Usher – Interview [2004]

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Usher

Confessions? You wanted confessions–we got them. Usher talks!

I know Marvin Gaye is one of your musical heroes, can you please tell us how Marvin has influenced you, in general, and specifically, the songs on Confessions?

Well, as a child, I was introduced to Marvin by way of listening through my grandparents and I always admired, you know, songs like “What’s Going On?” I mean I hadn’t really known that much about “sexual healing” but everybody else seemed to love the records. As I grew older, I began to get more into his catalog before he had his big, you know, big radio hits and that’s when I really fell in love with his style of music and just realized how honest he was able to be through, you know, through this — through his music, whether it was good, whether it was personal, whether it was, you know, dealing with his relationships, whether it was dealing with his life and his, you know, imbalances as a person, so that’s what made me love him as an artist and made him — and what makes him so influential and you know, great — helping me become more comfortable with the music that I create man. That’s the long of it. The short of it is, he made some hot music.

What made you feel you were ready to kind of open up, you know, speak directly from your heart and from your mind on this album?

There’s a few things. One, I was obligated to because I’ve now — I signed a major deal with EMI, as a writer, so I had to get my eyes and ears and start writing. Two, you know, my first album… although it was a great introduction for me associated with a major producer, it kind of tore down my personality and it made me submissive in a way even though I was still very outgoing as a performer but you know, going through a vocal change, losing my voice, you know, feeling like there was a sense of betrayal or people turned their back on me, it kind of threw me. You know the more I worked with producers who really wanted to get to know me and my vocal ability it made me more comfortable. I would, you know, simply sit down and have conversations with producers, give them a sense of what I wanted to talk about, what I liked, what I was going through and they wrote records about me. So, once I figured out the formula, I said, you know what, who’s going to write a better song for me than myself?

How true to life the details of that are and kind of talk about how that song came about.

Confessions, Part Two, it came by way of you know, just a lot the people that I happen to be around. In, you know, in addition to being open, as an artist through your own music, you kind of make yourself vulnerable to those things that are exciting around you. So, for instance, if — I may not necessarily be in war but I may have passion, you know, my passion may come by way of something that I seen or someone else’s passion, so I will write a song about that. You know Confessions, specifically, is a story that I think a lot of gentlemen, you know, go through, men and women and I thought it would be a great idea for a song. I didn’t think of it, at the time ((inaudible)) I just thought of you know, making great music that people could relate to, if I didn’t pull from my own personal experiences to make these songs, I wanted to pull from things that were very real. The initial name of the album was called, Real Talk and once we did Confessions that’s when I decided to change it to Confessions, you know.

What’s next for you after this “Truth” tour and just wanted to find out what’s going on with you, from acting to your music.

From acting to my music – well, after this tour, I plan on giving a little time to my acting at the top of the year. But my first line in priority is to make sure this tour kicks off successfully. I just returned from Europe. We went to Germany, went to France, Paris – I mean, everywhere. There’s probably no place that we didn’t go. I didn’t go to Africa, but everywhere in Europe we basically went and played our major markets, which gave me good preparation for my American tour.

Now, having Kanye West as my opener and really preparing to give my audience a great show and not just throw hit records, here we go. Let’s get it. You’ve seen the videos; you’ve seen the performances on the television. I’m trying to bring every bit of those elements back to the stage to make it a special moment, a night to remember for everybody. These are the moments that make life worth living for some people. I remember, as a kid, going to my first New Edition concert. That meant life for me. Do you know what I mean? I’m very meticulous and I’m very persistent about making sure that this tour has everything that a great show has to offer.

Will it have a lot of surprises?

I have a lot of surprises. There’s always going to be a great surprise every night. I start it off with a great opening act, great gentleman who’s had a great first year. In comparison to any other artist, I don’t think there’s another artist who could have a greater year, a first year, man. He, as a solo artist, has done phenomenal things. As an artist, being able to change the game right out of the box, that’s hot, that’s good.

Describe the live show.

It’s a personalized moment in every show, even though there’s a structure there — there’s a band, there’s choreography, dances — I have built enough space in the production to tailor-make every performance, which many artists don’t do. You get pretty much set in stone — choreography, movement — and it’s set for the screens, which is good, but it makes it a little bit different. I’m not just that dancer. I’m an entertainer, and I want to entertain you whether I’m going to speak to you or whether I’m going to sing to you or dance for you.

You started off with your mom managing you and started so young, people made decisions for you. Has it been tough to kind of assert yourself and take more control yourself?

To be perfectly honest with you, yes it is very hard when you go from being controlled to controlling. Rather — and it’s with good intentions. Rather, it’s, you know, the record company guiding and controlling your career, or the manager, you know, leading you. I got to a point where I understood it. You know, I’ve had a Harvard education of music, in music. I mean, being around L.A. Reid, being around Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, P. Diddy, Steve Stout, so many great, you know, great executives. I learned a lot.

I learned a lot about being an artist. I learned a lot about being an executive, you know, and now I’m in a position to kind of lead my career in a direction that I feel 100 percent comfortable with. You know, you have to look at this way, you know, at the end of the day, you know, the audience, you know, you take the repercussions for everything that’s said. So why not, you know, why not be responsible for some of it and make some decisions. You know? Every decision may not be a great one. But, you know, no one’s perfect, you know? And it’s through trial and error, you know, of other people that I’ve been fortunately able to make great decisions and, you know, not fall a victim. But, you know, I’m — I’ve dealt with it and, you know, I’m happy that I’ve had my mother on my team to guide and help me understand how to handle myself in this business. With no experience, she just did it straight off the hand, you know. That’s amazing for a black woman. She’s amazing. In this industry, it is.

I was just wondering with the personal nature of the songs on this album if you found the song-writing process this time around to be particularly therapeutic or satisfying in that kind of way?

Absolutely.

Does that encourage you for the future?

You know what, I have problems, you know, because at the time I was in a very serious relationship. And, you know, I felt like, you know, in a way I may possibly offend my partner. So, you know, once we decided to no longer date each other, I thought that — yes, then I felt the sense of relief. Like, “Wow, wow.”

Yes.

And then I could really go back and listen and say, “Man, I was crying out. Or I was really having a problem.” You know, so then, you know, that’s sort of when I recognized it. But in a sense, yes — music is sort of like a diary, man, like a journal for me on this album.

What’s cool about “Burn” is that you actually do, like, the woman’s point of view, too, not just your own.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Well, as I said, I wanted to make sure that this album wasn’t just my personal experiences. It was real talk. It was, you know, talking or speaking of things that people go through so that, you know, it fits in every given situation. You want to listen in the car. You’re going to listen to it in the club. You’re going to listen to it with your partners. It might help you get through your relationship. It might help you feel better about, you know, your life knowing that you’re not the only person who goes through issues in a relationship. And there’s an answer. But you’ve got to be willing to accept it. Sometimes you’ve got to let it burn, and sometimes it’s best to confess. You might get caught up, you know. It may not ((inaudible)), but that’s what it’s made for.

You’ve said that your aspiration is to be the ultimate entertainer. How close to that goal do you think you are and what things are you trying to work on as far as to get closer to that goal?

As a stage performer, I feel like I’m at the top of my game. You know, I feel like I’m – I’ve invested the time, I’m hard-working, I’m, you know – I come with a – not only just a microphone and a light, but production that goes with it, you know. And I can go down to just, you know, a microphone and a mic – a microphone and a light. But, you know, I hope that this show will allow me to get closer to my fans and hopefully help me out in the aspect of, you know, just really bonding. Being an ultimate entertainer is not just about being a stage performer. It’s about being an actor, it’s about being a producer, it’s about being a director, which I – I was able to do on this album. You know, I directed some of the videos along with, you know – along with other – the other directors. So really, you know, I’m getting closer and closer to every day. Who knows. Hopefully one day I’ll win an Oscar for a video or a short film. You know, that right there would say, OK, ultimate entertainer. You know, maybe I’ll go on Broadway, maybe I’ll, you know, produce my first, you know, album on a – on a – a solo artist or a solo group. That’s more of being an ultimate entertainer. I don’t ever think I’ll – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop being that ultimate entertainer, because it’ll just become that new obstacle of entertainment.

What is your version of success and why you think you’re successful as opposed to everybody saying, well, you’ve sold so many albums and that’s why you’re successful.

Usher Raymond: Because God is good and planned for all of this to happen. He’s just waiting for me to, you know, find myself. I don’t know how to relax. This album I was able to be a lot more open and creative. You know? I have to recognize that there were great producers. But, as I said, you know, I just – I just realized that God is good. He’s a part of all this. This is his story. I’m living in it. This ain’t about me. This is about him working through me.

+ Charlie Craine

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