When you think of the major cities producing talent, you may think of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, D.C.; well it’s time to start including Toronto. Following in the footsteps of fellow natives Glenn Lewis, Melanie Fiona and Drake, Aion Clarke is the next in line. I wasn’t even familiar with his music until I had discovered Bryan-Michael Cox plugging the work they did together on Twitter, but boy am I glad I found it. When I come across an up and coming artist who finds importance in keeping the musicality of singing alive, coupled with an amazing voice, I have no choice but to support them. Check out my interview with Aion where we discuss his roots in music, forming a group in Toronto with Drake and Melanie Fiona, working with Bryan-Michael Cox, and the hit he almost penned for Monica.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s start at the beginning of your career. I was reading in your bio you performed your first solo at the age of four for your church. What drew you to first start performing music and want to do music?
Aion Clarke: I don’t know, it just kinda found me when I was very young, I don’t really remember much but my parents were like, my dad was like I was always singing along to songs on the radio and he was realizing that I knew more of the lyrics than he did at a very young age and me and my brother were singing and we just enjoyed it. He asked me one day do you want to sing in church, and I said “Yea I wanna sing in church!” I was about three or four years old, my mom will say three just to add that extra hot sauce on it. *Laughs* I think I was four years old, actually I remember it kind of, I was singing a song and I started crying because I was nervous and my dad helped me finish the song. So that’s where it all began.
YKIGS: Your bio also states you studied various genres from r&b to soul to country to folk. Do you feel studying such a wide range of genres has helped shape you as an artist?
AC: I started off singing country, my mom made me sing like country gospel songs, so we used to do these competitions and come to the states and sing country gospel stuff so it was cool. It kinda actually broadened my concept for songwriting. I think country songs are the perfect song structure so really showed me that.
YKIGS: Musically in terms of artists who were some of your influences?
AC: I’m going to have to say Marvin, Marvin Gaye, I think he’s the best r&b artist. I’ve always wanted to be an r&b artist at the end of the day, and I think Marvin Gaye is the epitome of what an r&b artist should sound like, should be like, real soulful but at the same time a ladies’ man, and got a really smooth voice and all of that. You got people like him, you got people like Sam Coooke, I love Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole because I also have a crooning side that I love to do as well which I apply to all of my music. I love Bob Marley of course because I’m Jamaican, boom bam. *Laughs*
YKIGS: Let’s fast forward some years if we could, when did you get the opportunity to start recording professionally?
AC: I think my first actual professional thing that I did, I was working with Melanie Fiona at the time, actually that was during the time I was working with Drake as well. You know Melanie Fiona right?
YKIGS: Yea of course!
AC: We were all a group, me, Drake, Melanie Fiona, D-10 which is Drake’s keyboard player, and then Boi-1da. And we were all really tight, so we called ourselves the “Renaissance Crew.” Way back in the day, this is like 2003 almost, I wrote a song for Melanie called “Them Haters” with Mike City and it got picked up for Rihanna’s second, sophomore album. So that was my first professional thing to happen to me where I got a placement.
YKIGS: I was reading you used to go by a different name, Voyce Alexander. What caused you to change?
AC: I didn’t really change, it’s not so much I changed, I just got rid of the name and I just go by my real name which is Aion David Clarke, so it’s Aion Clarke now. It’s a better name, my name is actually way cooler, my actual name gives a better brand, it just sounds better, it’s cleaner, represents who I am really. Voyce was kinda like a nickname when I was younger when I was trying to be this other guy, I don’t know. But I’ve come to find myself in the past few years as a man and I’ve realized this is my name, this is what I’m here for, I’ve only got one life to live, I gotta go for it, go for the gusto, and my name has to go down in history when it’s all said and done.
YKIGS: Do you feel like some people might have lost track of you through the name change, or do you not feel like that at all?
AC: Well you know what, I’m not a major…I’ve never really blown up on that level where everyone knows who I am or whatever. As a matter of fact, through the name change it actually attracted more people. Because a lot of the people who know Drake, they know who I am because I did music on his first mixtape, and then we had a beef where he did a diss record towards me and they knew who Voyce Alexander is. So when I announced that I changed my name, some people might have said “Well he changed my name because of the Drake diss.” Some of Drake’s fans might have said that, but then they still gravitate towards my music, which is all that matters to me.
YKIGS: I was actually going to ask you about that falling out you had with Drake, you guys eventually reconciled though, is that correct?
AC: Yea, I’ve always been cool with Drake, it was more of a situation where I did the diss record and I couldn’t really…from my end I didn’t respond, it’s me, you’ll never hear a reply for it. He said that in his lyrics, but he might have learned that from me. *Laughs* But we’re cool, I’m really happy for Drake and I’ve always wanted him to make it as a rapper. I was his first fan, I was his biggest fan, when I first heard him rap, I was like “You’re incredible,” and I’m happy to see where he’s at. But like I said, I got my own people, my own goals, and I’m next.
YKIGS: I was reading in another interview you did where you mention that he was your biggest fan, and you were his biggest fan. What caused him to lash out at you like that?
AC: You know what it was, at the time I had a very big, I still do, have a very big ego, but I have it under control now. I was younger, we both had big egos, we clashed, we both know that we were very talented and we were going to do big things, but we clashed because he was looking at me saying “You’re not serious about your music,” I was looking at him saying You’re not serious about your music,” and he actually took it more to heart than I did and he really went it. I don’t wanna make it seem like whatever but, back in the day he used to come hang out with us in Scarborough where I was at the time, and he used to come around and do different things, you know fake it till you make it type of thing. And I was just saying “Yo just be yourself man, why is your rhyme book in my basement? You need to get serious about your craft.” So I was the guy to not agree with him all the time and not really be friendly. I’m not a very friendly person when it comes on to one on one, I’m just me, I’m in my own space, I’m not extra friendly. So it kinda created a little animosity there and it boiled over.
YKIGS: So basically we have to say that we have to give you credit for Drake’s career? *Laughs*
AC: Yea pretty much, we can say that, put that on the record books! *Laughs*
YKIGS: On your MySpace page, under the description for “Sounds Like,” it says “I sound like nothing you’ve ever heard but like everything you’ve heard.” What does this statement mean to you?
AC: Oh man, I haven’t been on my Myspace page in a long time, but that’s exactly what it is. I come with something different, I’ve always tried to push the envelope of soul and r&b music being that when I open my mouth to sing, that’s what comes out is r&b, I can’t help it. But I have these creative things in my head, these different melodies that I hear and different words as a Canadian. First of all I’m not an American, so the way I speak and the way I hit certain vowels and things like that is going to be different when I’m phrasing in a song so it has a coolness to it, it kind brings a different appeal to it. So you’re hearing certain notes that I’m hitting, but I’m hitting them at a different angle, and it just sounds different and I bring something new. You still hear the soul, you can still appreciate, like “Wow, this sounds like something I’ve heard before but I’ve never heard it.”
YKIGS: Being Canadian, I know you grew up in Toronto, can you just comment a little on the music scene you’ve seen in your time there and the type of talent you’ve come across?
AC: Man it’s a lot of talent in Toronto. It’s a huge city so a lot of people that have never been to Canada…a lot of people in the states don’t understand Canada. Like you’ve got New York, you got L.A., you got Houston, and you got Toronto as the biggest cities. It’s a big city with a lot of talent, a lot of West Indians, a lot of different cultures and different people who come straight from their culture. And a lot of cultures outside of growing up in America, everyone sings, you sing like you go to church you sing every day. For me, as a Jamaican, being straight from Africa or Ghana or wherever we’re from, it’s like singing is something that is just natural, like my whole entire family sings, and that’s a lot of families out here, and that’s a lot of people. I’ve heard different sounds, and we grew up hearing different sounds, and rock music, it wasn’t just Urban FM. So we bring a different approach to it, and that’s why Drake’s winning man, he got something that these other guys don’t have, which is a more rounded sense for music. The music scene out here…there’s no structure really to it. The only person who ever really made it from here was Drake and that was last year. So you’ve got people like Kardinal Offishall who is doing big things, but Drake was the one who actually “whoa,” from the city was the first to make it. And then you’ve got Melanie Fiona, and then Boi-1da. What we’ve got to do is not only just make it, but what I do when I make it is reach back and tell these kids about the ins and outs of the industry, what to do, what not to do. It’s a different world we’re living in now. You don’t have to get signed to a major label and have them rape you. Different things like that.
YKIGS: Eventually do you see yourself leaving Toronto to one of the major cities to further your career or do you think you could make it in Toronto and stay there?
AC: I can’t just be here, because you know I got the situation with Bryan Cox right? So I was living out in Atlanta and L.A. for a minute. But I definitely have go to leave the city, I’ve got to be out there, that’s where it’s at, the states is where it’s at. If you want to blow up, you gotta be on the radio in New York, you gotta be on the radio in Atlanta, you gotta be on the radio in L.A., Miami, D.C. area, it’s the states man, that’s where music is actually cool man.
YKIGS: Speaking of Bryan-Michael Cox, tell me about the new single you have out “I’m Coming” which he produced.
AC: Yea man, we’re going for the gusto with that one. It was a song that, just like “Do You Right,” the song before that, it was a song I wrote for Usher, and somehow through the politics, he didn’t get a chance to hear it. I’m sure if he did, he would have cut it. We felt like, me and Bryan felt like, from the moment I heard the beat, I already had a concept in my head, I had this movie in my head where I’m working at this, I get hired for a job at this workplace, like an office environment ,and this really hot chick is working there and I’m trying to get her attention. So in the first verse I’m like *sings* “When can we get, the chance to be alone. No disrespect, but you know you really turn me on.” So I’m hollering at her in the lunch room, and I’m saying “You know what, I’m coming over to your house.” And she’s like “What???” and I’m like “No no, I’m coming over,” it’s a very subtle way that I do with my lyrics. I don’t come so abrasively like “Girl let’s have sex right now,” I’ll say like “Hey that’s a nice necklace you got on there, I like that.” *Laughs* And I think that’s more appealing to a grown woman, a grown and sexy woman, a grown educated woman.
YKIGS: Tell me the story about how you originally linked up with Bryan-Michael Cox.
AC: It’s crazy, it’s a blessing, shout out to B. Cox. 2007 I’m sitting in my basement, this is after moving back from Brooklyn, where I tried to have meeting with different labels, every label in New York. I’m back home and I’m figuring out what am I going to do next. So I start looking at these blogs like “Studio Exposed with Bryan-Michael Cox.” And I’m like “Man this guys beats are so crispy man, ooh this guy is sick!” And I just kept setting my mind up for nights and nights for like three weeks straight I was just watching the same blog everyday over and over again, and all night over and over again, like “Mom look at this guy, this is who I need to be working with!” I remember one night I was on his Myspace page, and I didn’t want to hit him up because everyone was hitting him up. I looked at his friends list and there was a guy named Don Bowie and Don Bowie’s name looked very businesslike, that guy looks like he does business. So what I did was, I hit him up, I added him as a friend, I just added him as a friend and then I went up stairs to my bed and I prayed, I said “God, if you give me this opportunity, I need this, this is what I want, let me work with Bryan-Michael Cox, in the name of Jesus.” I promise you that is what I said. The next morning I woke up and Bowie’s information was in my inbox talking about “Yo you’ve got the ‘it’ factor, hit me up.” So from there, me and Bowie started talking, I started sending him some more music, and he was like “Is this your music?” This was stuff I was doing in my basement. And he was like “Did you write these songs? Did you produce these songs?” I was like “Yea I produced these songs, I wrote and produced these songs, and that’s me signing, that’s all me.” And he started playing it for Bryan and next thing I know I got a text from Bryan like “Yo we gonna do some big things dog!” And I was like “Did Bryan-Michael Cox just hit me in my inbox?” *Laughs* So they flew me out there man and we got it crackin, it was ’07, June 1st 2007. And they pulled me under their wing, and I started writing and they really taught me how to put together a hit r&b/pop record, that’s what they do. At the time, I was just experimenting on my other stuff, and they were like “Yo that stuff’s really cool.” When I met Bryan, he started singing this one song I got called “Fly Away,” I don’t know if you ever heard “Fly Away,” and he was singing that song to me when I met him, and I produced that song and wrote it, so it really made me feel really good.
YKIGS: Well you certainly linked up with the right guy, because in my opinion B. Cox is the best in r&b in terms of producing.
AC: You damn right about that! *Laughs*
YKIGS: How much do you expect to work with him in the future? What is your working relationship like with him going forward?
AC: As of the past few weeks, we’re putting some things together, we’re getting ready to really lock in in the studio and I’m getting ready to lock in on some of the new stuff he’s developing. If he’s making a set of beats last year, he does not have anything written to them, he’ll put them away, he wants new sounds and that’s what keeps him relevant, that’s what’s been keeping him relevant for the past ten years. If he made something that sounded like 2009, he does not want you singing on it, even if you make a smash on it, he probably won’t push it because he doesn’t want that sound out there. So we’re working on some new things, we’re about to go back in, I’m about to go to Atlanta in a couple of weeks, have a little meeting, and put together a game plan about how we’re going to change the face of r&b this year.
YKIGS: When can we expect your debut album?
AC: That’s a tough one. I’m not really focused on the album right now. I’m really more focused on just putting together some really great songs, because really I haven’t written a new song in over a year. I haven’t written any song in over a year…I’m lying I penned a few songs but I haven’t really gone and locked into a zone in over a year. I took some time off to really figure some things out. Not time off, but time away from writing, I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t inspired. But now I’ve gathered enough things that I want to go in and lock in with Bryan and just create some really hit records. Maybe get some placements on some major artists, Justin Bieber, Trey Songz, Usher, those are some of my goals right now.
YKIGS: I was reading you are also a songwriter and wrote a hit for Day 26 and also a song for Rihanna which you mentioned earlier. What other artists have you had the chance to write for?
AC: I’ve had a chance to write for there’s a cat named London out there in Atlanta, Dirty Rose, Bryan’s group, his guy group, I wrote a song called “You Chose Me,” it’s actually on Youtube right now, it has 600,000 hits on Youtube, it got leaked. I wrote that song for Monica, she was in the studio, Bryan was working with Monica, and she was in the studio, and I was like “You know what, I gotta make something for Monica like right now.” And Bryan was making up this really sick beat, the beat for “You Chose Me,” and I was sitting outside the room and I was already writing the lyrics and the hook. So he went in and did the beat, and then he went into the other studio with Monica, so I went into the studio and cut this song really quick, and I played it for Bryan, and he played it for Monica, and she cut it on the spot! And I sat there and watch her record my song which was amazing because I grew up listening to Monica, she’s amazing. And then we went away for Christmas and the song got leaked, so it never worked out. But at least I can say that when I see her show knows who I am, she knows I write good songs, so she respects me. It’s all about me now following through and coming with some more heat. Same thing with Usher, Usher heard my song “Fly Away” as well. I met Usher at a wedding, at Director X’s wedding. He doesn’t go by the name Little X anymore, he goes by Director X. He was at his wedding, and I sang my song for Usher, and he was like “Yo you’re really sick, I need you on my next album.” So, I already have these different relationships, I just have to lock in Bryan and create something for them.
YKIGS: Who are some other artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
AC: I’d love to work with Drake again, obviously. *Laughs* Because I think what we had was magical. Even people right now who are big fans and they go back to our old stuff and I see some of the comments like “Yo, you guys were sick!” We have a certain chemistry in the studio, so that would be cool. I’d like to work with Kanye West, I’d like to work with Coldplay, I’d like to work with Mark Ronson maybe. Marvin Gaye but that’s not going to happen. *Laughs* That’s about it really. I don’t care who the person is, if I hear something that moves me, then I’m all about it.
YKIGS: I want to ask you about Drake for a minute since you’re someone who knows him so well. I’m just a true fan of r&b, I love real singers, and he does his little singing on the tracks here and there, how do you feel about that?
AC: How do I feel about his singing?
AC: Yea like his singing skills are not…he knows he’s not a good singer. But in terms of his concepts for melody, you can tell he took notes in the 90’s man because a lot of the stuff that he’s doing is very catchy and he has great lyrics, great melodies. The signing though is not good at all really. I think it’s good, do whatever you feel like you need to do. Personally I think he should just rap, if he needs a hook holler at me! *Laughs* Or Trey Songz or whatever. The singing thing is…if that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he wants to do.
YKIGS: I gotta give him credit, it’s definitely catchy, people definitely like it, but I’m just a fan of pure singing, real singers, that type of thing.
AC: Yea, I think it takes away from real artists singing. You’ve got real atists like myself or all the kids out there who can really sing and it’s kinda…you have these artists that are coming out with this auto-tune thing all the time it kinda takes away from the musicality of it. But at the same time, you could be able to sing, but that doesn’t mean you have a hit record. You could be able to sing circles around anybody but if you don’t have a hit record it doesn’t matter when it comes to radio spins and all of that.
YKIGS: That’s true. You mentioned earlier about changing the face of r&b. Like we’re talking about, the radio is currently playing stuff that’s not real talent, it’s more pop and that type of thing. Where do you feel your music could fit in currently with the state of music the way it’s going?
AC: I think my music is refreshing man, it’s just refreshing, I get that a lot from people they say it’s refreshing because it’s relevant to the sounds that are happening right now, but of course when you have Bryan playing those chords, those church chords, and those great progressions that he uses, and then me going along with those progressions because I know them, because I grew up in the church just like Bryan did. I thought that’s what r&b was all about, someone who grew up singing gospel, or grew up really singing soul music, and it transfer over into a commercial sound where the beat is banging but there’s still an element of soul there and there’s substance to the lyrics, there’s an actual positive message. So I think my music is not just going to be fly by night stuff, like “hey girl, da da da…” I mean, not saying I won’t make a record like that, but it’s going to have a vibe and a meaning to it, it’s going to be real.
YKIGS: Good I’m glad to hear that, because that’s the type of artist I like to see coming out. I actually just heard your music for the first time recently which is a shame because you’ve been out, but Bryan has been talking about you on Twitter, and I was like let me listen to this single, and I was like “Wow, this is what I’m talking about!”
AC: Wow, appreciate it man! I gotta shout out somebody else too, 40, Drake’s engineer, also one of my best friends ever! I haven’t spoken to him in awhile, but I’m just shouting him out through you! *Laughs*
YKIGS: One of my favorite artists is also from Toronto and his name is Glenn Lewis, I’m a huge fan. Have you had the chance to meet him or work with him at all?
AC: Yea we worked, me and Glenn we got it in. I met Glenn at an open mic that I used to do at Scarborough and I sang, and everyone was saying to him like “Yo this is the next kid!” I was like so nervous, and I sang and he was like “Yo, you’re ill man, you’re better than me man!” I was like “What? No I’m not, you’re the best singer on this planet, you’re the best male vocalist!” We built a relationship, I started writing some songs for him, and then he went on to the states, and then we kinda lost touch, but we’re always in touch, he’s always hitting me on Facebook, I’m always hitting him. He’s like “What’s up young gun!” He’s looking for me to do big things. Actually the first day when I moved out to L.A. when I went to meet Bryan he was there, he was in the studio with Bryan, so we had a chance to kick it, talk a little bit and catch up. I think he’s working on a new album right now, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing that.
YKIGS: Yea, I actually interviewed him last month and we were talking about the album. I’m excited about that too.
YKIGS: That’s all I had prepared, is there anything else you’d like to add?
AC: I’m cool man, I’m here, just another regular dude that just happens to do music. Of course I know I’m going to be considered famous or whatever, but I’ll never be that, I’m always going to be that down to earth dude and just soulful person enjoying doing what I do because this is what I’ve always done, I’m not just trying to capitalize on the industry or just take away. I’d rather sow a seed and then reap in due season so that’s what I’m here for, that’s what I represent, and I appreciate you reaching out to do this interview.
YKIGS: Definitely very refreshing to hear, I’m definitely rooting for you and I hope you make it big because we need singers like you out there.
AC: Appreciate it man, appreciate it.
Great interview. I wish I was there for the interview.