Avant Talks ‘The VIII’ Album, Donald Trump’s Emotional Behavior and Heartbreak Making Him a Very Rich Man [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Inside an executive’s office at Caroline Records in New York City, Avant, one of R&B's most respected singers, is getting a shape-up. Tiny pieces of hair fall to the ground as he sits encircled by office supplies and paperwork left for another day. Avant is preparing to grace the stage and serenade an awaiting audience for the Midsummer Night’s Dream R&B Rooftop Concert.
But as usual, traffic in midtown Manhattan -- especially on a beautiful summer day in August -- was hectic, causing the “4 Minutes” crooner to run behind schedule. That just means that there’s more time to get a sneak peek of his pre-performance process -- all while the barber’s hair clippers buzz with a steady hum.
Avant is best known for providing the soundtrack for love in the early 2000s, with a slew of hits like “Read Your Mind,” “Separated,” “4 Minutes” and “Don’t Take Your Love Away." Most R&B fans can still recite those songs word-for-word considering his 2000 debut album, My Thoughts, is a platinum-selling release. When he dropped a project, you had to have it.
Throughout his career, Avant has also collaborated with singer Keke Wyatt, who was only a teenager when they met. But luckily, Wyatt's voice was well beyond her years and the two went on to record multiple duets including “My First Love,” leading them to be described as the second coming of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (See: "Ain't No Mountain High" and "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You").
And 15 years and seven studio albums later, the Ecstasy creator is still cashing checks from his very single, "Separated." He plans to continue that success while sharing new experiences -- all with the same charm and voice he entered the music industry with -- by releasing his eighth album, The VIII, due Sept. 25. The first single, "Special," is an endearing ballad that finds Avant sharing his affection for the woman who ends up being "the most beautiful place to go to when I dream."
As he sits with razor sharp blades cruising down the back of his neck, the man who many teenagers likely owe their existence to thanks to their parents playing his baby-making odes is quick to smile and break out into a song. Avant is in a happy place as he talks to The Boombox about the rappers he’s currently listening to, why he thinks Donald Trump will send us into war, how he’s bringing “real music” back and heartbreak making him a very rich man. He also has some advice for the rising singers entering the scene these days: "Quit trying to be rappers. Be who you are." Get involved in the conversation below.
The Boombox: What should fans expect on your new album? How will it sound?
Avant: Real music, you know what I mean. I think the last album that was out I gave them a piece of what real music is but this time it’s just basically focused on Avant. What I’ve seen in the 15 years in the industry and also just the great music. The music. The musicianship and the great stories that I like to tell. Fans can definitely look forward to that.
What’s different in this album compared to your earlier work in the 2000s?
New things to talk about -- every day. I write from what I’ve seen, from experiences I’ve been through, things I hear. I’m always trying to bring something new to the table. So if you’re going through something new, I can talk about it baby.
This is your eighth studio album.
The eighth, man. The eighth studio album. That’s why I titled the album The VIII. I know a lot of cats that done took off ahead of me but I’m catching up and I don’t know where they are right now. So it’s a blessing just to be still doing what I do.
Any collabs on the album?
I collaborated with my artists. I have an artist, his name is Malone, he’s from Chicago. I also have another female artist her name is Vicky. She’s from Dallas. But I didn’t do Vicki [Monroe] this time but I had Malone on the album on a song “Girl You Know Better.” They are definitely coming soon and they will definitely be bringing great, great R&B music as well. So, that’s my main focus. Not only to keep myself on the map but give these guys the right catapult to their success as well.
What personal struggle did you tackle in your songwriting on this album?
It’s funny 'cause I wrote everything so people ask me, "What’s your favorite song?" like that is so hard to do. But I have a song called "Apart" and the reason I wrote this record is because sometimes you can be with someone but you can find yourself growing apart not really knowing it though. Just being busy. You have things you’re doing. That person has things they’re doing. And then you come back to the table and y'all don’t like the same things y'all did three months ago, you know what I’m sayin’. So you find yourselves growing a part. Again I don’t try to recreate some old school R&B, I like to listen to people's stories and tell the story through music. Through other people.
Listen to Avant's "Special"
Tyrese claims that mainstream radio stations aren’t playing music from black R&B singers. What do you think about that? Do you agree?
I understand what he’s talking about. We all fight the same fight. I was able to hear Babyface. I was able to hear Michael Jackson. I was able to hear R. Kelly. I was able to hear Luther Vandross. And those people helped me be the person that I am today. And I think that’s what’s depriving of the kids today. All they know is shake that ass and boom boom and all this, you know what I mean.
You mentioned Babyface and Luther Vandross. How did they make you the person you are today?
Oh, c’mon now. [Breaks into singing Luther Vandross' "Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"] "Don’t you remember you told me you loved me, baby." Listen to what I’m sayin'. "You said you’d be coming back this way again." When you hear songs like that you can understand, you can see it. Nowadays, what do you have to see? There’s no imagination in these songs. It’s like, "Yo, I like that ass. I’m gon' hit, I’m gon' hit."
It’s like no, there’s more to it. And I think that’s where the kids are being deprived at. You know we had great music, musicianship but also great lyrics, great stories told. When a man opened up a song saying, “Long ago,” you know it’s a story coming, baby. You know it’s a story coming and it locks you in. So I’m thinking that’s what we should bring back to real music. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
What do you think can be done to change that?
I don’t think it’s more of getting on mainstream radio. It’s just more of mainstream respecting what we are and who we are. They try to put you in a position and say, "You’re older than this genre of music or these genre of kids" and I’m sayin', "Hey, we’re raising these kids." Then you fault us if they’re not listening to us. You wanna fault me because they’re out here getting wild listening to these other young kids but you won’t let them listen to the adults that are actually raising them? That’s just kinda weird.
Well, who are you listening to? Who are some of your favorite artists out now?
C’mon, we’re listening to them all. We got Trey Songz. We got Chris Brown. Omarion. [imitates "Post To Be"] Whatever the hell he said. I respect it though. I groove to it, for real. I love the music. Again it’s music. If it makes sense, if it feels good, everybody is gonna listen. It’s not the young generation’s fault. It’s what mainstream radio is doing to us. It’s not the guy’s who’s making the music’s fault.
Gotta love Drake. Gotta love Meek Mill too [laughs]. There’s just so many. Kendrick Lamar. I’m a hip-hop head at the end of the day. I don’t want to be the one to shoot down hip-hop. Hip-hop is doing nothing wrong either. It’s again, the people who’s putting you in the slot and telling you, "We don’t wanna hear your music." Not necessarily the kids, it's the people saying, "We don’t wanna hear your music."
What do you think is the current state of R&B? Can it topple hip-hop?
It’s not a competition and I want people to understand that. At one point, hip-hop and R&B had to survive during R&B and it did. But it was never a competition 'cause you have to think about it -- all of hip-hop kids, what they doin'? Singing. You gonna make me mess my haircut up, but we’re all good.
How do you feel about Donald Trump running for president?
Not my man Donald Trump. That’s too much. C’mon. Damn, Donald. I mean you can feel that way but damn, Donald. Donald scare the hell out chu. We gonna be at war 'cause he’s so emotional. Every second. "Nuke their ass." We don’t want that.
Your very first album, My Thoughts, turned 15 this year in May. Tell us about a memory from recording that project that you haven't really shared before.
I remember me and my girl Keke [Wyatt], it was funny because I wanted to do that song “My First Love” and I never ever knew who I should record it with. And my manager at the time was like, "Yo, I have the dopest young female but she’s only 15," and I’m like "What?" But I was like, "Okay, let’s do it" and I wasn’t that old either. And when we did it, we did it, the soul of the record, we loved the soul of it. We didn’t understand what the record really meant but again if you get in that studio and you put your all into it, then you can create a classic and we was blessed to do so.
So that’s one of my memories and also “Separated.” Boy, that girl broke my damn heart. She did me in. But it was the best heartbreak ever. Every time I go to the bank, I say, "Man, that’s my girl." 'Cause if that s--- wouldn’t have happened, I’d be broke as s---.
Watch Avant's "My First Love" Video Feat. Keke Wyatt