Maxwell: R&B Royalty
Earlier this year, R&B/soul singers Maxwell and Mary J. Blige announced they would tour together for the first time. They’ll be co-headlining the King and Queen of Hearts World Tour, a 24-show run of dates that comes on the heels of a dozen European dates in October. Both have new albums to support. Maxwell released the second installment of his musical trilogy, blackSUMMERS’night, earlier this year, and Blige has nearly completed her fourteenth studio album. We spoke to Maxwell via phone from New York where he had just been the surprise guest at Harry Belafonte’s Many Rivers To Cross fest.
Talk about what this tour represents. What do the two of you have in common and how will your performances compliment each other?
I think, obviously, she is the queen of street soul. She came up at a time when young kids were buying old records and making new things with them. There was Biggie and Puff. It was such a ‘90s thing. She blossomed into even more and was able to sing with Bono and Andrea Bocelli and is known and respected. I think people thought she’d be around for a few months or maybe a year or two but she has staying power. She’s definitely iconic and her voice is a national treasure. We’ve been friends for a while and we’ve been trying to make this happen. We just want the soul to come back. The timing is interesting. R&B is popular within the boy band world. I’m a fan of everybody, by the way, and I have no beef with anyone, especially if you’re under 22. There’s no way I could be mad at you. They love R&B, but I feel like it got lost in the shuffle with pop and house and all those things that have taken over. This is a way to reintroduce R&B to people. Mary and I are about keeping soul alive and getting people through their pain. She’s badass and I’m grateful to be doing this thing. I’m glad we put this together after four years of trying to make this happen.
You initially sang in the church. What did you learn about performing from that experience?
I never really sang in church a lot. I went to church a lot. I went to church four times a week. I was very devout. I’m still Christian but I have Jewish friends and I have Muslim friends, so it’s hard for me to think that they’d all be going to hell if they don’t believe what I believe. I come from a different state of spirituality now and have the idea that everyone can have their own idea of God. I love soul music and gospel and funk. It spoke to me as a kid. It’s never been a thing that I don’t care about. I kept working away trying to convince people that I have a little bit of that going on.
When you started writing songs in your late teens, what songwriters did you admire at the time?
There are about three, maybe four. I would definitely say Prince and of course Marvin Gaye and Sade and Anita Baker, for some reason. I just loved her music. I feel like Mary was the offspring of Anita Baker’s success because she was so jazzy. Mary has an incredible way of being jazzy with her scales. She made it for the masses or the youth with the beats and her association with so many rappers. For me, this tour is the highlight of my career. I was shopping deals when Mary was Mary J. Blige. She was on the radio every day. If she wasn’t on her own songs, she was coming up on a Wu-Tang song or Biggie or Puff. I get to go back in time and I get to reintroduce our era not only to the people who are now reviving it — I look at fashion and I can’t believe what people are wearing again. The ‘90s are very hot right now and I feel like this is a good look right now. It’s great. It’s music-based and love-based. There’s no negativity. That’s what we’re here to express to the world. Mary has a new album coming out and I just released my record after 50 million years. I’m excited. We get along so well. We have always gotten along.
What initially made you want to work on a trilogy of albums?
Well, in 2002, I got the news I only had three records left with Columbia. I thought I could make one album, one album and do the greatest hits, or I could make the last three something of a statement. That’s what we did. I already have the next two albums in the works. I’m so far ahead of myself. That’s why it’s been so hard to get it done. My head is everywhere— in the past, present and future. It was all spawned by deep psychological issues based on my issues with women and my mom. It’s very cathartic to me. I’ve realized that I’ve healed through the songs.
Does the album address the same themes as its predecessor?
I think sonically we wanted to have more space. It’s subtle. I don’t like to beat you over the head and guide the audience in that way. I have too much respect for intelligence of those who listen to what I do with the meanings of things. I think good songs tell you what they are and become what they’re supposed to be for the people who listen to them. The third album will close this entire scenario in a very cool way I think. You’ll go, “Aha!” I at least hope you’ll go, “Ah.”
It sounds like you spent some serious time in the studio. What do you like about working with David Hod?
When the choppers come and the SWAT team is called, that’s when they finally get me to leave the studio. This is a joke I’ve made many times. Feel free to not put it in the article or put it in the article. It’s not a big deal to me. Most times I don’t write anything down. I can release a bunch of records and I can become that guy who’s always putting out a new record. Or I can live a life and have experiences that imbue and spark the performances in a way they wouldn’t if I wasn’t living. The great thing about taking a lot of time is that you’re not this recognizable thing. I have friends who are big stars and can never walk down the street. They can’t walk through Whole Foods. I never wanted that. I never wanted to not be able to walk through New York City and kick it. When the records come out, things happen and they create a certain amount of attention. I’m fine with all that. I’m happy people are excited and buying the records. I’m not really a fame guy. I’m not looking to be famous. It’s not important to me. I’m not so scared and insecure about my career that I worry it will be over. My responsibility is to make music a certain way with truth and integrity.
We live at a time when people record in their basements and you can tell that you labored over the album.
Thanks. I’ll pass the word on to everyone involved. It’s a family thing, man, we care about the music. It’s exciting that 20 years later I still get to do this. I hope I can get another 20 years out of it. I hope you guys always like it. I always do it what I feel. I’ve learned that’s the trick to my success. I just try to come from the heart and fill the void that’s not being filled creatively in the world.
UPCOMING 2016 SHOWS
Baltimore, MD @ Royal Farms Arena
Washington, DC @ Verizon Center
Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
St. Louis, MO @ Scottrade Center
Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
Cleveland, OH @ Quicken Loans Arena
Detroit, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
Indianapolis, IN @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Memphis, TN @ FedEx Forum
Charlotte, NC @ Time Warner Cable Arena
Richmond, VA @ Richmond Coliseum
Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
Miami, FL @ American Airlines Arena
New Orleans, LA @ Smoothie King Center
Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center
Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum
Oakland, CA @ Oracle Arena
Las Vegas, NV @ T-Mobile Arena
Bossier City, LA @ CenturyLink Center
Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
Chicago, IL @ United Center