.
M: It’s hard not to go into that reality after a while. When everyone starts to know who you are, you can only do what you can only do based on that. For me to have it orchestrated, and this was not planned at all, it’s not like I woke up and said, “Here’s the ultimate strategy, I’m going to go away for this amount of time and then go back and do this.” Year 5, I was scared like anybody would be scared, like “Wow, did I just throw everything away? Did I just give up the greatest gift ever that God has ever given me?” In some ways that fear, and that regret kind of propelled me a little bit more. It gave me a sense of how it was before I was signed. I was making this record not because I was trying to maintain a position, or keep my spot in the game so to speak, but it was like an overture to all that had occurred and all that I hoped that I could possibly gain again. To come from a place that pure, it only happens two or three times in your life. I got it twice, and I think the only next time I’ll probably get it is when I see my first child, when I see my first kid and I look into his or her eyes and I’m like, “Wow, now this is some pure shit right here.” It doesn’t happen often, but I’m grateful that the success has been what it’s been, and people remembered me.
DN: Listening to your music, I’m very conscious of you having listened to many classic soul music artists, and I’m wondering who, that’s still around, that we could consider legends, are people that you would like to work with?
M: I’ve got three people in mind. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Aretha Franklin, and I’d love to work with her. I’ve met Stevie Wonder a number of times, but when we began the whole radio promotion for ‘Pretty Wings’ way back when, I went to his radio station, I think it’s KJLH, and he wanted to work with me, and I was like, “Absolutely”. The other person on my list for sure, is Smoky Robinson. I heard a current record that he did, and his voice is still amazing. I’m like, “My God, your voice still kills.” People don’t realize how many people he’s inspired. There are people who are not living of course, like Marvin Gaye, of course Eddie Kendricks, I mean he’s got one of the most beautiful voices ever known, ever recorded.
DN: There’s an album of his, Eddie Kendricks’, have you ever heard of an album of his called ‘People… Hold On’?
DN: You gotta find that, man. It’s part of a whole Eddie Kendricks 2- CD set. It was a concept album, and it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s probably one of the most underrated, brilliant albums of all time. I’m glad you mentioned Eddie Kendricks, because a lot of times, people don’t.
M: Oh my God, did you see the documentary that they did of The Temptations?
DN: I did.
M: I think you guys did it, the BBC?
DN: I think the BBC did do it.
M: Because you guys have insane documentaries, like the illest encyclopedia of American culture, you have Jools Holland, with whatever is happening current and with some substance. It’s an oddity, to play that show the second time, with a 12-year gap of course, with the performances.
DN: If you go to my website, Soulmusic.com, there’s a whole article on Eddie Kendricks, on that particular album. He talks about the album, from an interview we did in 1972 or ’73, so that’s something for you to read. That is something that, I think you’re right, British people, European people and Japanese too, have it.
M: That’s Soulmusic.com, right?
DN: Yes, and it was a hard name to get, let me tell you.
M: I don’t know how you did it.
DN: Well, I had to pay for it!
M: Do you have to keep paying for it?
DN: No, somebody had it for sale, and I just bought it.
DN: Yeah. It’s mine until somebody buys it from me, eventually.
M: Well, I’m going to go check you out.
DN: Cool! There’s a lot to read. You’ll be there for a long time, trust me.
DN: So, I asked you about legends, now what about contemporary music artists? Who would you like to work with that you haven’t worked with, amongst your contemporaries?
M: That’s such a tough question, because I’m so against the overly featured album thing. I just think that albums have become compilation records, they’re not albums any more, so as far as that, I would love to work with Sade more than anyone, but at the same time, it would almost be sacrilegious, because I love the fact that she doesn’t work with anyone. She’s sort of like the one that always rings out for me. There are a lot of people that I think are amazing, but I’m always looking for that pure connection that hasn’t happened yet. I’m cautious of people who, you know they worked with 20-30 other people, so it doesn’t mean anything to actually work with them, but it would be great to work with someone like Coodie, or someone more obscure, not a singer, but someone like that would be great.
DN: When you’re relaxing, and listening to music yourself, and you decide to go back, back in the day as they say, who would someone most likely walk into your living room and hear you listening to, or your car, or wherever you might be when you decided, “I just want to listen to some old school music”, who would you be playing?
M: I definitely love Bill Withers, and the Isley brothers, they just do it to me for some reason. They have a bit of a rock element, they’re soulful, but they have a folk thing at the same time. I love when music crosses boundaries, when I don’t feel like it’s a black person or a white person, you know it’s just like, “This shit is good”. I love that about what they do. Particularly, there is an album called Beautiful Ballads. It’s a compilation record that has all of their really great heavy guitar ballads, and that’s kind of rare for R&B or soul music. Usually it’s all computerized, all keyboards, all drum machines, but for them, they’ll have a rock solo in the middle of something, and I’m like, “I can definitely mess with this.”
DN: Did you ever hear their version of…
M: Todd Rundgren’s original?
DN: ‘Hello It’s Me’. They also did a version of Bob Dylan’s song called ‘Lay Lady Lay’.
M: Yes! That’s on Beautiful Ballads.
DN: I remember when those records came out, and they were kind of revolutionary at that time, and ‘Summer Breeze’, just amazing. I’m right there with you.
M: I don’t know if this is true, what people say, you never know, all of a sudden The Power of Myth so to speak, by Joseph Campbell, there’s huge power in myth, but Marvin Gaye, that was one of his favourite singers, apart from his brother. Ronnie Isley, he was like, “This is a bad mutha, you know. This dude puts it down.”
DN: Ron Isley? Oh, he’s ridiculous.
M: There’s a song called ‘Sensuality’, where there’s no reverb on his voice, I think there’s just a bit of plate on the voice, and there’s no high-hat, they’re rockin’ toms, a rimshot, and it’s just sick.
DN: Did you hear that kind of music growing up, or is this something that you discovered later in life?
M: My Mom was into country music. My Mom is from the Islands, and I don’t know if you know, but in the Caribbean, country music is a huge deal. I’m talking about Dolly Parton and Hank Williams. They love some country music! I gravitated towards it growing up, just listening to KIIS FM, and made friends, and growing up in my 20’s, my era was about celebrating the 70’s, and every era somehow celebrates the era that they were coming up in, and it just goes on and on. There’s going to be probably a new crop of kids that are coming in, and I hate saying this because it ages me of course, but they’ll be talking about the 90’s, just as the 80’s has been this big, huge thing.
DN: So, we’ve got Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, anyone else?
M: Bobby Caldwell is pretty incredible. He’s got such a beautiful voice in every way. Have you heard of Don Blackman? He’s got a record called ‘Only You’.
DN: It’s not superficial obviously, you really do check out that kind of music. Don Blackman, I’ve heard of him, but I haven’t heard his music.
M: I’ll play it for you, because I know I’ve got it somewhere in here.
DN: Oh, cool!
M: It’s a really good song, and he’s an insane piano player too, by the way. (song playing)
DN: Oh, this is nice! How old is this?
M: I don’t know, man.
DN: I’ll check it out!
M: You’ve got to put this on your website.
DN: I will. Actually, I’m familiar with a couple of his albums. I’ve seen his albums, I’ve just never listened to them.
M: This song, ‘Holding You’, I don’t want to get into your interview, but he’s got these harmonies that happen later on in the song, and they’re kind of dissonant, but it makes me crazy. Amazing. There’s another English guy that I just wanted to point out, Omar.
DN: Omar is amazing.
M: I think Omar is so underrated. No one really realizes how instrumental he was to the movement that brought us on. I feel like the English just have a way of starting it first somehow. When you listen to Drum & Bass, and then you hear what Timbaland kind of created with Aaliyah, there’s a thread between that, I think. There’s a guy called Opaz, Ray Hayden, well he had this song with this guy called ‘When We’re Making Love’, and it just brings me back, because I think Pal Joey was the guy who did the beats then, when beats were slow.
DN: That’s a great title for a song, ‘When Beats Were Slow’ (laughs). Well, you know it’s interesting you said that, because I remember back in 1986 with Anita Baker at the time when she had the album Rapture, and she said that if it wasn’t for Sade, she wouldn’t have been able to make Rapture. In other words, what you’re saying is that a lot of times, British musicians have even paved the way, or even opened the door for American soul music artists to come through.
DN: I think most British soul music lovers would not realize that.
M: We’re step-cousins. It’s kind of like when you look at what was going on when all the Africans were being shipped over to America and there were some Irish people in there too, and they had their hymns, and those hymns sort of merged into the traditional gospel that you hear today. I think there’s something very beautiful about the fact that music has always been indiscriminating in that way.
DN: It does have a universality that nothing else does. Obviously, you’ve just experienced that, going to Europe, and being in front of European audiences, where probably everyone doesn’t speak English.
M: Right. I had to learn a few things. I continue learning, because I think that the ultimate compliment that you can pay anyone is trying to speak something in their language.
DN: I wanted to ask you, because I think it’s relevant, I think people would be interested to hear what you think of the current music scene, and I know that’s kind of a loaded question.
M: The current music scene, it’s very tough for me, because I’m 36 years old, and I’ve always promised myself that I’m not going to be the old guy who kvetches about what people want to do in their time. I feel like every generation has the right to graffiti stamp their era the way they see fit, and I may not understand it. I’m sure that when I was in my 20’s, people were looking at what we were doing and going, “Why do you guys sample absolutely everything? Everything is a sample. Can’t you just create your own thing?”
So, in some ways, we can point fingers at auto-tune, and we can point fingers at the proliferation of rap, and how it’s sort of merged everything and it kind of gobbled up soul music in a way, but everything in transition and progress is what makes life interesting. The great thing I feel now, is that the pendulum is swinging back, and it’s becoming okay to be a musician and to be musical, and there are pre-teens who have bar-clubs, not clubs, but they just have little worlds where people are playing, and they’re into jazz again. Actually, jazz is becoming cool again in New York for 14 or 13-year- old kids. From what I’m getting from my friends, particularly Stuart Mathewman, who has a 13-year-old son, and he tells us what’s going on, it’s nice to know that jazz is cool again. It’s not weird to like jazz.
DN: It’s not old folks’ music.
DN: Do you listen to a lot of jazz?
M: I do. I’m not so far into it, because I feel like it’s so advanced, I feel so stupid next to it sometimes, but I give it a go, in terms of my skills and what we do, but yeah I think jazz is amazing. I love what it means in terms of its freedom, but I love things to be simple. I like to be easily consumable.
DN: And relatable.
M: Yeah, that’s a better word. I want people to relate, and not feel like, “Oh my God, this is over my head. I feel like a dummy.”
DN: You’re not alone. I have to tell you that. I’m the same way. I’m embarrassed, and I probably shouldn’t put this on tape, but I started to say it now, but I listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and I don’t get it. I get that they’re geniuses, but I can’t follow it, because the way I’m wired is towards melody, and they don’t. They’re off on these tangential things, and I’m like, “Where has the melody gone?” Jazz lovers love that.
M: I kind of see what you mean. There’s a difference when someone is making music for their own reasons, and when someone is making music for the masses.
DN: That’s a good point, and a great segue to a question.
M: Not the masses in terms of a pop level, but to reach people.
DN: Which are you? Are you both?
M: I think I’m both, but I definitely teeter more heavily on wanting to serve the world with what will help them through things, because I can make that music and keep it for myself, but I think that what I release to the world should somehow get them through something, help them get through. It’s easy with the women, because women are so emotionally open, but it’s great when you hear a story about a guy who couldn’t say a certain thing to his girl and your song said it. A dude who is always non-emotional, stoic, and then all of a sudden, they have this avenue where they can express the reason on some level.
DN: Have you always been like that? Has music always been that for you, something that you can contribute that really helps people? Have you always thought of music that way, or did your thinking develop that way over time?
M: How do I look at it? I went to school for advertising, and I always loved advertising, because there was a big billboard out in the street for everybody to see. I love modern art, and the Renaissance period and all that, but that’s stuff for people who know, the smart ones. If you can put up a big billboard with something really interesting for the guy or the girl or the mother or the daughter just walking to work, and you can actually move them with an image, then there is something really special about that to me, and I think that’s why I make music. I don’t make music so that other musicians love it, I make music so that people who can take or leave music go, “Wait a minute. There’s something about this that makes me want to stop.” That’s when I feel like I’m doing work, that I’m doing the real business of what I’m here to do.
DN: I’ve got to ask you this, because it kind of begs the question, which is the age-old debate or conflict between art and commerce. How do you ensure that your own artistic integrity is maintained, while at the same time, making music that is accessible to people?
M: I’ve had moments, and I’ll probably never say what those moments are, where I did something because I thought it would be a hit, and I always left feeling like I could never clean myself enough in the shower after those moments. For me, I think that it’s important that I’m not only creatively satisfied, but that I am creatively moved to do something for just that alone, and the money and the success will come, I think. If I do something with a prerequisite or a strategy, it doesn’t work for me. For some people, it works, and I get kind of jealous sometimes about that. I’m like, “Damn, that’s so strategic, so marketed so perfectly, and look, it’s making that person millions and millions” but for me, it doesn’t work like that. I’ve been hardwired to do it because of good reasons. I’m not supposed to do it because of the reward, but because of the beauty.
DN: I get it. There’s an Indian word for that. It’s called your Dharma. You’ve heard the word Karma, well this is another word similar to that. It’s whatever your life mission is, and that’s what it’s called, your Dharma. Everyone has something. Everyone has that and everyone is not necessarily aware of that, but when you discover it, that’s what you’re supposed to devote your life to, is your Dharma. It can have more that one component, but I get it. I get what you’re saying. The only question I have as a follow-up to that is, given your mindset, how do you work with a record company? Obviously any record company, whether it’s Sony or anyone else, they’re there to make sure your music gets out there, but they’re also there to make a profit, so how do you deal with it?
M: I just take it to the people. That’s what we did with the album. I didn’t have a single out, I didn’t have a record out. In 2008, we just went on tour. You show the label that the people are first, and they’ll do whatever they need to do. If you show the label and the radio stations and the media that they come first, then it’s just like it’s ass-backwards to me, because in the end, we’re all serving the masses. We’re all serving the public together, so I just thought in some ways, “You know what? How about we just go right at the folks?” I just took it to the people, and that was risky too.
Who knew? It was like 7 years, and people probably would have been like, “First of all, who are you? You don’t look the same.” That’s number one, and number two: no song on the radio, nothing to sort of propel an interest in buying a ticket, and we’re at the height of a recession, so I tell you man, this year and the few months prior of 2008 have been so validating. It’s made me feel like I’m not just out here doing the hustle and the two-step for a dollar kind of thing. It just became more, and that’s why when I stand there and I’m so grateful to the people who are standing onstage with me, and to the people who are there, it’s a real feeling. It’s a truthful feeling. It’s not made up. Not at all.
DN: Thank you by the way, for doing this extended interview, because I thought we were going to have 10 minutes together, so I really appreciate that we were able to touch upon some subjects that are a little bit more in-depth that you know, “tell me how the tour went.”
M: It’s good talking with you, because it’s about music, and it’s about things that are of importance.
DN: What I wanted to ask you is, well two things. Firstly, when you did those shows at Radio City Music Hall and so on, I have to be honest, I was like, “How is he able to do this, but he hasn’t had a record out for so long and sell the place out?”
M: I ask myself that too.
DN: Were you in shock?
M: I was in complete shock and amazement, but what was amazing was that the record company was like, “Oh, maybe we should think about this a little bit.” What was great is that the people said it best.
DN: In other words, doing those concerts, and having them sell out, and having people respond so favorably really was the catalyst that had record companies say, “Alright, let’s just put this record out.”
M: They definitely wanted the album. I mean I would have been long- dropped. When you hold a record company up that long, and you’ve got 8 or 9 or 10 artists who have been dropped since that time, I think they knew, “Don’t let this one go. If we drop him, he may be able to re-up somewhere else.” I think they were really convinced all of a sudden, but to the credit of the record companies, particularly Steve Barnett, he made the suggestion a long time ago, “You should go on the road and see your audience, see them face-to-face, and don’t rely necessarily on the middle-men, and get the message through to them yourself.” In the beginning, it wasn’t like everyone was convinced. I had promoters say, “I’ll do this, while I do what’s really important over here for this night and that night” but then as it caught on, and ticket sales were happening, I love having to prove myself, because when I’ve earned every moment and everything that I have, I feel better about it than if it’s just handed over to me.
DN: Alright, well the last question is, you made reference to the other two parts of the trilogy, so when do you expect the next part to come out?
M: November 2010 is the scheduled, tentative date for the second part, and I think the third part is probably in the summertime again.
DN: Of 2011?
M: Yes, and there will be 10 songs on the second one and 11 songs on the third one, obviously 9 songs for 2009, 10 songs for 2010 and 11 songs for 2011.
DN: Oh, smart! And then?
M: Then I’m going to go to Mars and colonize (laughs).
DN: Well listen, you know there’s a movie that came out today called 2012.
M: I’ve heard about it, but you know what, I was watching something on CNN called Mirador, which is a forgotten city in Guatemala, and this is a whole Mayan thing, and what they found actually predates what everyone is talking about by 5,000 years, so it could not necessarily be the case, that the world won’t end.
DN: Well, it won’t end. It’s not likely to end, but what is likely to happen? Something will happen, and most likely, what it will be, and this isn’t me saying this, it’s scientifically true, that every few thousand years, the Earth will roll off its axis, and it has to get back on its axis, so when that happens, it does cause a series of natural disasters.
M: I feel like I can connect with that for some reason. I feel like I’m off my axis sometimes, and I create my own natural disasters (laughs).
DN: Well, I think this is on a bit of a bigger scale, but I gotcha. Yeah, that’s really what that’s about, and it is predicted in Mayan literature, and it’s also in some ancient Jewish texts, in the Talmud, which also predicted the same thing, and there’s Nostradamus, who says a lot of things that do say something is likely to happen in 2012. Now, I doubt that it’s actually the end of the world. I don’t know, but I doubt it. Something is going to happen.
M: I agree.
DN: So maybe it’s good that you put the album out in 2011 (laughs). You can chill out in 2012, while we all wait and see what happens.
M: And then I die.
DN: Well, hopefully not.
M: It came out today, this movie?
DN: Yes, Friday the 13th, which was kind of an interesting day to put the movie out.
M: I want to see it, and then I want to see the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
DN: Me too. I haven’t seen that either. Well, 2012 comes out in both countries today, so it’s out here today, and it’s also out in America today, so when you get back, you probably have things to do, right? Are you on tour?
M: No. I’m going to go somewhere where there is only like one person somewhere and it’s me. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of people in the last few months, and I always need to re-calibrate it, so it doesn’t ever get stale for me, because people can smell when it’s not real for someone. I never want to appear as though I’m going through the motions, especially when people pay their hard-earned money and they really care about wanting it to be good, and they want to have a good time with you.
DN: Alright, well I’m going to wrap it up. I can’t believe we actually talked for 50 minutes, and I really, really thank you.
M: This was cool. It was sort of unexpected.
DN: Kind of like my life. Maybe like your life too… unexpected.
M: Pretty much, yeah. It was good talking to you, though.
DN: You too, man.
M: You know your music and you care about it, and that’s what matters.
DN: It’s been my life passion, and that’s why it was good for me to have this opportunity to talk to you, because one of the things I recognized in your music is that you have the same passion, that it is really about the music for you, so I was like, “Yeah, let’s try to make this happen somehow.”
M: It really is about the music, and I’m glad that it’s about the music for other people too.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.