Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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ROBIN THICKE: In the Thicke of it

Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke

Having become, in 2007, the first white male solo artist to top the US R&B singles chart since George Michael, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/producer Robin Thicke now goes for a sexy, classic R&B vibe with his eagerly-anticipated new, third album âSomething Elseâ and its string-laden, bass-driven single âMagicâ.

Produced entirely by Robin and his long-time collaborator Pro-Jay, âSomething Elseâ has been widely acclaimed for creatively melding the retro with the modern while inspired by classic Philly, Motown and Seventies black disco. Indeed, digging into the soul crates with throwback references to the likes of Curtis, Stevie and Marvin, its moods range from the gritty funk of âSidestepâ and bluesily driving âHard On My Loveâ; to mellower ballad moments like the falsetto-voiced, romantic âSweetest Loveâ and gently shuffling, summery âMs. Harmonyâ.

Born in March 1977 in Los Angeles, California to vocalist Gloria Loring and popular sitcom actor Alan Thicke (of âGrowing Painsâ fame), Robin had already written and produced for the likes of Brandy and Christina Aguilera before belatedly releasing his own debut album (under the name Thicke) âA Beautiful Worldâ in 2002. Despite its offshoot single âWhen I Get You Aloneâ achieving Top 10 success in far-flung territories like New Zealand and The Netherlands, however, the album attained little success in itself. Nevertheless, with the quality of its musicality earning considerable respect from industry heads and critics, it did pave the way for Thicke to sign with super-producer Pharrell Williamsâ Star Trak label. For whom his next album - 2006âs âThe Evolution Of Robin Thickeâ - would eventually prove Robinâs breakthrough release, with both the LP and its sweetly-crooned single âLost Without Uâ proving enduring US R&B chart-toppers in early 2007; attaining Platinum sales and winning several prestigious awards along the way.

Today widely heralded as one of the most soulful artists in contemporary R&B, an affable Robin (who is married to successful black Hollywood actress Paula Patton) takes time out from his US tour with hip hop/soul Queen Mary J. Blige to hook up with âB&Sâ for a revealing chat about his latest album and his long-term career. Which, as a writer and producer alone, has already seen him amass dozens of Gold and Platinum discs with superstars including Usher, Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson; while currently finding him working on his debut screenplay plus writing a book of poetry.

His soul/disco-flavoured new single âMagicâ, and its extravagant video that pays reference to Fred Astaireâs âMr. Universeâ and Stanley Kubrickâs â2001: A Space Odysseyâ

âFor the song I just wanted to celebrate that feeling that gave people hope and made them feel good on the inside. And, with its vibe being about the endless possibilities in life and with space being the final frontier, for the video I just thought that seeing people lying on the moons and controlling the universe suited that theme of bravado very well.â

Hooking up with Mary J. Blige for a high-profile remix of âMagicâ, which has also coincided with the two artists touring together

âWell, sheâs incredible. I mean, she just gets in there and knocks it out! Sheâs all truth, all feel... And we actually hooked up through a friend of mine whoâd seen her in New York. When Mary told her she was going on tour, she was like âWell, Robinâs got an album coming out. So you guys should get togetherâ... So then we got in the studio and did a little remix of âMagicâ together, which in turn has helped promote the tour. And so far itâs all been great.â

Titling his new album âSomething Elseâ

âThereâs so many meanings behind that title. Number one, it reflects what weâre going through as a nation here in America. I just felt, with Barack Obama and the new energy heâs bringing, that it is time for some fresh hope and new attitudes. Then, in terms of me as an artist, because Iâve been singing all these songs about self-reflection - like â2 The Skyâ and âAngelsâ - I just thought it was time for me to start singing about something ELSE! Also, I felt that - with my music being a little different from everything else you can get out there - the music IN ITSELF is also something different and something else!â

How Robin feels about âSomething Elseâ being described as âa joyful and modern tribute to Seventies soulâ

âI think people are describing it like that just because Iâve used the live horns and live strings. Because the last time we really heard live music like that WAS in the Seventies! I mean, if Iâd produced it with keyboards, people WOULDNT be saying it sounds like something from that era. It could have been the same songs with the same arrangements - but, with different keyboard sounds, it would have seemed more modern. You know, to me a good song can be written in ANY era. But itâs how you choose to musically arrange it that helps define its overall SOUND.â

What he wanted to express lyrically this time round

âWith me I think thereâs always been a little bit of self-examination, spirituality and love in the music. But, where the last album was more me sitting around my house with my piano writing all these songs to make MYSELF feel better, this time Iâve started talking more about OTHER PEOPLEâS experiences, rather than just my own. The feeling I had while writing these songs was that I wanted to embrace people, and that I wanted to BE embraced. So it was more about me wanting to get over certain things; to not dwell on certain negativities and sadnesses. Even though I did want to acknowledge whatâs going on in society, on a more personal level I felt it was time to let go a little bit. And I think that is evident in the lyrics, where I talk about being able to deal with the day in front of me without letting it get to me or letting it DEFINE me.â

How âSomething Elseâ has benefited from writing sessions taking place in different cities like New York and Paris

âI hate being redundant and predictable. You know, I just hate doing the same thing the same way every day. So I always try to get fresh inspiration from wherever I can. And me visiting those cities was all just part of me trying to mix it up and get new influences. You know, New York is the centre of information, and Paris is the centre of romance. And it was just nice to see those cities, and to be able to soak them up without having to work the whole time I was there. I mean, New York has that pulse, it has that âboom-boomâ heartbeat. So the couple of songs I made there - âSidestepâ and âSomething Elseâ - all have that driving heartbeat force to them, those heavy insistent grooves. Then what I discovered after visiting Paris is that you really do feel that this epic romance is possible. Which is why you then have this overwhelming positivity in some of the albumâs love songs - like âThe Sweetest Loveâ and âYouâre My Babyâ.â

How the spirit of Michael Jackson has impacted on âSomething Elseâ

âWell, when it comes to my music, heâs always kinda creeping up in there. Even if itâs just in the Quincy Jones-style arrangements or rhythms. You know, when I listen to some of the music Michael Jackson makes, to me it makes you feel like youâre FLYING! So I guess I just wanted other people to try and have that feeling that they were taking off too! I mean, Michael Jackson was always about pushing forward, trying to understand the world, and trying to HEAL the world. Michael was an idealist, and I think thatâs what I share with him - the hope that everythingâs possible, and that everythingâs gonna be OK in the world. And one of the ways Iâve put his musical influence in there this time is by tracking down the horn section he used on âWanna Be Startinâ Somethinââ. I discovered one of the guysâ names was Gary Grant, and so I asked him to get a buncha his guys together. And, because he knew what we were looking for and going for with the horns, he was able to help us get our ideas across. You know, musicians are musicians. And, no matter what generation we come from, we all understand each other, We all speak the common language of music.â

The significance to Robin of the early-Seventies soul movement, which is frequently referenced within the grooves of his new LP

âTo me that era was all about coming out of the Sixties and turning the struggle into hope. You know, the early-Seventies was about finding the rose in the concrete. So within the music there was now this new celebration of âHey, weâre breaking through! Weâre actually making a difference to things by what weâre saying and doing!â... As opposed to just the struggle that the music had previously reflected, I feel that by the early Seventies they were adding a bit of swagger and celebration. Which I guess ultimately began the era of excess.â

His new albumâs duet with Lil Wayne, âTie My Handsâ (which also features on said rapperâs own chart-topping LP âTha Carter 111â)

âI wrote that song right after Hurricane Katrina. You know, what happened there greatly affected a lot of us Americans. Because, though we felt like these people deserved to be helped immediately, we COULDNâT help. Instead we were all just watching this debacle happen in front of our eyes. So I wrote the song about not being able to do anything to help myself, or to help the people who were there. Then, when Lil Wayne came to my studio a few months afterwards and I played it to him, he said he wanted to put it on his next album. Because heâs from New Orleans and his family was affected personally, I donât think he was ready to write about it straightaway. So, I held onto it for a few years. And then, at the top of this year, he called me. So I sent him the tapes, and he put down his part. And itâs just a very important song to both of us, because still nobody is really talking about Katrina in America. A lot of us sent in money for telethons and raised billions, and still nothing happened.â

Growing up in a Hollywood showbiz family - with his dad a popular TV actor and his mum a singer

âIt was a plus and a minus. The plus was that they were accomplished. So it made me realise it was possible to achieve in those fields. You get to see how inspiring and how joyful it can be to do something you love to do, to get the accolades thrown at you, and to have people caring about your work. The other side was that they were so busy that I did end up spending a lot of time by myself, playing basketball with my imaginary friend. You know, celebrity life can be very self-centred. Plus you also know that, if you wanna go on to be successful yourself, you got big shoes to fill! So you gotta work your butt off!â

How Robin first got into black music while growing up

âI donât know why, but I guess that music just connected with me. You know, people donât always know why they connect with things. Like some people wanna be a fireman when theyâre young. And for some reason hip hop, gospel, R&B and soul music just always felt like home to me. I was listening to (early old skool rapper) Kurtis Blow at eight; NWA at 12; Jodeci and Mary J. at 14; then Boyz 11 Men and Babyface soon after. I didnât really get into studying rock & roll, because the rock that was on the TV when I was growing up was stuff I couldnât identify with, like Megadeth. Which, in my opinion, seemed to be too much about anger. And even today the only rock music I like is not the loud stuff, but more the SOULFUL rock like The Beatles, The Stones, and Jimi Hendrix.â

Getting his first record-deal at 16

âI appreciate now all the things I achieved at that time as being stepping stones to where I am today. You know, it was nice to be able to have money in my pocket, to be making music and move out of the house at 17, and become a professional very early. But then, having said that, it also brought with it a lot responsibility. But, while sometimes looking back I wish Iâd have been a kid for a little bit longer, overall I wouldnât change it. I mean, by the time I was 20 I was already producing for people like Brandy, Christina Aguilera and Brian McKnight!â

How he looks back on the lack of success of his first album, 2002âs âA Beautiful Worldâ

âMore than anything else, I was devastated by the result of its poor sales not making me any MONEY. Because that in turn meant I was having trouble getting any money to make ANOTHER album. I actually became borderline suicidal. I was drinking for breakfast, and the only thing that kept me going was the piano in my house - Iâd go over to it and write every day! But, while I was looking at myself as a failure, at the same time I was getting calls from people like Lil Wayne, Usher, Pharrell, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige... You know, all these incredible artists that Iâd been wanting to work with were now calling and asking me to write and produce for them, because of that album which didnât sell! So, you know, I guess pluses and minuses come in funny ways.â

Robinâs eventual 2007 breakthrough with the enduring US R&B chart-topper âLost Without Uâ
âAfter even the Pharrell-featuring song (the 2006-released âWanna Love U Girlâ) hadnât happened, everyone had pretty much written me off and given up on me. So they just decided to try this one last song - âLost Without Uâ - because many people had thought that was the best song on the âEvolution Of Robin Thickeâ album to begin with. So, when we did the video to it, I actually thought that was the last video I was ever going to make! But, you know, sometimes things can just catch a wave! The lyric of that song was about something everybody can relate to - being lost without the one you love - and the music just had that little guitar riff in it that made it stand out. So sometimes you just get lucky! You know, just over a year earlier Iâd released the Pharrell song. And, though we spent a year-and-a-half and three videos trying to get it away, it didnât even pierce the charts AT ALL! Yet âLost Without Uâ was Number One for 16 weeks!â

Problems heâs encountered as a white artist doing quote-unquote âblack musicâ

âMedia-wise itâs really just a reversal of all the white magazines that wonât put black artists on their covers. You know, in society the playing-field isnât balanced. So sometimes things happen on the other side to make up for it. Though I do understand the actual reason (US urban publication) âVibeâ magazine didnât put me on the cover recently was because I donât have enough accomplishments yet, and not because of the colour of my skin. But while, in the past, there have been negative reactions to me being a white artist doing black music, itâs not something Iâve ever really worried about. Because Iâve always felt it was my music too. You know, people put all these colours and boundaries on things. But, at the end of the day, Stevie Wonder is no more a black personâs music than it is mine. And when Prince brings out a new album, Iâm always going to be one of the first in line to buy it.â

How Robin sums himself up as a musician

âWhen I was young my mum listened to soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. My dad listened to rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, while I was listening to rappers like NWA and Kurtis Blow. And, somewhere between all of that, emerged Robin Thicke and his music! So, to sum it all up, I guess Iâd say Iâm a soul singer who loves the freedom of rock & roll, but is inspired by and lives in the hip hop generation.â

The single 'Magic' and the album 'Something Else' are both out now through Star Trak/Interscope

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