Interview: Ne-Yo Talks Storytelling on New Album, Working With DJ Camper, Balancing EDM & R&B Sound
You can always count on Ne-Yo to make a hit song. Whether it’s R&B or Pop, he will find a way to get his voice on the radio. Need proof of that? He currently has two singles blowing up simultaneously on the charts right now and they sound nothing alike. His fun record record “Time Of Our Lives” has been a treat for his Pop fans while his ratchet collaboration “She Knows” with Juicy J has been confirmation for his R&B fans that he hasn’t forgotten about his roots. After struggling to find the perfect balance between the two genres in recent years, it seems Ne-Yo has found the formula to satisify everyone. YouKnowIGotSoul talked to Ne-Yo about his new album “Non-Fiction” which he claims is his return to R&B. We also talked to the singer/songwriter about his work with R&B producer DJ Camper and his new artist Candice.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “Non-Fiction” is coming out January 27th. Introduce us to the project.
Ne-Yo: This album is the rebirth of storytelling. I’ve always been a storyteller and I’ve always been the guy who was good at entertaining that. I feel like the art of storytelling has been lost in music over the last few years. I genuinely feel that attention spans got a little shorter and it’s the microwave age now. I get all of that and I understand all of that, but I feel if you give somebody something worth slowing down and take the time to pay attention to, they’ll do just that. I’m actually banking on that otherwise it’s going to be a really sad situation.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What kind of growth have you experienced since your last album?
Ne-Yo: I don’t know if I’ve grown in the way of my sound, but I’ve definitely grown as a person. “R.E.D.” was a celebration of all the genres and lanes I’ve been allowed to dabble in over the years. So for this album, the growth is just new and innovative ways to get the music out. This is my first time actually allowing my fans to be part of the creative process. The concept of going to them via my social media and talking to them about their lives and relationships. I took those conversations and turned them into stories. I’ve never done that before, so that was a new way of doing things for me. As far as the sound, I’m always going to explore and I’m always going to be the guy to push the envelope on my sound and I’ll always try something else. That’s where all the EDM and Pop stuff initially came from. Even with all of that being said, R&B is my home and that’s where I come from. That’s the first genre I fell in love with and it’s the reason that any other genre that I’ve done, I was allowed to do because it started with R&B. “Non-Fiction” is a reminder to my R&B fans that R&B is who I am as opposed to it just being a hobby or something I would ever abandon. Nothing could farther from the truth. While at the same time, I’m making sure that every other aspect of my fanbase is satisfied as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You actually dropped a great EP (“3 Simple Rules”) last year on Valentine’s Day and it had one of our favorite songs of the year which was “New Love”. Would you say that EP is a good indicator of what your new album will sound like?
Ne-Yo: To a degree. When I said that I wanted to make this album predominately R&B, I didn’t want to go with just one specific type of R&B. The cool thing about R&B is that it has layers. There’s the more classic stuff with songs like “Money Can’t Buy” where it has that old school sound. The song “Integrity” definitely is a throwback and a nod to Marvin Gaye. Then you have songs like “Run” and “She Knows” that have today’s feel to them. It’s definitely R&B, but it’s what is happening with R&B today with the Hip Hop element to it. I just wanted to touch all bases of R&B with this album and I feel like I nailed it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Of course you have the new single with Juicy J right now and it’s blowing up on different formats on radio from Urban to Pop. That doesn’t really happen for an R&B artist anymore, so what’s been the key for that single to be having so much crossover success?
Ne-Yo: I’ve always banked on the song just being good enough. I feel like that song, once you get past whatever it is you feel about me or the fact that it’s racier than the stuff I’ve done before, the beat is super infectious and then when the bass drops, you’re sold. There’s that and then on top of that, the lyrics are dope and Juicy J’s verse is perfect for what this is. The whole thing just comes together perfectly and after a while, it’s hard to deny that. The song is just that good. It’s a good ass song, so I think that’s the reason it’s picking up the way it is. People are coming to grasps that it’s just a good song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Would you say it’s been a challenge for you to write something that gravitates towards both your Pop and R&B fans? R&B and Pop have gone their separate ways in recent times, but you’ve been able to make both fanbases happy with this record.
Ne-Yo: In the past, it might have been a challenge just feeling torn between the two genres. I have a really loyal fanbase on the EDM side of things whereas my true fanbase is R&B. I don’t know that it’s a challenge anymore in that the lines are being blurred in the ways that they are. I don’t feel R&B and Pop have gone their separate ways. If you listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album, the drums are heavier and her melodic choices are a lot more soulful. I feel like R&B is definitely there, I just feel like it’s being applied in a different way. I have no problem with that. I’ve always said that I want us to eventually get to a place where the only two genres of music are good and bad. I want to get to that place where you don’t even think genre when you think Ne-Yo. You just think it’s going to be a really good song or bad song regardless of what style it’s going to be.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One of the producers you worked with on this album is DJ Camper. Talk about the work you guys did together on this album.
Ne-Yo: I just love Camper’s take on sound. He’s definitely a guy who knows that piano backwards, forwards, up and down. His music exudes that. He’s a super soulful dude and he’s got an old soul. I don’t exactly know how old dude is, but he strikes me as fairly young. He knows his way around melodies and harmonies. He just has that feel good vibe to all the music that he does which is why he has about four songs on the album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve had so many albums and you’ve also written for so many artists. Is there an extra step you have to take to make a good song into a great song at this point?
Ne-Yo: I think it depends. With every song it’s different. There’s been songs that I took hours to write and really took my time and made sure everything was as good as I could humanly make it and then I’ll play the song for somebody and they’ll think it’s just okay. Then there’s other songs that I literally just shit out in 12 seconds and people go “Oh my god, it’s incredible!” It’s kind of situational. You can’t really say “I’m going to do the same thing to this one that I did with that one and it’s going to work the same way”. I can only speak for myself, but it’s not how it works. Every song is a new adventure and you have to tackle it as such. You can’t go off what you’ve done and where you’ve been. You have to treat every song like the first one and give it that attention. You have to do what feels good to you and pray that the world feels the same way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You have your new artist Candice. Talk about her a little bit and when we can expect her to come out.
Ne-Yo: Candice is the epitome of all killer, no filler. She’s that kind of person where if she’s thinking it, she’s going to say it. If you happen to have a problem with that, that is your problem and not hers. I love the fact that she has the edge that she has and she’s so real, but there’s a little bit of artist development that we’re still doing right now. We just want to make sure none of those colorful 4 letter words fly in a radio interview. With that being said, she has one of the most incredible singing voices I’ve heard. It’s to the fact where the song that she’s on for my album doesn’t even scratch the surface to what she can do. She has an EP called “Live From The Smoker’s Room” and you can find that online. Go to her website http://www.candicernb.com/ for more music. As far as her album, be looking for something later this year.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Are you going be on tour for your new album?
Ne-Yo: Definitely plan on touring for this album. I think we hit the road in March to a city or country near you. Actually I think we’re starting overseas and then working our way back to the US.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Ne-Yo: I just hope people take the album for what it is and take the time to pay attention to the stories. Definitely get into the musical element of it because the music is amazing. Shout out the producers that contributed, but I think where the album really shines is the lyrics and the stories that are being told. I want people to get into these stories and I want people to find themselves because the stories are about real people and real things. I think that’s one of the strong points of the album.