We recently caught up with Trey Songz to reflect back on his impressive career which includes his latest album “Back Home”. The R&B star has been on quite a journey since the release of his debut project “I Gotta Make It” back in 2005 as he’s experienced everything from almost getting dropped by his label to becoming one of the biggest names in R&B. In this interview, we dive deep into the creation of the new project, some of the challenges that he faces creatively as an R&B artist in 2020 and also his evolution as an artist.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about putting a traditional R&B together in 2020 with bridges, harmonies and great vocal production.
Trey Songz: Aw man, you mentioned the year 2020 being significant to the music. That’s a very real statement because attention spans are very short, Hip Hop is very dominant right now and music is everchanging. When I made the album “Back Home”, I wanted the music to reflect what it felt like when I was back home trying to become who I am and making the music that I’ve made and being a relevant name in the R&B space. It was something that I felt like I had to do just to pay homage to true R&B with chord changes, bridges, big harmonies and A1 production. It was something that was in my heart to do and it felt good to my soul to make an album like that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It seems like on this album you relied more on your instincts rather than worrying about whether the label or radio would approve. Was that process easier for you?
Trey Songz: Quite honestly making the music in that mindset is easy, but then you get in your head about what people think and what the label thinks. You start thinking about charts and radio, but going with your instinct and heart and really just creating something that was pure to what I felt creatively was what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that versus what trend was going on or what society may think that artists need to be doing right now.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You had released “Chi Chi” with Chris Brown earlier in the year. That song is obviously a different sound than what’s on this album. Did you have to change directions when putting this album together?
Trey Songz: It’s funny because I had a lot of uptempo records on the album at one point. It took me a couple of years to create this album. Throughout the process I put out a couple of mixtapes, so the sound kept changing and I didn’t even have a title for it until the beginning of this year. It made even more sense when the world shut down due to the pandemic and I was back home after I already had the record “Back Home” and that was relationship based. Then it took off when I was actually back home in Virgina for the longest time I had been there in awhile, so just the dynamic of everything changed in that moment and after leaving Virgina and going back to Los Angeles and recreating the album, it just took a turn for the better. It brought the project into the R&B space real heavily.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We spoke to Troy Taylor earlier in the year and he told us to pay attention to the sequencing for this album. It reminded us of what groups like Jodeci and Boyz II Men used to do when they would have all the mids and uptempos in the beginning and the ballads at the end. Was that the blueprint for this album?
Trey Songz: I wouldn’t say those albums specifically were the blueprint, but I was looking for a sound that was seamless and an album that could ride. That all came together in the process while we were thinking about one song and then making something else in that key just to find ways for everything to transition seamlessly and I think we accomplished that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: “Be My Guest” as the opening track was a genius move because it brought back the vibes of “Ready” and “Passion, Pain & Pleasure” especially with the acapella in the beginning. What was the importance of starting off the album with that song?
Trey Songz: It’s so funny because you ask questions and you already know the answer. *Laughs* “Be My Guest” is reminiscence of “Panty Droppa” and “Dive In”. With the album being entitled “Back Home” and telling you to be my guest, its a double entendre as well as a play on nostalgia with the structure on that song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the creation of “I Know A Love” because it reminds me of “Kinda Lovin” from your debut album.
Trey Songz: “I Know A Love” is once again another play on word. I wanted that to be a song that people could sing to their children all over the world and people that they love. The fact that his name Noah is actually incorporated in the title is very special. It’s a very heartful song and the reference to “Kinda Lovin” is amazing. I hadn’t even thought of that. *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: The standout track on this album is “All This Love” which sounds like some classic Luther Vandross music.
Trey Songz: I just wanted to make a classic love song. I feel like I’ve made a lot of love songs, but I wanted to make one about that pure love that Luther Vandross would sing about. The instrumentation also lends itself to beauty and bliss. I was actually inspired listening to Luther on “Superstar”. I hit Troy Taylor up and we created something special. He was like “You don’t want to make no record like that” and I was like “Yes I Do!” because in today’s time, it’s not something you hear often. It’s a long drawn out love song that has instrumentation and progression. It came together so beautifully. Shout out to Johnta Austin, Troy Taylor and Eric Hudson who put it together. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever sang.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For a record like “All This Love”, you have to deliver vocally and you did just that. Talk about your vocal production throughout the project.
Trey Songz: It was just about challenging myself and staying focused. I wanted deliver vocally like I’ve never done before especially being away from the stage. I was just thinking about singing these songs live and even in that factor, I still have to shout out Troy because he taught me everything I know as far as vocal production. When I was first working with him, I was his vocal production assistant. If he was in a gig or had to take a phone call, I would do the vocal production. That’s been instilled in me and I loved actually making this album with Troy throughout the pandemic. I was alone for some parts of it and then I was with producers for other parts. It was a unique process for making this album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Troy Taylor has played such a huge part in your career. Take me through the early days with Troy in the studio because I know he’s quite tough in the studio when it comes to the vocals.
Trey Songz: He doesn’t play with the vocals. *Laughs* His patience was short and he expected you to give your all at all times. I didn’t have any problems with that. I just listened and followed his instructions. I developed my own sound as things went along. I know he just wanted what was best for me and he wanted the best possible vocals from me. I never had a problem with that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You don’t get the credit that you deserve for being the first R&B artist to release a mixtape on your major label with your project “Antication”. You were also using UStream to build yourself as an artist. Did you know how big these things would be for your career at the time?
Trey Songz: Nah man, I was just thinking of ways to have my voice heard outside of the structure that you step into when you’re in a contract. I used the music as a marketing tool. I have so many styles and it’s hard to incorporate all of that into a body of work especially back then. I was putting out an album every two years and I made too much music. It was my love for the music and I used it as a marketing tool.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Throughout your career, you never chased that EDM sound especially when it was at its peak. You stuck to R&B at the time, so talk about that decision.
Trey Songz: It’s all been a commitment to staying true to myself and not chasing what’s not meant for me. Certain things don’t suit me well and I’m uncomfortable doing it. If I’m not comfortable doing it then why do it? That’s something that’s sacrificial at times when you could achieve so much more success by following that trend, but staying true to myself is more important.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We were just looking back at all the R&B artists that debuted in 2005. It was yourself, Chris Brown, Keyshia Cole, Pretty Ricky and Bobby V just to name a few. All of them had a lot more success than you early on and it took you a few years before you really took off. Was that a tough time for you during that period?
Trey Songz: It was a time of figuring out if I was going to use my perseverance and push forward to let my talent speak for itself or I was going to allow myself to be bothered by what other people had going on. One thing about me from the beginning of my life outside of music, I’ve always been the underdog and I’ve always had to fight. People thought I was less of them because I was poor and I went to a bunch of different schools and I was always the new kid. For me when I was struggling, I knew I just had to stick it out and stay true to myself. I knew that was going to be the answer.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about that run that you had from “Ready” onwards because we don’t see runs like that in R&B anymore. During that time when you were having the success, was it tough behind the scenes?
Trey Songz: It’s never easy no matter what it looks like on the surface. Even with the great success, you face turmoil too. I had no easy path to anything. It was just hard work that got me to where I was at.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Where do you see yourself going forward musically? You have so many different styles.
Trey Songz: I’m going to ride this album out and see what next single I want to put out. “Back Home” just reached number one on the Urban AC charts and that record came out in April. Music moves really fast, but if you stay committed to pressing forward with R&B, it’s going to show its worth. Outside of that, I’m going to do everything else like features and hopefully the world opens up so I can go on tour.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve heard two rumors on social media: 1. You’re retiring and 2. You’re releasing a deluxe version of “Back Home”. Any truth to either?
Trey Songz: Aw man, you can’t listen to the rumors. I don’t know what’s going on. *Laughs* Just keep your eyes open for everything.