[INTERVIEW]
Eric Benet: Soul Survivor

[INTERVIEW]
Eric Benet: Soul Survivor

The sultry singer discusses finding true love, going the independent route and why new R&B isn't R&B at all

by Natelegé Whaley, July 9, 2012

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[INTERVIEW]
Eric Benet: Soul Survivor

Eric Benet

They say you can’t have it all. But Eric Benét’s life as he tells it, seems to be the exception to the rule. The singer recently married Manuela Testolini last summer and the two celebrated the birth of their first child Lucia, Benét’s second daughter, in December 2011. His oldest, India, is now a 20-year-old college student attending USC.

On his sixth studio album The One, released in early June, Benét sings of gratitude to the women in his life with “Real Love” dedicated to his wife, a duet with his daughter India titled “Muzik,” and a lullaby “Here In My Arms” dedicated to his baby daughter.

Moreover, Benét has finally created an album that is totally all him. After breaking ties with Warner Brothers the singer released his first album on his new label Jordan House Records. While maintaining his soulful and R&B roots on The One, he explores with a country-inspired track “Come Home To Me;” a little bit of reggae with “Hope That It’s You;” and a tinge of hip-hop with a feature from rapper Lil Wayne on his song “Red Bone Girl.” 

Also, after a career that spans two-decades, Benét still gives his fans a moving and satisfying live performance. He’s currently on tour with fellow Soul star Ledisi, and at a recent tour stop at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, he brought singer Tamia to the stage for a surprise feature to sing their hit love song, “Spend My Life With You.” He exited the stage at the end of his set with a standing ovation.

In between shows, Eric Benét gave EBONY the scoop on touring with Ledisi, how his new marriage and daughters have inspired his latest album, and all the other reasons he is winning right now.

EBONY: Why is the album called The One?

Eric Benét: It's the one that I've been trying to make my whole career. The project that I own completely. The project that I have complete autonomy and creative control over. And I recently started my own record label which is something that I've been aspiring to do my whole career.

EBONY: You’ve already released five studio albums before this. Lyrically and musically what did you want to do differently with The One?

EB: I wanted this project musically to show diversity, depth, and evolution as a songwriter and as a singer. And I think by nature of the project it's a very core Eric Benét fan-based record. But there's also obvious songs where I pushed the envelope, where people don't expect from me… a country song, reggae… So I was able to just do what I do but also push the envelope in a couple areas.

EBONY: “Real Love” was your first single. What will be the next single?

EB: Well it's not for certain, but what we're working right now is “Harriett Jones” and that's going well. But what we're looking at is a song called "Runnin'," which I like to refer to as a grown-ass man song. It's a very evolved-guy's perspective of the joy and the simplistic beauty of being in love versus being that guy out there just running around from situation to situation.

EBONY: After marrying last July and having a baby, how have these experiences inspired your current music in any way?

EB: Well I think as a songwriter, my life is always reflected in my music. At least for me. And so being married, being in love again, knowing the blissful joy of being a father all over again, I think it just widens and deepens my life experience. When my life is fuller I think the music is fuller. And from a more literal perspective, I definitely pull from my life when it comes to this project. The first single, "Real Love" is all about my relationship with my wife. And the song "Muzik" is a song I do with my daughter India, about our relationship. “Lucia's Lullaby” is dedicated to my new baby. It was a melody I would actually sing to her before she was born and was still a prenatal and my wife and I wrote the lyrics when she was born.

EBONY: Your oldest India is a young woman now, and now you have a new born. How does that feel to start at that point again with raising Lucia with a little more life experience, as compared to being a younger dad raising India?

EB: It's very different the first time. The first time I was very much a kid. It was wonderful to be a father and India was the best thing that happened to me. But at the same time I was very afraid — not afraid — I guess trepidation; doubt. Like, "Can I really do this?" Like, "Am I going to be all the things that I need to be and do all the things that I need to do?" Now that I have this 20-year-old wonderful and talented, beautiful, gorgeous daughter. I now have Lucia with all the joy and all the bliss without all the trepidation or any fear and just excitement and anticipation everyday with this new baby. And also the fact I have this new partner, my wife, to do this with this time. Life is wonderful right now. Not only being a father again but also being a husband. Just being able to feel after all these years my passion, my music, and having it all. Truly blessed everyday.

EBONY: Speaking of having it all, you also have your own label now? Why did you choose to go through your own label to release this record? What was the cause of this?

EB: Being an artist on a major record label was very much a blessing. I was a young guy from Milwaukee being a recording artist and Warner Brothers made all that possible. But like any relationship you just grow out of it. It was a relationship where I didn't have any control. I had like the illusion of creative control but at the end of the day, if they didn't like our project they didn't have to release it. I never knew if I would get a second single or a second video. Sometimes I didn't. Now it's all on me. I get to call those shots and make it happen and as long as I can write the check and make it happen, it's gonna happen. Needless to say my pockets are not as deep as Warner Brothers, but I’m overjoyed to have the opportunity to take my career in my own hands for the first time.

EBONY: As an artist whose sang R&B for two-decades, what’s your view on the sentiment that R&B may be going through some sort of identity crisis because of the genre-bending happening with many of today’s artists?

EB: Well I think it's extremely interesting because if you look at other genres – country music for example – country music in the 1970s was acoustic guitars; stories about life; and "I'm going through this" and twangy vocals. 30 years later, country music has gone through many revolutions but for the most part it's still country music. It still has all those elements. And same with rock music. You could listen to rock music back in the 70s, it was what it was. Maybe they called it grunge in the 90s and gone through other incantations of rock over the decades. But if you listen to it now, it's still rock. But with R&B it is truly not what it was. It's more like electronic, techno, kind of pop music. And it's a bit upsetting especially in an industry that still thinks its fair Grammy season to put Rihanna in the same category as Ledisi for R&B when it's clearly not the same style of music.

I'm not knocking what new R&B is. It's fun. It feels good in the club when I want to dance and I want to hear that. But I don't think it should be called R&B anymore. It should be it's own category. R&B, rhythm and blues, is an extremely unique American art form born through the African-American experience out of jazz and gospel and soul music. Live instruments, there's real music, and there's passion in the instrumentation. That's what R&B is. So I hope they get it straight soon. It reminds me of when hip-hop started, when they would do award shows. They would just kind of lump Hip-Hop right into an R&B category and it took a few years before Hip-Hop was like "No, I am not R&B. I am Hip-Hop." So I hope that happens again and that there is a differentiation between the two.

EBONY:  Could you talk about other artists have made a profound impact on you?

EB: Yeah there's quite a few that I could, but I'd like to speak about R&B. I'd like to talk about somebody like Chaka Khan and I think of the early days with Rufus. And it was the kind of music that when I was a kid, I said I want to make that kind of music. I want to make R&B music where arrangement-wise and instrumentally I'm pushing the envelope. I'm not just oversimplifying the structures of my songs or the arrangements of my songs. I want the melodies and the voicing to have some depth to them. And I also want my lyrics to mean something to people and now, 30 years later, Chaka Khan is singing stronger and better than ever and that's always the artist I aspired to be.

EBONY: Any favorite song by her?

EB: “In Love We Grow” and I believe it was off the Rags To Rufus album.

EBONY: How has it been touring with Ledisi? Saw the show at the Beacon Theatre last night and you still have a strong connection with fans. How does that feel, especially coming this far in your career?

EB: Somebody told me years and years ago when I first started out – my sister and I originally signed to EMI as a duo, and we were called Benét – and I was told by somebody that had been in the business a very long time, "Look Eric, if you're lucky, the average lifespan of a recording artist is 4 or 5 years, sometimes less, maybe more if you're lucky. So make the most of these next couple years and save your money and plan for the future.” And to know I had that conversation 20 years ago, and I'm still able to go out on a stage and sing my songs for people, and travel the world and make music and be on the charts and making my dreams come true everyday… I can't begin to express my gratitude just the bliss, the appreciation for my fans for allowing me to still be in their lives. It's amazing. I'm just gonna keep going.

 
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