Spend a little time with AVANT and you soon pick up on his frequent use of the phrase “No doubt.” He says it often because indeed Avant harbors no doubts about his love of music or the pleasure he gets from singing. He could take it one step further. Once the word gets out that My Thoughts, his debut Magic Johnson Music/MCA album is a pinnacle work of contemporary R&B, that he is one of the warmest and most engaging of singers, then fans everywhere will have no doubts that Avant is a major new player on the music scene.
“I call this a relationship album,” says the soft-spoken, good-humored vocalist, who co-produced and co-wrote most of the album’s twelve tracks. “I base it on the ups and downs people go through, the togetherness and separation.” To help him shape that musical vision, Avant drew on the talents of Chicago-based producer/songwriter Steve Huff. “I knew I needed some phat beats when my manager Eric Payton hooked up Steve and me. I think we made magic.”
It would be hard to argue with that. The new album covers the widest spectrum of musical style and substance, kicking off with the moody “Separated,” a heart wrenching confession of a love gone wrong. The upbeat hip-hop-flavored “Reaction” captures the moment of first love, while the tender ballad “Get Away” tells a sad tale of lost chances. Songs like the ominous “Happy,” “I Wanna Know,” and the lovely “Destiny” showcase Avant’s amazingly fluid tenor voice, while “First Love,” with its full string section and gentle sentiments, features Avant in duet with newcomer Kiki.
“Ooh Ahh” is one of Avant’s personal favorites. “Every man wants to show his sensitive side,” says the singer. “I tried to express that in this song.” The sultry ballads “This Time” and “Ways” highlight Avant’s gift for harmony, while the album’s closer “Why,” with its lush melody and powerful gospel choir in the chorus, proves a deeply reflective commentary on the state of the world today. “It’s a touchy song,” says Avant, “but these questions kept coming to me, and I had to try to find answers.”
That kind of quest exemplifies Avant’s entire life. Born and raised in Cleveland, OH, Avant knew by age five that his destiny was the stage. “It was a church thing at first,” he recalls. “Singing with the choir really impacted me; even today, I feel that the Lord is always with me.” On the flip side, Avant was similarly steeped in the music of such pioneers as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. While attending the Cleveland School of the Arts, Avant drew the interest of many music industry professionals, including manager Eric Payton, who took the young singer under his wing. Over the ensuing months, Avant was a regular performer on the local and regional concert circuit, making friends with such R&B stalwarts as Keith Sweat and Gerald Levert.
His break came when, by chance, a demo of his found its way to the offices of Magic Johnson Music, the fledgling label founded by the basketball legend. As it happens, the tape was playing when Magic walked by, stopped in his tracks and declared, “I gotta have this kid.” Thus, Avant became the first artist signed to the label. “He’s a real big brother figure to me,” says the singer of Magic. “When I first met him, he treated me like I was the star.”
Soon, Avant and Steve Huff began serious work in the studio, the results of which can be heard on the debut recording. Though he still calls Cleveland home, lately Avant has been a man on the move preparing for the aftermath of the album’s release. The months ahead will give him the opportunity to connect with his largest audiences yet, a prospect that has him very excited. “My whole thing is making people happy,” he says. “If I can make you smile, if I can brighten your day with my music, then I’ve done what I set out to do.”