Legend in the Making
John Legend lives up to his very presumptuous name with, "Once Again," the follow-up album to his three-Grammy-winning debut, "Get Lifted."
BY KATIE ROST
John Legend is a musician with a quiet confidence about him. He is energetic. He is powerful. He knows he is outstanding, but fearlessly reveals his vulnerability. He is imperfect, he is perfect, he's jaded, he's in love, he gave it his all, but still cheated; he's sorry, and he wants you to feel that. ...this man is telling you his truth. After a great performance at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium, I thought I'd find out more.
KATIE ROST: You are consistently described as "soulful" by reviewers and fans, what does that mean to you?
JOHN LEGEND: To me, being soulful isn't really a conscientious thing. If you have to over-think about it or plan it, it ain't really soulful. Soulfulness comes through being honest and authentic (not contrived) in writing and singing. It also can be conveyed through your instrumentation and arrangement. I made sure not to overproduce the songs. I wanted them to sound natural and organic. I think that's why people use that term "soulful" to describe my music.
ROST: Tell me about your song writing process.
LEGEND: I start with the musical accompaniment. Sometimes, I write the musical accompaniment on the piano by myself (e.g., "Again"). Sometimes, I sit with a guitarist who plays some chords and I join in (e.g., "Show Me"). Sometimes I work with a producer who has already made an instrumental track (like on "Save Room," in which the instrumental track samples "Stormy", a '60s pop song). After figuring out the musical accompaniment, I start singing along to figure out the vocal melody that I want to go with for the song. Then I mumble lyrical ideas until something starts to stick. Finally, I write all my lyrical ideas down until it really starts to come together into stanzas and verses that build into a full story. I'm pretty methodical about writing.
ROST: Do you ever feel scared by the intimacy you create with your audience?
LEGEND: I'm not afraid of the audience feeling close to me. But, I would warn my fans that just because you know my song lyrics doesn't mean you know every aspect of my life. I reserve the right to make things up and draw from things I observe in other people's lives to round out the stories.
ROST: Washington is a very political city. Do politics find a way into your music?
LEGEND: I subtly reference some of my political views in a couple songs on this album, especially "Coming Home." But I try to make the political issue of the war personal by talking specifically about the individuals who have to execute our unfortunate policy decision, the soldiers themselves.
"BEING SOULFUL ISN'T REALLY A CONSCIENTIOUS THING. IF YOU HAVE TO OVER-THINK ABOUT IT OR PLAN IT, IT AIN'T REALLY SOULFUL " - JOHN LEGEND
ROST: Where do you stay and what do you like to do when you visit D.C.?
LEGEND: I've stayed at the Mandarin Oriental; great design, great service. I also stay at the Park Hyatt sometimes. They have great service there, and they always put me in a nice suite that has a baby grand piano in it.
ROST: Any wild nights?
LEGEND: When I come to D.C., I don't usually have much time to be a tourist. I do have a few friends here, so I try to get dinner or drinks with them at a low-key spot when possible. I like some of the big clubs in D.C. when I'm looking to party in a more public way. Love [formerly known as Dream] is usually a lot of fun.
ROST: What music by other artists is turning you on these days?
LEGEND: I like the new Killiers album a lot. I also like the Gnarls Barkley album and Amy Winehouse.
|John Legend at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium during homecoming '06