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After a record label switch and a recent role in a David E. Talbert stage production, R&B singer/songwriter Avant is back with his sixth studio album The Letter. He spoke recently with Akim Bryant about how the R. Kelly comparisons of yesteryear have helped his career and a possible duets album is coming soon with KeKe Wyatt!

Akim Bryant: This is Akim Bryant for and we are joined by R&B singer-songwriter Avant.

Avant: Yeah, yeah, what up…what up?

AB: He got his start back in 1998 with his debut single “Separated” and the remix later featured Kelly Rowland. Since then…

A: I been rollin’.

AB: Yeah, exactly, big time. And you’ve enjoyed the success of having several top ten R&B hits and now you’re on a new label with Verve. You recently dropped your sixth album called, The Letter. So, how are you sir?

A: I’m blessed man. It’s beautiful to be in the game for ten years, 6 albums and people loving what you do. The new single is entitled “Kiss Goodbye”. The album came out December 21 everywhere (Editorial Note: the UK release date is January 23) and people have been out, really respecting this record. And that’s the most important part to me, man, putting out music that people really respect, you know?

AB: Indeed, so what can people expect from this new album?

A: Oh fun, man, it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of truth to it. Like the new single, “Kiss Goodbye”, I feel is, your girlfriend decided to kiss another man then she’s kissing your relationship goodbye. A lot of people say, “What do you mean by that?” I look at prostitutes, they will sex you to death but they won’t kiss you because kissing is more intimate, you feel me? In a lot of cases, when someone wants to put those lips together then she’s not thinking about you anymore.

AB: Now is this something that only applies to females?

A: Oh no, it’s vice versa too. In a lot of cases, you don’t really want to use the whole kiss theme about it but if someone is being mistreated in a relationship then they seek other companions and other situations. So you don’t want to get your relationship to the point where they’re starting to look for other people. Basically, that’s where I am with it (on this song).

AB: Now this is the first single. I got a chance to check out the video recently , which I think is a great video. I thought it was interesting at the end how you walked off with a slew of females walking behind you down the street. What was the significance of that?

A: Basically, it’s empowerment. Walk away from what you’re not comfortable with. You can walk away. A lot of people in a lot of situations don’t know if they’re capable of walking away, they’re not comfortable with it. But it’s nothing. Just like you walked in it, you can walk out of it, you feel me? It was basically empowerment.

AB: There are some other songs on the album that I think are pretty interesting, namely “Body Police”.

A: Here we go. The record “Body Police” is a typical Avant record, you know what I mean. It’s fun, you know and staying with the police theme was very important. It was fun because in a lot of cases, that’s how we feel, like “Wow, that girl is nice, I would love to arrest her and put her in the 69 precinct”. There’s a lot of different innuendos on the record but it’s a great record.

A: That’s cool. And you’re one of very few male artists who can appeal to both male and female audiences. Is that something that’s conscious for you or does it just happen?

AB: Well, I think that it’s just the truth. It’s being real, you know what I mean. I don’t care what record it is, it could be “Separated”, it could be “Read Your Mind”, it could be “Body Police”, it could be “Don’t Take Your Love Away”, in a lot of cases, in the car you can just turn the record on and you can become me. Because I like to keep my records open enough that it takes me out of the equation and you can become that artist. If you need me to speak to your girl in a certain way and you don’t know how to say it, you can just put me on and say, “Ok, this is how I feel about it.” And that’s what I try to do.

AB: I noticed that on this particular album there are no duets. You’ve had history with “My First Love” and “Nothing In This World”. Is that something you’re trying to get away from?

A: No, it’s not that I’m trying to get away from it. It’s more that I haven’t been on the scene for two years so I wanted to make sure the people were still into what I was doing as an artist. I definitely still have to do a duet album with Keke (Wyatt) at one point because everybody’s asking about that. So that’s one of my goals as well. But I just wanted to keep people focused on what I was doing as an artist.

AB: That’s admirable. So do you think R&B music is dead or dying?

A: I think it’s actually on the comeback. There’s a lot of great albums out there that I’m really feeling. Everything is a cycle. You had to go through the whole hip-hop cycle and that was great. I mean, we’re all hip-hop heads anyway. But you got to get back to the roots of what music is. I look at the Luther Vandrosses of the world, the Babyfaces, those guys showed us how to be men and how to cater to a woman. And that’s what the kids are missing now. We got a lot of kids out here and they say the parents ain’t doing their job. Well, none of us are, honestly. Even musically, so we have to teach these kids something.

AB: So what lesson are you trying to teach with this latest album?

A: Basically that love still remains, it’s still real in a lot of different scenarios.

AB: Did you always dream of being a singer?

A: Oh yeah, most definitely. I was five years old and my uncle actually was in a group. He never made it to be successful but he was in a group and he was really, really good at it. And I used to see him sing and I was like, “Wow”. It would send chills. I was like, “this is real, this is nice” you know what I mean? And it made me want to basically do the same thing…

AB: …and follow in those footsteps. Now back in the day, I know you get this question a lot so I’m going to try to phrase it a little bit differently, back in the day you had a lot of comparisons to R. Kelly.

A: Right.

AB: And I noticed in your latest bio that you list him as somewhat of an influence. What impact did that comparison have on your career, good and/or bad?

A: It was actually great. I’d classify it as great because he was already so many albums deep in his career, period. And for me to come out and people are saying, “Oh you remind me of him”, I was like, “Wow”. So it put a lot of steam behind me as well. So I said, yo, I gotta make sure that I put out records that people know who I am. It’s fine being compared, it’s fine being “you remind me…”, but I have to put enough records out because at that time Rob was putting a lot of records out, remixes and everything so I’m like, “Wow, I have to get around this.” So it was more of me being persistent and consistent with my music as well, so that now people don’t even compare anymore. They’re like, yo that’s R. Kelly and that’s Avant, for sure. So it’s all about taking something that might be a negative and making it positive and that’s what I was doing.

AB: I’m definitely a fan from way back, especially that first album My Thoughts. I didn’t necessarily see the comparisons because I always felt that you had a distinct sound of your own…that nobody else was doing.

A: Thank you.

AB: You were originally signed to Magic Johnson’s label. How was that?

A: It was weird but it was good at the same time. I had already, since ’95, I was recording records and I was doing the Master P thing and I was pushing them from my trunk, you know. But the nature of it was I got a little buzz with a record called “I Wanna Know” that was on my first album and everybody was into that record. So I said, “Wow”. I had a lot of companies calling, but Magic Johnson was just opening his label and he was willing to let me control and do everything that I wanted to do for my album and I was like, “Wow, this is what I really want to do.” So instead of going with the big companies, I went with Magic. And he was already tied into a big company so it really worked for me.

AB: Yeah, that was a great situation, so why wasn’t “I Wanna Know” a single?

A: The only problem with “I Wanna Know” was that I already released it in the midwest and it would’ve been trying to catch up to the south and the west coast if I had released it as a single. So I just went straight with “Separated”.

AB: OK, that’s fair. Another question for you: if every album that you’ve put out thus far could represent that particular era in time, which album would have the fondest memories and why?

A: Wow, if every album could represent that era…umm, I would have to say, it would have to be the first one and this (new) one because I just recorded this album so the memories are so fresh. But the first one because I didn’t have anything, you know what I mean? And by me releasing the album and seeing its success and seeing the people and performing extremely nervous but still doing my best and then to grow and to be an elite singer in the game, wow, it’s unbelievable. You know, it all starts from the beginning.

AB: Definitely. I assumed that would’ve been the best period for you. So you have a lot of songs that speak to the ladies which also kind of insinuate that you, yourself must be a ladies man…do you have any children?

A: I have one son. I have a 7 year old. His name is Chase.

AB: And he knows what you do and everything?

A: Yes. It’s so funny, you know because it’s like we might be going out or going to the store or wherever and people want to take pictures and he’s like, “Wow daddy, this is cool.” And I’m like, “Yeah daddy been going through this even before you were born.” But it’s fun just to see the excitement on his face. It’s like, “Oh ok, that’s why we have the house and all this other stuff, ok.”

AB: That’s cool. Do you see him possibly going in the same direction as you?

A: Oh most definitely. He’s very, very good. His memory is unbelievable. And that’s how I started. I would rap and memorize songs walking to school and you know, getting the rhythm of everything. And I see him going through the same phases so it’s a beautiful look.

AB: And along those same lines, in terms of relationships and everything, a lot of men basically your first relationship is with your moms, what was that relationship like for you?

A: Well you know, it’s six of us, 3 boys and 3 girls. I’m the youngest boy. I had a great relationship with my mom but it was just she had so many different attitudes and different kids that you know, it was like our relationship was great but she had to make sure everybody was equal and I fell short on a lot of things like Christmases, clothing, the whole nine. But you learn how to deal with things because you know it’s such a big family. I had my older brothers, they actually raised me. My older sisters raised me as well. Mom did a great job with raising them to raise me so I was raised three or four times. It was a beautiful look. She can tell you to this day, she never really had to whip the belt out too many times because I was a pretty good kid.

AB: You didn’t wild out too much.

A: I had great examples. They were wilding-out and she was layin’ it on ‘em! So I was like, yo I don’t want to be part of that.

AB: Any of your siblings into music?

A: Well, you know, I would say no, but they would beg to differ. Around Christmastime, everybody come together and it’s like, “Yo, check out this!” and it’s like, ok, it hasn’t changed but ok. But they have some pretty good voices though.

AB: What is one of the greatest lessons, if not the greatest lesson, that you’ve learned about being a recording artist?

A: Oh, stay true to the fans, man. The fans is everything. Honestly. They pour out their hearts. They show emotion on stage. You go to a certain record and you can see them crying or you go to a record like “My First Love” and you see people dancing and falling in love again. It’s nothing like that energy. I think that’s really my experience with music that I love the most.

AB: I think that’s pretty special when you, as an artist, have a song out there that so many people actually get married to.

A: Exactly.

AB: That’s big. And what would be one thing that your fans would be surprised to know about you?

A: I’m really laid back, calm. I like to shoot pool. I like to bowl. Things like that. My son, he might be out there playing soccer so I might kick the ball around with him a little bit, not saying that I’m good at all. I might fall around a little bit.

AB: Sounds like you’re a regular human being, basically…

A: I try to be.

AB: …experiencing the normal things in life. And you were recently in a play, “Love In The Nick of Tyme”, how was that experience?

A: That was great, man. I was actually able to work beside Morris Chestnut, Ellia English and it was wonderful, man, especially Miss Ellia English because she was on “The Jamie Foxx Show” but she also did Broadway plays. We were all inexperienced, me and Morris, this was his first time ever doing a play on stage. So we were just like, wow, in awe in the way she carried herself. Her energy made everybody else stand up and be accounted for. She told us, she said, “Hey when the lights are on, then that’s your time, it’s showtime”, so we all tried to bring that type of element to the stage.

AB: I actually got a chance to check out the YouTube clip of the play and your particular part which I thought was pretty good. You did your thing. Is that something you want to get into in the future?

A: I would love to be on the big screen doing the movie thing. But my love for music is so huge right now, especially with the down trend of sales and everything. I want to be that person that helps bring music back to the forefront so my focus is on that.

AB: So what do you think is missing from music nowadays, considering that sales are down?

A: I think people aren’t putting out great albums and also it’s too accessible. It’s like with the internet and all this other stuff, it’s not an event anymore to get music. I remember back when I was purchasing music before I got in the music game, it was like, wow, you had to have that Whitney Houston new album or that Mariah Carey or that new Luther. You had to have it. It was so hard to get it. It wasn’t no leaked type situation, you had to wait for the album to come out. So your first week would be crazy because it was like, yo I want to be the first one to get this record. But nowadays, it’s like, you can go on YouTube and you can basically get everybody’s music.

AB: That’s true.

A: That, more than anything, is hurting the game. But you also have to put together great albums. The problem is, in a lot of cases, people stopped putting together full product, that whole factory of work. I think that’s what’s happening. You have to put together a great body of work. And if you do so then people will go out and support the work. They will.

AB: And you have to build that loyal fan base so that they can go out there and buy the album.

A: Exactly. And they’ll want to be there every time, just because they know that I’m a walking door to door salesman. I’m trying to sell you a product.

AB: Exactly. That’s a lost art nowadays I think. Also, just recently over the holidays, the world of R&B lost one of its legends, Miss Teena Marie. What are your thoughts on that?

A: It’s just crazy that, you know, we lost Rick James just a couple of years ago and then Teena. I’m like, wow. It seems really weird to me but you know, it’s part of life. To be all the way honest, we have to die too. I mean, I hope not to go too soon, trust me, but it’s just like family members. That’s how we feel a lot of times because we watched them and we been around them or we feel like we been around them or we listened to their music and we feel attached, that it feels like a family member. That’s exactly what happened in the world. I mean, the only thing He promised us is that we will die. I haven’t seen anyone who is 2011 yet. I haven’t seen anyone that old. A lot of times we don’t prepare ourselves to do so, but it’s going to happen.

AB: What were some of your favorite Teena songs?

A: Awww, c’mon man. That’s so hard. C’mon now. She really…the disco era, she did her thing. The records with Rick. Aww, man, c’mon now.

AB: At least one, just name one.

A: C’mon, ummm. The record she did with Rick. (sings, “looove them and leave them…”) That joint.

AB: OK, I’m trying to think what that was.

A: I forgot the name of the joint.

AB: I forgot the name too. (Editorial Note: the song they couldn’t remember was “Fire & Desire”.)

A: It was that love thing too, you know what I mean? C’mon, you can’t lose with Teena.

AB: Exactly, she was a force to be reckoned with.

A: Right and you got to think about it: in a lot of cases, people don’t know how big she was. She was huge in the 80’s. And you got artists like myself and others in the game now, you might look down and if you don’t know the history you might be like, “she’s cool.” But you don’t know, that woman was huge.

AB: Actually, she is one of the very few females to write, produce, arrange, everything.

A: Exactly. She was extremely talented. It wasn’t just about her vocal and her vocal was sick but you know, she was a writer. She was a musician as well. She was that all-around threat. And she was mixed! A lot of people don’t know that a lot of women weren’t accepted for being that way. She broke the barriers.

AB: She overcame those challenges. So alright, do you have anything else you would like to tell your fans?

A: Yeah, go pick up the new album, The Letter. It’s in stores right now. And you know, it’s all about real music. We can never be bigger than the music.

AB: I agree.

A: But we can keep it going. And that’s the most important part to me, to keep it going.

AB: How can your fans keep up to date with you?

A: You can hit me, you can tweet me actually @AvantMusic. That will keep you focused on what’s going on with me.

AB: OK, thank you sir for taking this time to talk with us and good luck with everything, good luck with the album.

A: Thank you.

AB: Good luck with your career. I hope there’s many more albums in the works.

A: That’s what’s up.

AB: And keep the music coming, that’s it.

A: Gotta keep it going.

AB: Thank you.

A: One love.

About the Writer
With nearly a decade of experience in programming content for Music Choice (24/7 music channels, cable-on-demand shows, website and cell), Akim Bryant has just begun to scratch the surface of journalism having already written for GIANT and The Source magazines as well as a number of start-up publications. This self-professed R&B junkie also has a strong knack for the art of interviewing. Be on the lookout for his semi-autobiographical debut novel coming out in 2012.
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