Eric Benet: Hurricane Survivor

It’s blazing saddles in New York City, but Eric Benet sits in the Warner label offices cool as a cucumber. That is until he receives word that an earthquake hit California. With his Blackberry clutched in his palm, Benet makes a series of phone calls, making sure every Cali resident in his family is present […]

It’s blazing saddles in New York City, but Eric Benet sits in the Warner label offices cool as a cucumber. That is until he receives word that an earthquake hit California. With his Blackberry clutched in his palm, Benet makes a series of phone calls, making sure every Cali resident in his family is present and accounted for…especially his daughter India. Before even sitting down with the debonair crooner to discuss his music (and every rumor he’s been attached to), one thing rang loud and clear: Eric Benet is a human being. Sure that statement is obvious, but watching the platinum artist frantically phone home, suddenly every Halle Berry war story and tale of n########## became completely insignificant. Thankfully, his family was ok, but when Eric Benet sat back down to speak, his past really didn’t seem to matter. He was still open to reflect upon his life, and the period of time where he retreated before bouncing back with his brilliant new effort Love and Life. An artist, a lover, and a father, Eric Benet is more than meets the tabloid, and he isn’t afraid to show Alternatives: So after well over a decade, what makes you continue to do music? Eric Benet: I always feel like there can never be enough positive, heartfelt, emotionally soulful music out there. Whenever I turn on the radio, there seems to be not enough of that. So I mean, I’m just gonna keep making it. And I feel like this new record Love and Life, is the strongest projects I ever made. It represents the genre of R&B and dare I say, classic R&B. The whole indent of making this record – or the whole inspiration behind this record – was to try and make a record that sounded like the music that made me fall in love with music. So it’s very much a tribute to classic R&B. I mean, when you listen to the first single, “You’re the Only One,” it’s just…that song just feels like that from the gut R&B that you used to hear all the time. And I’m old enough to remember – like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But there’s just not enough of it. So, my first single really gives you an idea of what to look for – what to look forward to on the rest of the CD. AHHA: How did you come up with the title Love and Life?Eric Benet: For me, I’m just really enjoying both of those things right now to the fullest. I’ve come to a place in my life where I just feel so present. Just grateful – gratitude; for not just the good times, but for the bad times and the mistakes that I made too. I’m grateful because I feel like I’m a better person because of everything that I’ve gone through, everything I’ve learned. I’m the kind of songwriter that whatever I’m going through in my life, you can pretty much feel in the lyrics and songs I write. The last record Hurricane was a beautiful record, but it was just kind of very introspective; kind of dark. A lot of people said it was dark. I was just in this other place. Like now in Love and Life, I’m just celebrating all kinds of things. I’m celebrating the gratitude I spoke about earlier. I’m celebrating the joy of and healing power of sex in a healthy sexual relationship. I’m celebrating just enjoying life, dancing and just feeling good. You can just feel that all throughout the record. AHHA: When Hurricane came out, which was in 2005, there was a lot going on for you personally. Did you feel at that point in time, that maybe what was going on in your personal life kind of overshadowed the power of Hurricane, because it really was a really good album. Eric Benet: Thank you. Thank you very much for that. And yes, I felt that way as well. I guess it’s just an occupational hazard. But yeah, the whole personally fallout – and then the how you say – just like over exaggerating certain things and details and everything definitely overshadowed the record. Which is really unfortunate because, like I said before, I’m grateful that you feel so as well. It was a real beautiful record. I got a chance to work with producers Walter A. and David Foster. I’ve been idolizing David Foster since I was like ten years old. David foster produced songs like Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” and “After the Love is Gone.” So I mean, being in the studio and working with him was amazing. We really did make a beautiful record; it just wasn’t the right time. And I think now there’s been all kinds of – I wanna say there’s been enough of hope – there’s been enough time since all of that. People might let this music stand on its own feet and represent itself for what it is. I’m just really excited about it. AHHA: A lot of times when an artist goes through situations where their lives are really put on display, they kind of really recoil – I cite Lauryn Hill as an example. When personal things come out to the public [artists] kind of back of way and stop recording. What gave you your second wind to wanna do this album? Eric Benet: Well to answer your question, I kind of did recoil. [laughs] I mean it took me a minute to get back in the studio to do the Hurricane record. I mean like you said, Hurricane record came out in 2005, so that was a few years after all my drama. So it took me a minute to regroup and feel the passion of writing music again. And I think once Hurricane was a record, I felt like I just gotta get it out. A lot like therapy. [Love and Life] kind of feels like a celebration or just an indication of gratitude. I don’t have any of those gaps of the music flowing or feeling like getting in the studio and making music. I took my little bit of time, but I feel like it was necessary. And I feel like the product of what’s come from taking that moment – it just made me a much better person.AHHA: Now you stuck really long with Warner through the whole long haul of your career. A lot of R&B artists – you know, any artist in general – they go through that musical chairs game where they jump from different labels and stuff. What was it about this label that keeps you so consistent with them? Eric Benet: It’s kind of trippin’ me out actually because I’m thinking about it. Damn, I’ve been at Warner Bros since ’96 and it’s like there are no – it’s almost like nobody from the executive level to – there definitely aren’t artists in the Urban Department that were around when I was signed that were still here. So I very well can be it, now that I’m thinking about it. I think I am it. There’s been like maybe four different presidents. But I think, to be honest, part of it is just the contract. They got me. Secondly, I’m grateful because this regime especially in the urban music department now, it’s a good fit. It’s a real good fit right now. They get it. I feel like they get me more than anybody else did before. And they’re really feeling this record. So it’s a really good time for me at Warner Bros. right now.AHHA:  Now as we spoke about your daughter, India, she’s growing up and stuff. How are you handling her dealing with boys and ya know…Eric Benet: [takes in deep breath] With grace. With grace. It’s funny, when I was growing up, I didn’t have a kind of relationship with my mom or my dad where I can come home and spill my guts about personal stuff like, “Mom I kissed this girl today” or I’m really feeling this girl in my Chemistry class. How do I…what do I say to her?” I didn’t have that kind of relationship. I always felt like it was very important to have that relationship with your child. I’m very thankful for my parents in my childhood, but that was one thing I told myself from a early age that whenever I have a child, she’s gonna talk to me. And I’m gonna figure out how to do this from day one. So I made a conscious decision that when India was born, that I’m going to talk to this person. As appropriately as I can, I’m going to tell her “I had a bad day today.” “I had a great day today.” “I’m frustrated about this.” “This is what’s going on.” From as long as India has been talking, it’s always been very natural for her to do the same to me. She’d come home and tell me about this girl driving her nuts, or she’ll tell me about this boy she has this crush on, or she’ll tell me about how she kissed somebody today. I think back on my life and one of the things I’m most proud about is establishing that kind of relationship with my daughter. That makes it a lot easier being a single parent. I’ve been a single parent since India was fifteen months old – for most of her life. We have a bond like no other. But I guess I wage the bet a little bit more by laying that communication foundation early on. If I could give any parent any advice because you know so many parents – and I’m sure so many people can relate – like me. I didn’t tell my parents nothing. Parents are like, “I want my child to talk to me. Why won’t they?” Well you know it’s important from a very early age that you talk to your child. Don’t just talk to them superficially, but tell them what’s really going on. Then it will be very unnatural of them not to come home and not tell you what’s going on with them. AHHA: When your personal life was all out in the news and stuff, did you make it a point that you spoke to her first before Channel 5 told her?Eric Benet: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Because as we all know, in the media, it’s all about the story. It’s all about “Let me blow this story up and make it as sellable as it possible can.” So like I said before, as age appropriately as possible, India was around ten years old. It was a really difficult time. But I sat her down and talked to her for real. Allowed her to feel and supported her to feel what she felt – like some anger, some sadness. It’s very important to open up even in the bad times.AHHA: Your fan base really stuck by you through thick and thin. You have kind of like that cult following going on. I’ve even been reading from your MySpace pages, they just have a very intimate relationship with you and your music. Has anybody ever done anything crazy? I know there’s gotta be one story. Eric Benet: Well first yeah. I’m very thankful for the fans that have stuck by me and allowed my music to keep filing their lives. Yeah there’s been some extreme things, but now that I think about it, probably my extreme things, probably don’t compare. I’m looking at Warner Bros. for those of ya’ll who are looking at this, but there are posters of artist all over the walls here and I’m thinking, “My little stories probably don’t compare nothing to ‘he’ did last week.” I mean somebody tattooed their name – I signed her name and she tattooed her name. It always amazes me how my fans will get on a plane and come to my show wherever I’m at. I’m just so grateful to have that kind of devotion to somebody. I wanna say thank you again. I try to say thank you in my music, but it just means the world to me. AHHA: How do you feel when you see some of the New School R&B groups? They talk about some of their influences and they say “I got my influences from Eric Benet, 112.” Artists from an era from a couple years prior would say, “Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye.” Eric Benet: It’s an honor on top of honor on top of honor. This probably sounds like bullsh*t, but I don’t make music for praise. I make music because it’s almost like I have no choice. It’s just in my heart – it’s just flowing through me. Whether I was making $50/75 dollars a week – and I was for about four years when I started – or whether I’m making a little bit more, music is just something that is authentic to my soul. I’m so honored that people might acknowledge, other artist may acknowledge, what I do as something as something that might have given them some inspiration. That’s a tricked out feeling. AHHA: So I know you have a big radio tour coming up. What else is next?Eric Benet: I’m actually gonna start a tour with Dwele in October. That’s gonna be really cool. He’s got such a dope vibe, and I think it’s a good match. I’m like a different kind of R&B and he’s like this another kind of R&B. I think it’s gonna go very well together and that’s gonna happen in October. And then internationally, we’re gonna jump off maybe end of January.AHHA: So out of your whole career, what would you say was probably your happiest moment. Your whole music career.Eric Benet: My whole professional career? Two immediately popped into my head, but the first one was getting a call from Maurice White from Earth Wind and Fire and saying, “I want you to produce a couple songs on this project we’re working on.” Being in the studio with him with my partners Demonte and my cousin George Nash, you know these people whose music I’ve studied was just a dream come true. The same thing with David Foster. We talked about David Foster before, but working on an album with David Foster is incredible. Being with Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder got this radio show in LA. A lot of people don’t know it and it’s like, I didn’t know he had a radio station show but I knew he owned. He owns a radio station; it’s like “The R&B Radio Station in LA” KGLH. He owns it. He then he recently started doing the Thursday morning show. So he asked me to come on the show, and it was a trip. Because we’re hanging out and he interviewed me – interviewed by Stevie Wonder, how crazy is that? And then of course Stevie has a keyboard in the studio. While he’s on it he’s like “Eric what do you wanna sing man?” And so we started singing “You & I”I think it was on his Innervisions record. Singing “You & I” with Stevie Wonder for the whole city to hear, that was like “Wow, this sh*t is crazy.” But yeah, that was special moment.You & I Live – Eric Benet & Stevie WonderAHHA: Lastly, any reservations for this album? Do you have any worries?Eric Benet: Any worries? Any reservations? Naw. Naw, I got nothing but just like really, really positive feelings about this. This is like the best project I’ve ever done in my life. The purist representation of myself I’ve done in my life. It represents me so accurately. I went back to my hometown, Milwaukee, recorded it there with my brothers in music. I got nothing but positivity and love attached to this project. Check out Eric Benet singing his new album track “Chocolate Legs”