John Legend Interview By: Just Jared & Very Vera
Singer-songwriter John Legend has won three Grammys so far: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Not too shabby from a 27-year-old from Springfield, Ohio! John has worked with big names like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Alicia Keys. He even graduated from Ivy League U.Penn. Smart and sexy.
Last night, I had the opportunity to interview John Legend with Very Vera from ImNotObsessed.com and we had a blast doing it! Legend gave us the lowdown on his album “Once Again” (out today), a future duet with Alicia Keys, his acting debut, and his new music video “Heaven” (out Thursday). We also grilled him about MySpace and blogging… and as it turns out, he does read one blog occasionally! Read the full interview after the jump and check out the video message John taped exclusively for us and all you fans out there (the audio and video are out of sync towards the end)!
More pictures and more interview inside…
John Legend Interview
Just Jared: Congratulations on your album “Once Again” dropping tomorrow. How excited are you?
John Legend: I’m very very very excited. I’m very proud of the music and people are going to love it. So I can’t wait for them to hear.
Very Vera: What creative process did you go through to create this album?
JL: This album was fun. I had a lot of fun in the studio. I worked with Kanye West, will.i.am, Raphael Saadiq, Craig Street, and a few others. Basically we started out just trying to make some songs. With producers like Kanye and will, they make the beats before I get there. They have ideas, they play them for me and then we see which ones I like and which ones we can start writing songs to.
So with them, we start with the beat. Then I start coming up with melodies and hooks for it. And then finally I write the lyrics based on the feeling of the song and whatever direction I think it’s going. Some songs I wrote on the piano and then we produced afterwards. Those were like “Where Did My Baby Go?” and “Coming Home” and different songs like that. I wrote on the piano and then went in with this guy Craig Street, who’s one of the producers. He helped me take those songs from just a piano thing to a full arrangement. Either way, I wrote most of the songs in the studio on the spot. Within the first three months of recording, I wrote about 30 songs and we narrowed it down to the best 13 for the album.
VV: How was that different from your first album?
JL: It was a very similar writing process but it was spread out over a longer period of time because the first album, I was trying to get a record deal when I was writing most of the songs. So, I was writing songs for my demo at the time and I was recording but I couldn’t record them with the right equipment to make them perfect. But we got it close enough to help me get a record deal. So it was just a more scattered and more difficult process the first time. So this time around, you got the money and time. You don’t have to worry about your day job and paying your rent and all this stuff. You just focus on playing music and writing music and putting it out. And so I had access to everything I needed to do. So it was more efficient, more productive, and I think the results are even better.
JJ: How hard was it to get your record deal?
JL: It was hard. I went from ’99 to ’04 trying to get a deal and didn’t have one. So I was working with producers and making demos. And making more demos. Just trying to get it to the right spot where people would be ready to spend the money they needed to sign me. And so it took me a minute but Kanye really helped me a lot with that because he signed me back in ’03. Even before that, we were working together on my demo and on his album, which was eventually “The College Dropout.” So we started playing together then. He was also producing other artists as well, so he would bring me in on those sessions so I could get some credits on some other albums while I was still trying to get a record deal. And all that really helped me get a deal. Finally in 2004, I signed with Sony. And we put the album out at the end of the year.
JJ: I understand that your favorite song that you have written to date is “Again”. And it’s on this album.
JL: You know it’s funny because I said that statement right before I made the rest of the album. I said it awhile back. But it’s still one of my favorites and I think it’s one of my best examples of songwriting. And it’s not just the recording, but the actual songwriting, the lyrics and the concept and the delivery of the song. So it’s still one of my favorites but I think my favorite record on this album is “Show Me”.
JJ: Could you give us a little background on that track?
JL: “Show Me” was produced by Raphael Saadiq. Craig Street and I did some additional production on it. It’s just the beauty of it, the arrangement, and the lyrics and. I sang it in a different way, so it sounds really cool and different. Also, the subject matter is very heartfelt. It’s a song where it’s asking God why the world is the way it is right now, why there’s so much pain, why there’s so much suffering. It sounds kind of cliche but it’s done in a very honest and sincere way and I think that’s what makes it special.
VV: You mentioned a lot of people that you worked with on this album. Is there somebody in the future that you’re looking forward to working with?
JL: I don’t know. I’ve worked with so many people already. On their albums, on my album. I’m on Jay-Z’s next album, Common’s next album, so I don’t really have much of a wish list. Alicia [Keys] and I have talked about doing a duet, so maybe we’ll do something together at some point.
VV: You sang background for her, right?
JL: I sang background on one record in the studio with her and then I also toured as the opening act for her tour in ’05.
JJ: How much does religion play into your music?
JL: Well, the only song that’s specifically got a spiritual context is “Show Me.” My musical background is gospel music, so that’s where I grew up playing. So I think that influences everything that I do because whatever you grow up learning is the core of what you do musically. And so gospel music is that for me.
JJ: Do you attend church on Sundays?
JL: No, I don’t. [laughs] My parents wish I would but I don’t go very often. I attend church when I go home most of the time.
VV: One of my readers loved your song “Ordinary People” and she wanted to know if it was reflective of your own life?
JL: Well, I think that’s everybody’s life that’s going through relationships. I tried to write a song like that. With that song specifically, it just wasn’t about one specific story. It’s just more about my perspective on relationships and how they work. If they’re going to succeed, it takes work and they’re not always going to be easy. That was the idea of the song. And the reason I think it did so well was so many people saw their relationship in that song.
JJ: Your music video “Heaven” will be debuting on Yahoo! Music this Thursday. Can you give us a little preview of what’s to come?
JL: The chorus is just “Heaven only knows” and actually, it’s kind of in the same lyrical direction as “Ordinary People” where it’s talking about a couple that’s going through a lot at the time. They don’t know how it’s going to work out but they’re trying to recapture the magic of when they first got together. They’re trying to capture their honeymoon period back. But since the song has “Heaven Only Knows” as the chorus, Hype Williams decided to play off of that heaven and angelic iconography for the video. We shot the video in an old castle outside of London. Some of the paintings really reminds you of that iconography that you’ll see in a lot of places.
JJ: Random question time! Do you have any pets?
JL: No pets. I could not take of a pet. I’m on the road so much. I never grew up with pets, so I don’t have a desire to have them.
JJ: Favorite comfort food?
JL: MACARONI & CHEESE! Like the real kind, not crap. [laughs]
JJ: Do you read blogs? Do u have a MySpace?
JL: My label has a MySpace account but I do not have one myself. I don’t really read blogs. Occasionally, I’ll go onto Gawker just for fun. [laughs] My girlfriend loves that site. [laughs]
I type little journals on my website too on johnlegend.com once in awhile. I don’t do them a lot. It’s just for people to know what I’m doing and what I’m thinking about.
JJ: Would you ever try your hand at acting someday? What types of roles would you like to play?
JL: I’m going to be a film next year with Mos Def. It’s called “Stringbean and Marcus”. The role is actually younger than me. I’m playing a guy in his late teens. An 18 or 19-year-old. But I got a baby face, so I just shave all this off. [points to scruff]
VV: Boxers or briefs?
JL: Boxer briefs.
VV: What CDs are in your car right now?
JL: I don’t have a car and I don’t listen to CDs anymore. I listen to everything on my iPod. Living in NY, I just don’t have a car. But with the iPod, this week I put it on shuffle and I’ve been listening to Killers, Ray Charles, Jay-Z, Outkast, Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye.
VV: What do you do to relax?
JL: I love listening to music. I love to read. Occaiosnally, I just veg out and watch television.
VV: Favorite book?
JL: “The Bluest Eye,” Toni Morrison
VV: What’s in your pockets?
JL: Just my phones. My two phones.
VV: Favorite performance of yours?
JL: The Grammys. I performed “Ordinary People” and it was very special.
VV: You mentioned your girlfriend before. What do you look for in the opposite sex?
JL: Sexy, smart, confident. I just have to enjoy being around them. I have to look forward to seeing them. They have to be fun.
JJ: How often do you see your girlfriend?
JL: When I’m on tour, not enough. [laughs] Occasionally, she’ll fly out and see me but she works. She’s has her own thing.
[Legend films video message]
Check our Vera‘s account of the night’s events here.