Interview: Eric Benet’s Career is the Blueprint for Staying True to Yourself While Creating Good Music
In 1996 when Eric Benet released his debut album “True to Myself”, who knew that today looking back, the title could be used to sum up his career as a musician. Few artists in r&b have maintained as much musical integrity over the years while managing to deliver a solid product each time out. Now after starting his own label, he can continue to create great music under his own terms and not have to worry about the constraints of a record label forcing him in a certain direction. Despite the fact that Eric has never sold as well as some of his peers, he has maintained a great reputation for creating timeless music throughout his career. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Eric prior to an album release event for his new album “The One”. We discuss with him what to expect on the album, his growth as an artist, the trend of more artists starting their own label, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “The One” is out now. This is your 6th album. Give us an overview of the album.
Eric Benet: This is the first time that I’ve released anything independently. This is my own record label, it’s called Jordan House Records. It’s quite the labor of love. I’ve been a recording artist for some years now, I was signed to Warner Bros., knowing that other side where the promotion and distribution and marking of your project is pretty much predicated on if one person feels it or not. It feels pretty amazing to take control of my career and take complete control of my creativity in this way. The fact that people are so strongly feeling this record just makes it mean so much more to me. It’s me at my best I think if I could describe it artistically. I don’t think there’s any literal theme to the album other than just a celebration of r&b and real music. I’m really proud of it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Of course you had the first single “Real Love” and now you’re back with the second single “Harriett Jones”. Talk about the creation of that song.
Eric Benet: Harriett Jones is a song that just kinda hit me in the head. I heard the groove, I heard the melody, and so that I would not forget the lyrics, I just kinda used an old spiritual, “Swing low sweet Chariot”, just so that I could remember it. I was singing that over and over again and I kinda got married to it so I didn’t want to change it too much. So I just thought of a girl’s name that rhymed with “chariot” and it worked out nicely.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Since this is your 6th album now, how have you seen your music progress since you first started in the late 90’s.
Eric Benet: I made a decision on my first solo project that I would stay true to myself. I named my first solo album that for that reason. I didn’t really want to be the kind of artist that kinda chased the hot producer or chased the fads. I just wanted to keep doing my thing. Over the years I think I’ve just gotten better and better at my thing. I think I’m better now than I’ve ever been. My voice, my creativity, my spirit. It’s all just stronger and better now.
YouKnowIGotSoul: This is also the second album in a row you’ve had a chance to work with your daughter India. What’s it like working with her?
Eric Benet: It’s amazing. She makes me so proud. She knocks it out of the park every time she steps into the vocal booth and she has the most tender and beautiful voice. We did a song called “Music” on the album. If no other reason you get my album, get the album to hear the song I did with my daughter. She’s amazing. She’s got quite a future herself in music I believe once she gets her degree and she can concentrate on that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You talked about starting your own label and taking things into your own hands. We recently had a chance to talk to Kenny Lattimore a few days ago and he said you inspired him to do the same thing.
Eric Benet: Wow, that’s great.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you think this will be a trend with more artists in r&b?
Eric Benet: I certainly hope so. I think that having this kind of autonomy and control just is so conducive to creativity. I think at least for me, it really inspired me to dig down deep creatively and musically and artistically and knowing this is mine. On all of the albums I did before on Warner Bros., I put myself into it completely, but it’s different now. I think any artist that knows that they are truly in control and they own the masters and they own their project and they are in control of their career, that’s the way to go. I certainly hope it’s a trend.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you see yourself getting into any artist development with your label?
Eric Benet: Absolutely. I’d like to just concentrate right now on “The One”, making sure it’s as successful as it deserves to be. Probably this time next year, an artist or two I’d like to take under my wings and introduce to the world. It could be somebody I’m related to. *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: Pretty soon you’ll be going on tour with Ledisi. What’s that going to be like?
Eric Benet: Ledisi is phenomenal, she’s incredible. She’s a freak of nature vocally. Her live performance is insane. It’s just going to be a lot of fun sharing the stage with her.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Just want to take it back to 2001 when you had the “Better and Better” album which didn’t come out. I’ve read there were some label issues. Hypothetically, do you feel like your career would have turned out any different if that album would have come out?
Eric Benet: I think if “Better and Better” would have come out, anything could have happened. I really feel like Warner Bros. was smoking some really good crack when they decided not to release that record. There were some classic, amazing songs on that album. Who knows. I made it a point to make sure that most of those songs saw the light of day. I kinda snuck them in on following albums. As I imagined, they turned out to be the favorites on whatever album I put them on.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Eric Benet: Thank you. I’ve been in the game for awhile and people are still feeling what I do and allowing me to live this dream. It’s because of yall. I just want to say thank you. Follow me on Twitter @Ebenet, come to my website EricBenet.net. Keep up with me and my tour schedules. I’m going to keep making music!