Thursday, September 16, 2010

An EXCLUSIVE interview with ALOE BLACC

When Aloe Blacc released his debut album, Shine Through, in 2006, it was not what anyone expected from one half of underground Hip Hop duo Emanon. The album was an eclectic mix of Trip Hop, Soul, Pop, Gospel, Electronica and R&B and, on the surface, was worlds away from Emanon’s sound. A closer examination of the album revealed many layers of musical influences that had always been there in the music that Aloe had created, yet had never risen completely to the surface until the album’s release.

Four years later, Aloe returns with Good Things, a sophomore album that strips away the modern aspects of Aloe’s sound and dresses him up in a new set of old school clothes. For this album, Aloe and producers Truth & Soul have created a very modern tribute to the early ‘70s, one of the most influential periods in Soul music. The joyful ‘60s had given way to the earnest ‘70s, a time where artists had more control over their musical output. From Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers to Al Green and Marvin Gaye, this period in music history was one that was exciting, passionate, ground breaking and thought-provoking.

Good Things is an album that echoes a sound and a time without stealing from it. It is an album that takes one generation’s musical language and speaks to a new generation of music lovers eager to learn and understand. It takes the past right up to the present without falling into retro-novelty territory. It’s an album with feeling and meaning. It is an album filled with great tunes and plenty of warmth. It is an album that merely touches the surface of Aloe’s passion for real and honest music.

Spaz was able to track Aloe down and discuss the new album and his career to date…

SPAZ: How are you feeling at this moment, now that Good Things is just about ready to be unleashed upon the world?
ALOE BLACC: I am very much looking forward to the release. It’s been four years since my debut with Shine Through and I am interested to see how my fans react to this shift to Soul music.

SPAZ: Your debut was a very eclectic mix of styles. Who were your musical influences growing up?
AB: Growing up, I used to listen to many different artists. My parents are from Panama, so they would play Latin artists like Ruben Blades and Ismael Rivera. At the same time, I was really into Hip Hop listening to A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. During elementary school, I played the trumpet, so I had to learn classical music as well.

SPAZ: Good Things is both a departure and a logical musical progression. Going into the studio, did you intend to take your music in this more soulful direction?
AB: I definitely knew that I wanted to focus more on one genre for this second album and Soul was the natural first choice because I worked with the producers at Truth & Soul. I am a big fan of the legendary Soul artists like Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and others. This album is my testament to what they have taught me musically.

SPAZ: Do you feel that you were able to fully express your creativity while recording a more focused album?
AB: It’s easier for me to draw a central character for listeners when the album is more focused on one style. It helps me to tell a story a bit better as well.

SPAZ: While other recent acts have gone back to revisiting the sound of ‘60s Soul, on Good Things, there’s a definite early ‘70s influence. What was it about that time that inspired you?
AB: Soul music of the early ‘70s has a political and social bent that is driving and emotional. I think that we have lost a lot of that vigor in contemporary R&B because the topics and ranges of sound are not very attractive. The classic Soul singers had a personality and a view point. They also had real voices that we came to love. Nowadays, you can’t tell artists apart because they all use auto-tune and sing the same melodies.

SPAZ: The first single off of Good Things, ‘I Need A Dollar’, is perhaps one of the finest singles of the last decade, Soul or otherwise. How did that song come about?
AB: I started writing “I Need a Dollar” several years ago before. I was inspired by a compilation of field recordings of chain gang workers who had very simple structure in their work songs. The verses in my song relate to personal experiences that either happened to me or to people near me. For example, the second verse is about losing a job, which is something that happened to me before I started making music full time.

SPAZ: Your soulful take on the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” takes the song to completely different, yet deeper, level. What inspired you to record that track?
AB: I was really intrigued by the story behind the song. From what I understand, Lou Reed penned the song for Andy Warhol who asked him to write a song about Edie Sedgwick. The tragedy in the life of the singer, Nico, is also quite interesting because in many ways she was a femme fatale.

SPAZ: The album’s songs sound extremely powerful and rootsy live. Are you looking forward to taking the album out on the road?
AB: I am definitely going to take the album on the road. My band, The Grand Scheme, and I will hit Europe and North America before the end of the year. I think the live show enhances the music in ways I was not able to accomplish on the album. Every song has a more embellished and polished interpretation when it is played for a live audience. The live show is where my songs become complete.

SPAZ: Would you like to explore this musical avenue further, or are you thinking about taking another musical departure with your next project?
AB: I will definitely continue to make Soul music in the future, but my next project is a Hip Hop album with DJ Exile. We have been making music together for over a decade as a group named Emanon and our new album is called Birds Eye View. It feels good to be able to move around in different genres and still be appreciated. Not many artists get that latitude.

SPAZ: What’s next for Aloe Blacc?
AB: I enjoy telling stories, so perhaps I will begin acting. One thing is for sure, I will always make music and I enjoy writing for other artists as well.

SPAZ: What do you have currently spinning in your CD and DVD players?
AB: I always have a copy of D.J. Rogers album It’s Good To Be Alive in my media player. Also, Sly Stone’s Fresh album is an all-time favorite. I am playing Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell,  Nat King Cole as well.
Thanks to Aloe Blacc
Special thanks to Jacki Feldstein

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