Interview: Usher “”I Like Music because… it’s expressive. I like music because it commemorates times of life, love and all these wonderful experiences”
He’s sold 45 million records, won five Grammy awards, performed on stage with Michael Jackson and James Brown, watched Confessions become the most successful album of 2004, perfomed on Broadway in 2006, and now, he’s released his seventh album; Raymond V Raymond.
Discovered on Star Search eighteen years ago, Usher has since transformed into a global superstar. He’s won awards, travelled the globe and done his bit for charity. Due to meet up face to face, Usher was stranded due to the Icelandic Volcanic erruptions. But never fear! I Like Music chatted to Usher on the phone, we found out what Raymond V Raymond means to him, how it came together and why, despite such a high level of success, this is only the beginning for the global superstar.
“I Like Music because… it’s expressive. I like music because it commemorates times of life, love and all these wonderful experiences” USHER
ILM: Hello there Usher! How are you?
Usher: Well, I’m a little bit upset…
ILM: Oh no! Why?
Usher: Well, about the fact that my record is number one in the UK and I can’t be there! But, for the most part, I’m very happy that it is number one and very thankful for all of my fans that made it possible. I wanted to be there in person, unfortunately I couldn’t. But hopefully this phone call will hold you over until I get there on June 6th 2010.
ILM: It would have been great to have you over, but of course, these things happen…
Usher: Well, I’m looking forward to being there with you guys soon!
ILM: How did it feel to top the UK chart once again?
Usher: Oh, it was incredible man! You know, as I said, I couldn’t have done it alone. It took the support of radio, the fans that requested, talked about it online, talked positively about the video. All of those things led to not only a successful album, but an incredible experience that will take place for the rest of the year! As I said, I’ll be back in June at Wembley Stadium. I look forward to seeing my fans and thanking them in person then! But, other than that, I’ll be back on tour sometime in the fall.e.
ILM: What can we expect from the tour? How is it all shaping up?
Usher: Well, I can tell you this, it will be an experience you’ve never seen before and one you will never forget! The best way for you guys to stay linked with what the performance is going to be like and when it is going to take place is that you gotta go to my website www.usherworld.com
ILM: How did you approach the making of Raymond V Raymond? Where does it sit in your journey so far?
Usher: The sound came together by way of the producers and writers that I worked with. They were very open minded offering to help me convey my story. In terms of what this album meant, I had to live and learn through a lot of incredible and also disappointing experiences. I wrote about them and that is Raymond V Raymond. That is what that dichotomy is, the comparison of those two places, those two images and those two intents.
ILM: OMG features Will.I.Am, you’ve worked with some incredible people on the album, but at the end of the day it is your music. How do you approach collaborations? What works for you?
Usher: Well, when working with other artists I pinpoint a song that I feel is relevant to who that artist is and also what I’m attempting to convey with that song. I’m not having a random guest appearance on a song just because it sounds cool, or the name is cool, or the person is cool. I want to make sure that what I say and what I offer is an experience, that it fits like a glove, you know what I mean?
ILM: Of course. How do you like to work in the studio?
Usher: It varies. You know, most of the time I live through it. I write it down. I record melodies. But for me, slow and easy wins the race. It may take me some time, you know, months even, to write a song. I’ll go around and around about it. But then other times I’ll record a song and I’ll be finished in twenty minutes! It really varies. It all depends on what the song is about. What the intent of the record is, who you’re intending to talk to, what you’re ultimately hoping to convey…
ILM: In terms of individual tracks on Raymond V Raymond, which tracks did you have the most fun with in the studio?
Usher: Hmmm….let me think…Well, there were many gratifying records on the album, but the one that was very gratifying for me was Guilty. T.I. just came back from being incarcerated. I feel like it is a song that is kinda edgy, given that the name of the song is Guilty. Me and him have been talking about doing a record for years. I visited him whilst he was incarcerated, of course we didn’t really talk too much about music, but there was one point where we just decided to talk about potentially working together when he got out, you know what I mean? So, Guilty is the track we did.
ILM: Guilty and Raymond V Raymond is just the tip of the Usher iceberg. You’ve achieved so much! When you look back over your career so far, which are the most memorable moments for you?
Usher: The moments that stick out? In my career? Wow. Some of them are more difficult than others. Some of them are very gratifying. A highlight for me was performing on stage with Michael Jackson in Madison Square Garden. Another highlight for me was performing in Puerto Rico with Beyonce, Bad Girls, it was a once in a lifetime experience! If you saw the special, then you understand, if you haven’t you gotta get it on DVD! Haha! Another was performing on stage with James Brown at The Grammys. One of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had performing was performing at Michael Jackson‘s memorial. It was the biggest stage I’d ever played in my life. The grandest stage.
ILM: What does it take to be a great performer?
Usher: Dedication. Hard work. Focus. The attitude to believe it can happen. Fifteen years of my career has been made up of the belief that something incredible and something major can happen. The future of what I am is yet to be seen.
ILM: Do you feel like now is the time to take it to another level?
Usher: I’m an icon of this time. Only now am I beginning to take that seat and walk that walk. You gotta see me do it! I’m not just another artist. Everything now is based on taking ownership of my experience, taking ownership of what I’ve offered in music. That is a lot! It’s grand and it’s not to be taken lightly. After eighteen years of work, as I said, fifteen years of belief, something major will happen. So far, piece after piece has fallen in to place. Now it’s time for the real show to begin.
ILM: Why do you think music is such an important thing to so many people? What does it mean to you?
Usher: It is such an expressive tool. I don’t say anything that I just said arrogantly. I say it out of belief. Out of the belief that this could be and that this would be. Expression of music isn’t always just about arrogance, it isn’t always just about the experience, that’s what Raymond V Raymond was about; me challenging me. There are certain chapters that are going to play out in the future that are not part of this album, that aren’t necessarily about the overall experience of what my life is. I want to touch on the experiences of people, experiences that are going on outside in the world.
ILM: Is Raymond V Raymond the beginning of a new chapter for you?
Usher: Raymond V Raymond is kind of a coming of age album, it’s not just another LP release. This is engaging iconic music. From this point on, everything is about being iconic, about moving upward and making sure that this tool that I have to use in entertainment and music will interpret something very specific, something very passionate and very direct.
ILM: Raymond V Raymond still comes at a stage when your worldwide recognition is extremely high. If this is just the beginning, what do you hope to leave behind? What lasting impact do you hope to make as an artist?
Usher: I can already see remnants of inspiration through artists that have come. That’s what I want there to be. I want to be an inspiration to many. I want to be able to take this opportunity to interpret creativity, music, life and culture in a way that is expressive, a way that is musical, a way that is timeless. To be an icon that is an inspiration to other artists, well, I see that happening now and I’m only 31! As I grow more, I’m looking to only focus on the icon that is Usher. Raymond V Raymond is the introduction to that moment. The balance of the place that I put myself in with this album, is the reality of what it is going to be. Balancing the reality of who I am as a man, with who I am as an icon. That story is going to be told both ways. I don’t know where the record may come from, I don’t know what the inspiration is going to be, but I do know that everything that you see will have an intent, never just for the sake of putting something out. That’s what my tools should be used for, that’s what music is and that is what it is for me.