Interview: Anderson .Paak – ”Right now, there’s not a lot of people that are giving you soul”
Unedited transcription of interview in part previously published(in Swedish) in Gaffa magazine.
The whole album Malibu is based on solid basslines and drumming.
– Drum and bass are huge for me, it became very clear that it was more of a sound I wanted, especially after a few collaborations I did, like with Dre. I did a collaboration with a producer named Jonwayne that is literally just drums and bass. That opened up a whole new world to me, like the vocals can play the variable. If you have that constant drum groove, bass is the melody and your vocals can live on top and really cut through, so I really wanted it on this album.
If you compare the vocals on Venice with Malibu they sound completely different. Personally I’m not too fond of Autotune so I feel you’ve made better use of your voice on Malibu. How did you see this through?
– Well, I think it was a trial and error thing. There was some time of exploration and I feel like Malibu was one of the more cohesive projects of mine and vocally is probably the main reason for that. Even though we travelled along different elements of funk, soul, hip-hop, house and disco, the vocals are what I think ties everything together. That’s what I found with this project. On Venice we were exploring range and dynamics to keep it broad, we were finding our sound having fun with it, you know. So we played with Autotune, we played with different things and that was part of the fun with that album. With Malibu I definitely wanted to find something more consistent on it as far as vocally. I had created a lot of music and I got to work with a lot of people since Venice. Some of the tunes I had already even prior to Venice but I held on to ‘em. I was able to construct Malibu around a few tunes that had these more concrete vocals to ‘em and everything came together towards the end, especially after working with Dre, Knxwledge and other people. I had a clear vision vocally of where I should be.
Working with experienced people like Dre must have been very rewarding, but don’t you also think they must have felt it was revitalizing working with you?
– It was very refreshing for them, revitalizing. It was exciting for them to work with an artist like me that had a little bit of both, that could grab from the old but also was part of the new situation. I felt like I’m part of that last generation that still really respects what people like Dre, 9th Wonder and Hi-Tek have done for the game and it was still important for me to be able to work with him. I was so glad I was able to get them on this project. I had a lot of access after working with Dre, but when I was working with them I saw and from what I was told, like you said, it was revitalizing and refreshing for them to work with someone who had a lot of range, that could both spit and at the same time be really soulful. That’s what DJ Premier told me, “you can do a lot of things but you’re funky, man, you’ve got a lot of soul and funk to you and that’s what I really love and makes me excited to work with you”, and him telling me that got me real excited too. Those were the dudes that was giving me the guts of what I needed, like these drum and bass grooves but still keeping it based in hip-hop which was important to me. It was filling a void that I felt like really few were handling at the time.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from Dre?
– Not to settle for less. Don’t ever settle. Get what you want and work ‘til the very end. And Hendrick’s Gin, I didn’t really know about gin until I met him and it’s a pretty good gin, I like it. (Laughs)
The Weeknd has been very successful lately, BJ The Chicago Kid and yourself are both currently releasing great albums. Is there a growing scene with artists crossing over from hip-hop to soul, that can both rap and sing, or has it always been there but not as much to the fore?
– I feel like when there’s a void then some people are prepared to fill that void and I don’t feel like people really rise their expectations, they are just people who are prepared for these moments that come about. Right now, there’s not a lot of people that are giving you soul, and I’m not talking in the sense of a genre, I’m talking about just music from the gut, that’s not drenched in tune, that’s not sounding like the same four or five characters. There used to be a big conversation about the wide array of textures and that’s missing right now, so when you have people that can actually sing…first off, singing’s gonna make you shine, and let alone someone who can write and sing personal music from the soul then you’re really gonna shine for some people. So many people sound identical to each other, so if you can come out and just do something different that’s just gonna shed light on different things. That’s what’s happening now.
I felt like there was a bit of a reaction against contemporary R&B when Dap-Tone came across about 10-15 years ago doing their retro soul. You are incorporating parts of both.
– Yeah, absolutely. I remember when D’Angelo came out it fucking hit me like a ton of bricks. Everybody was making this cheesy R&B and then he comes and just smacks you in the head with some super soul shit, laid back, and I just felt like everything comes full circle and when people are ready for it it will hit. BJ[The Chicago Kid], myself, we’ve all been doing this shit for a while. I can say as far as myself, I’ve been dibblin’ and dabblin’, doing a lot of different shit and like I said before, Malibu was when everything became streamlined and I’m very grateful for that. I was able to continue making music, finding what I wanted to do and people are now at a point where they’re paying attention. Some people even think I’m brand new, that every album I make is my first album. That’s awesome, like every album you make is your debut. It seems like every year I’m new to some people, I love it that they’re finding this album very soulful and I’m excited to make more music too.
The songs on the Malibu album are labelled “Explicit”, but somehow I don’t hear that much cursing, especially if you compare it to what you did on the Dre album or other things. What’s your take on this?
– It’s not something I was avidly thinking about, I think it was just a natural progression. There’s a couple of people that I always keep in my head who make me try to find different words. My mum used to tell me “if you’ve got to curse that means you don’t have enough vocabulary” and even my production dude L0_def was always pushing for some higher level to not close anybody out. Some people turn the song off as soon as they hear explicit words or if they’ve got kids, you know what I’m sayin’? So you’ve got to give a chance for everybody to enjoy your stuff. At the same time I’m making art and I try not to compromise. It’s good to set parameters and boundaries, you can still find genius within those, but with lyrics I just like to go off the cuff and sometimes yes, I’ll search for a better word. Sometimes the syllable is just too good to not use it. But this one has a little less, I didn’t think it was as necessary.
I was thinking about how you started going to church when you were around eleven and then later on as a young adult you were working at a marijuana farm. Isn’t that a bit contradictory?
– There’s a lot of musicians in the church staff that has smoked a lot of weed, there’s pastors that have smoked weed. The church thing is like “whatever works for you”. At the end of the day that’s how I feel, I’m glad I grew up in the church because that gave me a moral compass, I got to grow up within the music and I got a great schooling from playing drums in church. That was everything. I got such good musical intuition and reflexes and it’s hard to go out and get that formally, the training I got within church was just priceless and invaluable. But life is life and I went through a lot of different things and tried to find my way to just stay afloat, and there was a time when I was pretty upset with my church and what I had gone through. I felt some type of way about a situation that had happened and I didn’t care about what they thought or whatever contradictions which you were supposed to do as a Christian. I was just trying to live my life, trying to stay afloat and provide for my family and that was most important for me. You know, as you live life you’re gonna do some crazy stuff that might not go hand in hand with other things. It’s about surviving out here and making a mark and when you have a family it’s about providing. There are two types of people, the type of person that’s gonna run away from that situation and the type of person that’s gonna stay and provide, and I’m the second one. I grew up with some great examples and I’m not built like the type who would flee from something that I started, so I was doing everything I could to make it happen. I got into some different avenues in order to do that but I’m not ashamed of any of that.