Sunday night, wrongbar, Toronto. After an incredible performance by Aloe Blacc and The Grand Scheme, I had the great pleasure to chat with Aloe about his incredible rise to fame, the greats of soul music, and using music as a vessel to spread positive messages.
Torontette: First off, amazing show tonight! I’ve never seen this venue [wrongbar] with such energy. You totally rocked the place. So you were here in Toronto in the fall? How was this show different?
Aloe Blacc: Since we performed here the first time, The Grand Scheme and I have done maybe 50-60 shows around the world and we’ve kind of streamlined the show. Pretty much just performing the songs from the album without all the extra cover songs and things that we do to have fun. Just to see how it feels and then we’ll slowly let the show grow again back to the 2 hours that we used to do.
T: Is there anything that you notice in particular about the Toronto audience that may be different from other audiences?
AB: It depends on which Toronto audience, I mean different promoters have different people come out. I’ve been to Toronto a lot – maybe not a lot but enough times to see different kinds of crowds and I think generally speaking, if someone is coming to my show, they’re ready to have a good time. So there’s not much a difference between Toronto, and let’s say Paris because you’ve got folks who are real music lovers. If you like soul music in this day in age, then you’re probably really interested and want to be engaged when you come to a show.
T: So when you came on stage you mentioned a bunch of old souls. Nina Simone, James Brown and so on. Do you think people are more fans of yours because they are fans of theirs or are they new fans who are there because you have exploded internationally?
AB: I hope they are fans of the greats that I mentioned, and I look at what I do as a continuation of a tradition. The folks who basically taught me how to do what I do. I listen to their music, I study what they do and I try to incorporate the best of the best in my show. And I think people like what I do because soul music has been afforded this kind of timelessness and respect from the greats of the past.
“I look at what I do as a continuation of a tradition.”
T: Is there one in particular that stands out for you?
AB: Stevie Wonder is one of the best I think because of his musicianship – he plays pretty much every instrument, his singing and his lyricism, and his song writing. He hits I think, every aspect of being an entertainer. An artist, and he does it well.
T: And speaking of great lyricists, you’re quite one yourself. You have some really powerful lyrics that really push social issues and are really meaningful. How do you think this is different than a lot of music out there these days?
AB: Well I hope that my music can be part of the social fabric, the way that let’s say a Bob Marley who is singing ‘One Love’ and to have that kind of mantra in someone’s mind is really important. You figure when you’re a teenager and you’re hearing Bob Marley sing about peace and love and unity, these are the kinds of ideas that I think help shape us. And if I can do something like that with my music – at least for adults – maybe addressing the issues that are relevant to us in politics, in economics, in ecology and social and interpersonal relationships, that it helps creates the dialogue that we often miss in popular media.
T: I read an article recently in The Telegraph and there was some dialogue around 50 Cent and his ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ attitude and how that can be such a negative message to send. Do you think that you’re leading the way for more positive messaging in music?
AB: I don’t know if I’m leading the way but I just hope that I can be part of something positive in art and in music. I get messages from people on Facebook and in my e-mail about their children listening to my music and loving my music, and I feel responsible for what these kids listening to are ultimately singing. I don’t want them singing anything bad, so I won’t put it in my lyrics.
T: Do you transfer your writing talents into any other spaces – poetry or novels, anything like that?
AB: Not yet, the goal ultimately is to tell stories and I want to tell stories in many different ways. Probably next for me would be acting, and then maybe after acting, directing.
T: That’s amazing. You recently did a project the MADE project. Tell me a little bit about that.
AB: MADE is a artistic conglomerate in Berlin. They put together events in a special space that was basically funded by a private investor who wants to foster artistic works. The coordinator at MADE invited me to sing with a string quintet and I sang songs from my album to an audience of about 200 people and it was a really, nice intimate event that was special and I’d like to try and do that in other places.
“Remember, love and happiness.”
T: Do you have other influences besides the greats? Maybe intangible things, or things that have come into your life that really influence and shape your music?
AB: Good movies are always nice to watch and they can be inspiring. Sometimes, it’s even just the cinematography. A nice scene can be inspiring for me. And the only place that I really get to watch movies is on the airplanes so I find myself writing a lot of songs on the airplane. And I’m inspired by my family, my nieces and nephews – the little ones. A lot of things that they think and that they do, and they say, kind of are ironic in their youth and I think that from an adult’s perspective it can be very enlightening.
T: Because kids are so honest.
AB: They’re very honest. But other than the soul greats I enjoy Brazilian music too. There is also classic rock too, and singer-songwriter and folk singers.
T: So was there a moment for you when you realized, ‘holy shit’. This is it.
AB: I think the moment was – after I did the MADE event, there was a gentleman who invited me to sing at a charity event in Cannes at the Film Festival and that then led to me being invited to sing at Sean Penn’s charity event in Cannes. When I got on stage and started singing, Leonardio DiCaprio yells out, “Aloe Blacc!” and he’s singing my lyrics the whole time. So yeah that’s one of those moments – a pinch-myself moment, where I’m thinking you know, people are recognizing what I’m doing and it’s not just my fans. There are influential folks who are recognizing what I’m doing and are fans as well.
T: Do you remember what you were listening to when you were a kid?
AB: Listening to probably New Jack Swing, I love a lot of that. Teddy Riley was very important I think. Who else was out there, Bobby Brown. You know the fun, happy, hip-hoppin’ formed R&B music. It was fun and happy.
T: Shouldn’t all music be like that?
AB: I think yes, why not?
T: Well come back soon. We love you here. Any final thoughts for my readers?
AB: Remember love and happiness.
A video on the MADE Project with Aloe Blacc