Justin Timberlake – Interview [2004]

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Justin Timberlake

Around the horn with Justin Timberlake!

Is that exciting that you’re getting a lot of critical good words before the record comes out?

It is very exciting, I mean, you know, sometimes I think, I don’t think it’s all good. I mean there’s some bad too, you know, I think everything comes with something. But, you know, there’s the people who, the critics who have said good things, you know, I was pleasantly surprised and happy that they like the record because they’re very hard to please. They’re very hard to please so yes it feels good and I’m happy with it.

Why do a solo record in the first place?

You know honestly it’s something that’s kind of been an ongoing thing for me as a kid. And I just got, you know, in the madness of all the ‘NSYNC craze and things just got so crazy I said, I think as a group we decided to kind of slow down and see where our heads were at and what we wanted to do for the next record. And, you know, I just got this creative spurt and went in the studio and here it is. It’s really more about timing than anything. It kind of just worked out.

I guess does this mean your boy band trend is officially over? Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys is releasing his first solo album and yours is about to hit the street and you were even quoted in Entertainment Weekly saying, “the bubble gum sound is old.” Did you see the writing on the wall? Is that why you kind of went off to do this?

No, no like I said, I mean, it was a little more organic than that. But I, I think music is ever evolving, you know, just like we got a heavy dosage of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, you know, seven or eight years ago that, you know, I mean, I think a sound people latch on to and they want to hear it for awhile. You know just like in this past year the two top albums are Eminem and Nelly as far as I’m concerned, those are my two favorite records. And they’re both of the same genre, they’re both hip-hop. I just think music and popular music is ever evolving and, you know, I did make that statement and I, you know, I stand behind it. I think the bubble gum sound that, you know, and it’s the closest thing, it’s the closest words I could use so that people would know what sound I was talking about. You know I think that that has changed. I don’t think people want to hear that so much anymore. I know that I don’t and that’s more so why, you know, I did this record.

I wanted to talk about the influence of Michael Jackson on your music. It’s apparent and it’s obviously you’ve talked about it a lot but I wondered that as a songwriter what makes you different from him? I know that you emulate a lot of his styles but I wanted to know what you might think you’re adding to that, how you’re making that sound a little bit more progressive?

I think honestly I think that I think that I’ve used a lot of, a lot more different sounds than Michael did. I think, you know, it’s easy to hear. It’s apparent obviously in the first single because the staccato beats and the staccato rhythms and the vocals. As you listen on to the album you’ll hear I think some of my stylizing growing up where I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, you know, it’s a very blues influenced. I think you’ll hear a lot of that more so than, you know, the influence that he had of James Brown. So I think it’s just, it’s a fusion of other different styles of music. I mean obviously he’s influenced our whole generation. You know I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in a time where we could watch people like Michael and Madonna and look up to them as pop icons. And I just think, you know, there’s other music out there for me, you know, and there’s other music that’s influenced me. I think you’ll definitely hear a little bit of the Eagles in the harmonies.

Someone said that Justified is kind of an I guess a 21st Century Thriller.

That’s really big man. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with you saying that.

Have you even listened to Invincible more than once? I’m saying you’re digging back into Michael Jackson’s classic 80s and so…

Well my favorite, I mean, I did listen to Invincible more than once, I mean, my favorite song off of that record is “Butterfly”. I mean as a fan my favorite Michael record is Off the Wall and the reason that like it so much is because you can hear the rawness in the sound and everything wasn’t so rehearsed back then. I think when you listen to Invincible you can tell that it took a year or so to make, you know, and I think for me I just like that, I like that rawness, that sound that, that sound of his voice where, you know, if he made a mistake here or there Quincy didn’t care. He just kept it and I think that’s kind of where I drew the inspiration from was just the stylized vocals and the recordings, you know, if you listen to them, I mean, there’s a limited edition of Off the Wall. You listen to Working Day and Night, I mean, the vocals aren’t that much different on the final mix that they are right on the demo. I mean he didn’t change much so that’s kind of what inspired me was the fact that these songs could have, could be like high produced demos if that makes sense.

Can you talk a little bit about what you can do as a solo artist that you couldn’t really do with ‘NSYNC and can you also talk about the process now where you’re promoting this record without the other guys to kind of support you?

Well as far as the things that I can do I think I’m still learning. You know this is all a learning experience for me. I’ve already said some things that I shouldn’t have said. I’ve already may have done some things that I shouldn’t have done but you know what? I don’t care. I mean I think everybody has a past and this is, these are, this is the way I wanted to express it. As far as promoting the record without the guys it is strange. It’s a lot more personal and obviously because for some reason the tabloids have just grabbed a hold of me in the past year it becomes a little, it becomes a little annoying the fact that people just want to ask personal questions and I’m kind of like, hey I’ve got a record coming out too. But also, I mean, I get it. I understand it that that’s just something that comes along with it and I’m cool with it. I’m just, you know, I mean, for me I’m a human like everybody else so I, you know, I make mistakes and I know it.

Jimmy Jamm and Brian McKnight talked earlier this year when Girlfriend came out and they both kind of said that you were a black man trapped in a white body and I’m curious about how you immersed yourself in black culture and then the way you’ve talked about some of the influences here, Michael Jackson, Stevie, you’ve talked about Donny Hathaway, others.

Right.

How you take and listen to that stuff and then kind of find and define your own style after that? It’s a two-part question please.

I think well Jimmy and Brian, that’s a funny comment. You know honestly as a kid I can’t really put a finger on why I picked this type of music to influence me you know. It was just something that kind of inspired me. I just, there was something inside of it that I just felt and I felt it a little bit more than anything else. It wasn’t about really lyrics. It was more about just, you know, like when I talk about Donny Hathaway and, you know, I say, you know, he felt every word he was saying. He lived in the music that he wrote and he recorded. He lived in it and that to me is the essence of being a true artist. As far as, you know, how I’ve made it my own. You know I just, you, as you grow up, you know, and I’m, hell I’m still growing up, you know I’m only 21. And I think, I think just like, just like for instance somebody you named, Michael, took his influence from James Brown and then, you know, kind of turned it into his own thing with the music that was going on around him I think obviously everybody, you look at artists like Madonna who changed their sound every record. You can tell that, you know, that they pay attention, that they’re influenced by the music that’s going on around them and I obviously think hip hop has had a big influence on me, I mean, I enjoy hip hop a lot. I enjoy the expression and the culture and the fact that it came from something so small and turned into something so mainstream. I really appreciate it. So I think, you know, you take those two things, you know, the sound of the day and you kind of put it with those old influences and the things that I grew up. I think it’s shocking to people that I actually know who Donny Hathaway is, that I know who Blood, Sweat and Tears are. You know I think it’s shocking to people that I’m only 21 and that that’s the kind of stuff that I get into. I can’t really put a finger on it and I can’t really explain it. It’s just what I like.

Could you fall back into a lineup of five after showing that he can easily hold his own alone.

Sure.

…four other peoples pace and…

Well I think the fact that the guys in the group are my friends that’s what’s inspiring to make another record because you know that there’s no egos, you know, that everybody’s doing what they’re doing because they love to do it. And that’s reason enough for me to make a record even if it is a flop, you know, those are my friends and they’ll always be my friends and I would never turn my back on them as far as that goes. You know I don’t think it’s, you know, an ‘NSYNC record, you know, I don’t, I don’t, it’s tough for me to answer that question because I don’t want to come off sounded pretentious. I don’t think a ‘NSYNC record is all about me, it’s about everybody that’s in the group. I would do it in a heartbeat, you know, I can tell you that. I mean and that’s my approach and I just think everything’s about timing, I mean, obviously I don’t think it’s right for me to go in the studio tomorrow and start making an ‘NSYNC record when I just made this one. I think you kind of have to let the music come out as it inspires you. You shouldn’t rush something. Definitely, you definitely shouldn’t rush something.

I have a question about, with Nick Carter putting out this CD, how competitive do you feel with him and how much pressure do you feel to succeed especially since he’s recently been linked to Britney? Is that an extra thing in there?

If it’s extra for you then cool I’m, that really, I’m really indifferent about that whole situation, I mean, obviously I’ve answered so many questions about my personal life. At this point in my life, there were things that I said probably two months ago that I probably don’t even feel the same way about. As far as Nick goes I wish him the best and I’ve heard his first single. That’s the only thing I’ve actually been able listen to. As far as anybody comparing the two of us at this point I personally think it’s kind of lazy of the press, anybody who does compare us, I mean, if you listen to Help Me and you listen to Like I Love You they’re two totally different songs and you can tell that we’re two totally different artists. It’s like, you know, it’s like comparing Coldplay to the Vines. I mean it’s just two different things. So I think at this point, you know, anything that comes after the records are both out I think, you know, anybody who does compare it I would have to say go listen to it again.

At what point did you start having thoughts of doing something independently of the band?

Well as far as a record all on my own it’s kind of been an ongoing theme for me since I was a kid, you know, growing up and seeing artists like Madonna and Michael. It’s always been a dream of mine. I wasn’t just talking gibberish at the end of the first single. And, you know, technically, I mean, when everything started to move in motion was last year about this time. I sat down individually with each of the guys and just talked to them and told them this is something that I wanted to do. And I think the timing, you know, it just felt like it was, like it was right because we had just gotten off a stadium tour where you’re playing 55 to 60,000 people a night and it just gets so crazy. It had just gotten so crazy that we all kind of said, you know, let’s take our time with the next album. Let’s see where we’re at because I think our music was starting to evolve into something different and there’s no telling where it can go in the future but I think you can’t rush something like that. You have to let it come out the way it’s going to come out and so that’s really more or less what it was about.

I want to ask you actually are there any moments that you’re especially proud of on the new record?

I mean I’m proud of the whole thing and, you know, as a songwriter and as a new songwriter and writing a whole record on your own and working with the producers that I worked with it’s the, you know, songs are kind of like your babies. You like them for different reasons, all of them. I think for the most part I just like overall how the record feels and how it, you can tell that everybody had a good time making this record, you know, when you hear Pharrell chanting in the background, I mean, that’s kind of like that’s, we wanted to record this record like they used to record records back in the good old days as they like to call them. You know there’s moments on the record where you’ll hear somebody in the background just shout out some thing and we just kept it on the record, I mean, we weren’t trying to make everything so perfect. I think that’s the proudest part about the whole thing is that it does sound organic.

What’s the one rumor about you that you absolutely positively hate?

I can’t honestly say that I hate them. They really don’t, I’m kind of indifferent about all of them. I think for me and I say this in the most humble way because I am, you know, in the end a guy from Memphis, Tennessee who was lucky enough to do what I’m doing. I don’t, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to life my live a certain way or to comment on things that people say about me because that’s their perspective. I have my own perspective, you know, with all due respect. I can’t honestly say that there’s been something that people have said that I’ve just read in the papers and gotten so upset about you know. I think in my experience with, you know, the only thing that I can do is just laugh about the things that people say about me that aren’t true. And that’s just, that’s just how it is.

You were talking about all the different styles on the album and I was wondering where you see it as sort of fitting in. Who do you see like your contemporaries as being right now? Like do you look at somebody like Usher and say I’d like a career like that, you know, he’s reaching the sort of people I want to reach or…?

No honestly I really didn’t think about any of that I just went in and made the record. I just, I mean, it’s the music that I like. It’s a collection of the sounds that I’ve grown up on and that I like and so, you know, that’s tough for me to say, I mean, I guess, you know, the media and the press will kind of, you know, put a label on it. As far as I’m concerned I just went in and made a record that I thought I wanted to make. I, you know, I really didn’t give that much, that much thought about it, about who it was going to reach or, you know, who was going to be paying attention, you know. I don’t think you should do that when you make a record. I think you hinder your creativity.

As you look down the road and, you know, potentially doing another ‘NSYNC album what are the challenges for that, for ‘NSYNC, for Backstreet, for where you’re going to take your music now? As you correctly noted there’s a certain sound you guys have worked in that’s kind of waned if it’s not gone already so what are the challenges you face when you go on to do the next thing?

Well I think, I think we helped, I think we helped illustrate that picture though, you know, with songs like Gone and Girlfriend. Those aren’t bubble gum songs. Those come from a different influence and like I said I think our music was beginning to evolve in a different way anyways. So I think that, I think that the challenge was just to be to go in and, because I know, I know for a fact when we come back to make another ‘NSYNC record everybody’s going to have these incredible ideas. I think the challenge is going to be trying to get all of them into the music and trying to get a certain kind of focus on a certain sound. And I think we’ll rise to the challenge. I think, you know, we work so well together. But, you know, being friends it just makes a difference. It just makes a difference when you’re in the studio together.

It’s fair to say that the new album contains a lot more raw sensuality, more personal messages maybe in these songs and more adult themes. Is that a bit much for your younger fans or are you only doing this because that’s where you’re coming from right now?

Well honestly when I was making the record there is a side of me that I think maybe didn’t really think too much about it. And then there was another side of me that kind of said I wonder what would happen if I tried to manipulate the things that people are saying right now. So I’m not going to lie, that had a little bit of influence on the lyrics just because I wondered how much I could get away with as far as manipulation goes. I don’t know if I’m, I don’t know if that’s, you know, if I’m this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type personality in the studio. I think if you think about it technically as far as the A Dreams go, you know, if you’re speaking about the A Dreams, you know, if you were, if you were 16 or 17 when ‘NSYNC came out and you liked that certain sound you’re not that age anymore. You’re the same age as me because I was 16 or 17 when ‘NSYNC came out with I Want You Back and Tearing Up My Heart. So you probably I think you probably don’t want to listen to it as much anymore. When you do listen to it you remember when you were 16 or 17 and, I mean, obviously all 21 year olds and 22 year olds think they’re adults too but there’s a lot that we have to learn and I just think, you know, my tastes have changed. I can’t speak for the rest of the world I just know that this is where, this is where I came from and I don’t think I’m saying anything as far as the sensuality, you know, the content on the record, you know. I find it funny that artists like Eminem say things that are intentionally there for shock value and then people make emphasis on the things that I say. Not that it’s a bad thing. I really, I’m kind of indifferent about it. I just find it funny but I don’t think I’m saying anything that a 21 year old wouldn’t say so…

How much has the boy from Tennessee been hardened?

You know honestly I, when I’m not working, I’m not working. You know when I’m working business is business. As much as people like to make this record a personal record like I said before some of it was a little manipulative of what I knew people would say. Take that, you know, for what’s it worth. I think, I think when I’m not working I am a different person you know. When I’m not working I don’t like to think about work I like to do simple things and so I was raised in a good family. I’m close to my mother. I’m close to my father and that’s definitely had an impact on my life, you know, seeing how crazy it’s gotten and how my work schedule kind of dictates my life. So I think that’s definitely been a bonus for me to grow up in such a great home and to still be so close to my family and my friends and when I’m not working I’m playing so rest assured I’m the same dude.

How much are you in contact with the other guys from ‘NSYNC now? Are you, did they give you any feedback on the album for instance or, you know, do you talk a lot or do you just kind of go your own way at the moment?

We’re all doing individual things. I mean Joey’s in New York doing, I think, Lance just made it back – finished his training. That still sounds funny to say. And, you know, I keep in contact with them as often as possible, I mean, we’re all, we all have individual lives as well as our commitments to the group. And, you know, I think we just got to the point last year where we were okay living our individual lives as well as living out our commitments and our inspirations to the group. Yes, I mean, we’re, everything’s cool. We’re still cool. I keep in touch with them as much as possible.

Is there any one person that you would love and hope to collaborate with in the future?

Justin Timberlake: Well, there’s plenty of artists I would love to collaborate with. Lenny Kravitz, I’d love to do a duet with Chris Martin from Coldplay. I don’t know if that would ever work but it would just be fun for me because I love his voice and I think he’s truly talented artist, singer, I mean, the whole band. Wow. I think there’s a, I could sit here and name a million artists that I would love to collaborate with, Madonna, Jay-Z, I mean, there’s plenty of artists I would love to collaborate with and it would all be unique collaborations for there own reason.

The music industry right now is so driven by image as a singer and an emerging songwriter how do you feel about that?

I’m really pretty indifferent about it. As far as my image goes it is what it is, I mean, this is me. I never really thought too much about it to be honest with you. I realize that there is a huge classification on music and the styles of music and this is this person’s image and yada yada yada. I think at the end of the day good music is just good music. I know that the stuff that, you know, and I speak of this as a fan, you know, being a fan of music and listening to artists like Eminem and, I mean, I was anxious for his new record, The Eminem Show, to come out, you know, I wanted to hear what he was going to do this time you know. And I think at the end of the day, you know, artists like him you can talk about his image all you want. At the end of the day his music is intriguing and because it’s good so I think that’s really what it’s about.

Of those songs on the album that are really personal, were they written with Britney in mind and also what’s some of your advice for breaking up, getting over a break up?

Well if you’re going to have a relationship don’t do it in the press I’ll tell you that. No I’m just kidding. There was no particular song where I could, where I would say that somebody particular was in mind. I just, when I write a song, I mean, look at the song like Gone, take that song, I mean, that wasn’t written about anything. It’s just kind of written about how I guess I would have felt in, from that perspective. I can’t honestly say that there was a particular song with anyone in mind. I kind of just, I think half of the album does come from personal experience but the other half is completely fantasized, made up. Maybe I was living in a matrix, I don’t know.

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