Savoir Flair interviews soul singer Aloe Blacc, of “Wake Me Up” fame, ahead of Dubai’s Blended music festival.
“It’s almost impossible to be angry when you’re dancing. If I can create music that will make people dance, then I know for sure I’m making people happy”, 32-year-old California soul singer Aloe Blacc explains to me at the Ritz-Carlton DIFC ahead of his performance at Dubai’s Blended music festival. Optimistic and eye-opening messages, soulful musicality, and folk-infused lyrical sensibility are the touchstones of the rapper-turned-singer’s folk/soul/pop tunes, which include everything from his 2010 track I Need a Dollar to his most recent smash single, Wake Me Up, featuring Swedish DJ Avicii (the song has sold 2.8 million copies in the US alone). Here, Savoir Flair sits down with Blacc to talk about his road to stardom, how the IWC gala in Geneva inspired Wake Me Up, and Dr. Dre’s influence on his music.
Is this your first time in Dubai?
No, this is my second time in Dubai. I was here four years ago with a party that I threw, called ‘Do Over’. It’s from Hollywood and we’ve taken it around the world and we were lucky enough to bring it to Dubai.
And what does the party consist of?
It’s a daytime party with multiple DJs over an eight-hour period. Really, it’s just a celebration of music. We don’t give any instruction to the DJs on what to play and we don’t take any requests, so you can get a whole different experience every time you participate in the party.
When you were here last, and how long did you spend in Dubai?
I was here for about four days.
And what were your impressions of the city?
Well, you know the first impression I got was that everything was so big. The buildings are big, and the streets are wide, so there’s this sense of pride that you get. And the heat was oppressive.
I’m wondering if you could explain in your own words your journey as an artist. How have you seen your progression?
I started as a hip-hop artist back in the 90s. I started experimenting with different styles in the mid-2000s and that’s when I started singing. I got laid off of my job so I had a real opportunity to focus.
You were a consultant before you were a singer, am I right?
Right. During that time I wrote a lot of songs and tried out different styles of singing. The record label made a suggestion that I should try out soul music. And it worked. I wrote the song I Need a Dollar and it became this really popular song around the world.
How do you view yourself as an artist today?
I still think soul music is my focus, but I like to update the production. My lyrics and my vocals still focus on soul, but I’m adding in hip-hop, rock, and pop production to the music.
What does your creative process look like? What inspires you? How do you go about writing a song?
Songs come one at a time. I could be flying on an airplane or driving a car or washing dishes, cooking, or just sitting around listening to someone talk, but not really listening, and I’m writing a song. The idea starts with either a melody or a lyric, which then I eventually develop over time to create a clear idea or concept. Typically the chorus comes first, and then I write the lyrics around it.
So it’s always the melody first, and then the lyrics?
It happens both ways actually; with Wake Me Up it was lyrics before melody.
I wrote and created I Need a Dollar during a time when I was a struggling artist who was unknown.
Speaking of Wake Me Up, I heard that you wrote this song when you were on a flight from Geneva coming from the IWC Gala. Can you talk a little about your inspiration for this song and how this idea came to you?
After the experience with I Need a Dollar, many things started to change for me. I wrote and created I Need a Dollar during a time when I was a struggling artist who was unknown, living in a home with five guys who were also musicians, just struggling and trying to make it. So, to go from that to the drastic change of flying around the world and attending galas and being recognized as an international star, I felt like my life was so incredible that it was just a dream. I wrote the lyrics ‘wake me up when it’s all over’ because on this particular trip I was in the finest hotels with the best service and on this first-class flight and it couldn’t get any better. IWC takes the time to show their ambassadors and the friends of the company how much they care about them and the quality of the hospitality is really inspiring.
When you were coming up with the song, did you think it would be such a hit? Were you surprised by its success?
It’s hard to ever know what’s going to be a hit. I’ve written a lot of songs and some that I thought were going to be a hit didn’t make it and some that I didn’t think were going to be hits really made it. I just knew that it felt like a very strong statement when I wrote these lyrics. And that’s why I brought them to the studio when I met with Mike Einziger from Incubus and Avicii. I knew this was something that could potentially be very impressionable. Making a hit depends on a lot of things, so, we were also lucky.
It’s hard to ever know what’s going to be a hit. I’ve written a lot of songs and some that I thought were going to be a hit didn’t make it and some that I didn’t think were going to be hits really made it.
Speaking of hits, I read that you wrote the song ‘I’m the Man’ to impress Dr. Dre, and then the song was used in the Beats by Dre commercial? How did this come to be?
I had a meeting with Dr. Dre and he was interested in talking to me because he liked the song I Need a Dollar and he wanted to see how we could work together. We had a great discussion about all kinds of music and artists and he made the suggestion that what I should do is write stronger themes and bigger songs. And I thought, “I’ve already been writing strong themes”, but I figured I should take him up on that suggestion and write something he would enjoy. And there really is nobody else in the contemporary music world that has had the type of career that Dr. Dre has had, so I figured, he’s the man.
So the lyrics are about him?
It was just the idea. It was something I could see Dr. Dre driving through LA singing and not being ashamed to say.
How would you describe the sound of your most recent album?
I would describe it as brand new old soul. Because the production is new, the production is employing modern techniques, I wanted it to sound as big and strong as a Dr. Dre album but I wanted it to have that old soul musicality of Stevie Wonder with a little bit of an edge like Jimi Hendrix.
Have you been inspired by anything in Dubai that might translate into a song one day?
I actually might be. I may have already come up with something. I’m always recording ideas. It could take years. My ideas are like flowers that take time to grow and eventually they blossom.
That’s all you’re going to give me?
[Laughs] Yes, that’s all I’m going to say.
We hope to hear the song one day.