Class is in session: Calvin Richardson on life and music.
Already sparking with excitement on this particular Sunday afternoon, Calvin Richardson entered into the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel with a huge smile on his face.
Before he could reach the winged chair where I was sitting, an employee from the hotel stopped Richardson and kindled a friendly conversation with him.
I whipped out my phone after a few minutes and began filming the exchange between the two. It was regal to catch Richardson in his comfortable state— he’s sociably hilarious and hospitable.
The 39-year-old released his first solo album in 1999 called “Country Boy” under the Uptown/ Universal record label. He also co-wrote a single with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, called, “There Goes My Baby."
Richardson was nominated for a Grammy award in 2003 for his song “2:35PM,” which he performed with Joe. He went on to release many other albums throughout the years. He’s currently working on a new EP...
Let’s talk about R&B…
Hip-hop and dance music kind of drives the industry… people want to feel good, and that’s what they want to hear. You have to sit down and listen to the slower stuff, to see what’s going on. I think there’s room for it and I still do slower R&B—I’ve never been concerned about it. I leave it to the producers. They know what they need to put into the music, to make it work for me. I know what I need to put on top of it, to work for me. It’s a pretty good marriage—that’s how I adapt without having to change. Now, don’t get me wrong, change can be good. Sometimes you gotta change in order for some things to work. However, I stay true to my sound. I am the truth of my sound. It’s just who I am. I am the consistency in my music.
Tell us about your new projects…
Actually, I have a couple of movie scores coming out. They’ll be using stuff from my other albums, and I’m working on my new LP. I’m just getting into that. This is the space I’m in right now because I’ve been on the road so much, and when I’m in my creative mode, I like to put one thing down, because there is so much required of me when I’m on the road. The way that I sing and the type of singer that I am-- If I only have one show tonight, I’m going to go out there and give you one thousand. I don’t reserve anything for the next show, I have to recover. I have to give my voice time to recover… It’s tough to do that and then get in the studio and you don’t have a voice. I block off time, to get in the studio, and make that record. I’m getting to the point now that I’m getting back into the studio to finish the tracks on my record.
You mentioned that you had to take time off… Recently, Lauryn Hill was extremely late to a concert because her energy was off. Is that also true for you? Do you need to get into a Zen mode before you perform?
I think there is a definite space that you have to be in, to be able to give one-hundred percent of yourself to the people that receive it, and they should be able to appreciate it. On the other hand, if people pay their money, they shouldn’t have to wait hours for an artist to come late. With me knowing that I have a show coming up, there’s no way that I’ll push it back that late. You can put yourself in the mood that you need to be in at 8 in the morning. If it takes 6 hours that leads up to that, I need to be taking the adequate time in advance to get there. You can work that so it works out for everyone.
Have you noticed changes in the industry from when you started?
The industry has definitely changed. The music has changed, and the type of artist who is coming into the business has changed. You have younger producers, writers, and artist, that are coming in and taking their place with success. They don’t necessarily have ties with the way things used to be. They don’t know that part. There was no need for them to go back in and research the history of what they are doing—to keep certain elements in music besides just music itself. For instance, Chris Brown is what Marvin Gaye was to us. Whenever Chris Brown started, that’s as far as people care to go back. They don’t need to go any further because that’s when music made an impact on them. There are still people in the game like myself, Fantasia, Anthony, Lela Hathaway, and Jodeci… We’re adults now. We don’t drive the industry so to speak, and that’s okay. There will always be a place for us in music. People appreciate what they appreciate.
Do you write some of your music or all of your music?
I pretty much write all of it. Eric Benet and I wrote my last album, I am Calvin. He told me that he had writers that he wanted to bring to the sessions. Then he realized after they gave me the first song—we needed the other writers because he didn’t realize the type of writer I was. He and I would get together and vibe, we talked and wrote the songs together. I’m pretty self-contained cause if I go into the studio, I’m coming out with a hit.
Coming from North Carolina, do you think it was easy to get where you are now?
It was definitely difficult. My first album came out in 1999—that was a long time ago. I’m at the point where sometimes I’m a headliner and sometimes during shows, I open. There will always be a caliber of artist that’s going to be bigger or smaller. But in the interim, I built my brand which wasn’t easy to do. I had to find my way and figure out the label.
When you first sign to a label, in your mind you think they are going to make you a star. That’s not true and that’s not how it works. That’s a vehicle and you have to work as hard as they want to work for you. You have to be willing to do all the things, not knowing.
Most artist go in and do everything, while some of us go in and buck everything they ask us to do… The labels get aggravated and shelf your albums. Everything that they asked of me, I was willing to do it. But, at the same time, they have budgets, they have other priority artist, and sometimes you get caught up in that. It takes work and it takes a lot. I’m grateful for the recognition that I have. I’m still here and probably will be here 10-years from now. If you want to sit down and have this conversation again, we’ll be able to talk and I can tell you more about what I’ve experienced from this point forward.
Do you feel more comfortable now, than you did 3 years ago?
Oh, yeah. No doubt. Let me tell you what I’ve realized in this time frame: Nobody is gonna change the game. You aren’t going to change the game. The game is bigger than me and it’s bigger than Eric Bennet, and Charlie. You will go in and find your success if you work hard enough at it and stay with it. But no one is gonna change the game.
What words of wisdom do you have for up-and-coming artist?
I guess the biggest part for young artist is that they’ll go in with stars in their eyes and that’s a wonderful thing. But, that will blind you… You gotta go in knowing who you are and what your contributions are going to be in this music industry… you can’t go in trying to be the next whoever. No, you’re just going to be the first of many that will fall on your face. You gotta be you—whatever that is. Can’t nobody be you, better than you.
What’s the main focus of your new album? What message are you conveying?
The message is the same with good vibes and love stories. I’m just laying it on a different bed of music. I'm starting right now, well in my mind, it’s an acoustics album. I have 3 songs recorded right now. The tempo of the album has to be a certain way—it can’t get much higher than a mid-tempo. It’s not necessarily jazzy. Do you remember “The Tony Rich Project," guy from Atlanta? It was a lot of acoustic guitars. My music is kinda that vibe. I want to be able to do a set at a hotel and entertain a thousand people in an intimate setting. I don’t care if it’s 50. We wouldn’t need many amplifier and the music doesn’t have to be that loud for you to get it. Like, Prince... His last album was his piano and his voice. That’s where I am with my guitar and my voice.
My very first song, when I went solo, it was an acoustic song. My producer wanted me to stay in that zone, but I didn’t want to be in that. I kind of bucked at that because I wanted to make a bigger sound. Ironically, many years later, here I am. I want to get back to who Calvin Richardson is. I’m trying to get to the essence of who Calvin Richardson is. I’m a voice—beyond the voice, I want you to hear what I’m trying to say. I don’t want you to be distracted by a large band because it might distract you from what you needed to hear, and you missed it. I’m just trying to center everything back to me.