Alicia Keys Talks ‘Songs in A Minor’ NYC Show, Son + More
Alicia Keys loves her fam. Even those she’s never met before. Just like Lady Gaga has her little monsters and Nicki Minaj claims her legion of Barbz, the R&B chanteuse holds her supporters in a special light, referring to them like kindred. Ten years ago, when her hair was braided tight, she wouldn’t have crafted her seminal album, ‘Songs in A Minor,’ had it not been for a receptive audience of listeners who begged to hear her smooth vocals sing of universal matters of the heart, love and lust included.
This month marks the 10th Anniversary of her famed debut, which launched her career as a conscious songwriter, zealous producer and arrestive talent. To commemorate the re-release of the project, Keys will tickle the ivories and command the microphone during Piano & I: A One Night Only Event With Alicia Keys, taking place at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on June 30. The intimate show, which fans can tune in to watch live here at 9PM EST, will be a trip down memory lane for the soulfully gifted singer, one that will surely bring on cheers and some waterworks for those in attendance, as the album’s songs — replete with lyrics of wisdom and zaniness alike — serve as the soundtrack for pivotal moments in many of her fans’ lives.
She’s tight-lipped on special guests she may call to appear at the show and she’s already had “a bit of piano drama,” but all that adds to the excitement of what’s to come. Alicia Keys, just like the newbies who emulate her, still gets butterflies when she takes the stage. Thursday night will be no different. Read on as the acclaimed entertainer speaks with the BoomBox on her passion for ‘Songs in A Minor,’ what her son Egypt thinks of the piano and her most recent accomplishment when it comes to her family of three.
You’ve been performing most recently in London but how will your show at the Beacon Theatre differ from shows you’ve done in the past?
I mean the whole thing is just such a magical moment and it’s different than I’ve ever, ever performed, ever, in my whole life. So it’s really exciting to be able to do that and obviously bring it home to New York – New York will be the last show. So I feel New York will get the best of me because I’ve had the experience to get to do it a couple of times. I’m really excited to bring it home and end it at home and celebrate this 10-year anniversary of ‘Songs in A Minor.’ It’s so incredible and I’m so excited. It invigorates me so much. I think the show, every show, is totally different and since this one is like completely different from anything I’ve ever done before, no one has ever seen me be like this at all. So it’s definitely something that you’ve never seen.
What song from ‘Songs in A Minor’ do you look back on and feel like it shows how you’ve grown as an artist?
Well, the whole album shows my growth. It’s impossible to not have grown from then and now. But the whole album has so many memories and particular moments. I’ll never forget with ‘Rock Wit U,’ I’m a super fan of the ’70s blaxploitation vibe. That was definitely the inspiration for that song, ‘Rock Wit U.’ Im a big fan of Issac Hayes. He was able to do the strings for me, arrange the strings on that song. It just took it up to the next level of ’70s moments, ’cause I always felt I should’ve been born in the ’70s. That was my little moment to live it. That was so incredible. Then with the other songs on the album, each one has its own little world and memory and time and place in itself. It’s definitely so much growth from then to now and it will continue to be. But like listening back to that particular record it makes me feel all warm and tingly.
Was there a song that made the album, but at the time you thought that maybe it shouldn’t go on the project?
I know that there’s actually the bonus material, which is unreleased songs, there’s a song on the Deluxe Edition and Collector’s Edition that’s called ‘I Won’t’ and that was one of my favorite songs and up until the last, last minute ‘I Won’t’ was like really strong and different. It had a different sound to it, we had this ill change in the middle of it that was totally different from the rest of the song. Vocally, it was all these stacks and harmonies and creative things. I always knew that song was gonna be on it and after we put the record together, it didn’t quite fit. I was so sad about it. I love that song. I’m actually really glad that it gets to be heard now because I always wanted it to be. Myself and Krucial produced that.
Why do you feel like this album resonates so soundly with people?
I mean that’s been one of my biggest blessings is that it did resonate with people. That’s what I was really hoping, that it would. The whole time when things were coming together, and people would ask me, I always wanted to be the girl that I saw in New York. Me. I wanted to be me. I was that girl like so many other young women, probably like you, who had their own little style to them, wasn’t too extra over-the-top girly and wasn’t too extra over-the-top tom boy. Was driven and had great ideas and creative and smart and wasn’t just gonna let people tell you anything. I just wanted to be that girl. I just wanted to be myself.
I think because I was able to do that and I was able to really be myself through the music as well, which I think that a lot of people’s first album sometimes, because of circumstance, you know, they have to kind of work with people that maybe don’t get them or they try to do something that works for radio and so maybe they don’t get to translate who they really are, and because I produced ['Songs in A Minor'] and because it was myself and Krucial, who put the whole record together and he knew me and we knew each other, and I was able to be myself, I think people really got that. And I think maybe that’s why it resonated with them.
You’ve been doing shows forever. Is there ever a time when you do get stage fright?
Most definitely. I still always get anticipation. Like I still always have butterflies just because I’m ready to go out there and do an incredible job. I’ll tell you what, that Paris show, I was nervous. I was nervous as nervous gets [laughs]. Because it’s like this show is so naked, it’s so intimate, its so vulnerable, straight up. It’s just me and me, and that’s it. There’s a feeling that you get, like, “I’m totally out here. I’m totally out. There’s no coming back. It’s just me.” That did make me nervous. You put together a show and you have an idea in your mind and you practice it and you put it together but until you really do it you don’t know “Is it working?” “Are people feeling it?” “Is it good?” That whole thing. I felt old school, straight up first-time-I-did-a-recital-at-11-years-old nerves.
What do you want fans to get from this experience of buying the new Deluxe Edition and Collector’s Edition of ‘Songs in A Minor’?
Oh my god, I want them to know how extremely excited I am for this whole thing. Like this is totally a passion project for me and it’s something that I really wanted to do specifically for who I call my “fam,” as opposed to fans, I consider them my family. For my fam, for them to be able to like relive this journey with me. And for those that maybe didn’t get the chance to hear it the first time around and they can kinda be reintroduced to it. And I’m so excited they’re gonna be able to hear songs that no one ever heard before but they’re from that same time and same kinda feeling and emotion.
I’m super excited that I was able to put together these really unique kinda videos that ties together ‘Fallin” and ‘A Woman’s Worth,’ which is super crazy. And I love the way that we have the documentary that talks about everything it took to put the whole album together. It’s a lot of passion that went into this thing. It’s a real project that I love. It’s really a thank you to everybody for this incredible journey that we’ve been on, and we’re gonna do serious massive more years.
From 10 years ago to today, you’ve grown so much. Now you’re a wife to Swizz Beatz and mother. When you look back on that time, is there anything about it that you miss?
Hmm, I have to say it was way harder back then. I’m much happier now [laughs]. I was going hard. I still go extra hard. But there’s nothing like that first initial, like this is gonna make you or break you, you have to get it right go hard. I was running around like a chicken with no head. I was like, “Where am I?” “Who am I?” “How do I get there?” “What do I have to do?” “How little sleep?” I get more sleep now with a baby then I did back then. It was really about my character and being able to put that work in, and I still have that work ethic. I don’t know, to answer that question, I might like it better now.
What’s one thing you like about domestic life now, whether it’s doing things like laundry or setting the table?
I do enjoy actually having consistency and having a foundation. It’s something that’s really beautiful to me and important to me. Referencing what we just did and the past 10 years of my life, it’s been about going as fast as you can go, from one hotel room to the next, and one city to the next. And now, having a moment to have some type of foundation and consistency and here’s home and I know how important home is to me. And that I actually have a home; I think for the first time I actually have a home. Where prior it was a house and it was just a place where I put my things and went on the next. So that’s a really beautiful feeling to have that stability and that consistency and something that really feels like a place that’s warm and loving and is yours.
Right! And you can decorate and not say, “I don’t want to put stuff up because I’m leaving in a few months.”
Is there something you’ve done in your home recently that you’re excited about?
That I’m most proud of? Yes! Here’s the thing I’m most proud of that I put up: my family picture wall. I never had a family picture wall and I always wanted one. In each house, I’m like, “Here’s where the family picture wall is gonna be” and it never got there. Like where you have the coolest memories and the dopest pictures of the people in your world. It’s really, really beautiful and that’s what totally makes a home.
Speaking of family, I want to talk about your son, Egypt. Is he receptive to music or does he react in certain ways to your own music?
I can’t say I’m around my house playing my albums all day so I’m not sure about that. But I do know that he does definitely love the piano. For the whole time that I’ve been putting together this show, I put him right next to me at the piano in his little bouncer and I’m like, “OK, it’s music appreciation time,” and I’ll start practicing. And he’ll just be sitting there bouncing and rocking with me and laughing and smiling and everything like that. And so, as he started to see me play the piano, he was just dying to play it. So every time we do it, I’ll let him touch it and he actually has really good rhythm. He’s always leaning on something and hitting on something. So he has pretty good rhythm and he likes the piano, so it’s a good mix so far.