PinBoard had the pleasure of interviewing a true musical pioneer. A legendary musician, producer and artist, Raphael Saadiq has been in the game for over 20 years. Sit back, relax and let Saadiq tell you the way he see’s it.
PinBoard:Mr. Saadiq, it’s an honour. Now, your new album The Way I See It has garnered unanimous critical acclaim and the people have finally heard your vision – how are things for you right now at this current juncture in your career?
Raphael: I think they’re pretty good. Right now I’m just trying to get around the World and get feelings from everybody on the record. It was a great attempt for me and I’m glad I chose the direction I went in. So I guess life’s being good. I’m also with a new company and amongst new people, so overall it’s like a whole new situation and I’m just thankful for every day.
PinBoard: The Way I See It has a very faithfully produced classic/vintage Soul sound reminiscent of the late ’60s and early ’70s. What were you trying to achieve by crafting such a nostalgic piece?
Raphael: I was just listening to my heart you know? It’s what I truly love. I didn’t want to mess people about and I didn’t want to go halfway. Anything less or a lack of work wouldn’t have been me being myself. I’m glad I’m out here as a global artist so I can show myself naturally. At the same time it wasn’t about being burdened by everybody else, because ultimately I’m making something I myself want to hear by spending time creating that sound for this very moment in my life.
PinBoard: I don’t think anybody is ignorant to the fact most artists suffer – to a degree – major label constraints. In wanting to create something that isn’t diluted, were there any difficulties getting the record made and released?
Raphael: Well, I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I’ve done my whole career. News of what I was attempting got out and people talked, but I kind of made the record without anybody hearing it. The label didn’t hear the record until it was finished and once it was finished I was like, well, this is who I am.
PinBoard: The album’s conducted with a very authentic consistency and doesn’t at all have the tackier texture of other recent, Retro-Soul records. Were you using more traditional as opposed to modern recording equipment?
Raphael:I used analogue aswell as using some state of art stuff. But it was more about a feeling more than what I used – because it’s not about what I use, it’s about what I know. There was a feeling in the sound that I grew up listening to more so than alot of what I’m currently hearing in music.
PinBoard: It begs to be asked, but what was it like working with the God Mr. Stevie Wonder on ‘Never Give You Up’?
Raphael: Everything you can imagine. A dream come true. Him walking into a room and pulling out his harmonica, that was something. I thought it fit so well as a production because I knew I would have to do so well as a producer. I wouldn’t just call Stevie Wonder if it didn’t fit, I had to make sure I had the right type of record. Still, the whole thing hasn’t fully hit me yet.
PinBoard: Talking of dreams, I read that you’d been playing instruments since the tender age of six. When you were growing up with this gift, did you feel destined for some prolific career as a musician, performer and producer?
Raphael: It’s in my blood. But from my earliest memories of being in love with music, I didn’t know I was destined to be a singer or producer or anything like that. In my household everybody had guitars, and everybody had keyboards. So from having so many instruments in the house I knew I was destined to enjoy myself playing music and that combined with love – that’s what led me to becoming an artist.
PinBoard: Do you think the present interest in Retro-Soul has enabled you to come into your element as this artist and really design the record you’ve always wanted to? Somewhat also a cathartic experience if you will…
Raphael: I guess what’s happened is that it’s all paying off for the things I like and enjoy. The things I enjoy happen to be things everybody loves right now. As an artist in this business, I’m always looking for something to make me grow so I don’t become stagnant. You don’t want to get pigeonholed. You don’t want to have to do just one thing. I didn’t want to get caught up in that and so I guess I would also say it’s the best time of my life.
Continuing reading the interview after the jump
PinBoard: Then how would you say it is balancing your work with your personal life?
Raphael:It’s a little difficult sometimes, your parents and your family. Everybody on my side understands though that this is what I love to do and I have to do. Even before I had a career I was doing it for free and I probably would do it for free if there was no other choice. Everybody knows music is my first love.
PinBoard: You’ve also been in the business of that which you love for over 20 years now, from legendary New-Jack Swing trio Tony! Toni! Toné! to super-group Lucy Pearl whilst having three successful solos and producing for D’Angelo, Q-Tip, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Bilal amongst countless others. Don’t you ever feel the pressure from being heavily entrusted as this elder statesman in what could be considered now an age of often Soul-less music?
Raphael: No I don’t feel any pressure, because I feel very fortunate to be a true testament in these people’s eyes to what music should be. Some people fall in love with certain characteristics of music or certain styles that don’t last and that’s not good for them. I’m just glad that like a few others I got turned out by probably the greatest music of all time- ‘Soul Music’. It also wasn’t just ‘Soul’, it was also ‘Soul-Pop Music’, very popular at its time and I’m thankful because that quality’s helped me in my career.
PinBoard: Is it true that Tony! Toni! Toné! will be reuniting in the near future for another studio album and possible touring?
Raphael:No. That’s all over me, that’s over for Raphael Saadiq.
PinBoard: What about another Lucy Pearl project?
Raphael: I don’t know. I would love to do it again. But for now, it was more like a one-off.
PinBoard:In regards to another wondrous producer/artist that you’ve worked alongside- tell me about your relationship with the late Jay Dee alias J-Dilla?
Raphael:We more or less part of The Ummah together even though I kind of got into The Ummah later on. I was a huge fan of his. What a terrible loss for everybody, he made a lot of beautiful things and had a lot of work ethic; he worked very hard and that definitely affected me and the way I work. That was my boy. In my studio I’ve got a picture of James Brown and a picture of J-Dilla. Those were the two hardest working men in show business and they both keep me going every day.
PinBoard: I know you have to stay tight-lipped about the long-awaited, next D’Angelo LP that it’s been rumoured you’re assisting on, but what CAN you reveal?
Raphael: All I know is he’s working on it right now. And we’re doing it together for sure.
PinBoard: Out of curiosity, what was it like the day you were in the studio recording ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel?)’ with D? You know, coming up with those first few chords that will probably haunt our bedrooms for the rest of eternity…?
Raphael: It was just another day at work for me no different from any other. I think it was a great feeling listening back afterwards because I was working with such a great artist and you know you’re making history when you’re working with an artist like that. It’s a feeling that you want with every record. Then again, you write a song, you smoke a joint, and you leave (laughs). Honestly I’m not trying to act like it’s nothing, but for us in the studio it’s like you smoke a joint, give each other a pound and say “Peace, let’s go get something to eat.” Six months later it comes out and people go nuts and we go, “Wow, that’s cool, remember that?” We talk about it and we laugh about it.
PinBoard: So what other newer artists are you feeling right now?
Raphael:I like MGMT. I like a lot of Indie-Rock right now, especially whenever I’m searching through iTunes. I think the classical feel of Indie-Rock allows me to keep making the music I make.
PinBoard:Since you mentioned iTunes, do you believe the internet has helped or hindered music as an art-form?
Raphael: I think it’s helped because the more people that hear the music the better. People only buy great albums, so ya know, artists have learn to only put out great music that can stand the test of time
PinBoard: And in time, what’s next for you?
Raphael: I keep working. I’m ready to go out on tour around the world and Europe, and I’m ready to keep making records and keep raising the bar as high as I can.
PinBoard: What about in terms of the next sound? The next direction?
Raphael:I think I’ma stay where I’m at a little bit, I think I’ma switch it up a little bit. I’m a big dreamer, I never know until I wake up in the morning.
PinBoard: Are you looking forward to coming down to London for your performance at Jazz Café on the 10th and 11thof this month?
Raphael: I can’t wait. Whenever I come down – if I could stay- I wouldn’t want to leave.
PinBoard: What is it about London that compels you?
Raphael: Well, I’d love to have London for a base in the future, get a little flat there. Just get to go out and walk around and bask in the fact so many great artists especially Blues artists went over there early in their careers a long time ago. Then so many UK cats like The Rolling Stones came over to the US and hooked up with Blues artists over here because of that. Europeans fans often seem to be above the crowd or even ahead of American fans in terms of appreciating new music as a whole, though slowly American fans are catching up on progressive European tastes. Whenever I go out there I just realise why I started playing music in the very beginning.
PinBoard: Generally speaking, what other hopes do you have for the future?
Raphael: I think all we can ask for is more understanding in the World. That people are aware of the kind of world we live in. Also I just wish America eventually has one radio station that plays everything (laughs).
PinBoard: Finally, it’s imminent I ask this because since we’re on the brink of something monumental that could indeed generate the kind of change or at least heightened consciousness you’re speaking of- what are Raphael Saadiq’s thoughts on the US election tomorrow night?*
Raphael:I think it’s good for all the nations to have this kind stir up. Hopefully the best man wins. And hopefully it brings a whole, great new period of music for everybody that draws a special experience from this election. I hope it brings some peace to the problems of the world and a whole lot more love. Let’s have some 1960s hippy days again…
Peace, Love & Raphael Saadiq