Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Ne-Yo: By The Book

Ne-Yo Ne-Yo Ne-Yo Ne-Yo

In R&B music over the decades, the number of chart-topping singers who have separate world-class songwriting careers that genuinely match the success of their own recordings is few and far between.

Nevertheless, the past decade will unquestionably go down in the history books for introducing to the world one Arkansas-born, Las Vegas-raised Shaffer Chimere Smith - aka NE-YO. Whose own multi-million-selling artist career not only already includes three multi-Platinum albums (2006’s “In My Own Words”; 2007’s Grammy-winning “Because Of You”; 2008’s double-Grammy-winning “Year Of The Gentleman”) plus three internationally-chart-topping singles (his 2006 debut “So Sick”; his 2008 Euro-dance-flavoured “Closer”; and 2012’s uptempo “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”)… But has also seen him write successfully for artists ranging from global R&B chart-toppers Rihanna (“Take A Bow”), Beyonce (“Irreplaceable”) and Mario (“Let Me Love You”), to such latter-day mainstream pop divas as Celine Dion and Leona Lewis.

Meanwhile, on a straight-up artist level, this month sees the eagerly-anticipated release of NE-YO’s sixth studio album “Non Fiction”. Indeed, currently being pioneered across the British airwaves by the pounding, shuffling groove and irrepressibly-catchy hooks of its upbeat, Stargate-produced offshoot single “Coming With You”, “Non Fiction” not only marks the follow-up LP to 2012’s critically-acclaimed “R.E.D.”, but also boasts features from the likes of David Guetta, T.I., Jeezy, Juicy J (the hypnotically-sparse R&B slow-jam She Knows”) and Pitbull (the uplifting dance anthem Time Of Our Loves”) alongside production input from the likes of Dr. Luke, Shae Taylor and DJ Camper.

Born to musician parents in October 1982 and raised by his mother after his father left, a young Shaffer (rechristened Ne-Yo by a producer-friend who likened him to the “Matrix” saviour!) first went public as a singer in the 11th Grade, after joining local Las Vegas R&B group Envy and moving with them to LA. With his initial writing having been limited - during his school years - to private journal entries and poetry, NE-YO would nevertheless also soon emerge as talented upcoming songwriter.

All of which ultimately led to his first solo record deal with Columbia Records in 2000. However, with changes in said label’s structure disappointingly leading to the album he recorded for them being shelved, it wasn’t until 2006 - after penning one of America’s longest-running Number Ones of 2005 (Mario’s aforementioned “Let Me Love You”) - that a new deal with Def Jam would find NE-YO teaming up for the first time with New York-based Norwegian urban music producers StarGate to deliver a world-conquering debut LP “In My Own Words”.

Meanwhile, with recent successes including his contributions to such globally-successful dance tracks as Pitbull’s worldwide chart-topper “Give Me Everything”, Calvin Harris’ “Let’s Go” and David Guetta’s “Play Hard” (not to mention his own UK Number One single “Beautiful Monster” from his 2010 concept-heavy fifth studio LP “Libra Sale”), three-times Grammy winner NE-YO has also in recent years found notoriety as an actor, most significantly in the 2012 American war movie “Red Tails” which impressively found him starring alongside big-screen superstars Cuba Gooding, Jnr. and Terrence Howard.

… All of which brings us neatly back to today. As an ever-charismatic, upbeat and charming NE-YO hooks up for the fourth time with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss such pressing topics as his aforementioned new LP “Non Fiction” and his current executive role as Senior Vice President of A&R at Motown Records, the label he is also now signed to as an artist.

PETE: Let’s start on obvious ground - the thinking behind titling your new album “Non Fiction”…

NE-YO: “The main reason for titling this record “Non Fiction” is simply because every song on it is either BASED on, or IS, an actual true STORY. Mainly because I feel that, no matter what aspect of entertainment you’re dealing with - like if you go to a movie and it says on the screen ‘the film you’re watching is based on actual events’ - it’s like that element of true-life always makes the project that much more INTERESTING. You know, with me always having tried to be as honest and truthful in my music as I possibly can, this time round I really wanted to put a magnifying glass on that aspect of my SONGS... Plus with my fans always being very, very important to me, instead of them being on the outside looking in this time I wanted to bring THEM into the project and make THEM a part of the creative process TOO. Which is why, as opposed to just telling MY story and talking about some of the things that have gone in MY life over the past couple of years, I decided to reach out to my fans via my social media and ask THEM some of THEIR stories - whether it be about relationships, their job or whatever - and then use some of those stories they sent me as the basis for some of the songs alongside my OWN personal tales… So yeah, whether it be things that have happened to ME or things that have happened to my FANS, the title “Non Fiction” ultimately comes from this album being all about me just going into the booth and telling the TRUTH!”

PETE: Let’s talk about the Stargate-produced single “Coming With You”…

NE-YO: “Well, while I knew this album was going to be predominantly R&B, I also knew that for my UK/European market I needed something with a little more ENERGY to it. Which is why I decided to go with “Coming With You” as the first single in the UK, because it does have those elements to it of the early-Nineties/mid-to-late-Eighties - you know, a time when music was, I wouldn’t necessarily say more INNOCENT, but just FELT a bit better... So yeah, I definitely wanted to capture that whole feel-good vibe while at the same time keeping it as soulful as POSSIBLE. You know, I knew that for this album I needed the kind of EDM/dance/pop songs that were gonna make sense surrounded by all this R&B that was everywhere ELSE on the record. And to me “Coming With You” is a perfect HYBRID of the two. In that while it may be something like 120 beats-per-minute, it’s still soulful without sounding DISCO! And then in terms of the subject matter, it’s basically just a COURTSHIP song. In that it’s talking about meeting a young lady in a club and being so taken with her that the guy is basically just saying ‘Wherever it its you’re going after this or whatever it is you’re doing, I’m coming WITH you’!”

PETE: In addition to your world-conquering singing and songwriting careers you also these days enjoy an executive role as Senior Vice President of Motown Records…

NE-YO: “Yeah, and to be totally honest with you an executive role was something I was at first very apprehensive about taking ON. Because to me getting my hands dirty and trying to figure out the ins and outs of the lingo can be very, very different from being an ARTIST. Because to me when you take something artistic and you apply it to commerce it does kinda cheapen the VALUE of it. Because now you’re not doing it for the love, you’re not doing it for the passion, you’re doing it for the MONEY... So yeah, while being an A&R over at Motown is a great thing because it does give me a platform to make dreams come true for other young artists, at the same time from the standpoint of being an executive versus being an artist it is a whole other LANGUAGE to learn and it was something I had major CONCERNS about... But then having said that, I AM finding in my feet, and I have now signed one ACT. Her name is Sonna Rele, she’s actually from the UK, and the way I’d describe her stuff is more on the soulful FOLK side of things. You know, we’re actually putting the finishing touches to her record as we SPEAK - just trying to get it as good as humanly possible and gearing up for a release pretty SOON.”

PETE: So what else is in the pipeline for NE-YO right now?

NE-YO: “Well, I just recently did some sessions with (Dutch dance producer/DJ) Afrojack for his forthcoming album. You know, he and I were responsible for (the 2011 global chart-topper) “Give Me Everything” - along with Pitbull and Nayer of course - and so I’m pretty excited about that… Then outside of music I think my next passion-push is definitely gonna be DIRECTING. Which is why right now I’m reading up a lot on it and figuring out how to write a proper screenplay and things of that nature. Because writing a song versus writing a screenplay are of course two completely different THINGS - different vibes, different scenarios… Like instead of telling a story in three minutes and 30 seconds, with a screenplay you’re talking about telling a story in an hour and 45 MINUTES! Which means you have to go into a lot more DETAIL!... So yeah, right now it’s very much all about me learning, learning, learning - and so you should probably be looking for some things directed by me to arrive either later THIS year or early NEXT year!”

The single “Coming With You” is released February 8. The album “Non-Fiction” follows February 16, both through Motown Records/Compound Entertainment

The single “Coming With You” and album “Non-Fiction” are both out now through Motown Records/Compound Entertainment

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