We recently caught up with Vivian Green and producer Kwame for an interview on Instagram Live. The conversation was about Vivian’s new album “Love Absolute” which Kwame produced and released on his label. During our discussion, we touched on the creation of the album, how they work so well together, Vivian’s longevity as an artist, and what made her not like her first album as much as her fans do.
Vivian Green: I think since my second album, I’ve been determined to just be true to myself no matter what may come! *Laughs* Sometimes it’s been great and sometimes not so much. I think since 2015 when Kwame and I started working together, he has a way of bringing some balance to my perspective. I have a ton of different influences in different genres of music. I’m a selfish songwriter! *Laughs* I want to write what I want to write, whatever that is, and I think people should understand it. But he is there to tell me everyone won’t understand so everybody gets it. He’s great with providing that balance. I think that’s what makes us working together so great.
YouKnowIGotSoul: This is your third album now working with Kwame and he’s really re-energized your sound. It’s really special to hear the results we get of your collaborations together.
Vivian Green: I feel the same way. It was like a breath of fresh air. His understanding of me and what he can add to what I bring to the table. It’s really fantastic for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So when it comes to this new album “Love Absolute”, what is the creation process like. Kwame, do you come up with the ideas first and guide Vivian, and does Vivian have ideas and you build around those?
Vivian: I don’t think we can push each other in either direction! *Laughs*
Kwame: It depends on the song. Vivian for this album, pretty much constructed her songs at the piano. She constructed most of the ballads and mid tempos at the piano, more of a genesis of how she originally started writing songs. I’m the one who steps in with the high energy, uptempo songs. So she’ll bring the piano songs to me and I’ll craft music around it, I’ll bring the uptempo songs to her and she’ll craft the words around it. That’s pretty much the give and take. This album, we made a much more concerted effort to craft those songs that were especially at the piano, especially her being more vulnerable and in her feelings. It worked out best that way.
Vivian: Yea, I know I’ve done a couple of posts this year, playing piano is not something I’ve ever shared with any fans before. You work with amazing musicians and I don’t like to pretend to call myself one! *Laughs* I do use it as a writing tool and that’s how I started writing songs as a little girl. In the industry you can get into the habit of just asking people to send you music and write to that. When you do that, where the music goes is already there. I’m just writing lyrics and melody to something that’s already there. I can’t take it somewhere else. I just really wanted to navigate the ship for where the chords went this time for the ballads. I wanted to come up with that whole structure first and then have him write around it. That will be the first time I’ve ever intentionally done that for a great bulk of an album. I’ve never done it before. I’ve done it on “Somewhere”, “Beautiful”, “Emotional Rollercoaster”, but those are the ones I’m thinking, a single song from an album. It’s a very different process this time. When I do it that way, it’s not in the studio, it’s in my piano room, and I’m by myself with my voice memo. Then when I’m done, I let him hear it. So he’s not hovering over me when I do it, it’s organically alone and I get to go wherever I want to go. I think there is a certain magic that happens when I’m able to write a song on my own and go to the places I feel.
Kwame: As a producer, I know I secretly wanted this album to be organic like that as well. When people listen to it, I want it to feel organic. I want it not to be trendy in any sense of the word. I want it to just feel like it’s coming from a place of our personal creativity, which lends to a timeless body of work. We knew that we were possibly going to release it this year, you have Covid happening, so we don’t know what could happen with the album. You want to make a solid body of work that could last through a lot of the stuff going on.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Which songs on “Love Absolute” are your personal favorites so far? On our first few listens, the ones that stand out are “You Send Me”, “Love Song” and “Where You Are”, along with “Light Up” which came out earlier this year.
Vivian Green: I’m going to name like half the album! *Laughs* For me it’s “This Love”, it’s “Where You Are”, “That Kind of Pain”, “Harlem Blues”, “Sweet Home”, “We Are Everywhere” those are my favorites.
Kwame: You know it’s so funny. For all of the people who like “Sweet Home”, Vivian did not want it on the album! She thought it didn’t fit! Finally we listened to toward the end of the album when it was done, and decided we had to put it on the album. It was one of the first songs we did at the piano.
Vivian Green: The whole time I’m making an album I’m thinking if it makes sense together. At some point, maybe I didn’t think it would fit with some of the uptemopos. I didn’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb. Then we have “Where You Are” and we were able to balance everything out. The reason I didn’t want it to be on there because I didn’t think it fit the body of work we had at that time but it fits now!
Kwame: I love “Sweet Home” and the way I crafted it around what she did, I wanted people to feel what she was saying. I wanted people to get that feeling. I think it’s a single contender. I feel like what she did at the piano and what she did with her writing helped me step up my game as a producer because she’s delivering chord structures and changes that I may not have played on my own. She’ll structure a song instead of four bars, it will be a 6 ½ bar verse! I didn’t know what this weirdness was! She’ll show up with this super weird chord and it helps me out because it gives me something I’ve never played before. I’m not over here trying to be Liberace or anyone dope on the keyboards. But I love to challenge myself musically.
Vivian Green: We both play, but neither of us pretend to be Liberace like he said. *Laughs* For a lot of songs, you do not need a keyboard player to come in and play. Maybe for some songs you’ll call someone to come in and play it over. But he can pretty much play what we hear. We just go different places naturally with music. I’m always going somewhere left and he has to figure it out and bring it back to make it make sense. Like some of the ideas I brought to him, he was like “What is that?” *Laughs*
Kwame: She approaches all of her stuff like the old school Celine Dion songs! I’ll be like “No, we’re not doing none of that!” She’ll be delivering some Diane Warren type of stuff! I tell her she’s supposed to be R&B!
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s exciting to hear that we are here on your seventh album and you are still able to deliver high quality music like this.
Vivian Green: I think its our best work to date. “VGVI” is so perfect in so many ways I think it was a damn near flawless piece of work that we made. But the point of view was very strong and it wasn’t very vulnerable. I think there was a disconnect with the people because of that. I think we both realized that. This time around, we said we had to hit the heart. I wanted to make sure I was definitely hitting the heart this time. I love my last album, but I understand why some people didn’t get it. I didn’t want to make something I thought was so great and it somehow missed the mark. It’s very vulnerable and emotional and personal that I didn’t put into my last album in the same way.
Kwame: I study the history of music. What people have done historically musically and the mistakes and successes they’ve had, very diligently. The patterns that I usually see, and anyone can test this theory out, most artists peak at their fourth album. After that, its usually a slide down. I also study my favorite artists like a Stevie Wonder, and “Songs in the Key of Life” was his 18th album! I look at Michael Jackson, “Thriller” was his 12th album! Since she’s on her 7th album, and as long as we try to create the curve instead of following the curve, we have a shot to make a great body of work. Label politics and promotion and all of that stuff that falls into place, that may determine if an album is Grammy nominated or a #1 album. But the only thing we can do in the studio is make sure our creativity is at top level. I’m not the 21 year old producer, I don’t consider myself an old man. But I look at Quincy Jones, and he did “Off the Wall” at age 50 and “Thriller” at age 52! I don’t want to put age or album numbers into it. But at this point with this album, I feel like when I listen to it, I don’t think in terms of best or worst, but I really did my homework and we really studied for this test and I think we passed the test! *Laughs* It’s like being in school and you study for weeks and you go in there and you’re hyped. We’re in a whole nother world from where both of us started from in terms of selling music. So what I wanted to do as a label owner, and as a producer, is push a record in a different way. Meaning, no single, no structure radio record, none of that box at first. We wanted to put out the body of work, we wanted people to ingest the body of work and start liking the songs they liked, before we do all of the political radio things. The reason I enjoy that is because it reminds me of when I was a kid. When I was a kid and bought an album, I didn’t have the knowledge of what the first single was. I knew the artist, I bought the album, and I listened to the record and picked my favorites. I didn’t allow a radio programmer to tell me which was the best on the album. We wanted it to feel like that. There is a single and video coming in 2021. For now, we wanted to drop it and allow people to get used to it. We want to hear from people what they like, but the problem is they are naming every song!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Vivian this is your 7th album now. We recently went back and listened to all of your albums, and it was a good reminder that you are among the greats of your generation. You’ve given us so much great music. We know you don’t like your first album as much as your fans, but how do you view your own career?
Vivian Green: It’s crazy because time really does fly. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 18 years, even though I know it has to be because my son is 16! *Laughs* How did all of that happen, wow! When I look at my discography, I think what I see is from my second album moving forward, I’m proud of myself that I chose to be true to myself. That’s really important. You have to be yourself and be true to yourself above all. I couldn’t continue to let anyone else write my narrative for me. That’s’ what I feel and I’m really proud. I really do love each album from the second one on for different reasons. Probably my favorites today are “Vivian”, “The Green Room”, and “Love Absolute” if I have to pick three of the seven. I really love “Beautiful” too. I can’t choose!
Kwame: See she’s one of these artists. She definitely beats her first album down. That’s her prerogative. I think the people don’t know what goes into making an album. They don’t know your feelings while making the album or the circumstances of making the album. They just know what they get. It’s like drinking your favorite soda or eating your favorite candy, you don’t know what’s in there. You just know it feels good. I want to say this and she will want to kill me. That’s what it feels like for the fan base. For Vivian, she thinks about that her vocals weren’t right, or she didn’t like the clothes she had on, or the tracks weren’t great. But that’s the inside looking out. People outside will never see that perspective. We argue about this a lot. I get on her for beating down bodies of work. You can ask a million different artists, and you can name their biggest records, and 90% hate it. They sing it because they’ve got to.
Vivian Green: See but you’re missing a very important part of it. See we do argue about this obviously. You’re missing the part that I don’t blame anybody else but me because I feel like I should have spoken up when I didn’t, but I was young on a major label. Everyone is telling you everything is great and you don’t think about what impact it will have in the long run. I don’t think I understood some of the choices and decisions that were made, were things that people would try to hold me to for the rest of my existence. That has become an issue. Not just somebody liking something. Don’t expect me to want to stay in the little tiny box you put me in that I never fit in the first place. Like when someone comes to my concert and cries because I performed an uptempo song and we did dance moves. She told me that wasn’t me.
Kwame: She performed “Get Right Back to my Baby” and her and the background singers do a dance routine. During the meet and greet, this lady came up crying, she couldn’t believe she got on stage and had fun! All she wants is “Emotional Rollercoaster”. I’ve also been to Prince shows and people got mad he didn’t wear purple that day!
Vivian Green: It’s a good example of people wanting you to stay in one place. It’s crazy for people who get angry if I do something else or decide to not like me anymore because I’m not what they thought I was. Obviously I’ve been willing to deal with all of the repercussions since I never did songs like my first album again. The biggest lesson is you’ve got to be yourself no matter what, and be ready to deal with those consequences. I’d rather do anything but go back to that, it wasn’t me.