Interview: Eric Benét – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: October 3, 2008 in interview, music
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Eric Benét

Date of Interview: 10/03/2008

© 2008 Clayton Perry

Over the past decade, the R&B landscape has completely changed, especially amongst the field of male performers.  One by one, as Fate would have it, a once-vast crop of classic R&B crooners had their careers ended, due to artistic and economic pressures fueled by the 90’s hip-hop juggernaut.  In the face of such challenges, however, Eric Benét weathered the industry’s burgeoning “cultural storm” and stayed true to himself and the music he chose to create.

His fourth album, Love & Life, pays homage to glory days of classic R&B and, without much publicity, his work has been rewarded by R&B junkies across the country.  The album’s lead single, “You’re The Only One,” reached the number-one spot on urban AC radio and brought widespread attention to a career—and musical style—that had been written off as having already seen its best days.

Upon review of Love & Life, Eric Benét managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on fatherhood, the shelving of Better & Better and the current state of R&B.

Clayton Perry: As one of the few male R&B artists that has been able to have longevity in the music business, what personal and professional characteristics do you think contributed to your long-term success?

Eric Benét: I’ve never tried to chase a vibe or a sound that is hot at the moment, you know what I’m saying? I’ve never tried to adjust what it is that I do to try to get more airplay. I’ve always just tried to get better at my song writing and just stay real. Every time I sit down and write a song, I just let my heart pour into it and not try to fit it into any type of demographic, or think, “Okay, I’m going to get radio spins on this record.” I’m not trying to think like that. I’m just try to make the best product I can and write the strongest song I can to the point where it’s emotionally touching me. I think just doing what you do – and I’ve been doing it for quite awhile now — if you do it long enough, you just get better and better at your thing until you just own that thing. I think it’s at a point right now where people can identify an Eric Benét song almost in the first couple of bars. I’ve been working at what it is that I do, not trying to get multiple producers. “There’s a new producer in Atlanta. There’s a new producer over here. Let me make sure I get at least 2 cuts on the album with that guy so I can have some sales,” – that hadn’t been my thing.

Clayton Perry:Love & Life definitely stands out amongst the current crop of R&B albums, with its unique sound and identifiable homage to classic R&B. On the whole, why do you think R&B music has changed over the years?

Eric Benét: For me, what they call R&B right now doesn’t even feel so much like R&B. It’s more like pop-dance music, really. Songs that are R&B tend to be called either neo-soul or alternative or something like that. For me, what I would like to see infused more into R&B is the way they used to construct the song. I think more often these days, the way a hit R&B song is written is – probably all too often – a producer will make a hot beat, you know. A producer will make a really dope drum groove, and then turn that groove over to somebody and say, “Put a melody on top of that and write the lyrics on it.” Sometimes that makes really fun and great music. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Clayton Perry: What do you bring to the genre and how can you and other artists make it whole again?

Eric Benét: The way that I like to write – and the method I would like to see more artists use is – creating organic music, where somebody will pick up a guitar, or somebody will sit down at the piano, and actually construct chords and have the melody and chord structure be conceived at the same time. Within the song, there should be a little journey that starts off here and then builds to a climax and, later, comes back down. I think that’s how classic R&B music used to be made. You still hear it now, but you just don’t hear it as much. I definitely want to hear a little bit more of that.

Clayton Perry: On Love & Life, the bulk of the production work is handled by Demonte Posey. How did the two of you meet, and in what way does his work elevate your performance?

Eric Benét: Demonte is brilliant. He was introduced to me by my cousin George about 14 years ago. He’s somebody who has this vast musical vocabulary, chord structure, and musical ideas. I think the reason why our musical marriage works so well is because I have a knack for a concept of a song and a strong melody, and simplifying the melody so that it’s a very, very strong and hooky melody. He has this vast chord structure which creates this elaborate bed underneath that simple melody where you don’t really realize just how many layers and how complex this little simple song is until you take it apart. I think it just works very nicely together.

Clayton Perry: As you prepared for this album, how did the Love & Life concept come to life?

Eric Benét: I feel like I’m at this point in my life where I’m just enjoying both elements to the fullest, love and life. I have come a long way from the last album, Hurricane, which was very reflective of where I was in my life – it was very much a hurricane. Now, I’m at this point where I’m just celebrating, just dancing and singing and joking and laughing and making love. And the title just sounds really apropos.

Clayton Perry: Going off of the title, I pulled two of my favorite quotes, one focused on love and another focused on life. If there’s like a particular moment in the studio or in the writing process that best relates, let me know. In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry wrote: “There’s always something left to love. If you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing”.

Eric Benét: That really reminds me of “Love, Patience & Time.” The whole sentiment behind “Love, Patience & Time” is reminding people that whatever dark hour, dark moment you’re going through, whatever disappointments you’ve gone through in your life, you would be very wise to realize that if you just stay present, stay open, there is so much beauty to be had in this world. Even in this messed up situation we’re in right now, all you need to do is keep a positive and a loving attitude towards what you see and what lessons you’re going to gain from your experiences. That positivity is going to come back to you tenfold. That’s what that quote reminds me of.

Clayton Perry: Writing down the truth, is there a particular process you undergo?

Eric Benét: As quickly as it comes up, I’m usually looking for a piece of paper. That’s how I do therapy. I just write about people. I think when you’re done with crazy guys, that is the best form of revenge. When I was writing this album, at the end of it, there is this whole story based on one chick in there. I said, “Oh, my God. This s**t will never live this down.” It wasn’t my intention. It was my way of writing about how I empowered myself more to get revenge. I just tried to think through my head why I did the things that I did.

Clayton Perry: The next quote is from Josh Billings: “Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.”

Eric Benét: That’s very true. I feel like I’ve never been a great instrumentalist. Personally, I don’t feel like I have a great voice. I don’t dance very well. I feel like it’s all a matter of being wise about the decisions you make in using what you got to the fullest. We all have enough to win, whatever winning is, whatever that means to an individual. We all got it. We all have everything we need to win. Some people just don’t realize it, or realize it too late.

Clayton Perry: At what point in your life did you fully realize your talents?

Eric Benét: I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet. I think it was pretty early on that I realized that I had something – probably music classes in the first grade. I just thought everybody heard music the way that I did. It just flowed. That wasn’t the case. I think I probably realized the power of voice in church, being able to move people and being able to almost catch the Spirit of God and communicate it through voice and song. I think I learned that pretty early.

Clayton Perry: “You’re the Only One” served as the lead single for Love & Life.  The song has performed well at radio—reaching the #1 spot on urban AC radio.  Much of its success can be credited to the online promotion you’ve been using MySpace and YouTube.  In fact, you and your daughter, India, produced an intimate, promotional video of “You’re the Only One” and made it available to your fans on the Internet. As an established artist, what led you decide to incorporate technology in your advertising campaign?

Eric Benét: Well, technology is fun. I’ve always tried to keep up with it. It’s a very, very enjoyable way to stay as connected as I possibly can with the people who are the reason why I’m able to afford the lifestyle that I have.

Clayton Perry: Why is getting in touch with the fans an important part of your career?

Eric Benét: I’m a very grateful person and I realize that I’m able to put my daughter in the school she’s in, and I’m able to eat and live where I live because of these people who are feeling my music. It’s almost like a feeling of gratitude of wanting to stay connected with them, of wanting to know what they like about a particular song or why they like this album so I know how to keep giving them more of what they like as it resonates with me. I’m really just having a lot of fun. I think it’s important for them to have a glimpse of exactly who this person is that they’ve chosen to buy the product and listen to the music over and over, you know, to get to know the source a little bit. It’s a lot of fun.

Clayton Perry: “One More Tomorrow” is dedicated to your daughter, India.  In what way does fatherhood shape or impact your career?

Eric Benét: Well, I think fatherhood has impacted my career by making me a better person. Being a father is a constant examination of yourself because you’re trying to teach and guide someone, so you may have to relive certain lessons so that you can teach them. It almost solidifies the best of what you are as you’re trying to guide. The closest I think we ever come to unconditional love is that love you have for your child, and vice-versa in a lot of ways. I think anybody will be very fortunate to experience this level of love in their life. I’m really grateful for that. Like I said, it’s just making me a better potential mate, a better songwriter, a better man. In every aspect, it’s just making me better.

Clayton Perry: As you speak about getting “better,” it reminds me that you were set to release Better and Better in 2001, but the album was shelved.  What happened with that project, especially the song “Could Have Been,” which was featured in the movie Glitter?

Eric Benét: Personally, I thought the album was dope. As it often goes being an artist at a record company, sometimes you’re just like an expendable kind of product. You’re just one of many. If the right person at the label isn’t particularly feeling the project, it ain’t coming out. That’s what happened with Better and Better. There were a lot of songs on that record that were very strong and I never gave up on them. Over the years, however, I have used some of those songs.  There were two songs on Better and Better that I took off and put on Hurricane: “Pretty Baby” and “I Wanna Be Loved.” I guess at some point maybe they’ll release them. Maybe I could leak some of that record out. Actually, it did leak in the UK. I still think it’s a really strong album.

Clayton Perry: What kind of lessons did that teach you about the music business and taking more creative control?

Eric Benét: For whatever reason, it’s taken me this long to have this type of control on a project. For me, it’s the most conducive for creating the best music. I think I’ve been able to make my statement to my record label that to have me do a record any other way rather than giving me the control would not be a good idea. I feel like I’m just getting in my stride, really. I’m able to make albums the way that I want to, on my terms. I really feel like this team at Warner Bros. right now, they get me better than any other team at Warner Bros. I have been there since ’96 and there have been 5 different regimes/executives during my stay. Most of the people at Warner Bros. were not there when I was signed, but I think this particular group may get me like nobody else has. So, it’s a good place in my career right now.

Clayton Perry: Well, they can’t argue with the output.

Eric Benét: Thank you.

For more information on Eric Benét, visit his official website: http://www.ericbenet.net/



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