Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke & Pharrell

'The Evolution’ was all about me trying to believe in myself when the chips were down and pick myself up when I had fallen. And so now here we are finally with some success and some sort of justification for my 14 years of hard work. So I’m a 14-year overnight success. It’s been a long night!”

Robin Thicke is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. His current album, ‘The Evolution Of Robin Thicke’ is, he reveals, entirely auto-biographical, without a single fictional situation in the lyrics. It sees the vocalist opening up about such emotions as jealousy, insecurity and self-doubt. Plus the obligatory love, of course.

It’s nothing unusual for soulful artists to deal with such emotional subject matter on track. Conversating with B&S, however, it’s clear that LA-born-and-raised Thicke is happy being just as open when he chats, discussing in detail the frustration and despair he felt when his first album bombed, and the almost neurotic anxiety that the third one should work.

To the casual observer, Robin Thicke seems to have appeared from nowhere. Although the ‘Evolution’ album doesn’t drop in the UK until July, it’s been shifting volumes in the US since October. Quite significant volumes, too, which have seen both it and the first single, ‘Lost Without You’ dominate the top end of the Billboard sales and airplay charts for the past few weeks.
In reality, Thicke’s been on the grind for the past 14 years, (he turned 30 in March.) He first signed a deal with Brian McKnight and Interscope Records at the age of 15, but the resulting album never came out. The first one that did was in 2002, known alternately as ‘Cherry Blue Skies’ and ‘Beautiful World’, which, by his own admission ‘flopped’. Commercially speaking, at least. It was, however, a critical success, impressing industry heads and journalists, as well as other artists.

“I saw myself as a failure, but I was getting calls from people like Lil’ Wayne, Usher, Pharrell, Faith Evans, Mary J Blige. All these people were calling me wanting to work with me because of that album, and yet it didn’t sell!”

One such enthusiast was Pharrell Williams, who subsequently approached Universal CEO Jimmy Iovine to request that he be involved personally with the Robin Thicke project. He was. He subsequently signed Thicke as an artist to his Star Trak imprint.
“He really just wanted to help me out. He didn’t know whether he was going to go on and invest in me financially. He just wanted to be a part of things. He showed up at Interscope when he was getting his new deal and said, ‘what the fuck are you guys doing with Robin Thicke?’ He should be a superstar!’ And Jimmy Iovine said, ‘well, you guys should hook up.’ So I played Pharrell ‘Lost Without You’, which is the record that finally gave me a hit, and he immediately said "that’s a fucking smash!"

The first result of the Pharrell link was ‘Wanna Love You Girl’, an upbeat dance tune built around a typical Neptunes spaced-out beat. This was a big hit with DJs, and rocked a fair few dancefloors, although many ravers would have been unaware of exactly who they were listening to. And it failed to bring the commercial exposure both the artist and the label were looking for.

Rather than fronting it out and pretending that he always knew his talent would pay off in the end, Thicke is happy to admit that this was a hard thing to come to terms with. “Producing the ‘Evolution’ album was a highly therapeutic experience. Even up to writing the last few songs, it was all a part of still helping me to believe in myself. Everyone had pretty much written me off and given up on me for the tenth time. They decided, well, even the song with Pharrell didn’t work. So we’ll just try this one last song, ‘Lost Without You’, because everyone thought that was the best song to begin with. So we did the video, and I honestly thought that was the last video I was ever going to make. I was very scared, because I thought no-one would ever get to see it.
“So I was borderline suicidal. I was drinking for breakfast, and the only thing that kept me going was that piano in my house. I’d go over to it and write every day. I heard these songs I was creating and I thought, ‘man, these are good!
Most revealing moments on the album?
“Normally the last song that I wrote is always my favourite, and the last song that I wrote for that album was ‘Would That Make You Love Me?’ When I wrote that song it was pretty much all about, ‘what would I have to do to make everyone love me?’ And it was inspired by the war. I was looking at what America and the UK was doing over in this Iraq situation, fucking up the whole country. And I thought about the Shi-ites and the Sunnis caught up in it all and what they would have to change in order to love each other, because right now they just want to kill each other.
“And another song is ‘To The Sky’ which is very powerful to me, because it’s about all those feelings of jealousy and greed and envy that I was having towards all the people that were succeeding and doing better than me.”
Thicke’s talents don’t stop at songwriting and performing. He picked up production skills early on in his career and worked with many prolific artists of the ilk of Michael Jackson, Mary J Blige, Usher and Christina Aguilera in the time between his first unsuccessful album and the appearance of ‘Evolution’.
Thicke emerged from a highly creative household. His Dad was an actor most famous for appearing in the US TV series ‘Growing Pains’ where he played ‘a kind of white Bill Cosby.’. His Mum was a vocalist. “My Mum always listened to soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin,” he recalls. “My Dad listened to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, and I was listening to NWA and Kurtis Blow. So somewhere between all of that came me and my music. I would say I’m a soul singer who loves the freedom of rock and roll, but is inspired by and lives in the hip hop generation. So I’m a hip hop head first, then a soul singer.
Despite the fact that he’s now married to Paula Patton, herself an actress most recently seen in the movies ‘Idlewild’ and ‘Déjà Vu’, we’re unlikely to see Robin gracing a big screen near us soon.
“Absolutely not,” comes the snappy reply. “I don’t enjoy acting and I’m no good at it.”

That’s the end of that one then.

The single, ‘Lost Without You’, is released on June 25. The album, ‘The Evolution Of Robin Thicke’ follows on July 2.

Words (((B&S)))

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