Exclusive Interview: will.i.am
Jsky interviews will.i.am
Black Eyed Peas frontman, songwriter, super producer and more recently a widely respected judge on the UK version of The Voice on BBC One, will.i.am has a CV as colourful as a Picasso painting. Aged 38 and firmly cemented into the tapestry of popular culture, synonymously behind the scenes and at the forefront, will.i.am is about to embark on his first ever solo tour. Having produced for the likes of Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Wolfgang Gartner to name but a few, we get an insight into the multifaceted beast we know as the music industry. His record Reach For The Stars was the first song ever to be broadcasted in Mars, and his love of gadgets has led to the release of his iam+ camera upgrade for the iPhone. We chat to will.i.am about his upcoming tour, music projects and all things in-between.
First things first, let’s talk about your upcoming tour? What made you finally decide it was time to do your first solo tour?
It was a calling. I never had the desire before to tour by myself. Doing the odd show here and there, and djing was cool, but I never had the desire to tour outside of the Peas [Black Eyed Peas]. I didn’t feel the need or the reason, but this project and especially the success in my solo project…I think it was an obligation and a new desire. It’s a new excitement to want to do that. I’m really happy about it.
What’s your vision for the tour?
I just want to represent the songs and display them in a way that excites the audience and allows them to escape whatever it is that they’ve been doing for two hours and have something that brings people together and brings joy. I know that sounds corny “I wanna bring joy to people!” (in high squeaky voice)
Will there be special guests?
Yeah, but I’mma a have to keep it surprised [a surprise] for now.
Sounds exciting. Who would be your ideal special guest you haven’t worked with so far? My ideal special guest? Yeah. Jimmy Hendrix! (laughs) Anyone who’s still around? Prince! Nice! Yeah but I’m trying to be realistic. He’s not going to be an obvious one.
A tour of this magnitude…how long does it usually take to get all this together?
It takes time. We’re in the process now, still in the process, putting it all together. It’s coming together.
It’s sounds like a big commitment. I’m guessing you have to take a lot of time out?
Yeah, it’s no different to doing an album. An album takes a year, year and a half. We focus a year, so it’s another one of those things.
Does this mean The Voice is definitely out, or is that still up in the air?
No, I can’t discuss The Voice details.
What about Leah…she was amazing! How have things been going with her since the show?
Woohoo! Now let’s talk something exciting! (puts on southern American accent) Last time I was this excited about a project was when I was in the Black Eyed Peas and we were like, “We’re gonna do a dance album”. People were like “What?” and I was like “Yeah! We’re collaborating with David Guetta!” People were like “Who’s David Guetta?” This is before we were on top 40 radio everywhere. It’s the same excitement now!
What stage are you at with recording Leah?
We’re about 80 [percent] finished.
Wow! How would you describe the style of music? Is it possible to sum it up?
Well…I would say wonderful layers of sonic euphoria (laughs) How about that one? It’s great stuff. It’s experimental. There’s a lot of fusion; pop fusion with layers, and her voice is just spectacular.
Who would you say you’ve learnt the most from over the course of your career?
Yes! Amazing! From your own personal experience, what did you learn from him?
Man…Every second of your life is a stage. Entertainment is your career and every time you walk, it’s a stage. Humility too. To check every moment of every decision as a potential last, so make sure it’s that it’s the right decision and right thing to do. As big as he was, he wasn’t arrogant, he wasn’t rude. He’s Michael Jackson. He’s the best.
I suppose you could say working with him changed the way you approached your own work then? It guides how I approach people that like my work. In what way?
There are people that accomplish an inch and they act like they created oxygen! They separate themselves from people. As big as Michael Jackson was, with all the things he accomplished, he didn’t. I mean he had to, for safety, but when he was around people, it was as if he knew them forever. He was always connected and looking for connectivity and conversation and he made people feel. I see today’s celebrities and they’re the total opposite of Michael Jackson. There’s like this generation of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, they have that. Now there’s this other generation of music and icons. How are you supposed to appreciate the people that appreciate outside of your safety and wellbeing? You shouldn’t be rude to people! It’s not that important. Seriously! You get these celebrities are who have this “I am holier than you!” attitude. Dude you sings songs, what the hell are you talking about!
I’m guessing you see that a lot?
Hell yeah! It makes me laugh. Everytime I see that stuff when I’m travelling about and I see my peers. Just what the F are you people doing? Half of them don’t even write the songs they sing! Are you serious? I learnt a lot from Michael [Jackson], James [Brown], Stevie [Wonder], and my peers.
When you see that sort of behaviour do you ever pull people up on it, or do you just laugh to yourself?
Nah, I can’t. To each his own. I just know it’s a thing I wouldn’t do. I feel that everytime I’m walking down the street and they say “Hey Will, can we take a picture?” and because I’m in a rush to get somewhere, I have to pretend I don’t hear them. That just hurts, it breaks my heart, like I’m being a dick. Even though I hate taking pictures, I hate it, but that at the same time, I’m like “Really bro, you’re taking pictures! You can just totally be ignored, you better appreciate that picture. Appreciate the fact that someone wants to share that moment with somebody they know in their family.” But at the same time, there’s life and when you’re out there in the world, you’re going somewhere, going to do something. Those small interruptions affect your productivity, as little as it may sound. But saying no, or rushing off or pretending to ignore because you have somewhere to be for some reason, it’s hard to sit comfortably doing that. But Michael [Jackson], hanging out with him for like 5 years, and becoming his friend, I used to learn…
Imagine if Michael Jackson was a current artist today. If I say, “Ok, name this song” you’d be like “Ummm”. You’d be having a hard time remembering it. Now imagine if Michael came out 3 years ago and was alive right now, and he didn’t exist in the past, everything he did with the Jackson Five to death. In a 5 years span, if he was putting out that much content, Ooh Baby Give Me One More Chance, Thriller, Beat It…all these songs. Some people would say you can’t put out that much material, I’d be like “Yes you can, I know people with a thousand videos on YouTube, and they have only been singing a year!” People are uploading a video a day. So if you think of Michael Jackson’s repertoire, and his humility, I think that’s the key. People have no humility and they’re doing less work! The ego, and the audacity people have! That’s what I’ve learnt the most from Michael Jackson. This abundance of what to do with success and how you should behave as a result of it. The people make you successful so if you separate yourself from the people that are actually your oxygen, you’re just suicidal!
What excites you at the moment?
Leah’s project. I’m super excited about that. And I’m finishing up with Britney. That’s about it right now.
What are you looking forward to most about the tour?
I’m just looking forward to just going out there and performing for the first time, with people there to see “Will Power” and I’m not sharing the stage with a big act, just giving my all in this show to just feel good in the moment.
will.i.am UK ARENA TOUR
3rd December Manchester Arena
4th December Birmingham LG Arena
5th December London The O2