In House With Eric Benet: ‘The One’ LP Has Daughter Duet, Frank Ocean Is ‘Fire’
Eric Benet is a mellow man. With two days of sleepless nights resting on his shoulders, the Milwaukee, Wisc., native should be hyped up on a can of Red Bull to get through his press day in New York City, but that’s not his style. He’d rather sip on some orange juice and have a calm conversation about his sixth studio album ‘The One,’ set for release in May.
His recent lack of sleep is due to the radio-run of his new single, ‘Real Love,’ yet some would think it’s due to the newest addition to his family: 2-month-old daughter Lucia. Screaming babies aren’t the issue here; showing the world his latest “creative statement” is. Mary J. Blige’s 1992 hit single of the same name explores the search for a substantial significant other, however, Benet’s track is dedicated to celebrating romance with a solid foundation. The crooner speaks from experience, having found love with his new wife Manuela.
Family is an important aspect for the man that made such chart-topping songs as the Tamia-assisted ‘Spend My Life With You.’ ‘The One’ will showcase a duet with his 20-year-old daughter India and could possibly feature a lullaby written for his newborn baby girl. Benet kept mum about song titles for each of those projects, but opened up to The BoomBox about a wealth of other topics including favoring Lil Wayne and Frank Ocean for staying true to themselves, working at UPS before he hit the Billboard charts, admiring Donald Fagen’s skills and working with his child with corniness nowhere in sight.
Where are you at right now with a label situation? I heard you started your own label, Jordan House.
I asked to be released from Warner Bros. a little over a year ago. It was a wonderful thing. I’ve really gotten to the point where I write and produce my stuff; I really only need the record label to be a distribution [and] promotion machine as opposed to any kind of creative involvement or ownership of my project. I partnered with EMI and changed by management company — I’m with Primary Wave now. Now I have my own record label, Jordan House. This is something I’ve dreamed about my entire career, having my own label and releasing my own stuff on that label. It’s the CD that I’ve fantasized about, hence the name ‘The One.’ That’s why I called it ‘The One.’
Your first single off the album is ‘Real Love.’ Besides the obvious, what inspired you to record that?
It’s pretty true to life. My wife and I, we got married in July. We’ve been together for five years now. When you know it’s right — especially after you’ve done some living and you’ve done a lot of growing and done a lot of maturing — love just feels differently. I went into the studio with my cousin George, who I do a lot of my producing with, and we wrote ‘Real Love’ without an album. I wrote a single that I thought was great, like my core audience would love. It’s one of those Eric Benet songs that people that’ve come to love what I do, they would just love this song. The rest of the record is sounding incredible.
Is ‘The One’ album completed yet?
Nope. I probably still have about another month to month-and-a-half before we can come out with it in May.
Your daughter India will be on your album too, doing a duet. Talk about that song she’s on.
Should I tell you the title? No [laughs]. Only reason I won’t, is because, seriously I was looking at the song and I may change some words around. It’s that incomplete yet.
What’s the premise of the song?
My daughter, our relationship is very special. First of all, when you’re a father and you’re thinking, “OK, I want to write a song that my daughter and I can sing and I don’t want it to be corny and I know it can’t be like a relationship, romantic song,” so what the hell does that leave us? And really it leaves us a lot. I mean it left us with how special our relationship is. Ever since she was born, I can never get too down. I can’t get too bummed out ’cause it’s like, “Look what I got.” She’s kinda communicated a lot of those feelings to me, too. Hopefully, in a not too corny metaphor, [we] can paint that relationship.
Speaking of daughters, you just had a newborn, Lucia. She’s 2 months old.
She’s amazing. It’s such a gift. When India was born, I was really a kid. Then I became a single father so I was a frightened kid. “How am I gonna do this by myself?” There was trepidation, there was uncertainty about me. My mom [helped me the most] and my family. But I was still a knuckle-head kid. Like all of a sudden I was dad, then all of a sudden I was single dad. It was joyful, it was blissful but there was also that element of uncertainty. With Lucia, all that fear and uncertainty is replaced with wisdom now. And it just makes it so amazing.
Watch Eric Benet’s ‘Real Love’ Video
Have you written a song for Lucia?
Yeah, yeah. I actually do [have one], just don’t ask me the title [laughs]. Still working on that. It’s a lullaby. I wrote the music. Manuela, my wife, is going to write the lyrics.
Your first album was in 1996. What’s the biggest difference creatively or how you feel compared to now?
This sounds cocky as hell but I made a decision. My first album was called ‘True to Myself.’ My sister and I, we used to be — oddly enough — signed as a brother-sister duo to EMI, the company I’m partnered with now. It was my first dose of the music industry. We kind of had these ideas of how we wanted our record to go but the label was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, anyway…” So there was that element of not really having control and that creative statement not really being pure. And needless to say like as soon as they released the first single they dropped us.
So I spent a few years after that [working]. India was like a little toddler then, I had two jobs — I was an assistant engineer in a recording studio and I worked at UPS. When the studio wasn’t in use, I started working on my own stuff. I told myself, “Look, if I ever get another shot at this music business then I’m really gonna fight to do it the way I want to do it and make my sound be my own sound.” I called [my first album] ‘True to Myself.’ I pretty much tried to adhere to that philosophy throughout. I’ve never been an artist that has tried to chase radio or chase whoever the hot producer is. I just kinda let my passion for the music be the barometer for what’s cool to me. Where I’m at now, versus then, is that I’ve stayed on that course. I’m better at identifying what my creative statement is, executing it better and I think that’s probably why, almost 20 years later in the game, I’m still making records. And still be somewhat relevant.
I’m not familiar with any of your favorite rappers. Who do you listen to?
I’m loving the Weezy. Love Lil Wayne. There’s just certain artists that come along [and] I really respect that energy from somebody where they really just don’t give an expletive about what people think about their creative statement. And they do it in such a way where it’s not abusive. It’s just, “This is who I am and if you don’t like it, whatever.” I like that about him. I like his tone [imitates Lil Wayne's voice]; that’s kind of cool. This guy isn’t all the way hip-hop but Frank Ocean. I like his vibe. I really like that right there. ‘Novocane’ [is a song I like]. Lyrically, he’s just fire. Metaphors are fresh. With music, there are eight notes on the damn scale. Almost everything has been written in one way or another. With words, it’s challenging to try to find fresh new ways of saying something, especially when you’re a young kid. I think he’s tapped into that.
You grew up in Milwaukee. Do you ever go back home?
I go often. My mom, two of my sisters and my brother are there. So I’m there like five times a year. I actually do quite a bit of recording in Milwaukee. I recorded all the bed tracks for ‘The One’ album [there]. I went back home and recorded all those tracks that I still have to put lyrics to [laughs].
Why is it important for you to go back?
When I’m promoting [my music], I spend so much time gone. So when I’m not promoting, I want to go home to my wife and my child. So recording is a great opportunity to just go home and camp up and spend some time with my mom and my extended family.
Who is still on your wish-list to collaborate with in the studio?
Donald Fagen [of Steely Dan]. He’s a beast and I just grew up idolizing Steely Dan and the chord structures and the voicings. Every aspect of his writing is just something that I would aspire to reach. That would be school just to be in the studio with him. I would love to do a song with Stevie Wonder. I would love to get into the studio with Chaka Khan. Every time I think about doing, “Who would I like to work with?” I usually get with the classics.