We recently had a chance to catch up with Robin Thicke for an interview as he heads towards the release of his upcoming album “In Heaven, and on Earth”. During our conversation, we talked about the high quality R&B he gave us on the album, his hiatus and the long gap between this and his previous album, chasing pop success following his massive hit “Blurred Lines”, being signed to Pharrell and Chad Hugo at Star Track, his young years as a songwriter, working now as an independent artist, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “In Heaven, and on Earth” gave us everything we were missing when it comes to R&B. Music with feeling, production with instrumentation, heartfelt lyrics, sensational vocals. Talk about creating the project.
Robin Thicke: It’s been a long seven years between albums. My last album was 2014 and since then there has been so many ups and downs. This last year, when Covid hit, my beloved mentor Andre Harrell, who had been there with me since my very first album, every video, every album, every choice I made, he was my best friend and greatest influence. When I lost him, I really took a long look in the mirror at who I was and what type of a man and artist I wanted to be. He gave me so much life and information and support, that I felt I owed it to him to finish the album and to make the very best music I could.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We love to think back to 2015 when “Morning Sun” came out. We had that as our #1 song of that year, amazing song. An album didn’t immediately follow that and now you’re an independent artist releasing music for the first time. What is it like for you?
Robin Thicke: There is the goods and the bads, I’m excited to own my own masters. After doing seven years with the major label, Jimmy Iovine had moved on from Interscope and it was a new vibe and I was a part of the old world. *Laughs* There’s all this new energy that comes in and they want to make their acts happen. Sometimes the older acts get a little pushed to the side. For me that’s ok. I was always supposed to make my own music anyway. I was never really a part of the machine. Once I got a little taste of that pop fame, I kind of chased it a little bit by working with all of the best producers. But recently I really settled into the kind of music that I want to leave behind. Now that I have children and I’ve lost my father and mentor, it’s more important to me about what kind of music I leave behind. It’s more important than staying hot or staying current in any way. I just want to make music I’ll be proud of when I leave this earth.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What has the journey been like getting back to releasing this new album? Your last album was in 2014.
Robin Thicke: I think it’s after you’ve done it so many times, there’s the sense of trying to top yourself or be a better version of yourself. Then you realize that you’re spending too much time in your head and not doing the one thing that you set out to do which is give people your music. I’m sitting here holding onto it all and not finishing it and second guessing it. The reason I started music is because I wanted people to hear it. Here I am and nobody is hearing it! *Laughs* I just kind of had to get over myself and commit. I hadn’t fully committed to finishing the project. My last piece of advice from Andre Harrell before he passed, I had played him the album as it was, about a week before he passed, and he pretty much told me it wasn’t good enough! It wasn’t a good album. He asked where all of the strings and flutes and vocal arrangements and Robin Thicke stuff was. Then he passed away and did everything I could to give him the album he wanted!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Earlier you mentioned chasing some of the Pop fame. We know you were on top of the world when “Blurred Lines” came out. We know you pride yourself in being a true musician and songwriter, so did those Pop songs feed you creatively as an artist?
Robin Thicke: I think it was something that I wanted, more fame, more heat. You get a taste of that. But it was never anything I sought for as a young artist. It was all about the music. Then it became about wanting the music and the fame. That’s where I started to lose myself and then I lost the music a little bit. It took years for me to get the confidence back and just to devote myself to making the best music instead of trying to be a star again.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It seemed like songs like “Lost Without U” and “Blurred Lines” came together organically rather than chasing trends, and they ended up blowing up.
Robin Thicke: I realized that both of those songs were not written with the charts in mind. “Lost Without U”, I just opened my mouth and sang how I was feeling that day, and that honest feeling came out. With “Blurred Lines”, Pharrell and I were just dancing in the studio, we just wanted to make people dance and smile and we got lucky.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Going back to your origins in music, it’s hard for us to even imagine that you were a songwriting at such a young age, from your early teenage years. Writing for artists like Brandy, linking up with Brian McKnight. You never seem to get credit for that work you put in. Take us back to that time for a young Robin Thicke.
Robin Thicke: I was so hungry, I was writing a song a day! I was ditching school early at lunch time and skipping 7th period to get to the studio and watch Brian McKnight do vocal arrangements. I was 15 years old and I was recording with Brian McKnight, after he had just made one of the great R&B albums for that generation. I’m watching him do these vocal arrangements and I was already a student of Take 6, and he was the youngest brother, so I had really learned all of my vocal chops from Take 6 as a 13 year old. Then I fell into his lap and he was helping me with my first album. That album ended up getting shelved by the way. I was 16 years old and I wrote this album, half with Brian and half with other producers. It got shelved and I went back to writing and producing for other people for a few years. Then when I was about 21 I started to devote all of my time to my own music. About a year later I met Andre Harrell and the rest is history. He was the one who really saw the artist and performer in me. I just saw the songwriter in me, he saw the star.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You didn’t always get the singles on songs you wrote for other artists, but you did write some of our favorite album cuts.
Robin Thicke: I was so lucky. For some reason, I’d have an album cut on the biggest album of that artist’s career. Every album that I was on, Christina Aguilera, Usher “Confessions”, Marc Anthony, 98 Degrees. I was the luckiest guy! *Laughs* Never had the single, always had the plaque on the wall for being on those projects.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You talked about how Andre Harrell saw you as a star after you only saw yourself as a songwriter. Can you imagine an alternate universe scenario that would have played out with you only being a songwriter?
Robin Thicke: No, I just kind of was taking my time. I wanted to have a voice before I went up on the big stage. So I realized when I had the albums shelved, that I was just copying Brian McKnight and that’s why I got shelved, I hadn’t found my own voice, I was just Brian McWhite. *Laughs* I was only 14 or 15, and I hadn’t found my own voice yet. By the time I was 21, I started writing the songs that became the “A Beautiful World” album, which is very individual. My favorite compliment for that album was when I first met Bruno Mars, he told me what a huge fan he was of that album and how it influenced his first album. I told him I had listened to that album and I had heard a little of that. He had tried a genuinely to go into all types of musical directions. That’s what I did with that first album, I went all the way into different styles.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s amazing to hear the stories of how you were grinding behind the scenes before you blew up. We are in an era of overnight successes, but you were writing behind the scenes for many years, and your debut album “A Beautiful World” didn’t even do what you had hoped. Eventually “The Evolution of Robin Thicke” caused your breakout, but how do you look back on the grind you had up until that point for over a decade?
Robin Thicke: Some of it feels very distant, some of it very fresh. I think I have learned that my failures and my toughest times have brought out the best in me. After “A Beautiful World” failed and I had to look into the mirror and find out what I was doing this for and who was I as a human being, that’s what “The Evolution of Robin Thicke” is all about. I became a better person during that period. I became a better artist too. Then, I got caught up in some of the BS that the clichés that we tend to get caught up in. Then these last few years of losing my father, my house, my mentor, also having three new children. The love and the joy that I get daily, everything has changed. Yet I still feel as hungry to make great music as I ever was before. I’m not as hungry to go on tour necessarily and be away from my family, but I haven’t lost any hunger to make a song that’s as good as any song I’ve made or better.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We love The Neptunes and would love to hear about your time signed to Star Trak and what the experience was like.
Robin Thicke: That was Jimmy Iovine. He was a genius at putting two talents together to make an explosion. Whether it was putting Eminem with Dr. Dre, or putting 50 Cent with Eminem, he saw something big coming. Pharrell took me under his wing, he helped promote me during the “Wanna Love U Girl” time, he was in the video. He co-signed me, that made everybody look a little closer, and then “Lost Without U’ dropped and we had our own place.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was there ever a time when you, Pharrell and Chad were going to do a full Robin Thicke album with The Neptunes?
Robin Thicke: We just always were jamming together. I think once I left the system and the scene, for the last 5 or 6 years, I really wanted to rediscover my purpose and rediscover my music without trying to please people I might never please. I just decided to look inside and call my band and work with my guys and just push it as far as I could. Working with Pharrell and Chad is equally as inspiring an awesome as being around a vocalist like Brian McKnight or Mary J. Blige. You really learn from these people. Just the commitment to who they are, and making something great for people, putting it all into the record for people. They are so devoted.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Taking it back up to date about the new album, did your approach have to change now that you’re an independent artist?
Robin Thicke: Well there is less money! *Laughs* I’m just in a different place. Luckily I have accomplished some checkmarks I’ve wanted to. I’ve traveled the world and been very lucky and blessed. Now I have a beautiful family which is my first priority, and my music is my second priority. Yet, I know that if I just keep staying on the path that I’m on, fully devoted to my family and my music, good things will come. I don’t have to really worry about the ins and outs. At the end of it, there will be a whole bunch of Robin Thicke songs, and hopefully there are some good ones in there. I can’t worry about the rest.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When we listen to the new album, we hear that classic Robin Thicke, and we know that you always stay true to your core on your albums. What’s the importance of doing that?
Robin Thicke: I’ve always wanted to be different. I wanted to set out that my music didn’t sound like anybody else. Then of course what did I start doing? Sounding like everyone else and working with the same producers as everyone else. Then I realized I was chasing something that didn’t make me happy in the first place. What makes me happy is making music that I know came from in here, and I can stand tall and be happy with that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your catalog makes you among the greats of your generation, you’ve created so much timeless music. How do you view your own legacy?
Robin Thicke: I don’t think of it that way but I do think of the whole thing as one thing. Now when you click onto Stevie Wonder’s catalog or John Lennon or whoever it is, it doesn’t matter what year the song came out, the feeling comes right out of the speakers. They gave it to you. For me, once the whole thing is done, I just want to make sure I gave the world as much of me as possible.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve always loved the song you created for Michael Jackson “Fall Again” which eventually was recorded by our friend Glenn Lewis. What’s the story behind that one?
Robin Thicke: There’s a great story there. I happened to be writing with Walter Afanasieff who is Mariah Carey’s main writing partner for her first four albums. One of the great writers of his generation. I was maybe 19 years old, and the day that Ricky Martin did the Grammy’s and exploded, he did “Cup of Life” and he was shaking his bon bon, that night Madonna calls Tommy Mattola that she wanted to do a duet with Ricky Martin. They call Walter and ask for a song. We happened to have just started this song, we finished it the next day, after the Grammy’s. We send it to Tommy Mattola, he hears it and says forget Madonna and Ricky Martin, he wanted to play it for Michael Jackson! Michael loved the record, he wanted to do the song, Tommy flew me out to New York to write for Celine Dion, and I ended up spending 10 days working for Tommy Mattola, writing songs. A few of them ended up on certain projects he had. That was my first plug into the big names the stratosphere. I wasn’t allowed in the room with Michael as he was recording. I was next door, on the studio wall while he was recording next door. *Laughs*
PHOTO CREDIT: JACK BUSTER