When you look back, the 90’s very good to r&b as it produced tons of great talent, groups, and music that we still vibe to today. However, when the year 2000 came, it ushered in a new regime of talented artists led in full force by a young up and comer at the time Avant. Now ten years since his debut and a new decade has turned, Avant is still a name that immediately comes to mind when you think of some of the top r&b singers making music today. As you will read in this interview, it’s pretty evident why he’s been able to remain relevant all these years; he’s interested in making timeless music that will last through even more decades. As he prepares to release his sixth studio album “The Letter,” I talked to Avant about the importance of keeping real music alive, his transition to an independent label coming over from Capitol, some of his favorite collaborations over the years, and how long fans can expect him to continue making music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I just want you to know I’m a big fan of r&b, and when I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking about your music and r&b over the last ten years and I don’t think many artists besides yourself, well there have been a handful, have put out more solid r&b and good music over the past ten years. Can you comment on that?
Avant: Oh man, I just try to give the truth to people when it comes to r&b. I was raised on the Babyface’s of the world, the Luther Vandross, where these people they taught us how to be gentleman, or they taught us how to approach a date or a relationship with a woman. And that’s all I’m trying to do is bring it in a different light, a 2010 type of light. I understand the young kids move and shake a different way, but I’m just trying to give them a blueprint on how to deal with this thing.
YKIGS: Very good! I want to talk to you a little about the new album, I’m excited to hear you’ve got this new album coming out. Originally it was going to be titled “Wake Up,” but then you changed it to “The Letter.” Where did you get each of these titles from?
Avant: Well the reason I changed it because I know the Roots and John Legend had an album coming out with that whole “Wake Up” situation so I just wanted to change it up. “The Letter” is really basically, the reason I named it “The Letter” is because you know when you write a letter you try to put all the juicy information inside the letter, keep people’s interest. So that’s what I tried to do with this album, I wanted to make it real interesting and juicy and I tried to put all of the good main ingredients inside of this album.
YKIGS: Can your fans expect the same quality r&b they’re used to hearing from you?
Avant: Oh most definitely, I can’t change that! *Laughs* Great topics and great angles, different angles to go with how to deal with relationships. That’s what I try to do, I try to bring the fresh, aint nothing new under the sun, but something fresh for the people to hear.
YKIGS: What producers did you work with and what features do you have on the album?
Avant: Well actually I worked with this guy named Kajun from Chicago, he’s a songwriter as well, he produced a joint on there, actually two joints, one is called “Had Enough,” he wrote a joint called “Body Police” on the album as well. I have Marshall, who used to be in The Architects on the album. I also have Tony and Eric and Damon from The Underdogs, we did a couple of records together. I have a couple of big named cats on there when it comes to that, but I try to focus on not really having too many features and just keep myself on there. Six albums in now, I think my name holds a little water. *Laughs* So I don’t really try to feature it up too much.
YKIGS: When I heard the first single “Kiss Goodbye,” I was happy to hear you stuck to the same formula you have on your previous singles and I’m just happy you never stooped to gimmicks and pop, commercial r&b like that just for the radio.
Avant: I appreciate that because I think through all the other gimmicky records you still need real records for people to grow to and that’s what I’m about. When I turned on the radio coming up, I had records spin that helped me to get to the next level, if it was the professional level, if it was a conversation, or just meeting a young lady, I had a record I could put on and put me in the right mind frame for that, and I think that’s what’s missing right now. That’s why the kids now have no direction because you speak to people through music and I think that we’re not doing that right, we’re really just free with everything and it’s no substance there.
YKIGS: Yes, and I think another thing is the type of music you put out is timeless, and the music on the radio now people are going to forget about it in a few years.
Avant: Yea for sure! I don’t like to bring nobody down but I try to do my timeless music and not try to be cliché but I think that’s what people really want to hear, I think that’s the truth. That’s why people bought albums before, that’s why they went out and bought your record. Now you don’t know who is who, everything sounds the same, so you don’t know whose album to buy!
YKIGS: *Laughs* Exactly! I want to talk to you a little bit about your last album, the self titled album “Avant,” I thought it was a good album, it didn’t maybe perform as well as your previous albums, what do you attribute that to?
Avant: Well you know there was a transition in companies, I was with Capital Records and there was a lot going on in that period of time. My thing is it’s hard to say I don’t think about selling records, I do, but I want to be pleased about my music regardless. At the end of the day, I want the people to be pleased, whoever did pick it up. It might not have been heard as much as I wanted it to be heard, but as long as I was pleased with the product that I put out there because a lot of times people put out products and they go triple platinum or even diamond but they’re not pleased with their product because it’s not a product of themselves, you see what I’m saying? I think that you being happy with what you’re putting out on the street is more important. I’m not saying I don’t want to go triple platinum or diamond, but I want to be pleased with my product and what it sounds like. As long as I can do that, I’ll continue to do great music for you guys!
YKIGS: Definitely, that’s a very good approach, we appreciate that. What’s the transition been like going from a major label, Capital, now to your new label Verve Forecast. What are the major differences?
Avant: Oh it’s a difference, it’s a good look now because I worked a great deal out with the guys and we have some great business and it’s all about the grind, everything to me is about the grind. Now it’s about getting this record out here and letting it be heard the way that the previous albums were heard and just beating the pavement and that’s what I’m here to do.
YKIGS: Really quick I wanted to ask you about a song from your last album, “Sensuality,” that was a personal favorite of mine. I felt like you were trying to do something a little different, a little more up-tempo on that than I was used to hearing from you. What was the reception like from your fans on that one?
Avant: Oh they loved that record! I think it was a good record too, and the way I try to do it is, like I said there is nothing new under the sun, but everybody out there got a nice up-tempo record, but how many people are using the word sensuality? That’s the thing too, I’m trying to teach kids new words to use and a good word, it’s not just sexual, it’s sensual, so there’s a lot of different meaning behind that one word. So to me it’s about teaching the people and also coming up with a nice groove.
YKIGS: Definitely! What is your favorite album that you’ve put out over the years?
Avant: Awwww c’mon man, that’s hard! That’s six albums, so I would have to say one, two, three, four, five, and six! *Laughs*I gotta be fair to all of them, because you know I wrote all of the records on them and it’s all different moments and emotions. Even though some sold more than others, it still was a period of time that I was feeling and that’s why I put the material down the way I put it down. So it’s hard for me to shut one album down, it really is.
YKIGS: Ok that’s fair! You mentioned that some sold more than others, your first one went Platinum, the next two went Gold, and the last two didn’t receive a certification. Did that disappoint you in any way? How did you feel about that?
Avant: Well at the end of the day it’s very disappointing when you don’t go where you believe it should go. So yea it’s disappointing, but I believe it’s not the material more than it is the business behind the material. It’s all about me getting with a company that understands, and also right now the recession, it’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in this generation that’s rough for every artist out here, not just myself. We are in a different time, a different era, but it’s all about getting people to believe in music again, because I think they lost that whole belief in music. People can just download records for free, so it’s a lot going on that attributes to what you’re speaking on, but to make no excuse, it’s more getting people to believe in r&b again, that’s what I think it is.
YKIGS: I agree, and I’m just glad it never discouraged you from continuing to make that good music and you’re still doing it.
Avant: As long as you’re a fan of mine I’m good. *Laughs* The most important part is to get the people that’s real r&b heads that want to go out and support an artist, that’s the most important to me.
YKIGS: I want to talk to you a little about your acting now, because I know you made your debut in a stage play earlier this year. How was that experience?
Avant: Oh it’s always beautiful. I came up in Cleveland School of Arts so I had a little acting background, I did a couple of plays when I was coming up in high school. It’s definitely a different energy, but it’s an energy. Every night you have to come out with the same energy because these people haven’t seen the play. Like when you do an album, in a lot of cases, once it gets out there and people are familiar with it, you could go out and they are going to sing the song, you still want to bring the same energy, don’t think you shouldn’t. But there’s a lot of different aspects that goes on with that, with this play and stage plays, you have to bring off the same energy because these people haven’t seen it and these people paid their money to see you perform. So it’s challenging, but it’s very fun.
YKIGS: Do you plan to do more acting in the future?
Avant: Well yea I want to be on the big screen, I want to go ahead and get on the flat screen on your wall. *Laughs* So that’s the most important thing that I’m focusing on right now. I’m really focusing more on my music because I love music but if that opportunity presents itself I’m not going to shut it down.
YKIGS: You mentioned the Cleveland Performing School of Arts, but do you feel that your music videos further prepared you for an acting role?
Avant: Oh yea, that’s all the same thing, turn the cameras on let’s get it going, and then shut it down. Yea I think that it prepared me for that and also not only that, the great teachers that I had in that school as well. The discipline was perfect there.
YKIGS: Back to your music, I want to know what collaboration for you over the years, because you’ve had some great ones, which one has been the most fun or memorable?
Avant: Well I have to say I worked with Keith Sweat, I’ve worked with Ron Isley, I’ve worked with Lil’ Wayne, Jermaine Dupri, I’ve worked with Puff Daddy, all of them really because you get a different feel from every one, every individual is totally different. I remember being in the studio with Puff and everybody else was going out to the club but we were the only two in there banging out. I remember being in the studio with Jermaine Dupri with the isolated situation where he just came in and put the beat together within nothing, not time at all. And Ron Isley, being in there for hours with him and we just spending time and him giving me history on what happened when he first got into the industry. Charlie Wilson, oh my God, just the opportunity of a lifetime to be with a great like himself. So I’m telling you I cherish every moment and I appreciate all of those guys for spending all of their time with me. 50 Cent and doing the Lloyd Banks thing, it was unbelievable man. These guys are extremely talented, I appreciate them for just taking the time out with your man Avant, it was fun!
YKIGS: I was going to mention “Secret Lover” the one you did with The Isley Brothers, I love that one.
Avant: Aww yea, that was much fun right there! Ron was like “Yo I like this man!” And then when you’re doing records for people in their vein, that’s the most important part because they feel like “Wow this guy, he really understands our music and he’s a part of us right now.” So that was fun.
YKIGS: I picked out some of my favorite songs of yours I’ve had over the years, if you could just share a memory with me you have of making that song. The first one is “Get Away.”
Avant: Wow, “Get Away” was fun making because my man Steve Hough was like “Yo man I got this tune, I have this song,” you know this was the first album too I remember it. He’s like “Me and a couple of my guys from Indianapolis was putting that song together.” And just recording the song, and the feeling behind the song, I felt like I was part of that whole…like I saw the video played out within doing that record, and that’s the vibe that I had with that record.
YKIGS: The next one is “Phone Sex (That’s What’s Up)”
Avant: *Laughs* “Phone Sex” was fun because we had just left the club and went back to the studio and it was like one of those scenarios like wow, it was red light special time, we all got the vibe from the club and we went in and did that record, it was fun.
YKIGS: “Everything About You.”
Avant: “Everything About You” wow man, that right there, I think it was more about giving women props, it’s not just one part about you. A lot of times people look at, oh she got a nice body, but if her attitude sucks, it’s a turn off, or vice versa, she could have a beautiful attitude, but if her body sucks, ehhh. But once you find that one person that everything fits who you are, because everybody doesn’t have the same likes, we all have different dislikes, so when you find that person that makes everything perfect for you, then that’s the record for you right there.
YKIGS: The last one is “Now You Got Someone.”
Avant: Wow. *Laughs* You know in a lot of cases…my sister was going through some stuff with her ex boyfriend, he used to abuse her, and she was always saying “Well I can’t find that guy, the guy that wants to be with me and not put his hands on me and the whole nine.” And was like wow, I gotta write from this scenario and try to portray how she feels and say “There is a guy out there for you.” And this guy who was on the record that I portrayed was that perfect guy, this is exactly what you’re looking for basically. And I’m blessed to be able to write from emotions and feelings like that, I thank the lord for that.
YKIGS: Very cool, thank you for sharing those stories with me.
Avant: Thanks man.
YKIGS: At the end of the day, for your fans, how long do you intend to continue recording music?
Avant: How long do they want me to record? I mean this is what I love to do. Certain questions like that it’s hard for me to answer because I’m like as long as you accept me, I’m here, and I will always be here!
YKIGS: Perfect! That’s all I had question wise, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Avant: Oh just I love you guys man, and can’t wait to come to your town and just enjoy your presence and hopefully get more music to write from just by you being in my presence, because that’s the whole nature, it’s all about you guys, you guys make me who I am.