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ANTHONY HAMILTON 2011 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
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Phone interview recorded December 8, 2011

Though he's not new to the game, 'new' seems to be the most appropriate word to describe much of Anthony Hamilton's life today. A new energy, inspired by his year-old twin sons, propelled the creation of his new album, and his new more mainstream sound, which features his first time working with producer/songwriter Babyface.

He is even on a new label: the newly restructured RCA Records. However, Hamilton explains why his focus is going BACK TO LOVE, which is also the title of his new disc. He shares with Darnell Meyers-Johnson what he considers to be the important elements of real R&B music...


Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day, this is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I am about to speak to one of the most soulful men in music. His voice throws us back to the era of Donny Hathaway. He is simply the real deal. Many of us first took notice of his incredible talent in 2003 with the release of his platinum-selling album, COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM. Fresh off of his huge hit with Jill Scott, “So In Love,” he is about to release his new album, BACK TO LOVE. Today I’m speaking with Mr. Anthony Hamilton. How are you, sir?

Anthony Hamilton: I’m great.

DMJ: I’m so glad that you’re taking time out to speak with us. We do appreciate it.

AH: Yes, I appreciate you guys reaching out to talk to me.

DMJ: I’m very excited to speak with you, because you’re one of those people that the fans consider to be a real talent, a real singer who is doing real R&B music. What are your thoughts when you hear that this is how you are received by the public?

AH: It feels good. You take time to put quality music together, and it’s a big reward to be loved and accepted.

DMJ: Your voice and your songs and just your general vibe throws us back to an earlier era. Who was little Anthony Hamilton vibing to back in the day?

AH: Andre Crouch, James Cleveland, Natalie Cole, and occasionally, Al Green

DMJ: So it sounds like most of your influence has been more gospel-related. Is it safe to assume that that was your original inspiration?

AH: Well, my grandmother was really into the church, so she wouldn’t play a lot of secular music in the earlier part of my life. I could watch Solid Gold—whatever came on Solid Gold, Lawrence Welk, and Hee Haw.

DMJ: Do you think that there will ever be a point in your career where you may want to do a straight-ahead gospel album?

AH: It would have to be in my own way, because I can’t see me doing a straight-up gospel record how they put them together now. It’s just not my style … not my style. You’ll have one or two of those on there, but that’s not my style of writing. I wouldn't want that kind of gospel album. I would want it to be Anthony Hamilton's version.

DMJ: As I said at the intro, a lot of us didn’t become aware of you until 2003, when you released COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM, but you were in the game long before that. So how did you get your start in the business?

AH: A guy by the name of Mark Sparks introduced me to New York from Charlotte, North Carolina. We went around searching for deals, doing showcases--got the attention of Andre Harrell. And we had a showcase at a studio called D&D in New York and Russell Simmons ... a lot of people were there—if I’m not mistaken, Puff was there. And Andre Harrell outbid everybody, so I landed a deal at Uptown / MCA with Jimmy Jacobs, who was my first manager and first production label deal that I signed to, through Uptown.

DMJ: Speaking of that album, COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM, right now it’s considered a classic, and it’s kind of hard to believe that it’s almost ten years since that came out. Did you have any indication at the time that it would connect so strongly with the fans?

AH: Not really. That’s all I had at that point; I was just ready to get it out. I felt pretty good about it. It was so different.

DMJ: When you look back at your body of work, so far, including the unreleased stuff that eventually came out once you became popular, how would you rate COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM?

AH: It’s great. I would put it out again today as my new record. I feel like it would probably be even bigger today than it was then. It sold one-point-four [million]. I could see it doing really, really well. It’s one of those albums that people are like, “Whoa, oh my God. He really went in.” The place I was in was just pure and vulnerable.

DMJ: When you take a look at music today, which lane would you say Anthony Hamilton is in, and how do you stand out from the crowd that’s out there right now?

AH: I’m in my own little lane: it’s real raw, real pure R&B/soul music. I present something that most people don’t present, and it’s just matter-of-fact, straight-up life, love, religion … just a pure form of life and the cycle of life without the glitz and glamour around it. I consider myself to be an old sangin’ man with a story to tell. I’m almost like Uncle Ed and his music box.

DMJ: I read somewhere where you were saying that maybe you might want to do a straight-ahead blues album. You have a lot of blues influence in your music now, but I think you meant more like a more traditional blues kind of thing. Was that correct, or was that misinformation that I read?


AH: I’m sorry, I got twins and they're making it hard for me to hear you. It's so aggravating.

DMJ: I was asking you if you would consider making a full-out blues album. Is that something that you would still like to do?

AH: Yes, definitely. Most of it is recorded already.

DMJ: And so do you have an approximate timeframe when you would like to get that out?

AH: Hopefully, the next record within the next year. It’s really, really good.

DMJ: I wasn’t going to go here yet, but since the twins are kind of in the background anyway: I know you were already a dad, but how is it now with such young twins taking up your time?

AH: Well, it’s brand-new, except for there’s two at one time, and they are making a bunch of noise. It’s almost like they know when you have a phone call coming in, and they have to compete with it. But it’s beautiful, though; it’s beautiful. They’re two beautiful boys, very smart, very outgoing personalities.

DMJ: It was kind of interesting when I read that about you, because a friend of mine, her and her husband just had twins less than a year ago … I want to say maybe nine months, or so.

Before I talk to you about your current single and the album, I want to talk about the single that you had out recently with Jill Scott, “So In Love.” You guys not only had great chemistry on the song, but also in the video. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys hooked up for that?

AH: Well, she heard a song that was played to my management; Eli Davis played the song for her. Eli and Charles Whitfield, who was one of the CEOs over at Hidden Beach--they still had a relationship. And they played the song for her; she liked it a lot. It was a song that I had written, and was just kind of sitting around, so I said, “If she likes it again tomorrow, then we got something.” And here we are. And the song had a nice run.

DMJ: And how was it shooting that video, because it looked like a lot of fun.

AH: We had a lot of fun, man. We have a great chemistry, great love and respect for each other. And we believed that moment was real … we were in love in that moment. It was beautiful.

DMJ: Nice, nice. I read that you were nominated for ten Grammys in the Best Rap/Song Collaboration category, and you’ve done duets like we were just talking about—the one with Jill Scott—and you’ve done some on your own projects. Some artists shy away from collaborations. Why have you done so many?

AH: I’ve been requested a lot for whatever textures I have in my voice; people tend to want to utilize that. It’s almost like getting a sample without having to pay the whole price, licensing fees … they come and get old Anthony. And the diversity: I can go from country to hip-hop to R&B to gospel to jazz, and it’s still believable. So I guess it’s the ability I have to adapt and deliver what it is that people need.

DMJ: And what do you get out of the process? Is there anything fulfilling for you, personally, when you’re dealing with so many different people??

AH: Yes. I love all genres of music, so it’s just almost like … wow, there’s no walls that I can’t climb over, and there’s no groups that I’m not invited in. Whether it’s the Crips or the pimps, I fit in.

DMJ: Why do you think R&B—and hip-hop in particular—why do you think that the marriage of the two is still so strong? Because I can remember back when Chaka Khan did “I Feel for You,” and everybody thought, “Well, maybe that’s going to be the fad and it’ll fade out.” But we still have R&B acts who are throwing hip-hop people on their tracks and vice versa: hip-hop heads calling up the R&B people to do the hooks. Why do you think that marriage of the two is still so strong after so many years?

AH: There’s a certain personality that we've been born in, and it started with hip-hop. R&B is where most of the hip-hop was influenced from. We took a melody and put poetry to it, and it just created its own lane. Matter of fact, the singing, the melodic R&B [are] the elements the best rap songs have in them. People tend to want to marry the two to get the best of both worlds: you get two different formats, you get two or three different audiences, and actually, it’s something that can go pop. So it’s very popular when you have a mixture of sound, a mixture of two. It’s almost like country and opera; it would be like, “Wow. This thing, here—what is this thing that I’m familiar with, but don’t know how to explain it, but I know what it feels like.” I don’t know, there’s a mystery marriage between R&B and hip-hop. But it's nice.

DMJ: Let’s go into your new single right now. Tell me about that. I understand it’s the first time that you’ve worked with Babyface?

AH: Yes. Well, this particular single, "Woo," we were up in Lake Tahoe at his place. When I decided to work with Babyface … well, I had years of wanting to work with him, so it finally came to the time, and I was excited.

We took like a tour bus, and rolled up to Lake Tahoe from L.A, and spent about five or six days at his house--just the fellas: me and Tony Dix and J.Q., and a guy named Brandon, and we just wrote. And men acting like boys, from time to time, with our ways of expressing ourselves, and “Woo” was one of the moments that we could all identify with. When you see that something (a woman), and you try to mind your business, but it's just like – “Woo! Let me get on out of here.” One of those moments.

DMJ: I understand that he worked on some other tracks, also, on the album, right?

AH: Yes, “Mad,” “Pray for Me,” “Woo,” and there’s a few that we’re going to put on the next record that are really amazing.

DMJ: Tell me a little bit about “Mad.” Just as a bit of disclosure, I’m going to tell you, typically, I like to listen to the person’s album before I speak with them, but your album was sent to me, literally, just moments before we started this interview, so I didn’t get a chance to really go in and listen to a lot of it. But I did scribble some notes, real quick, and “Mad” was one of the songs I scribbled down that I was going to ask you about. Can you tell me a little bit about that song? I don’t have a notation here, but it stood out in my mind for some reason.

AH: Well, “Mad” is one of the blues records. It’s almost like a "No Diggity" of today, just more bluesy. And it speaks to that moment, that person or persons that [are] grumpy--just moody and just don’t want to be bothered—in love, but just don’t want to be bothered. “I love you. Don’t talk to me, don’t touch me. I love you. I don’t want to go nowhere wit you, and I don’t want to see your family. I love you: I’m not hungry, I just want to sit here, and mind my own business, and I want you to leave me alone. Just leave me alone … but I love you. I ain’t going nowhere now, but just leave me alone for a minute.”

DMJ: Don’t bother me.

AH: Don’t bother me.

DMJ: Alright, I think a few people are going to be able to relate to that one.

AH: Oh, yeah.

DMJ: So tell me why the album is called BACK TO LOVE. I think you said, in your bio, that it stemmed from a new perspective and another burst of energy. What did you mean by that?

AH: What it really is is getting people back to what’s important. We spend all our time and all our energies and efforts trying to be successful, climb up the corporate ladder, get all the different degrees, become popular--singing, fireman, or whatever it may be. We forget family, forget loved ones, marriage, and just loving yourself. Sometimes climbing that ladder doesn’t really mean you’re loving yourself to the fullest. I want to remind people of what’s important: let’s get back to family and having a good time, laughing.

DMJ: You’ve had a lot of record company woes—a lot of situations that didn’t quite work out. What was the most challenging time for you when you were going through those various changes?

AH: The most challenging times were after three record deals had fallen apart, probably like in ’97. That’s when it really started to hit me, like, “Okay, that’s three deals that are not really working out, and I’ve been doing this for almost ten years. What’s going on? What does this mean?” And I felt like it was a punishment. I still had that love, that beautiful love for music. That was the sad part that cried out. That was about the hardest time.

DMJ: What did you think it was a punishment for?

AH: Not for anything in particular. Just one of those things, like, “Am I being punished? Did I do something? Am I supposed to be singing gospel? What’s going on?” Because you’ve always got church folk talking 'bout, “You need to be singing gospel." And I say, “You need to be singing R&B. Leave me alone. I'm mad at the way you talk to me.” So you go through that moment, questioning, “Okay, is this what God want me to do?”

DMJ: Did you ever think to yourself maybe it was time just to do a nine-to-five gig, and not do the music thing?

AH: Cutting hair was the closest to that nine-to-five that I would be. I was a barber, still a barber—I went to school for it. But never wanted to give up and just do that; I wouldn’t have been happy at all. I’d have been pushing peoples’ hairlines back like a mother.

AH: Everybody, I would've had a smiley face on them.

DMJ: You would have nobody waiting for your chair, right?

AH: They’d only come in there because they’d want to hear me singing. But no, just barbering would have been the only alternative. Maybe high-end retail—I love fashion, clothing.

DMJ: You’re on the newly reconstructed RCA Records now, so tell me how that deal came about, and how it’s different from the previous labels that you were affiliated with??

AH: They seem to take me as priority—Peter Edge, Tom Corson, Mark Pitts, Adonis Sutherlin, Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell—all those parts of the team that really see what it is I bring. So it’s time now. They’d been putting a lot of effort into music that doesn’t even have half the quality, and it’s like, “What were we thinking?” So the new RCA is going to be geared toward the old RCA, where they had real music, and people that really understood it and knew what music was. Being a priority has been lovely.

DMJ: I’m going to give you the floor, so to speak, for a second to tell me who are the other producers on the album, and what you think are some of the standout tracks. As I said, I didn’t have enough time to listen to it myself, and I think the fans would prefer hearing it from you anyway.

AH: Jerry Wonder—who’s an amazing producer who’s done stuff from Lauryn Hill to Wyclef to Mary J. Blige and beyond—we have actually a great song featuring Keri Hilson that is called “Never Let Go”; I really love that one. Salaam Remi, who’s known for the Amy Winehouse albums, also Jazmine Sullivan and Nas. He’s been one of my favourites for forever, so to get back in with him was amazing. Kelvin Wooten, who brought “Pass Me Over” [on the AIN'T NOBODY WORRYIN' album]. And Dre from Dre and Vidal, he and Toby Ryan. Toby Ryan is the young man from City High, and was in Sister Act II, so he’s a great writer, and we all got together and sang, and wrote some songs.

We have James Poyser, who’s always done tons of great music from The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, Bilal … also brought people "Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens" (from the COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM album). These are some of my favourite tunes from my record.

DMJ: If it was strictly your call for what would be the next single, what would you put out?

AH: We’re going to have to let the album come out, and I’d like for people to start listening, so I can start listening to what they're saying, so I can feel what they're feeling.

DMJ: Get the feedback.

AH: Yeah. If it goes along with what I’m thinking, then I think we have something there.

DMJ: Well, that makes sense. Just a couple more questions before we wrap up, real quick. At the end of the day, when you’re not onstage, or you’re not in the studio, who is Anthony Hamilton, meaning, what holds your interest when you’re not doing music?

AH: I’m a father and a husband. I love to cook. Just being able to be a provider and the man of the house, that’s what I take a lot of pride in—being a provider for my boys and my wife. And there’s still so much music in me, it never escapes me.

DMJ: I understand, outside of music, that you’re the national spokesperson for an organization called CASA, and I was wondering if you could tell me about that?

AH: CASA is Court Appointed Special Advocates, who take kids in a foster care system and get them back with their parent, if possible--if not, to a relative or safest place closer to home, to provide stability to kids, and just being a big brother/big sister, or whatever you have to offer.

DMJ: And how did you become involved with them?

AH: They talked to me, knowing that I had been through life with no parent. I got adopted at fifteen, so I guess that kind of stood out as a flag to the guy who understood that type thing. And I accepted it, gladly, because I understand that lane.

DMJ: I just want to say that I was real curious about how you connected with that, because I’m actually familiar with our—I’m in New Jersey—with our local branch of CASA, and I was actually one of the volunteers with them, for a time.So I understand completely the work that’s involved, and the situations that the kids are in, so anybody who can do that, or anybody who can stand up for them, or rep for them in any kind of way just has my utmost respect, because they do great work there.

Before we wrap up, tell me if there’s going to be a tour coming up, or what you’ve got coming up in terms of the road. Can we look for you out anywhere?

AH: Yes, I’m finishing up the "Woo" tour now, and we will start another tour, headliner tour, toward the February/March timeframe. "Back to Love," the tour.

DMJ: Cool, we’ll look for that. And where can we stay updated with you online? I’m assuming you’re probably on Facebook and Twitter

AH: Yeah, you can go to anthonyhamilton.com or you can go to hamiltonanthony on Twitter; and my Facebooks are there, Anthony Hamilton—it’s two personals and one fan page.

DMJ: All right. Well, thanks so much for your time. But before we go, is there anything you want to say that we haven’t mentioned?

AH: No, I’m actually pretty good. I think it was well done--the interview there. I really enjoyed it.

DMJ: I definitely again want to thank you so much for your time, and appreciate all the music that you’ve given us, so far. Looking forward to really sitting down and listening to the new joint. But anytime that you want to talk about anything that you’re doing—any touring, anything that you’ve got going on—SoulMusic.com, our doors are open, and you can come through and let us know.

AH: Well, I’ll be looking forward to that. And if you need me, I’m around—I got more answers to questions, and questions to answer.

DMJ: All right, sir, I’m going to let you get back to the little ones.

AH: All right, man. I appreciate it.

DMJ: All right, man. Have a good one—be blessed.

AH: You too, brother.

About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.
  
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