After several years away from the limelight, Jon B. returns with his new album Helpless Romantic later this month. Check out my Q&A with him to find out what he's been up to, which new artists have been inspiring him and why he'll never truly retire from the music business!
Where have you been?
I've always done my thing behind the scenes production wise and been trying to get the next album together always, not to mention the industry has been completely changed since back in the day when people were used to seeing me in the mainstream and all that. Right now I'm a producer, as far as, I'm always going to be a producer and a songwriter, so I'm working with all kinds of artists right now.
The title is Helpless Romantic, can we expect an album full of love songs?
Yeah, Helpless Romantic is the theme I came up with. I came up with the The whole concept of I can't help it, I'm a helpless romantic, you're the ocean I'm Titanic, I would sink for you. For me, kind of being out of the game for a second and really sinking into my life, my home life, my personal life, it's been a trip to really prioritize towards my family and for the first time in my life doing something for me all the way. Since I was 18 I've always had this, I've been pursuing my dream of being a musician and I'm 34 now looking at it like. Man a lot has gone down in my life in the last couple years and it's a special moment for me it's a special time.
What made you want to return to the spotlight?
The love and the passion I have for my music as well as the people that listen along with me. As well as the fact that, when I'm old and gray I'll be putting records out. It might not be "Jon B" per se but definitely I'll be a part of music in the future. This is just a tool for me to get my music out there. My voice is one facet what I do. A lot of the production I have coming out is going to make people say "Damn he's kinda mean with the beats."
What instruments do you play?
I play keys. I think the missing link to the average perception of me is that I'm just a singer, but a lot of the songs they hear I did the beats to that stuff and I played the keys and played the baseline and arranged the background vocals and all that. It's a lot more to it.
How was it working with Paul Wall on the first single "So Sexy"?
It definitely was like a mutual respect finding another brother out there in this world where there is so much competition. It's such a competitive vibe in this game of music, it's nice to collaborate and shine together. I felt like it was kind of a thank you to the South also, I've stayed out there a lot in the last couple years, there in the Midwest and the energy from there was definitely the inspiration for the first single "Oh So Sexy".
Jon B. "Oh So Sexy"
Talk to me about going independent.
Independent is the game right now. Independent is the business. Especially for someone like myself that's self-contained that writes and produces their own material and sings - why not go independent? It's all about putting together the right team and finding distribution. It might take a little more time and require a little more work but it's the best way to learn the business. I've been in the game 15 years and this is a beautiful thing and a beautiful time for me.
What has been the hardest part coming back?
There's nothing ever different for me coming back with records because I'm always gone three or four years and they're always saying why did you stay away so long? And I'm like hey man I gotta live life. It's all about how I perceive it and I perceive it as only being a beautiful thing when you are working so hard at something and you finally have it how you want and you're ready to share it to the world. I'm looking forward to how people are going to react and bringing people good energy in 2009 for sure.
Do you get tired of performing your older material?
Definitely but it's humbling when you do get tired of it and they sing it for you and it strikes a chord with why you do it in the first place. If they are enjoying it you get the heavy, that's the heavy heavy right there.
You were talking about making records into your old age, are their examples out now for you?
Someone like Babyface, he's definitely someone I've always looked up to and been mentored by. He was and is still someone who is always going to hold weight in the industry as a writer and producer and if he wants to sing his records he just has to decide what style he wants to do and it will be classic 'Face. Seeing him come out with new stuff is like very refreshing to me because he kind of fell into the same perception as far as the audience as I did where people are like "Where's Babyface?" but to see him come back doing his thing he sounds fresh and new and like he's hungry again like he's in a good place in his life and that's inspiring to me. Having the hunger to do it after years and years. He doesn't even have to put a record out if he doesn't want to, he could just be raising his kids.
Obviously coming back out there is a new generation that will be introduced to you, how do you feel about that?
This album is definitely going to sync in with the younger audience becaue I was so heavily influenced. I definitely have to give it up to cats like T-Pain and Kanye West and The-Dream and people like Lloyd and Ne-Yo for bringing back the rhythm and melody, that's what really defines where r&b is right now because people love the rhythm of the lyrics but they have to hear some kind of melody. I had to learn to simplify, so cats like The Dream and T-Pain helped me to simplify and make it more about the beat, the lyrics are very important, but the rhythm of the lyrics doesn't have to necessarily be a crazy melody. I've learned a lot from the music business and I think this album is definitely that but at the same time there are things I can't explain about my style that just happen on this album that are definitely reminiscent of the Cool Relax days and that was involuntary. Some of the joints are just vintage that way.
Did you feel pressure to make songs that were more danceable?
The pressure is the fire that gives you that hunger. I don't cookie cut, if I see something I like, I don't try to make that. If it comes out it ends up being totally different than the original record that inspired me. I'm really open, I'm like a big sponge in my life. I'm not stunted by the music that is out right now that's playing in the club because when you put on that one joint that is that cool down joint people are ready for it. I'm ready for Maxwell to come back and D'angelo - the real crooners.
If there was any artist you could work with that you haven't who would you pick?
I really see myself working alongside Alicia Keys as well as seeing myself working with all the top names right now, Ne-Yo, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke... Mary J. Blige though is definitely someone that is a heavyweight female soul person that I've always wanted to work with and I think Mary would appreciate my jazziness and my ear.
What song are you most excited about?
The title track, "Helpless Romantic" . You go there for that person. You get deep you're not afraid to get deep with someone. The beat is very relaxing and kinda cerebral, it still has a little of that club but it's definitely a relaxing kind of joint. That one has a nice little interlude before it too that my wife laced up. She put together this nice spoken word piece. It's a nice atmosphere to create for people, I'm excited for people to hear that one. Well the whole album really.
Are you touring right now?
Yes I've been doing a lot of shows opening for Mint Condition.
What are you listening to these days?
A lot of classic vinyl, I play a lot of house music, I spin records and I'll keep a groove going for hours sitting with my headphones. Those artists are always Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson. In regard to hip-hop, I love J-Dilla and I love Pete Rock as far as producers. It's definitely an eclectic mixture.
Helpless Romantic lands in stores October 28th via Vibezelect Music/Arsenal Records (distributed by Fontana/Universal Music). Visit http://www.myspace.com/jonbmusic or www.arsenaluniversal.com for more info.
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