Interview: Harmony Samuels Talks Signature Sound, New Jordin Sparks Album & Ariana Grande
Harmony has quickly turned into one of the premiere R&B producers with placements for multiple artists such as Kelly Rowland, Ariana Grande and most recently Fantasia. His passion for music has been second to none and his incorporation of live instruments has allowed R&B to breathe new life on both Urban and Pop stations. His single with Ariana Grande (“The Way”) has reintroduced Top 40 listeners to R&B and his singles on the Urban side continue to pile up. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to speak with Harmony about his recent success with Fantasia’s new album, his work on Ariana Grande’s upcoming project and the development of his sound. Harmony also spoke ecstatically about Jordin Sparks’ upcoming album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The last time we spoke, you had just finished producing Fantasia’s album. Have you had a chance to reflect on the work you did?
Harmony Samuels: When it first came out, I stopped listening to it because I heard it too many times. I decided to listen to it about a week ago and I was like “Wow this is better than I thought it was.” Two things happened, I got nervous because she wants us to do another album soon and I’m like “How am I supposed to beat this album?” Also it was good to see such hard work pay off and people love the album. It’s been incredible
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know a lot of people had doubts that a new producer such as yourself could work on an entire project. Would you say your musical background and ability to play multiple instruments aided you throughout the entire process?
Harmony Samuels: Hell yeah! Definitely and you can hear it on the album. Each track is different and you wouldn’t even know if it was the same producer. You would have thought she had a few producers. I guess that’s what makes me different. A lot of people ask what makes me different from Pharrell and Timbaland. They have a sound, but I somewhat don’t have a sound. I just have good music. There’s something in it that makes you go “That has to be Harmony!” *Laughs* When I worked with Ariana Grande, it doesn’t sound anything like what I did with Fantasia, but people were still like “That’s got to be Harmony!” There’s something in it that makes them feel like it’s me, so I’m really happy with it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s been hard for me to identify what the signature Harmony sound is because every song you do is different. Is that done intentionally?
Harmony Samuels: Yeah that’s my sound. My signature sound is just to be different on everything that I do because you have to remember that if I have one particular sound, I’m only catering to one particular thing. Right now I’m working on the “Best Man 2” soundtrack which is a whole different world. It’s a bunch of Christmas songs and people will be like “That’s Harmony?” because it sounds so mature and grown. That’s just me though, I’m just musical all the way. When you see the slogan “Real Music”, that’s what I mean. I’m a real musician with just a producer background. I guess that’s why people consider me to be the new Quincy Jones because he was good at that. He did “Thriller”, “Bad”, “Off The Wall” and they’re all sonically different. He did a whole bunch of stuff for Motown and Ray Charles. He produced the “Austin Powers” soundtrack and they all sound different, but they were all amazing. That’s what I’m trying to do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve had an interesting transition. You had random placements on albums and then you started placing songs that would be singles and now you’re doing entire projects. Has that transition been strange for you?
Harmony Samuels: Not really because I guess, it was always a passion to do projects. The producer who found me, Rodney Jerkins, was a project producer. He took a project and made it amazing. He did that with Brandy and Janet Jackson. For me, taking on a project was always what it was going to be about. It was just finding the right artist to have the chemistry with. Fantasia and I were just in the studio doing a remix to the title track “Side Effects Of You” which will be one of the next singles. We went in the studio and we instagrammed some of it and people were like “You guys don’t get it wrong! You guys just have the right chemistry.” We just understand each other musically. She has an ability that I appreciate and vice versa, it just works. You just have to find the right marriage.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One thing that I think is really cool is that the music you’ve been putting out has been with the same people that you started with like Eric Bellinger and Sevyn. How important are they to your success?
Harmony Samuels: They’re very important. Eric Bellinger is an amazing writer. We kind of gave him his biggest record first which was “Champion” by Chipmunk and Chris Brown and then “Oh My Love” on the “FAME” album. That was us and it opened doors for him after that. Same with Sevyn. We are all family members, we’ve all grown together. They played a big part in working with me and vice versa. It’s just a great time to see everybody shining. They’ve played a big part in my life. I’ve learned a lot from them and hopefully they’ve learned a lot from me. We’re still working though, we still have a lot of work to do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work with Ariana Grande. It seems you guys are going for that throwback R&B/Pop sound.
Harmony Samuels: It’s kind of 50/50. Ariana is a special one. I love her very much and she’s a sweetheart. She’s very in control of her stuff and to be honest with you, when she came to the studio, I didn’t even know who she was. *Laughs* She told me what she wanted to do and I was like “Okay”. I played her “The Way” and her voice just matched it perfectly. “The Way” was originally for Jordin Sparks. What we realized was that she had an amazing voice and yeah, “The Way” and “Right There” are throwback records. But the other songs we’ve done are not as throwback. In fact, one is quite new. I just felt her voice made sense with that type of sound. Remember when I said I wanted to bring R&B back? She was the perfect element to bringing R&B back because of her voice. It just worked. Her fans love and her songs sound amazing. When she performs them, everyone knows every word. Kudos to her for working so hard.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you decide that was the sound you wanted to give Ariana Grande because in our last interview, you mentioned that you always try to the artist and give them something that fits them.
Harmony Samuels: When she came to the studio, she was playing me all her stuff. She was playing me records and they weren’t bad. I was just like “Your voice is bigger than your records. Your voice isn’t being highlighted by the records. You need a big song.” And “The Way” was perfect and I was like “Let me play you this.” Sometimes we just pay attention to a person’s behavior or the way they speak. For some reason, it just works for Ariana because she’s not really from an urban scene at all, but her voice worked perfectly with that type of R&B. I say that type of R&B because it’s not like urban R&B which is what you would hear Sevyn, Eric Bellinger or Ciara do. It’s more of a Pop R&B like Justin Timberlake. There’s still a difference in sound.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Of course you’ve been doing some other projects. You did a bunch on Kelly Rowland’s new album. Talk about the song “You Changed” which features Beyonce and Michelle Williams.
Harmony Samuels: It almost frustrates me when I talk about that song now because that song was a secret for nine months. *Laughs* I remember the first time I heard all three voices on the record, I wanted to tell everyone, but they were like “You can’t tell everyone!”. That record was sitting in my computer. It was originally made for LeToya Luckett. We were unable to get her to do the record and then Kelly heard it. I was just playing my songs and I was like “Yo this would be dope like an old Destiny’s Child throwback.” She looked at me like “This is amazing. Let me call my sisters and do the record.” Basically that was it. I was working with Michelle and it was around that time. Beyonce was on the road and she did her verse and sent it to us. It was just amazing to have all three on a record again. Her fans really appreciated it because they were like “We want another album please!” Hopefully we’ll have a reunion one day.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Now that you’re getting more calls for placements, have you found yourself to be more selective as far as who you want to work with?
Harmony Samuels: Definitely selective. I’m more interested in talent when it comes to selective. Not everything is for me and it’s not going to always work. I have to make sure whatever I work on, if you’ve noticed, it’s always been with people that need someone like me. Everyone goes “I need to work with Rihanna” but she doesn’t need me. You probably won’t get a record from me to Rihanna. I think producers that try to fight to get on projects that they’re not needed for kind of struggle. I kind of look for projects that I am needed on. Recently I got called for Jennifer Hudson, so I’ve been working on that. I think the songs are going to be amazing. I’m excited because we want to do something different for her. Me and RCA have been speaking in-depths about where we’re going to take it. I’m excited to hear what people think about the songs I’ve done for her.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Who have you been working with?
Harmony Samuels: Recently got called on for J-Doe, so we’re going to see what J-Doe is up to. I hear Brandy is going back in, so that might be a possibility. I’m putting my label together, so we’re about to go in. We’re going in with Kelly again just do more records because she loves to work. I did a song for Mario. There’s a new girl that I’m interested in working with, we’ve met last week. Her name is Jasmine V, she’s a very amazing talent. Oh and we did a duet with Ariana Grande and one of the lead singers from The Wanted, so that will be in a movie. I executive produced Ariana’s project and yeah, the “Best Man 2” soundtrack. We’re just busy. *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’ve noticed that live instruments are coming back in music. Do you feel like this is your time to takeover?
Harmony Samuels: What is a takeover? Well let’s put it this way, you’ll always hear a Harmony record somewhere. I wouldn’t even know how to take over. All I know is as long as I make great music and people love it because it’s the people I make music for. In fact, I always test my music with people before I test it with the business. People don’t lie.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work on Jordin Sparks’ upcoming project.
Harmony Samuels: I did eight records for her. She’s about to shock everybody. *Laughs* We got a single and nobody has heard Jordin like this. I played the song to a few friends in the industry and they were like “That cannot be Jordin.” It’s R&B throwback Mariah meets J-Lo, she’s just killing it. I’m very excited about her and to be honest with you, it’s kind of Fantasia. A lot of people are doubting whether she’s going to impact. I know just like what happened with Fantasia, when you guys hear this, it’s going to be amazing. I’m just proud of this one. The sonics of it all and the songs. She has a beautiful song on the album called “My Guitar”. It’s really just good music. I’m very excited for her, I’m not even going to lie. I don’t think I was as excited about Fantasia as I am for Jordin.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Would you say the sound is going to be reminiscence of “The Way” by Ariana Grande?
Harmony Samuels: Kind of. It’ll be a little more grown than “The Way”. Everyone keeps making Mariah comparisons, but there’s different types of Mariah. There’s the real pop Mariah from “Emotions”, the throwback Mariah from “Butterfly” and she has different colors. That’s why she’s Mariah. I feel like Ariana Grande holds a different color and Jordin holds another particular color. It’s just different mixtures and it’s just good music. It just makes sense people use names like Mariah so it has an understanding, but it really is all fresh and new to them.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Harmony Samuels: I’m just excited to be making music!