Luke James Talks Writing Songs, the State of R&B, and ‘Whispers in the Dark’

Fresh off his packed-house performance at SOB’s in New York, and in the glow of his recently and readily downloadable, smooth-operated mixtape Whispers in the Dark, Luke James is not just your next R&B heartthrob: he’s suited up to be one of the next great masterminds of music with both production and singing talents in spades. As "Who Is Luke James" is the seducing veneer of his internet presence (follow him on Twitter at @whoislukejames), you’ll be well advised to directly listen to his incandescent collection of abundant affection, compassion, and empathy for the open-hearted.

I talked to James about the making of what you’re about to hear, his take on the state of R&B, movies that remain influential to his craft and how James wishes to be understood as a kind of Prince the Redeemer for the forgotten sake of letting love rule for the new year and in later days. (And to reiterate again, ladies, he is a dreamboat.)

I did a little research and I came across the fact that you were a songwriter before you launched your solo career. I was curious to know what were some of your favorite songs you’ve written for other people? Like you almost wished you kept that song for yourself!
I loved the Justin Bieber song "That Should Be Me" that I co-write with The Messengers. Great record. I dealt with the song, so naturally it was a great feeling. And it kind of felt like something I would want to do as an artist myself. There’s one I did with Chris Brown: "Crawl." Love that one. And the song I did with Tank off of his latest album, "This I How I Feel." It has a really good vibe.

So you are Grammy-nominated this year! I wanted to know, how does it honestly feel like to be nominated. Keep it real! Are you truly happy just to be recognized, or do you really just want to win?
I’m thrilled to be acknowledged, especially for this gift and this talent I’ve been working so hard on. To be acknowledged and be seen as a vocalist and performer, and to be in a category of Best Male R&B Performance, is awesome, and especially by the Grammy committee—that’s the height of our music business. It’s awesome.

And specifically for a song that the fans online have been referring to as a "panty-dropping" single! I read comments and the female fan base is just growing. They seem to really appreciate and adore your appreciation of women all-around.
Wow! I’ll definitely try to keep that going!

Tell us more about the album title Whispers in the Dark. It’s enigmatic enough to lead someone to think, "Well, what does he mean by that?" But also, it makes sense in that if you’re in the dark, you’re not trying to make a lot of sense—most likely—so, it can be interpreted quite a few ways.
Well, Whispers in the Dark is a line I used in a song I have on my official album, and the song is basically like, “Whispers in the dark tend to you call you where you are.” Put it like this: at night, I deal with my demons, whatever that is, good or bad, and it’s usually those voices you hear that make you recognize them; they’re calling you. I’m speaking from personal experience, but I feel like other people can relate to having those voices in your head and usually that happens when you’re alone, and that nighttime. That kind of vibe and of the unknown. You can’t see what’s there. [Laughs] Does that make sense?

Yeah, yeah it does! And I figured that, too. I just wanted to hear from you directly on and from the album’s perspective. I had my own idea?
And what was that?

Whispers in the Dark to me meant… just a very secretive moment whether with yourself or with someone, and you wouldn’t necessarily mind getting caught, either. And it doesn’t have to something physical that is happening. Just in the sense that someone just caught you; someone could potentially catch you.
Well, that’s exactly right! There are so many different ways of taking it. People always ask me about my music, “What do you want people to take from it?” It’s whatever makes them happy. Whatever feels good to them. As long as they take something.

That definitely leads to the next question, and it’s kind of a two-parter. I did see the video for "Make Love to Me," which I enjoyed and I peeped that Kelly Rowland cameo! But from watching it, I knew I wanted to ask you: do you consider yourself an old soul? While watching it, I was thinking, this is some Gerald Levert, Barry White, with a little bit of Marvin Gaye, and you kind of remind me of Prince, too.
I’ll take that!

And I thought of that because it’s not like today’s contemporary R&B where—and this is where the second part comes in—everyone seems to have an opinion on the state of R&B. Trey Songz said this; I interviewed Ne-Yo about it and he said it lacked soul; but when I was watching your video, you’re modern, but you also seemed to be harkening back to the greatness of traditional R&B, and I was just wondering about your thoughts on that. 
I pride myself on feeling. I can’t do it if I can’t feel it and I guess that exhibits through me. My thing is if I feel it, people can feel it. Also, I’m from New Orleans, and you’ll meet a lot of people of New Orleans, everybody from people we know like Lil Wayne to everyone else, that’s just the way people are raised. The way that city is, that part of town. It’s a very laid-back, soulful kind of place and I think naturally, that’s just how we are, I’m not the only one; it’s the upbringing. I’m surrounded by older people. I was just put on to a lot of things a lot of classic music early on and I guess it just came a part of me. That’s just how people are from New Orleans. And I also just really respect classic, great music of the past. They really laid out the foundation for actual feeling and in giving yourself completely without repercussions. It’s just saying, "I’m hurting." And people want to hear that.

And the state of R&B… I feel like you can’t judge art. Everybody has an interpretation. And this is a business. People got families to feed. So if you’re not buying the organic-feeling songs that everybody professes they want, but they’re not supporting it and want to freeload on, you can’t get mad at that person for switching to something sellable for the moment at least because it is a business. If you buy that kind of music, people will make what I like to call those personal songs. And when creating them, you’re taking a chance because not everybody’s going to play it, but in actuality, everybody cries. But I guess radio, and the labels, they aren’t willing to give it a chance. People haven’t been supporting that in the past. It takes a whole union of people to do it. One person can’t do it alone. One person can’t be speaking some knowledge and then other people are just trying to have a good time. Everybody has to be on the same, be promoting the same feeling. Let’s make music that you can feel and they will. Let’s say or teach somebody something. What’s going on? Let’s actually talk about what’s going on aside from the club. There’s life after the club.

Do you feel your music is more sexual, sensual, or atmospheric? How would you describe it?
It’s very emotional. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. I like "sensual." "Sexual" seems so physical. But I do think it’s a little bit of both. The mental, it’s soulful, and can be a physical thing. I would love for anyone listening to my music to start [feeling it] on the inside.

As for the songs on the mixtape, which ones were difficult to create? Or took a lot out of you emotionally?
The song "Oh God." I had that song, that composition from Danja. He had produced it. I had to live with it. When I first heard it, I had a structure, melody, and hook idea. But it just wasn’t happening for me and I had to put it back in the oven. Just wait for it to come to me. And one day I went back into the booth, and did it. It was tough.

And now a common question. What can we look forward to from you next year in 2013?
Oh, man! Hopefully a lot more Luke James! I am still working on the project [my debut LP]. Everyday, everyday. I’m learning something new, so I’m just going to keep recording until the official release date. Keep promoting myself and hopefully join this new movement of great music and new faces that are coming and just helping music transition to a more beautiful place where everyone is somewhat pleased. I’m also getting into acting and hopefully that will be something that will jump off.

TV or film first?
I would love to do film.

What are some of your favorite movies?
Mo’ Betta Blues. The Lost Boys. Purple Rain. Glory. I like different genres of movies. I like Manhattan by Woody Allen. I love his movies because they’re kind of cerebral. He’s almost like a contrast to Spike Lee, yet I find their films similar.

Both often based in New York City…
I like Spike Lee movies too. That’s where I’m at.

Is there a genre of music that you haven’t toyed with and experimented with yet and would like to? Because again, from the video and mixtape, I was thinking it was jarring to me—in a good way—how it sounded so different from stuff I hear today and it’s why I compared you to those legends. And I thought, "I wonder if he would ever do a song with David Guetta?"
With the music, I always want to take it to another level. Another foundation. It’s got to be like a dream. Where else can you take it? That’s how I want my music to feel. I like a vibe, and I don’t care if it takes seven minutes long to express it. It’s music. So, I don’t know… maybe alternative. I like to think of my music as classic R&B with the alternative and spiritual. I merge those things. Like Coldplay has a lot of soul. You can tell those boys went to church. Those songs just take you somewhere. Those chords, and how Chris [Martin] sings certain lines and what they say. And I just think my interpretation is all of that. I think everything I love you hear it in the music. And when the actual album comes out, you’ll hear more of where I want to go.

Last, last question! You touched on this earlier, but possibly explain more. What do you want your female fans—and male fans, too—to get from you?
One thing I want to say is that it’s OK to feel. We live in such a numb world, but it’s still a feeling because we know it’s numb. We fight it, but it’s OK to express your feelings and know what you want. Go for it. Life is too short to not fully live. I’m learning how to be in the moment and just say like, "Wow. I’m nominated for a Grammy. This is awesome." To really bask in it instead of being like, "OK. Nominated for a Grammy. What’s the next thing?" I’m trying to hold in on my feelings and become one with it. So, if I had anything to say to both the guys and the girls is that it’s OK to feel. It’s OK to rock side to side and say, "Oh my God, I love this." It’s OK to scream. At shows, people can be so uptight! And I move around a lot because I get so into my music. But also, I’m hoping I can help you guide your way out of that very thing you’ve been used to, to this new thing that is not really new. You expressed yourself when you were a child. You weren’t afraid to cry and express your feelings. Now that you’re older, we have this tough skin so we don’t show anyone we’ve got feelings. We’re human. And once people become more humanized, the world will be a better place, more full of love. If that makes any sense. Let’s make this fun again. Have fun, dammit!

Beyoncé Wants You to Know That Famous People Wished Her a Happy B-Day

Yesterday was Beyoncé’s 31st birthday, which God’s Most Perfect Child no doubt spent the day yachting, standing at the front of the boat with a cool Mediterranean breeze blowing through her golden curls. What’d you get her for her B-Day? I had a special calendar made for her in which every page is April and every day is the fourth. I know her so well! I also attached a note that read, “To B, you can do no wrong in my eyes, and don’t worry, I have erased the memory of watching Obsessed, although I would pick you over that stupid blonde whore any day, xoxo Ty Ty.” But I don’t know if she got my present because my note is not on her website!

Yes, Bey shared a handful of well wishes from her family and friends and famous family and famous friends on her website. All of the stars came out for this one: Solange, Tina Knowles, Mama Carter. Even Gwyneth Paltrow and her brood of Little Martins sent a long a birthday note, which I’m guessing you can see on GOOP when Paltrow shares the best spots to purchase organic birthday cards made from the shells of quail eggs. Take a look below:

Note that she scratched, “that’s a lot of paper!” on the side there. What does that mean? Some Illuminati code or just a private joke between BFFs?

More importantly, Michelle Williams, presumably the one from Destiny’s Child, also send a note, signed “Michelle Williams,” because you know she feels like she always has to remind Bey who she is.

Watch Coldplay’s Tribute to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch

After a long battle with cancer, Beastie Boys co-founder Adam Yauch, aka "MCA," died yesterday at the age of 47. Yauch’s passing elicited tributes from all over the music world, including one from Coldplay–and its frontman, Chris Martin–during the band’s concert last night at the Hollywood Bowl. After the jump, watch Martin and Co’s acoustic rendition of the seminal Beastie Boys classic, "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) [via ONTD]

Morning Links: Rick Ross Gets a Ride from DJ Khaled, Nicki Minaj Imitates Lil Wayne

● According to essayist and homeowner John Jeremiah Sullivan, eight or nine people make a pilgrimage to his house each day, which is also the house where the Peytons “live” on One Tree Hill. [GQ] ● Bill Clinton isn’t afraid to make fun at himself or the Clinton Foundation in this new Funny or Die video, wherein he is joined by a “celebrity army” in mocking his “actionable climate change initiatives.” [THR] ● Rick Ross is hitching a ride home on DJ Khaled’s tour bus after suffering two seizures on two flights in one day. Easy riding, Bawse. Ruh! [TMZ]

● Nicki Minaj’s Lil Wayne impression is dead on, even though she forgot that double styrofoam cup. [Karen Civil] ● As per a post card in a new batch of correspondences from the godfather of Gonzo, a hangover cure from Hunter S. Thompson: “12 amyl nitrites (one box), in conjunction with as many beers as necessary.” [Playboy] ● David Fincher says that Scarlett Johansson was just too sexy to play the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. “Scarlett Johansson was great. It was a great audition, I’m telling you. But the thing with Scarlett is, you can’t wait for her to take her clothes off,” he says in this month’s Vogue, explaining that Rooney Mara’s mysterious allure was a better fit for the role. [Vogue] ● Coldplay’s Chris Martin thinks that Kanye West has changed the way we listen to music by blurring genres such that, “You don’t see so many goths, hippies, rockers and hip hoppers any more,” he said.[NME]

Morning Links: Beyoncé Debuts Video For ‘Love On Top’, Sean Penn Calls the Tea Party Racist

● There have already been videos for “Run the World (Girls),” “1+1,” and “Countdown,” and now the New Edition-inspired “Love On Top” makes four from Four. [Beyoncé/YouTube] ● Sean Penn suspects that the Tea Party — or the “Get the N-Word Out of the White House Party,” as he thinks they might be more aptly called — has just one, very racist thought: “At the end of the day, there’s a big bubble coming out of their heads, saying, ‘Can we just lynch him?'” he told Piers Morgan. [THR] ● Lindsay Lohan faces another year and a half in the slammer if she is found guilty on Wednesday of violating her probation by skipping community service dates and therapy appointments. [TMZ]

● Meet Mary Kate and Ashley’s rising younger sister, Elizabeth, who has been careful to make sure her debut is as an adult actor rather than a child star. [NYT] ● “Alan,” a dead man whose body will be mummified “like an Egyptian pharaoh” on Britain’s Channel 4, just might be reality television’s first post-life star. [DailyMail] ● Coldplay named their upcoming album Mylo Xyloto because they wanted something “Un-Googleable” for their fifth album, and also because, as Chris Martin says, “Mylo” is “just a great name…for anything.” [NYT]

Morning Links: Scott Disick Is Well Endowed, Is Jessica Simpson Pregnant?

● Conrad Murray’s trial kicked off to a grim start yesterday with a photo of Michael Jackson’s dead body stretched out on a hospital gurney, an eerie recording of Jackson mumbling, “I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life,’ ‘he’s the greatest entertainer of all time,'” and tears all around. [LAT] ● Apparently Kourtney Kardashian’s beau, Scott Disick, doesn’t do so bad for himself in the down-under department (“It’s like an elephant’s trunk!”), and Kim thinks he needs some new underwear (“This is freaking me out!”). [xoJane] ● Apparently Spencer Pratt owes so much money that his agents don’t even bother answering his phone calls anymore. Did he buy too many crystals? Not enough crystals? [Huff Post]

● Gwyenth Paltrow rang in her 39th year with a nice birthday dinner double-date with her husband Chris Martin and their best friends Beyoncé and Jay-Z. [JustJared] ● Roman Polanski debuted his tell-all doc about his life under house-arrest at the Zurich Film Festival yesterday. In it, he apologizes to the young woman he sexually assaulted for making her “a double victim: my victim and a victim of the press.” [THR] ● The most tabloidy of tabloids are reporting that Jessica Simpson — who has been known to fluctuate weight — is pregnant because, lately, she’s been wearing more flowing tops than usual. [Celebuzz]

Chris Martin Is Not A GOOP Fan

Anyone read The New Yorker “Talk of the Town” piece about Gwyneth Paltrow’s dinner parties? Apparently if you throw every random celebrity you can think of into one room and trap them there for hours, you get one of Gwynnie’s Dinners For Food. Jay-Z, Alex Rodriguez, Cameron Diaz, the Seinfelds, Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, Michael Stipe, Christy Turlington, Martha Stewart, and Wendi Murdoch were all there. It’s enough to make your head explode. From the write-up, it seems like everyone had a grand old time — except for Coldplay frontman and GOOP husband Chris Martin.

This whole thing is worth reading just for moments like this:

Mario Batali, in pink cargo shorts, was talking to Ruth Reichl. “She eats like a truck driver,” he said of Paltrow. He recalled being in Valencia, Spain, and “watching her eat an entire pan of paella as big as a manhole cover.”

Michael Stipe added, “Once, a duck she was cooking caught fire, and she threw it in the pool.”

And:

Paltrow greeted people by the door, holding a glass of cucumber water. Her mother, Blythe Danner, arrived.

“Hi, Mommy,” Paltrow said.

Danner unfurled a white monogrammed cloth: “I brought you something. Daddy’s napkin.”

“Oh, boy,” Batali said. “The tears are gonna fly now, baby.”

To me, the most interesting detail is that “Diaz, A-Rod, and Batali sat near Chris Martin, who had arrived looking cranky. (A publicist warned, ‘He doesn’t want to talk’).” Can you imagine how much Chris Martin probably despises these things? Getting home after a long day of composing great masterworks in contemporary sentimentalism only to find that Martha Stewart, Michael Stipe, and Jessica Seinfeld are all just kicking it in your house saying pretentious things? That would get old real quick. Chris Martin should write a tell-all book.

Links: Gwyneth Paltrow’s vs. Coldplay, Liev Schreiber in Drag

● Leonardo DiCaprio is preparing to get all Christian Bale for his new film Inception. The actor is set to start a crash diet so he can appear emaciated for a pivotal scene in the film. [Radar] ● After a four-year hiatus, the VH1 Divas Concert is back on with everybody’s favorite incoherent diva Paula Abdul as host. [JustJared] ● Those rumors that Gwyneth Paltrow is the Yoko of Coldplay are back on now that the actress is allegedly trying to get husband Chris Martin to leave the band and go solo. [BettyConfidential]

● Neil Patrick Harris has been added to the revolving door of guest judges on American Idol that already include Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, and Joe Jonas. [LAT] ● There’s a feud brewing between Jay-Z and Bill O’ Reilly; the latter doesn’t care for the rapper’s new song that references O’Reilly, telling him to “fall back.” [Rap-Up] ● Liev Schreiber calls his turn as a transvestite in Taking Woodstock “exhilaratingly humiliating,” saying it was hard for him to look good in a dress. [People]

Links: Robert Downey Jr. Gets Gaunt, Alexis Bledel on ‘ER’

● Pull on those spandex pants, cause hair metal is coming back this summer with Def Leppard, Cheap Trick, and Poison going on tour together. I don’t know if I can handle that much eyeliner in one night. [RollingStone] ● Robert Downey Jr. has been trying to lose weight for his role as Sherlock Holmes due to the urging of Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Martin’s advice to Downey was to get as gaunt as possible so as to not mess up the singer’s vision of the literary detective. [Icelebz] ● Lily Allen made Mark Ronson pay for a helicopter to join him on stage at an event. Ronson jokingly offered anything Allen wanted, but was shocked when he received a $10,000 quote for a helicopter. Lesson learned. [ShowBizSpy]

● Alexis Bledel, a.k.a. Rory of Gilmore Girls, will play a new intern on the final episode of ER. Someone told her that show is ending, right? [People] ● Is that Marie Claire reality show Running in Heels trying a little too hard? They told the “contestants” to only eat carrots and celery whilst “dining” at the Hearst Café. We all know it’s the Vogue girls who don’t eat. [P6] ● Want a chunk of pop culture history? You can own a piece (or pieces) of Conan O’Brien’s set, all for a good cause. The platforms that the band played on will cost you $200, while some fake brick is only $40. [MSNBC]