Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Robin Thicke: Interview in session

Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke Robin Thicke

Having become, back in 2007, the first white male solo artist to top the US R&B singles chart since George Michael (with the haunting ballad âLost Without Uâ), Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/producer Robin Thicke now follows up his Seventies-flavoured 2008 LP âSomethingâ Elseâ by going for a seductive, sexual vibe with his US Top Three, fourth album âSex Therapy: The Sessionâ and its Estelle-featuring bass-driven funk single âRollacoastaâ

With Robin this time bringing in outside ânameâ producers like Polow Da Don, Teddy Riley and Philadelphiaâs Dre & Vidal, âSex Therapy: The Sessionâ represents his tribute to the hip hop and soul music that shaped both him and his generation, while boasting a stellar line-up of such high-profile guests as New York rap icon Jay-Z; multi-Platinum-selling West Coast hip hoppers Snoop Dogg and Game; highly-tipped upcoming female rapper Niki Minaj; plus Britainâs own chart-topping urban songstress Estelle. All of which is reflected in tracks ranging from the albumâs falsetto-sung, hypnotic US R&B Number one title-track and irresistibly joyous âMeipleâ; to the Marvin Gaye-referencing, pounding âMillion Dollar Babyâ and romantically-haunting âDiamondsâ.

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 (under the name Thicke) his own debut album 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 itself attained little success.

Nevertheless, with the quality of its musicality earning considerable respect from the 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. All of which in turn set the tone for the Top Three US success of its follow-up album, 2008âs retro-soul-tinged âSomething Elseâ.

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 Paul Patton) takes time out from his US tour with international chart-topper Alicia Keys to hook up with âBlues & Soulââs Pete Lewis for a breezy and revealing chat about his latest album and his long-term career. Which, as a writer and producer alone has seen him amass dozens of Gold and Platinum discs with superstars including Usher, Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson; while currently finding him also making his first forays into the world of film-acting.

The reasons behind titling his new album âSex Therapyâ

âWell, some of it was personal. It stemmed from me thinking about what a woman really needs at the end of the day. And from there I began thinking about my wife and what SHE really needs when sheâs frustrated, or having trouble with her family, or her work, or whatever... And I came to the conclusion a little bit of sex therapy goes a long way!â

What Robin wanted to achieve musically this time round

âWell, Iâm not a big planner of schemer. I just make music that I like, and then I pick the best songs that Iâve got at the TIME. I mean, Iâm always gonna have the influence of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Al Green in my music. But with this album, I also wanted to show my HIP HOP side. I grew up listening to Run DMC and NWA and Biggie and Pac and Jay-Z... So I really wanted to make a record that represented how much that music has influenced me. Plus, because Iâd been writing deep and sad songs for a while, I think I was just tired of wallowing in my own self-depression! So, in terms of overall feel, I definitely wanted this album to be lighter on its FEET!â

How, with âSex Therapyâ, heâs created an album that tells a story - a connected âadventureâ that begins with the romance, moves on to the danger, and then ends with reconciliation

âWith the early tracks like âMrs. Sexyâ and âSex Therapyâ, the album starts at the point where youâre in love, youâre MAKING love and youâre TRAVELLING. Like on âMeipleâ Jay-Z and I take our ladies on a shopping spree through France and treat them like queens! But then the problems arrive on tracks like âRollacoastaâ - which is that real slap-me-on-the-face/punch-me-in-the-eye stuff, about the ups and downs of a relationship you canât seem to get away from no matter HOW tough it gets - and âElevatasâ, which tells of the dangers of partying and living a fast lifestyle. But then at the end comes the love and the connection and the reconciliation, with songs like â2 Luv Birdsâ - which is about finding love for a lifetime - and âDiamondsâ.â

Robinâs reasons for bringing numerous outside producers on board this time

âThat really just started with me getting bored with my own sound! Iâve been writing songs on the piano and on the guitar for like 16 years, and I was just getting kind of bored with myself! Plus I think itâs always important for an artist to try some new colours on the canvas. So I went to (Interscope Records CEO) Jimmy Iovine, who immediately suggested Polow Da Don (Fergie /Usher). Then Teddy Riley (Michael Jackson/BLACKstreet) was someone Iâd ALWAYS wanted to work with, simply because I was a huge fan of his growing up. Plus we also decided to bring some other really talented people on board too. Like Dre & Vidal, who have this Philadelphia soul sound and are kinda like the new (classic Philly soul producers) Gamble & Huff... So yeah, for this album I basically just wanted to kinda mix it up and try to get a few different SOUNDS.â

Working with East Coast rap icon Jay-Z for the albumâs infectiously hooky, De La Soul-goes-tropical-flavoured âMeipleâ

âWell, Jay and I have been friends for a long time and Iâve always wanted to do a record with him - but, at the same time, I wanted it to be the RIGHT record. So with this album I was thinking âShould I send him a song I like? Or should I bring him in, let him hear the whole album and pick which track he wants?â⦠So I invited him to the studio; he heard the whole album, picked âMeipleâ as the song he wanted to do... And then, when he heard the track âShakinâ It 4 Daddyâ, he was like âYou should really work with this new girl Nicki Minaj on that songâ⦠And, when Jay-Z speaks, I LISTEN! So me then bringing Nicki Minaj on board was all down to HIM!â

Robinâs views on working with Young Moneyâs highly-touted new female rapper Nicki Minaj on âShakinâ It 4 Daddyâ - the track that represents his Southern-style homage to todayâs strip-club and nightclub generationâ¦

âNicki Minaj is just a very special new artist. I mean, EVERYBODY is working with her right now. Sheâs on just about every project thatâs OUT there! Because sheâs offering something very FRESH. Sheâs very smart, sheâs beautiful, sheâs got a lotta spunk and attitude - plus her style is very MODERN. You know, with her obviously coming under the tutelage of Lil Wayne, sheâs getting a lot of creative energy right now and sheâs a great young talent. To me sheâs like the new Lil Kim. I think sheâs gonna be doing a lotta damage for many years to come!â

How Robin - as a Californian himself - came to work with multi-Platinum-selling West Coast rappers Snoop Dogg and Game on the tracks âItâs In The Morningâ and âDiamondsâ respectively

âWell obviously, I grew UP listening to Snoop! Like the first record he put out - âDeep Coverâ with Dr. Dre - I literally memorised all the lyrics the first day I HEARD it, when I was 13 years old! So he and I had been talking about doing a record together for a long time. And then, when I was working on the album, Teddy Riley started calling me saying âI wrote this song with Snoop and itâs perfect for you! You gotta HEAR it!â... And, when he showed up, it turned out he already had Snoopâs rap on the track! So I was like âThatâs IT! Iâm SOLD!â... Then Game and I actually met in the waiting-room at Interscope Records, while I was there waiting to play Jimmy Iovine some of my new music. We started talking about how much we respected each other, and ended up exchanging numbers. Then a week later, I woke up early in the morning and I was like âOh my God, I have the perfect record for GAME!â⦠So I just called him, and he came in and put his rap down on âDiamondsâ. You know, it actually all happened very organically.â

Duetting with chart-topping UK urban songstress Estelle on the albumâs first UK single, the irrepressibly funky âRollacoastaâ

âFunnily enough, before I had my first big hit - âLost Without Uâ - I was actually on tour with Estelle in the UK opening up for John Legend! So we became friends back then. And then, after IâD had a big hit and SHEâD had a big hit (2008âs international Number One âAmerican Boyâ), we seemed to just keep on seeing each other on the road. So eventually we started talking about doing a RECORD together. And, once Iâd written âRollacoastaâ, I just called her and brought her IN. And for the track itself I actually worked with Jeff Bhasker, whoâs an AMAZING new producer. Heâs done a lot of the Kanye (West) stuff; he did Alicia Keysâ new single (âTry Sleeping With A Broken Heartâ)⦠You know, heâs just super-talented! And, though he and I were only in the studio together for two days, we ended up doing both âRollacoastaâ AND the song featuring Kid Cudi, âElevatasâ. He was so easy to work with that the records happened really fast.â

Robinâs own pick track - the albumâs sensually loping opener âMrs. Sexyâ, which has been described as âThicke sings Eric B & Rakim lyrics over an Al Green music bed with a DâAngelo-type vocalâ

âI donât know how popular the rapper Rakim was in the UK. But in The States, when rap music was just starting to burst wide open, he was the most highly-respected rapper/lyricist there WAS - and he still IS thought of in that way by a lot of rappers. So anyway, back in the day he released this song called âMahoganyâ which sampled Al Greenâs music. And, when I started working on the album, I had my band go in and cut a bunch of classic tracks by people like Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Because, at the time, I was thinking of doing like a âsoul classicsâ record. So they went in and recorded some of those classic music tracks. But then, instead of me just re-doing the Al Green song (âSo Glad Youâre Mineâ) itself, I started listening to it and was like âWait! Thatâs the same music that Rakim did his âMahoganyâ rap over!â... So what I decided to do was take the lyrics that Rakim had rapped, and turn them into âMrs. Sexyâ - which went on to become the first song on the album! And itâs actually turned out really cool. Because all the hip hoppers - as soon as theyâve heard the track - have been like âWow! Youâre actually singing RAKIMâS lyrics! Thatâs CRAZY!â... So to me that track is actually a testament to the talents of both Al Green AND Rakim. And then, with me singing it, itâs like three generations of music coming TOGETHER!â

The albumâs blood-red cover motif, which depicts Robin as a James-Bond-style sex therapist (!)

âWell, you see, thatâs the kinda doctor Iâd BE - James BOND! Heheheh!... Nah, what actually happened was, we were doing the first shoot and then we had this great art director come on board who started giving different looks to different types of shots. And, when we saw the James-Bond-type cover, it just kinda made sense to USE it! You know, it was like the NAUGHTY doctor!â

With his last album (2008âs âSomething Elseâ) finding Robin expressing his ongoing love and respect for Michael Jackson, how he feels about the King of Popâs tragic death last year

âWell actually, the amazing thing was that I was scheduled to open up for him for four shows at The O2 Arena by his request. Which, when I heard that, obviously became one of the most flattering moments of my career - just as actually opening up for Michael Jackson in London would have been one of the BIGGEST moments of my career. But unfortunately , as we all know, the shows didnât HAPPEN. So that was a real bummer for my own PERSONAL reasons, let alone for me as a major fan.,. Where my reaction to his death has been the same as I think a lot of OTHER Michael Jackson fans. Which is weâre still kind of in denial. You know, itâs similar to the Elvis fans. We still donât wanna really believe heâs gone.â

How he feels about many of his male R&B vocal contemporaries currently moving musically into electronic Euro-dance territory

âWell, the club scene today is bigger than itâs ever been BEFORE. You know, today people want their music fast, and they want it pumping! So obviously in turn artists want to get their music into the clubs, and they want to make people dance - especially with the economy being the way it is. Because the worse the economy gets, the more people wanna let go and be set free with fun, uptempo MUSIC. But, as to whether IâD make a record like that⦠Well, I think what I make is more SOUL music really. And so it never seems as natural to me to make those more pop/dance/electro-beats kinda records. I guess I have done that just a LITTLE bit with âRollacoastaâ. But then even that is more of a FUNK song really - you know, with the funk guitar and the funk bass-lines.â

Robinâs writing/producing work for other artists, who in the past have included the likes of Usher, Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson

âWell, I really donât write and produce for other artists any more... Well, letâs just say itâs very RARE - unless somebody really special calls. Like, for example, on this new âSex Therapyâ album we did a lotta trades. You know, because they feature on MY album, Iâm gonna be doing a record with Game for HIS album; Iâm gonna be doing something with Snoop for HIS album; Iâm gonna be doing something with Kid Cudi for HIS album... But, while in that way Iâm always gonna be in the mix with these artists, for the most part what Iâve found is that you have to compromise your art when you work with other people. So, you know, I try not to compromise any more than I HAVE to.â

Why Robin - whose parents both acted, and whose wife is successful Hollywood actress Paula Patton - is now himself finally making the move into acting

âWell, I donât wanna disrespect actors by saying that what IâM doing is acting! Because these days Iâm just trying to enjoy life and not take it so seriously. I mean, when I was getting started as an artist, I always wanted do be like Bob Dylan - and I was basically just taking myself TOO seriously. Whereas these days Iâm just trying to say âHey, let me have some FUN!â!... And this movie Iâm doing at the moment is actually an ANIMATED film, where Iâm just using my VOICE. So, you know, Iâm starting slow, taking baby steps into acting right now! And all I can really say about the movie itself at the moment is that it comes out in 2011, it stars Anne Hathaway, plus (Black Eyed Peas leader) and I play friends in it.â

Current activities and future plans

âOh man, I got a baby coming next month! So at the moment Iâm just really focused on taking care of my wife and the baby. Plus Iâm also on tour here in the US with Alicia Keys right now, which is all going tremendously well So Iâm really enjoying that, and then of course Iâm very happy - and a little relieved - to have a Number One song (the albumâs title-track âSex Therapyâ) in The States! Because at least now I know Iâll be able to make ANOTHER album! I mean, a baby on the way, a Number One song⦠Things could be a lot worse!â

Robinâs single âRollacoasta Featuring Estelleâ is released April 19. His album âSex Therapy: The Sessionâ follows April 26, both through Star Trak/Interscope

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