Ne-Yo Talks "Libra Scale," Lady Gaga, Fatherhood and More
Thu, 18 Nov 2010 08:43:31
R&B superstar Ne-Yo is taking chances and calculated risks with his fourth platter, Libra Scale. But once his adoring public and legion of fans finally get to listen to and fully absorb the layered brilliance that is Libra Scale on a sonic and conceptual level, the dividends will have paid off.
Libra Scale is like a modern day update of Michael Jackson's classic Thriller, but it is no retread; Ne-Yo merely takes inspiration from Jackson's velvety smooth beats and knack for melody and on-point vocal delivery and Ne-Yo'izes it, effectively making it his own. It's easily Ne-Yo's most ambitious work to date and in the end, when all is said and done, it'll be looked upon as his best.
ARTISTdirect.com contributor and makeup maven Amy Sciarretto nabbed a few minutes of the new father's precious time earlier this week, on the eve of Libra Scale hitting shelves. He was starry-eyed about his newborn daughter, surprisingly self-aware and forward-thinking about the parental responsibilities that lie ahead and he glowed about his "other" baby, which is Libra Scale.
Ne-Yo went so deep he reached marrow in this compelling and revealing interview, pulling the curtain back on the album's concept of love vs. money, power and fame; he doled out props to Lady Gaga for sacrificing all else for the sake of creativity; and dubbed himself the spokesperson against auto-tuning.
And now, here's Ne-Yo in his own words.
Where are you right now?
I am in Atlanta. What about you?
New York City. It's raining and crappy.
Rainy doesn't have to be crappy. That is "sleep and watch a movie weather."
Agreed! I like it when I don't need to be running around in it. You are a new dad, as of last week, so that's two big events in your life happening at once: becoming a father for the first time and a new album coming out. Congrats, first, on daddyhood!
Thank you. I feel good. I am still a little...well, the initial shock that I am somebody's daddy hasn't worn off. But I am looking forward to it. I am so into it. I feel like it came at the perfect time in my life. I am good and I am going to be the best dad I can humanly be.
What are you most scared of with your prospective fatherhood?
One thing that has happened is that I am a lot more concerned with the current climate of the world because of it. From things that are going on, with the war and in my own backyard, with kids getting stomped out at house parties and silly stuff like that? I feel for the parents that lost children behind something so stupid. I am looking at it from a whole other perspective. It's sad. I pray that I can be the kind of dad that instills in my daughter the knowledge of where to be and where not to be.
It's great that you approach the responsibility with such passion and consideration.
I have no choice. If I am like the way my mother raised me, if I am half of that and how she did it, I'll be alright! We'll see. I am mainly afraid of my schedule. My time has not been mine for a long time and I refuse to be a Skype dad. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Skype, but now, it is a matter of either me going home for a week or me doing an extra three shows. I think I am going to go home from now on.
That is a good indicator of your priorities! Upon listening to Libra Scale, which is terrific, by the way, it felt like Thriller for the iPod and iPad generation! It's butter smooth, a good time and laid back. It's so chill…was that your intent?
Yes. Michael [Jackson] and his body of work was an inspiration for putting together this album. It's less R&B and more like a soundtrack to a film. Libra Scale is an experience, not an album. If you take the time to get into the story and the characters, it makes the songs make sense, and creates a whole experience for the listener. Even if you don't bother with the story, it's not like you won't enjoy it; you will! Personally, I believe you will enjoy it whether or not you pay attention to the concept.
Give us the hard sell on the concept. What do we need to know? It doesn't have to be the Cliff's Notes version, either!
It's a play on my love of fantasy and sci-fi and weights on the Libra Scale: love vs. money, power and fame. Which way would it tip? There are three characters: Clive, Jerome and Leroy. They work 9 to 5, jobs they hate, but the bills get paid. They talk about having money, power and fame, meet a cat named Numinous, who comes to them with a proposition. He says 'I make it happen for you. There is evil on the way to planet with potential to destroy life. If you combat this evil for me, you can take these powers and in return, you get money, power and fame, which you dreamed of.'
The guys agree but there are strict rules from now on: you have protect the city at all costs, tell nobody where the powers came from and most important, you are not allowed to fall in love. No girlfriends, no wives and no serious attachments. They think it's fine, like whatever, since groupies are all they think of. But then time passes and they live their lives. Everyone knows and loves them and they go to a different club every night, with a different girl every night. Though it's fun, it's shallow. Jerome, the main character, falls in love with a young woman and has to make a difficult choice. Does the love you found for this woman overcome, although that was a main rule to maintain money, power and fame?
Do we find out the choice that Jerome is forced to make?
We're doing something interesting. I wrote it with options, as far as the ending. For the first video, Jerome means Pretti Sinclair and they are intimate and that gives her portion of his powers, which drives her insane. Her eyes are diamonds and she becomes his arch nemesis, Diamond Eyes. She thinks his mission is to ruin her life, so she is convinced she has to destroy what he loves first. She wrecks the city. He has a choice: his love for her or the money, power and fame. He has to choose one: save her or kill her. Which will be? I put it on my website and will let fans vote on which it will be in the video.
That's a high concept right there – the execution is impressive, since the first few tracks, like "Champagne Life," come across as party anthems for going to a different club every night, like you mention. What made you decide to go artsy and conceptual with Libra Scale?
Entertainment is in a stupid standstill now. The concept of having fun? That I understand. You want to dance, have fun and enjoy yourselves? I get that. Do we have fun at the cost of brain cells? Is that what we do now?
Someone like Lady Gaga shook up the world because she brought back creativity. I was not, 'Look how pretty I am.' Some will get this concept; some will not. Love me or hate me, it's my vision and my art. That's how Gaga is and I love her for that. I wish more artists thought like that; we'd have more diversity on the radio. Every pop station is one long continuous song with the same beat. R&B is not much different; it's the same thing. If it's not overtly sexual, it's 'Look at how much money I got' or 'how cool' I am.
Libra Scale is my attempt to do something different in my genre. If it wins, it wins. I am glad people care. I gave it my all; if it doesn't win, oh well. Even with all the stupidity and whackness today, I still can't put handcuffs on my artistic self for fear it won't work. I tried to do something and if it ends up that it didn't work, at least I tried to be creative.
Amen to that! Let's talk a little about how you record music. We're doing a "Beats" series and asking producers such as yourself to share some tips and techniques. Please and thank you.
It all depends on the sound you are going for. I do my own background vocals. I guess that is not common. I didn't know that was uncommon. People ask me 'Who does your vocals' and I say, 'Me' and they go, 'Oh wow, really?' Well, I wrote it, who else is supposed to do it?
Depending on the sound you go for, background vocals come out thicker and fuller if you stack everything. In a 3-part harmony, if you stack every note three times… some songs call for you to stack every note once for a grass roots sound.
Also, I am anti-auto-tune. I am a spokesperson against it. If you are a singer, sing. Take the training wheels off. I don't use it as wings. I don't jump off the building with my auto- tune wings and let them do the work. They are supposed to be a safety net. When you sing, you walk a tightrope and the auto-tune is the safety net catch the fall. So get in there and sing with your skills and rely on that, so if you happen to fall or go a little off note, auto-tune is there to pick you up. That is how I use auto-tune. A lot of artists should use it, but if you overuse it, it takes the personality and character out of your voice and everyone sounds the same, like that one long continuous song syndrome of pop radio. You can't tell no one from no one. I am personally sick of it. It was used as a style. When Lil Wayne did it, it was a style. T-Pain did it and it was a style. Kanye West did it and it was a style…not a crutch.
You really are the spokesperson against auto-tune…as a crutch of course.
Why do people who can sing do it? When did being an artist become a lazy practice? You should want to stand out. It used to be that you did not want to be what everyone else was. Why is it cool for your song to sound like the one that just went off and the one after that and the one after that? When did that become cool? I can't operate like that. I want you to hear a Ne-Yo song and know it's Ne-Yo.
You are the ambassador for creativity. Tell me, what is on your Christmas and holiday wish list?
In regard to music, until my daughter was born, my life was music. The whole industry is in transition. There are cycles where melody and content go away, so I am ready for us to get back to real talent, real lyrics and melodies. I want people to feel something other than 'Let's dance and drink.'
I wish for a healthy baby, for all the way through her life. I am waiting for her to get to her growing phase. I anticipate that. How will I deal with that side of being a father?
I want people to use more common sense - the kid that got stomped to death at a damn house party? I can assume that was about nothing and that it went way further than it should have. Good people need to take a few seconds to think before you do things. A lot of things wrong today won't be wrong if you think.
And I want my daughter to be happy and healthy rest of her life.
Famous last words, please!
People come to me for reasons that they don't go to other artists for. I appreciate that. I am the one to come to if you want something meaningful and real and creative. I am not the dude to get on stage and take my shirt off. That is not my focal point or my strong point. Don't get Libra Scale because you think I am cute; get it but because you love the music I make. That being said, this album is not sexually driven or about 'Look how cool I am.'
It is not what's popular right now. Open your mind and I guarantee you will enjoy it.
Will you be buying Libra Scale?
Watch our video interview with Ne-Yo about Libra Scale and Red Tails here!