Musiq Soulchild Puts Neo-Spin on Christmas Classics
Musiq Soulchild is a master at multi-tasking. Take an ordinary December day for example. The Philly-native is doing interviews to promote his new holiday CD, 'Christmas Musiq,' amidst rehearsals with a new band for a Dec. 30 show at Detroit's historic Fox Theater and working on his sixth album and follow-up to his Grammy-nominated 'OnMyRadio.' But this is how the R&B singer works. Afterall, Musiq recorded 'Christmas Musiq' while simultaneously working on 'OnMyRadio.'
"It was actually fun and extremely intense," Musiq tells the BoomBox. "I was mixing two albums at the same time. I did the album in a matter of two months." The seven-song holiday album features his takes on such classics as 'Jingle Bells,' 'Deck the Halls' and 'O Holy Night.'
"The songs I chose had to be public domain songs," Musiq says. "I couldn't do any originals by any artists. You don't really get any publishing because they're old, well-overused standards. I know it's been done a million times, but I really wanted to do Donny Hathaway's 'This Christmas.' I couldn't do his song because it was an original piece. They had to be 'O Christmas Tree,' 'The First Noel' and things like that." Ideally, Musiq really wanted to write his own songs, but that wasn't in the cards at this time.
"I'd really want to get into the vibe of Christmas," he says of penning an original holiday album. "I don't really get that feeling with the Christmas songs that are out nowadays. I like to always play on different vibes and things that people don't really talk about -- how it feels to sit and drink some really good hot chocolate in a nice diner down the street in Atlanta or seeing people walking around happy because they got gifts, or people who ain't so happy because they still shopping like crazy. I'd like to be really realistic and talk about real-life stuff in songs, rather than just being holly and jolly. There's always going to be that element there, too. But I just want to be a little bit more realistic."
This past November Musiq returned to the studio with producer Jack Knight (Diddy, Usher) laying down a rough ten tracks for his 'OnMyRadio' follow-up. Describing them only as "pretty OK," the Philly-native plans on heading back to the studio to record another batch before narrowing the two sessions down to a final twelve for the album.
"I know people classify me as a neo-soul artist, which is cool," he says, "but I'm trying to introduce the idea to people that there's more to what I'm capable of or what I'm interested in presenting to people musically than just neo-soul music. One thing that I've noticed in traveling is everybody doesn't listen to neo-soul music. I like to say I make music for the world. If I'm going to make music for the world, I have to make music for more than one genre of music."
So far so good. Musiq's three Grammy nods include Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for 'Sobeautiful' and two in the Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocals category. He's nominated for both his original collaboration 'IfULeave' with Mary J. Blige, as well as his guest vocals on India.Arie's 'Chocolate High.' "That's always a good thing," Musiq says of being recognized. "It means that I'm still credible, which is a very important thing to me. I feel as though whatever you do in this business it has to matter to the people. If it doesn't matter to the people the people are not going to invest in it.
While winning would be "a high," Musiq didn't realize when he was penning the tunes that they would be so well respected. "I'm never the type of artist who thinks like that," he admits. "When I make music, when I'm in the studio recording or singing or writing, I don't think about whether or not it's going to win an award, or whether or not it's going to be on the radio. I pray that somebody out there hears it and when they hear it, they like it or even love it because it's something they can identify with, feel and apply to their lives in one way or another. I don't care if you're from the hood. I don't care if you're from the suburbs. I don't care if you're from a Third World country. If you like my music, I feel as if I've accomplished something."
'Christmas Musiq' is available on iTunes.