A few weeks back I interviewed soul singer Alicia Keys before her March performance at the New Orleans arena. You can read my preview of that concert at Gambit Weekly by clicking HERE. I also wrote a brief review of the concert, which can be found HERE at Gambit’s blog.
But below this video for my (current) favorite Keys song, “Unthinkable,” you’ll find the raw Q&A from which my Gambit piece drew.
So you have a son, Egypt. What is the impetus for your son’s name?
Because I had a very empowering trip to Egypt, at a very important time in my life when I was at a crossroads. I went because I had to get away, and it was so powerful and I really re-found my…my mojo I guess. It was so beautiful, seeing these structures that were so big and strong and built by the hands of human beings. It was so incredible to know that a human can do anything you can possibly think of. We can build it and create it and it can stand for generations and centuries. That was empowering to me and that trip changed my life, and it helped me make the changes that I needed to, and get on the right track. So when I was pregnant my husband [Swizz Beatz] said, ‘Egypt was such a big change for you, why don’t we name the baby Egypt.’ And I instantly just loved it, whether it was a boy or a girl.
Did any songs on Girl on Fire come out of that trip?
This was before As I Am, that album actually that followed that trip. So it’s more the songs on that album. Everything related to that trip was about finding a little bit more who I wanted to be so even like “Best Thing About Love,” the bridge on that, that was a big one there. There’s a whole gang of songs that are in a vault somewhere that have the whole pentatonic scale in them [laughs] that didn’t make it to the record. But a lot of things were inspired by that trip, mostly an emotional state.
How does having a child effect your songwriting?
You know I mean I feel like I’m writing from a deeper place of understanding of emotions and these things until you live em. Having a son now and a husband and a family, I have come to be more the head of my own table, where I have to make sure that everything is the way I envision it or want it to be. I am writing from a different space. I think I am open more, I know I am open more, definitely, positively, more open.
It sounds like maybe you worry less now that you have a child.
That makes so much sense to me. I think you just gain more perspective and so everything seems…now it’s easier for me to make choices. Whereas before I would bounce around for days and days thinking ‘Ahhhh I don’t know should I got this place? Or do this thing? Or switch this?’ Now it’s almost more easy because I know it’s more important. I know what’s most important to me now, and then I can choose everything else. It’s easier to make choices because you have a priority.
I read you recorded some of this album in Jamaica. I feel like I can hear that in some of the more psychedelic touches, like echoes and reverbs
It was all about coming from a place simplicity. And a lot of the firs things that we did were so simple, like a piano and maybe like a Moog sound, and vocals. That allowed me to really write the song and hear the song first before we cluttered it. But this whole record, even the biggest song, big huge drums, if you break it down, it’s only four instruments. It’s not overdone. And there was something about approaching it from this way, getting ideas out. The less I put in a song, the bigger it became a song. I guess that makes sense but it never made sense to me before. I thought I had to pile on more and more things for it to get bigger and bigger but that actually makes it smaller. The less I put on a song, the more present it became. And so I think the echoes you’re describing, while Jamaica did influence me greatly because it was a really impactful, powerful trip, and the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. A lot of this album was born out of this trip. But I think it’s really about the simplicity of it, where you can even hear that delay whereas you probably couldn’t hear that before because there was so much in the way. And that goes back to me opening up more, and just simplifying my process more, all of those things I learned in creating this albums.
I really like the Moog. Is that your Moog or was that in the studio?
Well, that’s my Moog, but that’s my studio too [laughs]. It’s the Voyager, it’s the latest but it has all the oscillators on it still. It’s new but it still has the old analog feel and sound, without being so overcomplicated with plugging in all those wires which, to me, is like…if you know how to do that, can we please get together and you show me?
You don’t have a studio in your home anymore. Between Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats, there is no gear in y’all’s house?
No, there’s no gear the house, yeah. We will possibly soon but as of right now. Also gear is so much smaller you can travel with it everywhere. He has his setup in a backpack. These days it’s crazy what you can do.
Pitchfork pointed out that there are a lot of breakup songs and romantic tragedy on the Girl on Fire album. Where does that come from?
The snake was gonna shed its skin and it was gonna grow that much bigger and longer, so that’s the reason why there’s those types of songs on there. There’s been a huge growth process for me. I’ve shed a layer of skin and with that shedding comes a lot of emotion, a lot of changes, difficult changes and choices, to become bigger and stronger.
If your first album was famously in the key of A-minor, what key is this new album in?
[laughs] Really? This album is in many keys. This album is in the key of coming into my own. It’s not easy to do that. But I’m really proud of it.