INTERVIEW: R&B Veteran Joe Shares His Message of Love Upon The Release Of His New LP, Doubleback

Last week, we celebrated America’s birthday, and the festivities remained in full swing for one of the hardest working —and talented— singers in R&B music, Joe. In fact, the 40-year-old had quite a week, one that saw him release a brand new album (Doubleback: Evolution Of R&B) AND celebrate a milestone birthday. With 20 years of music-making success under his belt, Joe has a lot to be happy about these days.

I attended Joe’s performance at B.B. Kings back on June 28 and, before the gig even began, had a “moment” with a fanatic fan who thought I was encroaching on her prime placement in front of the stage, in full view of Joe. Once Joe hit the stage it was all love, though, and I went from eavesdropping on her talking to her girls about how I was up in her space (LOL + SMH) to how great Joe looked. And he did, decked out in black dress pants, white shirt and bowtie, and electric blue jacket. Oh, and let’s not forget the sunglasses.

As the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and musician spent the following hour giving his fans the songs that have illuminated his impressive career thus far, I listened as my fanatic fan friend punctuated Joe’s performance with words of wonderment and love (“He looks the same!”, “He has not changed… He sounds just like on his records!”, “He sounds great!”). Along with the sold-out crowd, I watched Joe perform the songs that have punctuated his career and garnered him scores of fans and followers throughout the years, tracks like “Where You At,” “Let’s Stay Home Tonight,” “If I Was Your Man,” new single “I’d Rather Have A Love,” and more. But it was when Joe broke out into an impromptu rendition of “Night Nurse” by Gregory Isaacs that I realized as much as Joe appreciates his fans, he is also a fan of all types of music. It is this appreciation that fuels his passion and powers his purpose. I got a chance to interview Joe a few days after his show, and learned a bit more about the man and his music.
VH1: Summer is here! Track 11, “1 to 1 Ratio” featuring Too Short, feels like a summer groove. Do you agree?

Joe: It’s one of my favorite cuts on the record as well. It’s one of the first songs I recorded for this album, and after listening to it over and over I said I gotta get a legend, but he has to be from the West Coast, that’s the feel of the song – it’s fun, summery – so I had to get Too Short. I thought he represented the old school as well as the new school. He’s still representing and on records that’s still popping today.

A lot of people feel most free and alive in the summertime. What feelings does summer conjure up for you as an artist?

You know, New York is a great place. I talk about New York all the time, especially during the summer. There’s so many different things you could do. I love the rooftop parties. And I go to the Kimberly every once in awhile — they have a beautiful rooftop there. The restaurants are great, I love eating outside. I just think it’s one of the most beautiful places, so much activity going on, I just love the energy here. And plus I’ve been here for now 20-plus years. I don’t really get to celebrate my birthday, I’m born in July —July 5 so I’m a summer baby— so summer really has a whole lot to do with my personality. I get up early every day around 6am, and I’m alive throughout the entire day, my energy is… It’s beautiful. I just love being in New York, it matches with who I am and what I’m all about.

Was the summer release planned or coincidental?

It really kind of happened as a coincidence. I work pretty fast and wasn’t really trying to time it around my birthday or anything like that, but it kind of fell in the right place, where it needed to be. Ten albums, 20 years in the business, and I’m turning 40. So the number kind of made sense as well, but certainly starting out it wasn’t a plan, I was just trying to get something out. I love releasing in the summer because I love touring in the summer, and I do a lot of outdoor shows in the summertime, music festivals, and that’s a lot of fun in the summertime.

How is this new album an evolution of your music?

Throughout my career I’ve tried to be pretty consistent in quality and sound, and in today’s music scene it seemed like it was running towards the dance and techno era. I have no problem with it, I love dance and techno, but I just couldn’t do it, me personally. But my thing about evolving with this record is trying to incorporate more of that old-school feel and sound —more instruments, horns, strings, live guitar and drums— but not go over the top. I also wanted to keep it current. I’m trying not to go too far from what I’ve done before but at least try to make it feel a little different than what I’ve done before.

[Photo: RED/Massenburg Media]

I did a concert review on Fantasia about a month ago and was super-excited to see that you have a song with her on your album, “Love & Sex.” How did that collabo come together?

We met each other on the road doing some shows and her audience was just as much into her as mine are into me, and I just really felt like she was going to be an artist that really connected to my voice and my sound. I’m a real church boy, I come from the church when I sing and I needed someone with that sort of energy. And the moment I first heard her on American Idol, I just knew that she was going to be a star with her voice. So I had to have her.

Did you give Fantasia any “man” advice? It seems like you’re super observant and see what people are going through, maybe you’ve gone through some things, and that’s what you bring to this album – your testimony about love and relationships.

You know, I always get the other way, I always get the guys asking me. But I do give advice, I certainly give advice. I really feel it’s useful, but it’s difficult sometimes when you have a person who is truly in love and feels a certain way about a person, and you’re on the outside looking in. When you give your views, sometimes it goes unheard and unnoticed, so I try not to get too involved in people’s personal lives, but if they ask me something, I try to give the best information I can.

And track 3 on the album, “Baby” —about a guy who’s in love with two women— is that fact or fiction?

That was fact. Oh boy, I tell you, my life, it really is something. You never know what kind of curves are waiting ahead for you. But you know, at the end of the day it’s about being truthful and honest, and that was the message in that song. And it was a learning experience for me, and that’s probably why I’m still single at this point, but I really want to be married and in love at some point and have kids. That would be amazing.

Tracks 8 and 9, “Sexy” and “More,” are some baby-making singles, for sure. They’re right up there with “More and More” which is one of my favorite Joe songs. What’s your formula for making a hot sexy song?

You know, I just get into a zone. I love guitar and I play a lot of the songs on guitar, I think it’s one of the sexiest instruments that exist. And it’s one of the coolest instruments to play – you can groove… The piano is cool, too. But there’s something special about that guitar. I get into a different zone with the chords that I create, and then the melodies come…

I was very happy to see you playing the bass guitar at your B.B. Kings performance, but I also noticed that you didn’t have any backup singers.

Yes, it’s got that bottom that you love. You see mostly the big guys playing that bass. They be huge and tall and they rock playing that bass, rocking… I’ve been searching, searching, searching for some backup singers for awhile now. That would certainly be one thing that would complete my set. But it’s been very difficult over the years having background singers, because I’m very technical and I like a clean-sounding show, and I have to search for those real tight vocals that will blend perfectly, because sometimes they’ll throw me off if the pitching is wrong or the timing is off. So I’ve always been very skeptical of background singers but there are some amazing ones that I’ve heard on the road with other people, and I just wish I could’ve had them but they were already taken. I’m definitely looking though, I’ve been searching for a couple years.

If you were to create your very own supergroup who would you join musical forces with and why?

Oh wow, that’s a very good question. I look at artists such as Wyclef, Bruno Mars 3 you know, musicians as well as artists and singers and rappers. I would like to make Nas a part of that group. And I would have to do a female — let’s say Alicia Keys or even Fantasia. It would be a supergroup with all the different genres of music.

I think I have a girl crush on every female lead in your new video “I’d Rather Have A Love” – they are gorgeous! Can you talk about the video?

They are! Hype Williams directed the video. The song is a message of love. It’s a story and a concept that I’ve been singing about since the beginning of my career and my first single, “I’m In Love,” back in 1993. And before that it was the music I was inspired by, the artists I was inspired by like Marvin Gaye. Even hip hop, they share the message of love as well, and that’s why I connected with hip hop with Big Pun and Mystikal and all these different artists I’ve worked, and Nas even. So, for me, it’s always been about that message and trying to continue that message in everything that I do, and even in my personal life. Showing people the love. Not just saying it, expressing it. And that’s just really where I come from, my culture and my background, and that’s the legacy I hope will proceed me once I’m gone.

[Photos: RED/Massenburg Media]