Interview: B. Slade on New Album “Diesel”, Re-Branding from Tonex, Lack of Gospel in Mainstream
Time and time again we’ve seen companies who sell consumer goods do things like re-brand, add additional product lines, and discontinue products when it suits the company best. However, not many look at artists as companies, and many would look at an artist trying to re-brand themselves as a detriment to their career. For that reason, it’s not only very impressive that Anthony Williams decided to take that risk, but that he’s also having success with it. He first introduced us to Tonex, and now that Tonex is discontinued, he presents us with B. Slade. As you will read, this approach is just not some shot in the dark, but he knows exactly what he’s doing and seems poised to carry his career to even further heights. In this interview, we discuss the reason for the re-branding, his transition from gospel routes to more secular music, what to expect on his new album “Diesel”, why gospel isn’t more present on mainstream radio, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’d like to start with your album “Diesel” which you released last month. For those who haven’t heard it, what can they expect to find on there?
B. Slade: I would say this album is very refined work because there I went through being refined as a person. It’s really an album of full acceptance, there’s no explanation or defense, no chip on the shoulder, it’s just really great music, great story telling. Pop, rock and soul is the best way to describe the record.
YKIGS: What made you decide to name the album “Diesel”?
B. Slade: “Diesel” actually came to me while I was in the studio. The word just dropped in my heart and I asked those who were in the studio with me what that word means. They explained “octane heavy, sturdy”. So I was thinking that’s how I feel now in life, now that I’ve paid some dues and have evolved as a person, I feel suddenly more grounded. I can definitely appreciate gravity. So I thought that was initially it, I thought it had more to do with me, but then as I kept working on the album, it’s meaning began to reveal itself even more. There were layers to it. “Diesel” was actually a type of fuel but it is also a sort of tenacity that’s inside of our blood that we don’t want to give it up, we keep going. Throughout the years, we’ve seen examples of that “Diesel”, the civil rights movement, how we moved from the slave ships to the white house as black men and as a people. All of the many struggles that even the LGBT community has went through. It’s been many, many, many years that we’ve been able to do the things that we wanted to do, but it really wasn’t all that long ago that we couldn’t do the things that we wanted to do. So I wanted to make sure no matter how men express themselves, because there are so many different types of men, backgrounds, orientations, struggles, that we don’t forget that we are standing on the shoulders of those who had that “Diesel” that didn’t give up. In our generation with our challenges, it would be a shame if we gave up because we had a little bit of opposition or our adversity. These other people before us went through so much more and endured so much that we have “Diesel” in our blood. So no matter who we are or how we express ourselves, don’t lose our “Diesel”. Particularly for me, no matter how you express yourself, whether you’re straight, gay or masculine or even more feminine, it doesn’t matter what that is, don’t lose the essence of why you are a man and your manhood. That’s the deeper message that came as I recorded the record. This is also another album that I didn’t record until I earned the right to record these songs. Everything you hear is hot off of the press and nothing was recorded just for fun. They were all themes and stories where either I earned the right to experience or watched the story third party. That’s why people are feeling it the way that they are.
YKIGS: The first single you released is “I.R.S.”. Give us some background on the song and how it came together.
B. Slade: Curtis “Sauce” Wilson was the producer, he worked with Brandy and countless others, he’s actually from the group from the late 90’s called Something for the People who had the hit “My Love is the Shhhh”. He had some blues tracks and actually that song was probably one of the last songs I ended up recording and that’s cyclical for most albums; the last few submissions are the ones that end up being used as the first single or signature song on the album. I was in an unfortunate situation with the I.R.S. where I would have to sell instruments just to get by. That’s the story of a lot independent artists and a lot of people who are self employed; hair dressers, barbers, musicians, people who are a little more on their own entrepreneurial. I just wanted to talk about that. I never heard anyone sing about what we all probably at some time or another whether we admit it or not have dealt with. To me it’s so simple is what makes it so powerful. It’s very short and to the point and just has soul. I was able to really bring my gospel routes out of that song because you don’t hear it a lot in the album. I figured it was important to bring that element. I liked my tone in that song and I liked the approach in that song, I’ve never really attacked a song like that from beginning to end in that way.
YKIGS: In the past you’ve done a lot of gospel, but recently you’ve moved towards more secular music in r&b and soul. What has the transition been like?
B. Slade: Honestly, 97% positive. I’m not having any problems with it, but I’m receiving or at least hearing about negativity even though they’re really not getting to me. It concerns the latest video I just shot and the controversy going on right now concerning the imagery that I give the song because a lot of people’s last visual representation of me was probably “Out the Box” which was six years ago and reached that main gospel demographic. They haven’t followed the journey since 2009 through now where I’ve already went through the albums and the process and the interviews and the transition. They’re just now catching on to it. It’s very controversial at the moment. As we speak, there are a lot of people that just cannot digest the transition. They refuse to accept it and are even very hurt by the fact that I am no longer exclusive to the genre of gospel. The distinction is that the message of gospel is still in my heart. That’s more important than me actually being a spokesperson for a genre that is in some ways become a caricature of its own self perception. That part of it I never wanted to be a part of even when I was a gospel artist. If they would look at the history, I was always on the edge, I was always pushing, pushing, pushing and then finally I evolved not out of anger or rebellion, I’ve just always known there is something more that this gift that God gave me was supposed to do and reach way more people. Regardless of all of that, I’ve never seen the numbers that I’ve seen in the last few days. The video went from 100 plays to 9,117 plays; I’ve never seen those types of numbers on YouTube with any of my videos. So something’s working right.
YKIGS: That leads me to something I wanted to ask you about. Especially for me out in New York, besides a select handful of artists, rarely do I hear gospel music on mainstream radio. Why do you feel that’s the case? Do you feel like it’s harder for gospel artists to make it into the mainstream?
B. Slade: I think that number one, there’s a production element. Gospel has a tendency to be a little too busy. The production is just way too over-orchestrated. The consumer of mainstream music can pretty much only tolerate three to five notes max as far as the melody. There has to be space for the lyrics and the story to come through. Gospel is very audacious in the sense that if you are going over the top with every element, productions and vocals, then it’s not seen as powerful, or anointed, or poignant. Most mainstream audiences can only take in so much at a time. The second thing is the marketing. Radio promotions, video promotions and even down to the styling of the artists is always 18-24 months behind the market curve. The third element that I believe why gospel doesn’t work in mainstream is because they want to pretend they don’t want to crossover, yet they do everything in their power to make it crossover. Mainstream audiences know when someone is trying to pull something on them. Most mainstream audiences do not prefer urban contemporary gospel presentations. Most of them find it offensive because it doesn’t relate to the kind of gospel their grandmothers and parents raised them on. They would much rather receive a Shirley Caesar than they would someone more contemporary.
YKIGS: Back to your new album, did you have to approach it differently than any of your past albums due to the transition you went through between genres?
B. Slade: Yea, basically there were only two songs I wrote down in the songwriting process. This process was different, I just went into the studio and free styled or channeled or just became more of a conduit for what Universal wanted to bring through me. I’ve never done it that way before. Now I can’t think of any other way. I’m not saying I’ll never write formally again on conventional paper and pen because I enjoy that as well, but it seemed like that’s been more for my poetry or introspective thoughts or things like that. As far as this album, I’ve never approached songs where you just sit down and just sing and let the song and universe your experience speak through you. It’s amazing because I like experiencing my own work from almost like an out of body type of experience. I’m in it, but I’m not a part of it. I’m an observer as much as I am a participant.
YKIGS: With the whole re-branding process you went through with going from Tonex to now B. Slade, were you ever concerned that you some of your fan base might have lost track of you?
B. Slade: Yes, some are just now finding me again. Some I wish had not found me! I purposely still to this day remain stealth. This is the most people are now putting the two together. They are just now putting it together that B. Slade is not just a Twitter handle or a name, it’s actually a complete transition, a completely different brand. Most of the time I’m referring to Tonex as a discontinued brand and when people hear that, they get upset like “Wait a minute, you’re not a brand, you’re actually Tonex!” They’ve actually made who I am as a person as Anthony Williams synonymous with my brand. They have a problem with the fact that I have disconnected myself from the brand or will not allow the brand to become me. The same thing with B. Slade, this is a brand. You have Coca-Cola and there are different brands that come from the Coca-Cola franchise. You have Dasani which is still Coca-Cola brand, you have Minute Maid, that’s still Coca-Cola. You have Vitamin Water, that’s still Coca-Cola. Whether it’s Sprite, it doesn’t matter, that’s another name but it’s still coming from the same corporation. In other words, it’s coming from the same place of life and truth and authenticity, it’s just a different taste for a different audience. If you want to come over and try this soda, thank you, I’m glad that you decided to try something new. However, what I will not do is entertain someone coming to a drive through of a restaurant knowing you’re not going to like this taste, buy the hamburger, eat it, and then complain about it. Just don’t come to the restaurant. Maybe this particular taste is not for you, but don’t say “Because I don’t enjoy the taste, it’s poisonous or demonic or out of the will of God.” I simply refuse to allow them to dictate my expression and I believe in evolution and I embrace my evolution and I can’t see myself pretending I don’t know what I know now.
YKIGS: That’s an interesting concept of discontinuing brands. I think some artists might be a little too scared to do that type of thing.
B. Slade: For many, it’s seems to be like career suicide. It’s like “Why would I destroy something that I had so much equity and stock in?” The reason why is because I knew it’s in my heart that I have so much within me. I didn’t mind starting all over again because this time I have veteran knowledge, experience and viral marketing savvy that has been enhanced as a result of understanding what people like and don’t like including myself. If my art isn’t making people angry, horny or making them excited, or bringing out sadness, if I’m not striking the core of the listener’s essence, I’m not making good art. We all hate villains within a Soap Opera or movie or an antagonist in a book. If that character doesn’t make you hate them, then the actor isn’t doing their job. I’m not here to judge how they receive it, I just want to make sure you don’t lose feeling. That’s more important than whether you like me or not. It’s more like “Does the music or the art of the presentation evoke some type of emotion in you?”
YKIGS: Since you’ve released your first project in the mid 90’s, what’s been the key to your longevity? A lot of artists don’t get to last as long in the industry.
B. Slade: They key to success is reinvention. Always approaching the albums like “I make the record I wish I could buy.” I think of what would be the best album to clean up the house to or what album would get someone who lives in San Diego to Los Angeles in two plays without having to skip a track. Sequence, the chronological order of an album can be the life or a death of the piece especially if it’s a conceptual album. In each record, I push myself to try something new vocally. On “Diesel”, the fans are hearing my Bass, how low I can go or my lower register for the first time. Those are the elements that give you longevity because I don’t think I’ll ever be what you call old or behind times because I write things intentionally a decade in forecast. I try to be a visionary. That comes from my George Lucas and Walt Disney influence. I like how the 50 and 60’s artists and animators imagined what the future would be like then. I like that vintage modern approach. I like looking back to see how they thought we’d be right now. That gives me inspiration because a lot of things they made then still haven’t come to fruition yet and if you approach that in your music, it’ll always be fresh and on time.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
B. Slade: It’s just B-Slade, baby. Get into it!