Interview: Bobby V – Singer, Songwriter and Producer

Posted: March 8, 2011 in interview, music
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Bobby VDate of Interview: 03/08/2011

For the bulk of Bobby V’s career, he has been stuck at a crossroad typical of every young R&B artist: how does one pay homage to the traditions of R&B’s glorious past, while connecting to a generation born-and-raised on hip-hop music? Straddling this line with great deft, the music catalog of Bobby V has been sprinkled with guest features from rappers like Lil’ Wayne (“Mrs. Officer”) and Plies (“Phone #”), alongside R&B veterans like R. Kelly (“Words [Remix]”) and Raphael Saadiq (“Wish List”). These pseudo-schizophrenic impulses are the by-product of a music landscape that makes little room for multiple – or conflicting – images of black masculinity. Either you’re “this” or “that” – and Bobby V is neither.

Bobby V’s determination to succeed is evident in a 15-year career that has been dedicated to music. And with four albums to his credit, he shows no signs of slowing down. In the midst of a promotional campaign for Fly on the Wall, Bobby V managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on his growth as a singer, Timbaland’s influence on his production, and the future of his Blu Kolla label.

Clayton Perry:  As I look back over the course of your career, I am always amazed by the fact that you have dedicated half of your life to the music industry. In what ways has your perception of the music profession evolved – for better or for worse?

Bobby V:  This whole experience has been a blessing for me. As you mentioned, I’ve been around since Mista. I was fourteen at the time, and I’ve been doing music ever since. My goal is to make a career out of music, and that’s because I love to do music. I wouldn’t do anything else. When I’m in the studio recording and when I’m performing, no other feeling in the world compares. It’s definitely a tough business. It’s very political, but you’ve got to have tough skin and you’ve got to be able to be competitive on all levels at all times. You’ve got to be on your game.

Clayton Perry:  A lot of people do not have that pleasure with their job, to do something they love on a day-to-day basis. At what point did you realize that you had a gift that you wanted to share? And taking that thought one step further, when did you realize that you wanted to make a career of music?

Bobby V:  When I was younger, I did everything for fun. I didn’t really know anything about the business. I didn’t write my own songs. I was in a group. I was one person out of four people in the group, and I just got up there and sang the songs. And it was cool, because I got a chance to travel. I remember my first time flying into New York when I was fourteen, and I had girls screaming for me. I saw a lot at a young age, but I really didn’t understand it. But I think what really helped me understand it was after Mista broke up, and it didn’t work; it was back to reality. I went back to high school. And then I went to college – graduating from Clark in Atlanta. And I was just known as “little Bobby from Mista.” But during that time, I continued to do music – especially on the production side. Many people don’t know I produce.

Clayton Perry:  How old were you when you dove into production?

Bobby V:  When I was like sixteen. I bought an MPC 2000 beat machine. I bought a Trident keyboard. And I set me up with a little microphone in the closet. I was making songs all by myself, like “Me and My Homeboy”! [laughing] In high school, we used to put them on tape and play them in the car, and stuff like that. But I remember how I used to try to make my beats like Timbaland. When I was in high school, Timbaland was extra popular. So that’s what really made me love music, because Timbaland is one of the producers that I really love.

Clayton Perry:  So in a way, your production skills contributed to your longevity?

Bobby V:  With my production, since I had a name from Mista, people would actually give it a fair shot. And this is stuff I was producing, writing, and doing all by myself. So when Mista started working on our second album, and it never came out, that’s when I got a chance to work with Tim & Bob, who produced for artists like Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men. And to perfectly honest, back then, I really couldn’t even sing that good. I was a teenager, but I knew how to harmonize and hold a note. But when Tim & Bob worked with Mista, they looked at the group and we used to do songs, and they used to be like: “Bobby, man, you’ve got the most distinctive voice. We’re going to have you sing the lead.” So they’re really the ones that kind of taught me how to vocally be a real singer. The years after the Mista situation was a big transition period.

Clayton Perry:  When you talk about your skill sets, it is really interesting to hear you say that you were more confident in your production than you were with your singing. Once you got to work with Tim & Bob, you said that you finally found your voice. Since then, how do you think you’ve grown as a singer, and in what ways do you challenge yourself vocally?

Bobby V:  Here’s the thing: I really know how to sing. And when I went to Clark, I went on a music scholarship, although I ended up graduating in radio and TV mass communications. But the fact remains: I’ve been vocally trained. I always found it funny that there are a large number of artists out here that do a lot of runs and stuff – thinking that they are really singing! [laughing] A lot of vocalists don’t understand their craft. That’s a whole other story. I try to shadow myself after true musicians and true singers, because I think that’s the key to being around a long time. Everybody seems to always be surprised: “You’ve put out four albums?” And I’ll be like: “I’m going to put our four more. Watch!” And unfortunately, for a lot of artists, they’re here today and gone tomorrow. For me, I think it is key to respect the game – and you’ve got to really practice. People think they know everything. And even though I’m a professional singer, there’s still more I can learn and make better. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to take the time to learn, and that’s how you get longevity.

Clayton Perry:  Luckily, you have been surround by people with a great wealth of knowledge. In addition, you were willing to listen to those who had more experience than you. Once you started your label, Blu Kolla, what professional lessons did you have to learn the hard way?

Bobby V:  You’ve got to walk with confidence. That’s how you’re going to separate yourself. You’ve got to believe in yourself and you can’t let people tell you what you can or cannot do. If you don’t believe in yourself, then why should the next person believe in you? And people might say that you ain’t got it, but you’ve got to keep grinding. And that has been important to me. My first two albums were done through Def Jam/DTP. I was successful, but I also learnt a lot. You’ve got to understand: DTP was more like the middleman in my situation, because I was playing for them. So I got to see a lot of things, as far as how a major label operates and how a DTP as a liaison operates. Once I went independent and did a joint venture with Capitol, that’s what led me to own Blu Kolla. That’s my DTP. So basically, I had to learn how to be a good liaison and how to be a good partner with a major label. I took some losses. But I learned one major lesson: you’ve got to invest in yourself. I’m a frugal guy. I don’t really like spending all my bread. I ain’t the one going to the strip club making it rain and stuff! [laughing] But you have to invest in yourself – and you’ve got to spend money to make money. It’s something that you have to do in order to be competitive. Blu Kolla is not at the level of DTP yet, but they were a good model for me to build upon.

Clayton Perry:  I, too, have learned the importance of investing in oneself. As you spoke, two important investments came to mind: the purchase of your first production kit and the launch of the Blu Kolla label. What other investment are you hoping to make in the near future?

Bobby V:  Right now, I’m really trying to get my money up, so that I can buy a building and give Blu Kolla home. We’re really blue collar, the true definition of it! [laughing] We’re out of the basement! [laughing continues]. But I’m really trying to turn this venture into an operating studio. I know it’s going to take a lot of money, but I’ve been saving my money and I am willing to learn and spend the time to do it.

Clayton Perry:  As a male R&B artist in a music landscape that is driven by hip-hop, what do you find to be the biggest obstacle on the artistic side of your career?

Bobby V:  When people look at me, I think they say: ” Bobby V.? Yeah, I like him.” But I want people to love me. I still have to get over that hump. Like everything else, the music industry is very political. When you listen to the radio, it’s more hip-hop driven. I’m more of an R&B guy, and I want to stay true to R&B. I have had some records that I put out that I’ve tried to conform to doing what everybody else is doing; but really, that’s not me. Like my single I’ve got out, “Words,” I love that record, and I love to perform that record. The people that love that record, those are the people that I want to be associated with, because they’re on the same page as I am musically. And I’m just all about real R&B. I just want to help bring R&B back to where it was like when I was growing up. I didn’t get into this game to try to conform to what everybody else is doing. Now, R&B is under the influence of pop and hip-hop.

Clayton Perry:  I am curious about your perspective on why you think the pendulum swung so far to the left?

Bobby V:  It’s really sad, but I mean, it is what it is. But with time, all things change.  For me, as an artist, it just makes it harder to compete.

Clayton Perry:  Knowing what you are battling against, what will artists, like yourself, have to do, in order to push the pendulum back to the right and get people interested in R&B again?

Bobby V:  Just to be honest with you: artists just need to make good music again, and they’ve got to give the people that are doing good music a shot. There’s a lot of artists that are under the radar, but you’re only hearing a select few. Marsha Ambrosius. Tank. Joe [Thomas]. They are making some good R&B music. But when I put out “Words,” for example, radio tried to automatically put me in the “adult contemporary” format. I’m not an adult contemporary artist. I’m not forty! [laughing] And I’m not hating on any of the artists that are on the radio right now, because I do like a lot of them, but you still have to incorporate material from some of the artists that are doing more musical stuff. For instance, it’s a criteria that in order for you to be a producer on my album, you’ve got to be a musician, too. A lot of the songs you hear on the radio, they don’t even have live instrumentation. That’s why I’m frustrated with the music business. R&B stands for rhythm and blues, which is the essence of soul music. I can’t get down with music that doesn’t have soul.

Clayton Perry:  The title of your latest album seems very apropos: Fly On The Wall. Having followed your career over the years, my gut instinct is that you have been refining your artistry based upon all of the hits and misses you have experienced. Is there a particular recording experience from this album that really stands out?

Bobby V:  I love working with Tim & Bob. They’re my all-time favorite producers. And in a way, they’re like my Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Clayton Perry:  That’s a good way to put it.

Bobby V:  So I love working with them, and I’m glad that they continue to work with me. And honestly, they get frustrated with me, because they really ain’t had a major single from me since “Slow Down.” They get on me, but I just try to explain to them that the game is so crazy right now. But I appreciate the time we share, because they love music just as much as I do.

For more information on Bobby V, visit his official website: http://www.bobbyvmusic.com/



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