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!

Kendra Morris: “I Was Born to Sing”

The enigmatic return of the singer-songwriter may be well on its way with the upcoming debut LP release of blue-eyed soul chanteuse Kendra Morris, who’s based in New York but hails from St. Petersburg, Florida.  In contrast to the overloaded (now simmering) pop-dance/dub-step musings still flooding mainstream music, Morris’ LP The Banshee (out August 28th) is all about recalling love, lust, despair, and redemption in an emotive tone that is both strong and welcoming. She’s a little blue-sy, kind of sassy, vintage-inspired, and definitely quirky, as all was showcased in the quasi-baleful, black-and-white video for her single "Spitting Teeth.” During a casual lunch at Cafe Pick Me Up in Alphabet City, Morris talks about how she got where she is, her aspirations, and what she thinks of music today.

What are some of your earliest memories of singing?
I was kind of a loner kid, so I would collect stuffed animals and lay them all over my bed and perform for them. Also, my parents would have parties and force them to listen to me sing! I remember differentiating the voices that I had – this little voice and a big voice – and there are videos of us, and I’m like four, five years old, with me asking, "Do you want my little voice or my big voice!"  They say that we know who we are by the time we are seven, at the core, and since then, I always knew I wanted to be a singer.

Back then, I was even into musical theatre; I went to a performing arts school, and I could feel I was developing an ear for music. After high school, there was that, "So what are you going to do?  Are you going to go to college…".  and I didn’t get accepted into a lot of the schools I wanted to get into and a lot of my grades weren’t that good, but I knew I wanted to get involved with singing.  I didn’t know how to go about it, I didn’t know how to do it, I just knew somehow I had to.

So did you end up going to college?
Yes. I got into University of Southern Florida last-minute. While there, I partied through all my classes but still made an effort to be active in music. I became a part of my ex-boyfriend’s rap/rock band (laughs) and started writing hooks for them; they would invite me on stage – sometimes pry me on stage – and get me to sing all the stuff I wrote. I had a job and a contract at Busch Gardens as a singer and dancer, and I’m not a dancer; needless to say they did not renew the contract. Eventually I left school, but I still knew I wanted to be in music, so I moved backed in with my parents and started working at Johnny Rockets (which was awful). I then moved to Orlando and just did whatever I could that involved singing, and finally taught myself the guitar. And then I decided to start a band, it was an all-girl band. Did the all-girl band pick-up? We created some music and really tried to get the ball rolling on things, starting in Florida, and by the time we got to New York after a tiresome tour, everything was crazy after having spent so much time together, and all the girls were mad at each other. I took a break for two months to get my New York experience, but eventually we broke-up and two of the girls didn’t want to break-up, so they were really bitter about it. While I was living in this loft in Bushwick, depressed about what happened, I had this 8-track and I would just spend hours making demos, working on my voice, singing and practicing, and getting into layers, harmonies, and melodies and then putting them online, on MySpace, for whomever would listen.  Through that, I ended up meeting a guy named Jeremy Page, and I started singing at venues across the city; just me and my guitar.

Page is now my musical partner, my producer; he co-writes a lot of songs with me. At the time, he was living in Boston, and we’d get together to work on music. So, I’ve kind of been all over place.

What are some of your favorite songs you’ve written? 
Thesongs that have been released so far. They really set the tone for what will be on the album. The music that’s been out really draws you in, and it’s  great because the songs don’t give every emotion up. You shouldn’t put all your feelings in one place. The songs should show your range, and you want to keep them wondering for the next song. I remember exactly where I was sitting in my apartment when I was writing the lyrics for "Concrete Waves.” I remember exactly where I was sitting in my apartment, writing these lyrics. It’s this strange song with odd chords.

It does have an eerie feeling, an odd construction to it…
Yeah, and like with most pop stars or music today, there is no melody structure. They have a chorus but there is no real chorus structure provided; you don’t know when the chorus is coming. You don’t hear a lot of songs in a minor key, especially in pop music.

That answer leads into my next question: what do you think of pop music today?
Today’s pop music has no real choruses, no change in melody or vocal structureanything from Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj. There are choruses but they’re more like hooks. The biggest songs you hear are very hook-based, like Minaj’s song "Super Bass" with that "boom, ba doom doom, boom ba doom doom.”  It builds, but you don’t hear the chorus.

How did you end up meeting DJ Premier who remixed "Concrete Waves?”
It’s funny how that happened.  I played a show and there was an after-party down the street. This kid who was at the show who’s friends with the bass player knows Premier. Jeremy was like, "Don’t look now, but there’s my hero.” Jeremy is this big guy, and here he was freaking out over Premier. It was really funny, and somehow he, well we both, got the courage to talk to him through that kid, and he is the nicest guy ever, super humble. He actually offered to remix the track [for Wax Poetics]. It was a dream to have him do it.

What are you looking forward to the most for the rest of the year?
I want to get my name and my album out there, for people to not just hear my music, but also connect with it. I feel really happy doing what I’m doing. I was born to sing.

Industry Insiders: Amy Rosenberg, Miami’s Music of the Heart

Don’t tell Amy Rosenberg that Miami’s not a capital of culture. Rosenberg is the founder of the Overtown Music Project, a nonprofit that seeks to revive the musical traditions of Miami’s downtrodden Overtown neighborhood, once the artistic heart of the city’s African American population. Leaving behind her former life as a lawyer, Rosenberg now dedicates her time to curating major events that feature musicians from Overtown and beyond in an effort to rekindle the spirit of an area that was once considered the “Harlem of the South.”

According to your profile for Ocean Drive, you are both an attorney and an environmentalist; how do you feel they are connected?
Wow, what a great question! I’m going to have to think about that for a second…!  Well, in truth, I don’t practice law anymore. I practiced for a little bit of time, but I found that my true calling was in the non-profit, and it’s been five years in doing so, so far. I just feel more capable, it’s more sustainable, no chair-people involved.
Do you feel you get more out of working with non-profit organizations?
Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely more fulfilling.  And it’s like, everyday if I have an idea, I can just go for it.  I mean, law school was certainly good for me in that I learned how to approach certain things and do those things the right way – it is great to have that sort of background.  Personally though, [with non-profit] it’s so much more enriching.
And you are currently developing a think tank for the Overtown Music Project, could you expand more on that?
Well, yes and no; that’s for another non-profit project, but let me give you a little back story on each. I am the director of an organization called the Overtown Music Project in which we do all sorts of events that showcase the history of Overtown itself, a neighborhood that was once called the Harlem of the South. It was where big acts performed, such as Ella Fitzgerald. For a while after, time passed, the area became shuttered, and it was full of vacant loft areas and space. It kind of became a shadow of what it was, and so what we’re doing is trying to bring it back to its music residencies. Like this past fall, we had an event called EPIC at a place called LIV at the Fountainbleu Hotel, and we had all these big bands there and Talib Kweli performed with an 18 piece orchestra.
What are you looking to expand for OMP in 20212?  What projects are on the horizon?
Definitely more music residencies, and right now we are working with the University of Miami to create a music program and hopefully more universities in the future. We definitely want other interesting inputs as well and we’re working on a lot of mixing and mashing with performances throughout this upcoming year, with the formats of contemporary music and hip-hop acts.  
You seem to have a particular interest in the history of Miami and its music connections.  Miami is often stereotyped as being a place with not a lot of culture, and seems like you are definitely trying to change that perception. Why is that?
Well, I do think that Miami does have a short memory span and we’re a city that’s really into the new, but we are still developing. For me personally, I’m drawn to Overtown for personal reasons. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and eventually he ended up moving his family [for better opportunities]. He had a business partner as well, and they soon worked for Diana Ross. And growing up, I was exposed to just amazing music. Motown, blues, jazz, funk, soul.  My family would also host these Friday night dinners and they would have every person imaginable present at the table. And so, three years ago while I was in Overtown, I had this creepy moment I guess you can call it (laughs). I just had this epiphany that as a tribute to my grandfather I would make it back to this area.
You have this strong connection to Miami.  At first glance, especially when visiting, it’s just such a different environment, which you notice quickly when you’re from the east coast for example. Is it more than its glossy appearance?
Yeah, I mean, there is depth here. You just have to seek it. I think that we as a city are coming into our own, becoming more of an established city. Another purpose of OMP is to bring people together. Our last event was the most racially age-diverse crowd that I’ve ever been to, and definitely for Miami. It was, like, from 21 to 81. Black, white, Latin, Asian, you name it, which I think was reflective of Miami and that’s really important to us.
You definitely do see a collage of people like that in Miami. It’s not just one "type" of person.
Yeah, when I was in Pennsylvania, there were no people of color in the area, and we were one of two Jewish families in the neighborhood. I don’t remember seeing a person of color until I was about eight years old. Diversity is good though. It’s good to have a mix. It’s just better that way.
Do you ever work outside of Miami for your non-profit projects?
No, but we are trying to figure out how to build a bridge between Harlem and Miami; that’s a goal for us, for sure. We just need a strategy. Like with Overtown, we would like to figure out how to connect the two because they are both so heavy with music history.
Photo Courtesy of Liam Crotty

Industry Insiders: Keith Britton, Extra Credit

In fashion, it takes a village to get a great shot, and no one knows this better than former model Keith Britton. That’s why the New Hampshire native founded My Fashion Database, the first online resource for industry professionals that tracks the models, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, and countless others who create the images that define glamour today.

Inspired by the film industry’s Internet Movie Database, is a user-friendly way to find the credits for fashion editorials, ad campaigns, and cover shoots in magazines ranging from Tatler to Latina to, well, BlackBook. "I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I had that spirit in me," he says. "We started putting fashion credits together as a kind of marketplace so people could discover who was involved with a particular shoot."

Since Britton launched the site from his basement two years ago, myFDB has grown exponentially, with some of the biggest names in fashion regularly checking in, and evening hiring people based on what they find. The site’s success has made Britton a very busy man, but when he finds a few spare hours, he enjoys hiking in the mountains of New England and dining at New York restaurants such as The Lion

V V Brown on Fame, Politics, & the Globalization of Music

V V Brown’s sophomore album, Lollipops & Politics is still a whole two months away from hitting US shelves, but the UK vocalist is hard at work promoting the record, whose first single, "Children," was released last September. According to Brown, who has performed on Letterman, Ellen, and who, at 5’11," has modeled professionally, says Politics is a stylistic leap from her debut record, Traveling Like the Light. Whereas that effort borrowed from ’60s girl-group sass, the new record is more synth-heavy, something Brown attributes partly to her new producer, Björn Yttling. We recently sat down with the 28 year old to discuss her new sound, her perception of fame, and getting the courage to sing. 

What kind of direction did you take with this album?
I wanted to make a straight pop album. I think the first record had these references from retro themes, and I kind of wanted to let go of that side of me and experiment with new stuff, so I was listening to a lot more ‘80s sounds. I was listening to a lot of Cyndi Lauper and Blondie, and all of these empowering women. So it was much more of an album that didn’t have any reference to the ‘50s. I played around with synthesizers. I got really interested in more political themes, not just love. I always call my music odd pop, because it’s really hard to me to define exactly what I’m doing

Were you influenced by any of the political upheaval that’s been going on lately?
It’s really weird, because we wrote this record about 8 months before the London riots happened, and a lot of the themes I talked about happened yet. There wasn’t any crazy political unrest yet, but you could feel it was coming. You’d read newspapers, and  watch CNN, and you feel that things were coming and brewing. So I think I was just picking up on what everyone was feeling and talking about. It’s just now that we’ve exploded into a place where everyone is protesting.

Is the song “Famous” a reaction to your own celebrity?
Andy Warhol said that everyone is going to be famous for 15 minutes, and I think with this YouTube generation, we’re certainly living in it. But I also wrote this song because I’m going through a process of which my whole perception of the fame game has changed. I’m really changing as a person. I’m questioning what it actually is, and what it really means. Why do we glorify other human beings? What is it about us that we feel we have to do that? I kind of feel uncomfortable with the concept of it all. And sometimes I feel kind of hypocritical because obviously, I’m in this industry, and the fame side comes along with it, but I personally feel like it’s getting out of hand. And our youth are aspiring to grow up and be famous rather than have actual skills and dreams anymore. I’m struggling with it at the moment. I’m going through a real transition, and I think that shows through in the song. I do think it’s really nice to meet fans and people that really enjoy your music. You can tell the difference between people who are in it because they really love the music. I’m no different, I’m a human.  I’m like everybody else.

Musically, what did you do differently this time around?
I think the first thing I did differently was I collaborated a lot more. I worked with Jack Harmony, a producer that’s worked with Ne-Yo, and a lot of R&B artists. I had never worked with an R&B producer before. On the song “Climbing High,” there’s more urban flavor. “Children” has quite a hip-hop feel to it in the backend. Then I worked with Björn Yttling, from Peter Bjorn and John. From a production point of view, he brought a sound that was very different. There was a lot of experimenting with synthesizers than the first record, which was a bit more organic with a lot of drums, guitar, and doo-wop. This one was a lot more digital.

What is happening in the U.K. music scene that we over here stateside have no idea about?
I think the internet is making things so much smaller. Dub-step was really huge for us, but now that’s no longer a part of the underground, it’s come over here. I think there’s a whole thing happening with ambient music. The whole reason I actually came to America was because people started to discover me on the internet. Before any record company push, there was already an interest. So Americans and people all over the world, we’re all discovering things at the same time. There’s no sense that England has something that the States doesn’t, because it’s just a button away. I think what you’re hearing is what we’re hearing. 

Your voice sounds a lot deeper than usual, not as airy as before. Are you trying to convey something?
Yeah. When I did the first album, I think I was afraid of my voice. I’ve grown up in church, and I had a soulful voice, a big voice. And one of the things people would say when they came to our live gigs is that they’d be surprised my voice was a lot stronger.  I think I played down my voice on the first record, because I wanted to be cool and I thought to be alternative was not to be big and soulful. When we did the second album, I thought, You know, I think it’s just important that I sing. To sing the way I’ve always sung, even when I perform live. Just keep it real all the way through.

What can we look forward to from V V Brown?
I’m really excited about my online boutique store, called It’s going live in December, and we’re launching in January. I’m putting all my energy into that. It’s really exciting. We’re totally upgrading it.The first time I did it, it was a hobby, but now we’ve changed the whole format, it’s much more professional. We now have a design agency, in that we sign up young designers straight out of art school and we give a percentage of our profits to Oxfam. I can’t wait for people to see it. To go from a hobby, to looking like a Topshop or ASOS site, I think people will be impressed and the clothes are cool too.

Last question! What’s your favorite song on the album?
“Like Fire.” Basically on that song, every instrument I played, and I arranged all the strings, I scored them. It’s my baby. It’s a window into the kind of music I would like to be doing later on in life. A window into my brain.

Patrick Stump on His New Album & Life After Fall Out Boy

Patrick Stump rose to fame as the soulful lead singer of the successful punk rock band Fall Out Boy. But while on an “indefinite hiatus” from the band (rumors of their breakup have been unsubstantiated), Stump went ahead and recorded a solo album called Soul Punk. Apparently, he took the solo part literally, since Stump wrote, performed and produced it all by himself. On the record, Stump bathes his songs in synth, recalling ‘80s new wave, but there are, as the title suggests, elements here of soul and rhythm and blues. Here, Stump talks about his new sound, diagnoses mainstream music, and sheds light on his post-Fallout Boy career.

You recorded Soul Punk by yourself. What was that like? It was weird, because it was so day-to-day and I didn’t really have to work with anyone but myself. It felt freeing and there was a different kind of vibe. There weren’t really a lot of like big experiences, since most of the time when making a record with a band, there would be arguments about something, a fight, some sort of roadblock. If anything, it was the most relaxing experience. If I wanted to go get lunch, I could go get lunch.

Why did you name the album Soul Punk? A lot of reasons. Obviously, one of the things being that I always felt a little out of place in the punk rock scene. While I was listening to a lot of the same punk rock bands, I was also listening to a lot of R&B, soul, jazz and hip-hop. Those were all great influences on me. And in the same way when I was producing and writing, I would still refer to a hip-hop or R&B record. I also wanted to put my stake in the ground about the two genres, and invoking what those things mean to me. A lot of people use ignorant words to explain what those words mean. The idea that punk is just pink-haired mohawks and complaining about school lunches. I always saw it as a state of being rather than a fashion statement. I found a correlation between the two and I wanted a catch phrase. I also wanted to play with people, because when you say “soul punk” there are expectations of what that should sound like.

Do you have any favorite artists from R&B and soul that you look up to? The renaissance of Charlie Wilson has been amazing. He can make his voice crazy. I never just listen to something that is exclusively R&B, but at the same time, I also can’t think of any rock singers that I appreciate that aren’t also inspired by R&B. We could go way back to Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, to the artists of Prince’s time in Minneapolis. And now, they are some talented new people coming out. I’m excited about Frank Ocean.

What is the first sinlge “My City” about? I kind of wanted to make a statement about our city culture and the suburbs, because the suburbs are the city. They are an extension, and it was a way to talk about my personal relationship with it. There seems to be this idea in America that you’re not real unless you live in a small town, that people are realer in smaller towns. I don’t think people realize how arrogant that is. Most people live in a city in the United States, and I was thinking about that. Something really stuck with me after Katrina, and I was thinking about New Orleans. I remember someone said after everything had happened, “They can move.” I was like, No, they can’t. The people that live there, their homes are there, their culture is there. You can’t just get up and move. So it’s a very simple song, and easy to get, but I wanted a song for that feeling. I wanted something that people could stand up and say, “No, this city is my city”.

Do you have anything to say about mainstream music? I think the mainstream is always one step behind what’s happening everywhere else, but I also don’t feel there is anything wrong with it. I think for the most part, music right now is cool. I’m a little worn out on the bounce-off-the-floor dance beats. I think there is a lot of great music out there, but it would be nice to have something else on the radio.

What’s the song “Dance Miserable” about? That song is openly political. It’s one of the more impassioned times for American politics. There’s the Occupy Wall Street protests, and then on the other side, you have the Tea Party movement. With all of these different movements, I was thinking about how a lot of times an answer for people in protest is to attach religion to politics. I was a little bit concerned with the idea of separating church and state. If you are religious, you’re faith can’t determine what happens after our lives, but it is supposed to take care of what happens here. And why I wrote “Dance like you’re disappointed” is because people are focused. People are voting, and laws are getting passed about what goes on in people’ lives, and it’s like, people are out of jobs, losing homes, they need clothes and food, and all you’re concerned about is who they are sleeping with and whether they are smoking a blunt? I don’t care about any of those things. What they need is food and shelter. People are going wild, losing their jobs and families, and I just feel like it is irresponsible.

Did you ever feel pressure or a need to prove that you’re not just the lead singer of Fall Out Boy? Whatever it is I’m not trying to, I don’t go into anywhere, any room, any radio station, and assume that anyone gives a shit because I’m the guy from Fall Out Boy, you know what I mean? I don’t rest my laurels on that. While promoting Soul Punk, I’ve got a lot to bring. If you’re going to use a word like “soul,” you’ve got to prove you have it. If you’re going to use a word like “punk”, you’ve got to prove you’ve got it. I’m trying to get to a place in which I feel I deserve to be there.

Psychic Ills Return with ‘Hazed Dream’

Brooklyn-based acid rockers Psychic Ills first got together in 2003, and released their debut album, Dins, three years later. Now the trio’s back with a brand new disc, Hazed Dream, another richly experimental soundscape that incorporates elements of dub, electronica, Southern rock, and a universe of other genres that humans have yet to discover. Ills bassist Elizabeth Hart recently took some time off to give us the lowdown on Dream.

Where does your band’s name come from? I can’t remember the specific name of the book, but it was Tres that got the name from a book about nine years ago. What genres do you reference in your music? We take references from different things, not just music. In the last year or so, we wanted to brighten the mood a bit. It kind of felt like we were having a breakthrough as a band, including personal things in our lives, and we wanted to lift that weight and make a record that felt good. With songs like “Mexican Wedding” and “Ring Finger,” there’s a lot of romance on this record. Yeah, well, Tres wrote the lyrics, so I can’t really speak for him on that, but we also have ties to Texas, and sometimes the culture creeps into our music. I think we were thinking about what a Mexican wedding would be like when we came up with that song. You participate in side projects, like improvisational dance. What’s that like? It’s awesome! It’s basically me and some of my best girl friends dancing and singing together, and we’ve been doing it together for a while. Do outside projects influence Psychic Ills? I think they’re pretty separate, although I do feel like there is a community within all of it. I guess it does all crossover in a way in that we all know each other, and know our different interests, and we support each other in that way. But I wouldn’t say it crosses over literally. Did you always want to be a musician? I actually started playing music when I met Tres in college. He gave me a guitar and that’s when I started playing. It was actually my second guitar. I got my first guitar when I was eleven, but stuck it out for a short time (Laughs). Are there women in music that you look up to? I’m a big fan of Stevie Nicks. My friends and I even have a monthly Stevie Nicks DJ night at Heathers, every first Monday of the month. I think Kate Bush is amazing. I’m very inspired by her too.