By Monica Marones
Grammy Award Winning Singer Songwriter NE-YO is back in the Coachella Valley on March 14th to perform at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. In January he released his 6th studio album Non-Fiction keeping to his R&B pop style but adding a bit of bad boy flavor with collaborations with T.I., Juicy J, Jeezy, ScHoolboy Q, and Pit Bull.
Born in Arkansas but raised in Las Vegas, 35 year old NE-YO started his music career at a young age and was signed to Colombia Records, but got dropped right before he was to release his first album. Singer Marques Houston heard the single “My Girl” which was supposed to be released as NE-YO’s first single, re-recorded it, and released it on his own album MH in 2003, which led to NE-YO’s recognition of being a successful songwriter. He didn’t receive mainstream attention though until he wrote the song “Let Me Love You” for artist Mario, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Since then he has written for many successful artists like Rihanna, Beyonce, Cher, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and so many more. Successful songwriter, platinum selling artist, actor, and don’t forget Grammy winner, NE-YO is the epitome of a multi-talented artist with undeniable talent.
MM: You just released your 6th studio album Non-Fiction in January. In recent interviews you said that you drew inspiration though your fans stories. What track/tracks are you the most connected to?
NE-YO: I don’t know if there’s one track that I’m most connected to. I got some really, really great material from the fans and great stories. I feel like this body of work is what shined, not one specific song. I want people to really hear this album start to finish, so they can really hear that the overall storyline is the whole album, I’ll tell you that, and you can only grasp the full effect if you listen to it start to finish.
MM: This album has 19 tracks! What is the process on how you wrote this album? Was it planned or more organic? Did you know right away how you wanted to make it?
NE-YO: Honestly, not right away. I knew that I wanted every song to be a true story but as far as the album itself having just overall format that is something that I kinda realized once I started formatting the album, the way that songs are formatted they tell the story so I just had to kinda build on that.
MM: What do you like the best about being on tour?
NE-YO: It’s definitely something that is not for everybody. I actually kinda dig being in a different city every night and the different energies from the different crowds you know? The L.A. crowd versus the New York thing, so it’s going to be slightly different and it’s gonna be slightly different in the Chicago crowd versus the Tokyo crowd. It’s just going out there and seeing what kind of energy you’re going to get that night. These songs are not just songs to me, and the effects that these songs have on people means a lot to me.
MM: You write music for many different artists and yourself, how do you keep the ideas fresh?
NE-YO: If you notice I tend to keep myself in the area of relationships between men and women, or just relationships period and basically because that does not go out of style, I feel like many will always relate. Love, the black white and grey, the good bad and ugly of it- these are things that will never ever go away, you know with the trends and our fads, so I kinda keep it there. And as long as people are in relationships, falling in and out of love, I will always have a song to write.
MM: What does it make you feel like when people say you are a song writing genius?
NE-YO: Honestly, big shoes to fill. Makes me feel like it’s something that I have to live up to now, you know? For somebody to call me a genius not understanding that every song that I write is not a good song. There have been some crappy ones, oh yeah. It’s just a little bit of pressure. You think song writing genius, that means every song that you hear from this person has got to be the best thing since sliced bread, this guy is supposed to be a genius you know, so I can’t do anything even remotely mediocre. I gotta shoot for the stars with every single thing I write which I guess is a gift and a curse. A gift in that it kinda forces me to try and write the best thing I’ve ever written every time I write and it’s a curse because I gotta make sure it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, every time I write. Depends on the way you look at it.
MM: When you write a song how do you know if you want to keep it for yourself or pitch it to another artist?
NE-YO: Depends on the song and how the song is supposed to be. If the way that song sounds, and I listen to it, and I go, “Man I can really hear Rihanna on this,” and I’ll call Rihanna and say “hey I got something I want you to listen to.” If she likes it she takes it, and if she doesn’t, then I can do whatever I want with it at that point. But if there’s a situation where an artist has asked me to specifically write something for them, I don’t care if It’s the best song I’ve ever written in my life, if they ask for it, you know if it was made specifically for them, I’m going to let them hear it and decide if they want it first.
MM: Is there a song out right now that you can’t stop listening to?
NE-YO: That I can’t stop listening to? Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud,” is like my favorite record right now. Love that song. Has kind of an old school feel and plus his voice sounds really good and the guy’s deep.
MM: I interview a lot of local artists and we all know the process of being an artist requires patience. What are some aggressive steps that musicians need to be making to get their music out there beyond where they live? As a label what is some good advice?
NE-YO: Just in regards to the way you get your music out there, like especially if you’re approaching an artist and if you’re approaching someone that works in the business, your initial approach is going to be very important. You know if I’m sitting in a restaurant and eating a steak and you run up on me and plop a C.D. on the table and “HEY, HEY you mind if I talk to you,” you clearly see that I’m eating or if I’m already in a conversation with someone or on the phone or whatever the case may be, you know just a little courtesy, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry to bother you.” Or how about you just wait till I’m done eating and then run up or wait till a break in the conversation. Don’t just run up and interrupt, because even if your music is great you already rubbed me the wrong way so I might just tell you no. If you’re handing someone a CD, thumb drive or whatever the case may be, make sure your information is on it somewhere. You know more times than not a lot of people run up on me and hand me something and go, “Alright! Thanks bye!” I don’t know your name, no phone number on it, no details. Even if I like it what am I supposed to do? So make sure that your information is there. Aggression is a good thing, assertiveness is better than aggression. Be assertive. Make sure that the person knows how passionate you are about the music. By the way if you’re not passionate about the music and you’re just trying to make some money don’t even bother running up on me because I’m not paying you any attention. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m not looking for the guys trying to make a big buck. I’m not looking for the girls that just want some attention and want people to scream their name. I want people who are passionate about their music. If you were a chef and you wanted to work in my restaurant but you weren’t passionate about cooking, I wouldn’t want you in my restaurant. I need someone who is going to be the best that they positively can because they want to be proud of what they’ve done, and I want to be proud too. Not just because “it’s cool” or “I look good with my shirt off.”
MM: With your own label Compound Entertainment how many artists do you listen to and turn away every week?
NE-YO: Oh man. It’s a number that varies, but it’s never a small number I will say that. I get approached by easily 20 people, EVERY SINGLE day with a CD or whatever the case may be, and they want me to listen to the music. And I listen to it, I genuinely do. Now a days they send me to their sound cloud which makes it a little easier so I can listen to it in my car or wherever I’m at, or on my phone. And if I come across something that I dig you know I actually hit the people back and see what we could do with it. I gotta say normally that the stuff I get is a little more ruff around the edges. Just because you’re the best singer in your home doesn’t mean you’re ready for the big leagues you know? I always make sure that I’m honest with everybody and I also mention and let people know that if I don’t get it, it doesn’t mean that that’s it. I’m just one man, and everybody doesn’t always see it right off, so if I don’t see it and say no thanks, it doesn’t mean stop. Go on to the next person, keep pushing your stuff.
MM: What do you feel has been the most pivotal moment in your career so far?
NE-YO: I’ve had a few to be honest. Putting out “Closer” was a pivotal moment you know that introduced me to whole different audience. Before “Closer” my audience was predominately R&B and “Closer” has more of a dance feel to it. The Grammys that I’ve won, that was a pivotal moment. It wasn’t until I had the Grammy in my hand that I knew what it was about. It feels like I’ve done something worthy for the people to nominate me. Meeting Michael Jackson is another pivotal moment, especially the way that I met him. The meeting was about ME writing for HIM, and unfortunately with his time of death I didn’t get the opportunity, but you know the fact that the man who made it possible for me to even do what I do would want me to work for him was kinda the biggest thing in my career thus far.
Tickets for the 8PM NE-YO performance are on sale now for $109, $89, $69 and $49 at the Fantasy Springs Box Office, via telephone (800) 827-2946 or online at www.FantasySpringsResort.com.