Interview: Wayne Brady
Fri, 19 Sep 2008 11:27:15
"Things are going great, man. I can't complain," exclaims Wayne Brady from a New York office. Brady deserves every bit of success that he's garnered. A true showman, in every sense of the word, Brady has put his time in. As a comedian, he's made audiences roll in laughter during TV appearances and live shows. How could anyone forget his Chapelle's Show turn? However, he's venturing into new waters with his debut album A Long Time Coming. It's packed with soulful jams that the Don't Forget the Lyrics host recorded in between his Las Vegas variety show. He spoke to ARTISTdirect about the album and what makes a great entertainer in this exclusive interview.
Why was now the right time to do an album?
As a man, as a performer and as an artist, I finally got to a place where I felt like I could make an album that said something personally and meant something instead of saying, "Oh, I'm just going to sing over some tracks and put it out." At that point, why do it? I hadn't lived enough yet. I think now I've finally lived enough to where I could make an album and feel good about it.
Are you telling stories through these songs?
A few of the songs are definitely telling stories. There's a song called "You and Me," which I wrote as a love song to my ex-wife and my daughter. My ex-wife is my best friend, and I love her with all my heart. I love my daughter. So the song basically tells the story of two people who have been together since they were young, but the marriage part didn't work out. However, they still love each other. That's in a world where normally if you have a falling out with the person you're with, it's "Screw you!" The other person's like, "Screw you too!" The baby's in the middle, and everybody gets hurt. This is a love song to those too.
How did you choose the cover songs?
They were songs that always spoke to me, especially "Change is Gonna Come." Sam Cooke is one of my idols as a singer, as a performer and as a businessman. I just turned 36. Right outside of my lifetime, 38-40 years ago, black folks were still being hurt and harassed. Dogs were sicked on us, and we were being denied certain rights. In my lifetime—I'm still a young guy—we may have a black president. That song means a lot to me emotionally and personally because it's been a long time coming, and I made a change in my life to embark on this part of it. We did a cover of "Money Can't Buy You Love," which is a cover of another song. We actually covered Blackstreet's cover of "Can't Buy Me Love." It was important for me not to show off. At the same time, if you're going to do something, do the best you can do. I wanted to show people the various shades of my voice. Having grown up in church, this was definitely an opportunity to go to church a little bit on 'em. Then on the Stevie Wonder cover, I do what comes naturally. If you can't sing like Stevie, you'd better do something different than Stevie, so we did a cover that was a little more soul-swing.
It sounds like you imbue a part of yourself into each song.
Absolutely! There's a difference between doing a cover that means something to you and doing karaoke. If you're going to sing something, really make sure you connect with it. When I chose those covers, they had pieces that made sense.
It's cool that you blend the comedy and music together in your live show.
That's what I'm doing in Vegas. My Vegas show is called "Making Shit Up." It's an improv show. The first hour features a lot of character work and physical stuff. It's really funny for the audience. Then we do musical improv. Then we do a whole set where I do a tribute to Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown. I also play two original songs from the CD. I tell everyone at the beginning of the show, "This is not like any other show you've seen. This is a variety show. I'm going to give you every single that I've got so get ready." You've got to roll up to Vegas and check it out.
Is it tough to balance TV, movies, singing and having a family?
I'm very blessed to have so much on my plate. Yeah, it's a lot. When doing something that seems vaguely tough, even like getting up and doing a bunch of interviews, I always say to myself, "I don't work at McDonald's or a coal mine." When I put it in that framework, it's all very easy to balance [Laughs].
Is there a creative synergy between all those forms of artistic expression?
Absolutely, I come from the old school way of thinking. I'm going to give you everything I have. Why shouldn't I be able to do the improv thing and the whole nine? That's what I am. Being able to do my Vegas show, the record, a TV show like Don't Forget the Lyrics lets me flex each one of those muscles.
Do you have to diversify like that to survive in the entertainment industry?
That's what I was taught when I started acting in high school. My drama teacher said, "Do as much as you can do." I took that to heart. It's simple mathematics. I said, "I absolutely will." Anytime someone said, "Hey, can you dance?" I'd be like, "Damn, right!" Even if I couldn't, I would learn. "Hey, can you sing?" I'd say, "Yup." Then I'd learn whatever they wanted me to. "Can you act, can you do impersonations and can you do this?" The answer was always, "Yes."
“I could either mess with the naked drunk chick or I could get this album made.”
That's a positive mentality that you don't see enough.
There are a few people who embody that, like Queen Latifah, but not enough people have that sense of "I can do anything" and not enough people actually can. There are people that have a ton of self-confidence, but they don't have the skills. All you have to do is watch American Idol to know that the world is filled with people who have healthy egos and not enough skill to back it up.
Where do you tend to write?
We wrote most of the songs up in my room right after the shows. I'd finish a show. The guys would fly out, and we'd work, write, start laying tracks and we'd be up until 6 O'clock in the morning. It was a very focused environment. We were up in the room. We locked everything outside and said, "Let's work."
Was it tough maintaining that focus?
Especially in Vegas [Laughs]. It isn't like there aren't any distractions outside the door. There's probably a half-naked woman. I'd say to myself, "I could either mess with the naked drunk chick or I could get this album made." So it was an easy choice for me.
Were you singing as a kid? Is this full circle?
I started doing everything at the same time. I started off in musical theater. I started doing the whole thing. Once I started acting, I started touring. It was all on-the-job training. That's why I think the acting and singing go hand-in-hand. That's why I never understood when people said, "Huh, he's doing a record?" Even my comedy has always been music-based. If I wasn't doing music in the improv, I probably wouldn't be singing. That's a big part of what I do.