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Exclusive Joe Interview

Having been in the industry for almost 2 decades, Joe Thomas produced classic ballads, slow jams and club-bangers as well as critically-acclaimed albums. During his career he has received numerous nomintations for BET and Grammy Awards, sold millions of records and certified as an R&B legend. Unlike many from his generation Joe is still finely churning out the best love songs that everyone can relate to shown in this new album entitled Signature. Maintaining his trademark style he also brings fresh newness to the table, with bonus tracks and features from The Game, Mario and Trey Songz! spoke to the 7-time Grammy-nominated artist Joe Thomas to mark the release of his new single Majic taken from new album Signature. The R&B legend speaks about Jazmine Sullivan being the new Aretha Franklin, compares this generation to the 90s, declares himself “The new Frank Sinatra of the game” and whether he’s achieved everything he wanted to.

Marvin Sparks: Once again Joe will be performing in London. Why do you think you are one of a selected few in such demand to perform in London annually?

Joe: I don’t know [laughs] I really don’t know. I think it’s a connection factor. My fans sort of grew up with me; I started this when I was 17/18 years-old. I think if you do music in a certain way and show growth people stick with you and they want to see how things turn out. I’ve been good enough not to have too many crazy things happen in my life, I’ve remained level headed, but I think I’ve just got loyal fans at the end of the day.

Marvin Sparks: What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had with a fan?

Joe: I mean a lot of girls try to get up in the car while it’s moving. I had one girl who managed to get up in the hotel, but she obviously worked there. It was beyond flowers - it was more to the showers.

Marvin Sparks: Your career stretches back to the early 90s. A lot of people believe R&B in the 90s was better then than it is now. What’s your view on the current state of R&B?

Joe: I think R&B has sort of taken a different route. They followed Hip-hop for a while, now it’s more a wave of what’s winning - now that sound that’s really winning here in the US. I think they are just trying to selling more units to a broader market and a broader audience. What they do as R&B and that real music is not really looked at so it’s put on the backburner. I think it’s got to go back a few years or even the 70s to now move music forward. More live music has to come to the forefront. Even the young artists that are coming out, I think they should incorporate more live music into their repertoire.

Marvin Sparks: What is your favourite era of music?

Joe: The 70’s; you’ve got Earth, Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass... you had a lot of people doing it back then.

Marvin Sparks: Recently we’ve seen Chrisette Michelle and Maxwell shifting a lot of units with their new albums. Are we seeing a resurge of that neo-soul/R&B music back to the mainstream?

Joe: Oh most certainly. I mean you’re getting your horn players getting jobs again and they're definitely getting back into the game. I’ve always loved horns and I think that now is the time for real music. I’ve been preaching this for a long time and now I’m walking in the steps of what I’ve been saying. Just being one of those artists with the live music feel in today’s generation.

Marvin Sparks: Are there any artists in this generation whom you are feeling?

Joe: Jazmine Sullivan has an incredible voice; she’s an incredible singer. To me I consider her the Aretha Franklin of the generation today. There is no other artist out there who has that sound that can sing like she sings, so she has a really unique quality. Erm, wow, who else am I feeling? I mentioned Ne-Yo the last time he’s still good.

Marvin Sparks: Many people say R&B artists aren’t competitive but when there were the likes of R. Kelly, Donnell Jones, Ginuwine and others all aiming for the same target audience there must have been some competing. Did that make you step up your game?

Joe: I’m not gonna lie; there was definitely a competitive factor there. You wanna be in the game as well. You don’t want to be like ‘Wow those guys are really doing it.’ So you had a little competitive factor which made song writing even more fun because you wanted to write a better record than what somebody else had out there, because some people think you can only do it once, so you’ve got to prove them wrong by doing it again and again and again.

Marvin Sparks: One criticism that older R&B artists who are still in the making albums receive is for sticking with tried-and-tested methods which were successful in yesteryear. What’s your take on that?

Joe: That’s true, some of us want to stay true to ourselves, and they’ve created a trademark sound and refuse to... like I refuse to use Autotune. I don't feel it’s necessary; it is not a sound, it is not a tone that’s going to be distinctive enough for me to have a career and anybody can sound like that. That’s one thing that a lot of artists do, they try to hold on to what’s true about them and for me it’s my voice - my sound is very true. And now you've got some people who won’t record another studio record until something's change with record labels.

Marvin Sparks: You’re releasing your new single ‘Majic’ taken from your album ‘Signature’, how did that song come about?

Joe: Its fun, having fun with the ladies and playing words. It’s one of those records that are really catchy and fun. It’s really different from the rest of the album because the rest of it is live [instruments]. This was one that I produced with the drum machine and keyboard, but there are some live elements like a live guitar and things like that.

Marvin Sparks: How would you describe the album?

Joe: Like a throwback. It’s like a throwback R&B joint.

Marvin Sparks: Is there a favourite song on there?

Joe: I like all of them; from the first track which is ‘Majic’ you’ve got ‘Sex Girl’ which is another young joint, and the rest of the album is really mature - like some real grown up tuxedo style, just real fly. I’m taking it to the next level of elegance and I wanted to keep the music real elegant but it’s sexy at the same time. It’s got live horn, live strings. Just taking it back to the 70s and how they did it then.

Marvin Sparks: Numerous award nominations, rated as a legend, sold millions of records, why are you still recording? What’s your motivation to make albums when you can make a healthy living from touring?

Joe: I mean it’s like I’ve something to prove huh? I don’t know, to me it’s still fun to hear my record on radio; it’s also fun to hear people respond to them. I think I’m still a kid at heart when it comes to this music game. There’s always something new because the creativity is never ending and as long as I can live I’m going to create something. That’s what’s fun to me.

Marvin Sparks: Have you ever considered retiring or moving behind the scenes to help develop acts?

Joe: Definitely developing acts but not retiring. I’m the new Frank Sinatra of the game. Not in terms of how big he was but in terms of longevity. I want to last as long as he did and he was graceful in it.

Marvin Sparks: And this is the second album released independently on your record label. What are the benefits for an artist who has been in the industry for so long to be on an indie situation?

Joe: Well for me, me owning my own label I reap all the rewards, so everything I do now counts for me. I deal with the distributor’s one a first name basis, you cut out the middle man, its real simple and it’s a lot more fun.

Marvin Sparks: Would you say you have embraced the internet to its maximum potential?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely, the internet is the way to go. We are in the future now and a lot of major labels didn’t catch on until way too late and that’s why a lot of them are merging at the moment, because they don’t really have a grip on the content anymore. The internet is a big part of what we do and is a huge vehicle for promoting and getting things out there.

Marvin Sparks: Are you on Twitter?

Joe: Unfortunately not, I can’t do the Twitter thing. I don’t think people really care that much. What if I’m sitting on the toilet and have my Blackberry in my hand, should I tweet that? [laughs]

Marvin Sparks: Around last year I read a couple of interviews where you spoke about R. Kelly hindering your progress as an artist by blackballing you. One thing I never found out was: if that was the case, how did you come to recording two of R. Kelly songs from the unreleased Loveland for your album And Then?

Joe: That was the hokey-doke huh?

Marvin Sparks: Pardon?

Joe: That was the hokey-doke. Hokey-doke means they pulled a fast one on us. Basically the label knew about these two records that were already out, I had no idea about this [album] that he was putting out - More and More and the other song which was Make You My Baby. I loved the records when they were sent to me; I thought I would work with them so I cut the two records. They sent the tracks to me, I recorded it, came out great, thought of the promotional plan and they said I should release them. I thought great then I got a call from a friend of mine saying ‘There’s a version of your record out in the streets but it has got R. Kelly singing‘. Wow, they pulled the hokey-doke on me.

Marvin Sparks: Is that part of the reason why the label situation broke down?

Joe: Well, it was just that time. It was 12 years with Jive, another two with a major label; I got enough experience in that department with labels so it was time for me to go out on my own. I made a lot of connections, had a lot of good relationships. The whole R. Kelly thing was just a moment; that thing had happened but it didn’t stop me too much because I am still about and still doing it which is a blessing because you can’t take anything for granted.

Marvin Sparks: Would you say you have achieved everything you wanted to in your career?

Joe: I’m beyond what I imagined. I never imagined this in my wildest dreams, to be a current artist for 15 years straight. That’s a pretty amazing thing right there and still going. I’m just counting my blessings everyday because I could be this artist or I could be that artist. I could have had 1 record, I could have stopped at All The Things Your Man Won’t Do but I kept going and it’s a blessing that I’m still around.

Interview conducted by Marvin Sparks

Get the hot new album 'Signature' released by Keder Entertainment/Universal instores 21st September 2009


My favourite Joe song?

I know you are thinking of some killer slow jam or some album cut to prove you're a Joe fan. Shatap! This is the most beautifully written song in my opinion. If I'm honest top 5 would be Good Girls (real talk right there), All The Things (Your Man Won't Do) (for the record I don't co-sign all sentiments in that record, it is a well-written song), Stutter (dem dutty cheatin skanky a*s h***) and Don't Wanna Be A Player.


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