Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Avant: Getting down to the letter

Avant Avant

While this monthâs release of his new, sixth album âThe Letterâ may surprisingly mark his first-ever UK release, in terms of US chart stats Cleveland, Ohio-born-and-raised singer/songwriter Avant is already something of a veteran, having attained his first American R&B Number One way back in 2000 with his breakthrough single âSeparatedâ. Since which time heâs gone on to attain three Platinum-selling albums, in addition to collaborating with such globally-successful superstars as Nicole Scherzinger, Diddy and Snoop Dogg.

Indeed, with âThe Letterâ also marking Avantâs first release for Universal Musicâs respected Verve Forecast label, the man originally hailed as âthe new voice of ghetto soulâ appropriately now kicks off his first round of British interviews by hooking up with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis - to discuss (amongst other things) his aforementioned new album. A record Avant himself has described as âa letter from me to my fans, to tell them whatâs going on in my life, whatâs going through my head, and my struggles as a man.â

âWhat Iâve tried to do with this new album is let people know that, while Iâm still doing my own thing in R&B, Iâm also bringing across a DIFFERENT vibeâ, begins an immediately personable, humble-mannered Avant: âIn that Iâm now starting to make it more modern, by using a lot of classic-type instruments - horn sounds, violin sounds - in my music. While lyrically, with me always having been a storyteller, my focus this time is very much on bringing across what goes on in everyday LIFE. Like on the new (US) single âKiss Goodbyeâ the basic message Iâm trying to get across to men is that, if a woman tries to kiss another man, then sheâs kissing your relationship goodbye. So donât let your relationship get to a point where she starts looking for other people!â

âYou know, I do feel that - in a lotta cases - those types of messages or themes are something weâve gotten too far AWAY from in R&Bâ, he continues: âLike while in my days growing up I had people like Luther Vandross and Babyface - who showed us how to be men and how to cater to a woman - to me young kids these days have nothing to really listen to and GROW from. I mean, while itâs great to have records that are all about partying and having a good time, I still feel you need to have a BALANCE - where you also put in those records that are gonna help the kids get through life, PERIOD⦠So yeah, that lyrical balance is definitely something Iâm shooting hard for with âThe Letterâ.â

Meanwhile, with production input coming from the likes of The Pentagon (Mary J. Blige; Fantasia); Mike City (Usher; Jamie Foxx); Marshall Leathers (India.Aire); and Kajun (Ludacris), âThe Letterâ finds Avantâs yearning, gospel-raised tenor adapting to soulful contemporary R&B moods that range from ballads like the midtempo male cautionary tale of âKiss Goodbyeâ and swaying, thought-provoking âWhere Did We Goâ; to the harder urban club vibe of the solidly stomping âNightlifeâ and sexually driving âHad Enoughâ... Mention of which in turn prompts an ever-personable Avant to break down some of his own favourite tracks on the album and discuss the stories behind them.

âWell, the opening track âGraduatedâ is really funny. Because it deals with the situation where you see people out there, and they either look terrible now when they used to look good in school, or vice versa! So with that song I decided to take the high ground and say âWow! She wasnât so attractive in High School but sheâs definitely graduated since she LEFT!â!⦠While âBody Policeâ is also amusing, in that through the whole song Iâm playing around with the police theme! Which is why thereâs so many little innuendos in there, where Iâm talking about stuff like taking you down to the 69th Precinct and doing a strip-search! Then âWalking On Waterâ is a song I felt I HAD to do! Because so many people are always asking me to sing at their weddings - but then, when I say yes, they ask me to sing, say, a Brian McKNIGHT song! To which my response is always âWait a minute! Iâm not Brian Mc Knight!â⦠Which is why with âWalking On Waterâ I decided to do something Iâve never done before - which is to write and record a song just for those people who want to get married!â

âThen with âThat Dudeâ Iâm talking about the situation where a woman might see a guy in a club, go home and sleep with him, and then be like âWell Iâm gonna CHANGE him! Iâm gonna make him THIS person or THAT person!â!â, continues an animated Avant, now in full flow: âWhereas in the song the guy is basically saying âNo, Iâm still that dude you met in the club. You said youâd ACCEPT me! Donât try to CORRECT me!â!.. While with âWhere Did We Goâ Iâm dealing with the problems that arise with relationships in todayâs digital world. Iâm basically saying that things like the internet, cellphones and I-pads have created a void BETWEEN people, to where youâre no longer putting your focus on the other person as much as youâre putting it into your work or your business. Whereas if you want to have a good relationship then you have to find that happy MEDIUM!... So yeah, itâs basically all about making music for people to vibe to AND understand, melodically AND lyrically.â

Born Myron Avant in Cleveland, Ohio in April 1978, the church-raised US R&B chart-topper is also happy to speak openly about his tough early background: âYeah, my neighbourhood was roughâ, recalls Avant without hesitation: âBecause right around the corner was the projects. And so any time of the day OR night you could hear random gun-shots - you know, the typical ghetto neighbourhood! So for me growing up became all about fighting the demons in order to do the RIGHT thing instead of the NEGATIVE thing. Because right around the corner people would be hustling and trying to make a dollar or two - and so youâd run away from that... But then, around the OTHER corner youâd run to, thereâd be somebody smoking weed or drinking - and so then you had to get away from THAT!... So yeah, that was my growing-up! You know, you just had to make your mind up that you wanted to get OUT of those situations! And so my main focus became to get both myself AND my family out of there... And I was blessed enough to be able to DO that!â

âPlus, I think my mother being very spiritual also had a lot to do with me keeping myself away from the negativity tooâ, he adds thoughtfully: âBecause she grew up in the church, she brought her KIDS up in the same way. To where all six of us just basically kept God first and fought our way out of the neighbourhood, while at the same time still RESPECTING it! Because without that neighbourhood none of us would be who we are TODAY!â

So how did all that lead to a successful career in music? âWell, that all happened basically because I went to The Cleveland School Of Artâ, replies an ever-forthcoming Avant: âYou know, my mom put me in that school - and at first I thought she was vey cruel for doing it! Because at the time there was a TV show called âFameâ that was out, and so the reason I agreed to go to the school because I wanted to be like the kids in THAT! I was like âWow! Theyâre dancing and theyâre hanging in the hallways! That looks like FUN!â!... But then, when I got there and discovered that we still had to work and do homework, I was like âOh, they never showed THAT on TV! I wanna get OUTTA here!â!.. But my mom was like âNo! Youâre gonna stay there and LEARN!â... And looking back now, Iâm so glad that she DIDNâT pull me outta there! Because I learnt so much from that school and the people in it.â

Interestingly, an unlikely - but essential - figure in Avantâs chart-topping national career launch was unquestionably NBA basketball legend Magic Johnson. Whose MCA-distributed label - Magic Johnson Music (MJM) - Avant first signed to in 2000, and for whom he went on to release four US hit albums - 2000âs million-plus-selling âMy Thoughtsâ; 2002âs âEcstasyâ; 2003âs âPrivate Roomâ; plus 2006âs âDirectorâ (Avantâs fifth album - 2008âs Avantâ - was released through EMIâs Capitol Records).

âWell, once I got outta High School, I decided straightaway to just shoot for the music careerâ, relates Avant, as our breezy half-hour transatlantic chat draws to its inevitable close: âBecause Iâd been really into drama at school - Iâd done a lotta stage plays and things of that nature - I already knew how much I loved that whole vibe and that whole feeling of being onstage. So, because I definitely wanted to perform and continue to feel that same energy, I decided to pursue the singing thing. And in doing so, I ended up stopping in Chicago and meeting my manager.â

âThen from there we actually put a record out entitled âI Wanna Knowââ, he continues; âYou know, we were hustling it like we were Master P - selling it straight outta the car-trunk! And, because I then started getting quite a bit of local airplay in the Mid-West, a lotta record companies started becoming interested. So, with Magic Johnson just opening up his label at the time, he was like âYo, I guarantee you that you can do it your way. Iâll step outta the way and let you guys just do what you DO!â⦠So, because I found that really intriguing, we decided to go with him; he kept his word and let us do it our way - and so we made it work from that point ON! You know, I released four albums for Magic Johnson Music, and it was a beautiful relationship - because we were able to do exactly what we WANTED TO do!... So yeah, I do very much appreciate him for lending a hand and helping me out in such a major way.â

The album âThe Letterâ is out now through Verve Forecast

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