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An Interview with Babyface

Q&A with a Music Superstar


An Interview with Babyface

Babyface image © Mercury Records.

Updated September 17, 2007
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds is one the the most successful R&B/pop balladeers in modern history. He's written and performed dozens of hit songs for himself and others and has won 10 Grammy awards.
On Sept. 18, he'll release his 11th album, Playlist, a collection of Babyface's versions of eight songs by such pop and rock music legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and James Taylor, among others. The album also has two new songs: "Not Going Nowhere," a song to his children explaining how even though he's now divorced from their mother (Tracey Edmonds), he's not leaving their lives; and "The Soldier's Song," a track honoring the military members killed in the Iraq war.
About.com's R&B critic, Mark Edward Nero, had a chance to sit down with Edmonds recently for a face-to-(baby) face interview, and the highlights of it can be read in the Q&A below.

Nero: I want to talk to you about the new album - Playlist. How did you come up with the concept for the album?
Babyface: It was just something I wanted to do for awhile, to record an acoustic kind of album and the songs that I had grown up with. And I felt like this was just as good a time as any.

Nero: How long did it take you to record the album?
Babyface: The actual recording was maybe a couple, three months. But it took awhile thinking about the album, thinking of the songs to do and finally just kind of getting in and doing it. I went in and maybe cut three songs at went and went and talked with L.A. (L.A. Reid, Babyface's production/business partner) and he liked the idea of the direction. And then I said 'Okay, I need to go in and finish it up.' And it took about two months.

Nero: So it was a pretty organic process for you, then?
Babyface: Yes, it was just picking out the songs and our musician guys, we just kind of went in and cut it.

Nero: How long did it take you to choose the particular songs that you did for the album?
Babyface: The first half was easy, they just kind of came, but I had to search around for the next ones. There were some songs that I recorded, but I didn't think they worked for me. And so I just went with songs that I felt were natural for me.

Nero: There's 10 songs on the album - eight are cover songs and two are new. So how many songs total did you record?
Babyface: I only recorded maybe 15 to 16. I didn't do a crazy number of songs. I was pretty specific - I was mostly doing songs that I grew up with and grew up listening to, that I knew. Things that I'd heard and definitely influenced me.

Nero: So what songs didn't make the album, out of curiosity?
Babyface: I was looking at Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" and Gilbert O'Sullivan - "Alone Again Naturally." So there's things that were - "nice song, just not this time around."

Nero: Why did you decide to put a couple of new songs on the album?
Babyface: I felt like there should have been something new, as opposed to just a whole record of covers and I wasn't sure what those songs would be initially.

Nero: I had a chance to listen to part of the album and "Soldier's Song" sounds very Dylanesque - was that intentional?
Babyface: I was listening to everything from that era at the time and when I start to write, it's the harmonica that makes it feel Dylanesque, I guess. But I feel good about it. I was happy with how it came out.

Nero: How big of a Bob Dylan fan are you - you named one of your children Dylan.
Babyface: I'm a Dylan fan. I can't say I'm a total fan, where I know all of his music, but I've known enough things and known his vibe and his poetry that I've always been a fan. I didn't follow him as much because I can't do what he does. The ruggedness and freeness of his voice, it's cool. I wish I could do that. I didn't so much try to follow in his footsteps, but I always appreciated his music.

Nero: You've worked with Eric Clapton in the past. Are there any other artists on the album that you're covering that you've worked with?
Babyface: No, I met with James Taylor once and we started to do some work together, but we didn't. But other than that, there wasn't anybody else. I started to do a (John) Mellencamp cover, but ultimately didn't end up doing it. I always loved the song he had, "Jackie Brown," and I listened to him, but I couldn't find anything that I felt like I could pull off. And I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan, but I couldn't anything I felt I could pull off. The guys with those kinds of voices, I can love their music, but it doesn't mean I can do it.

Nero: I mentioned you have a son named Dylan - how many kinds do you have?
Babyface: Two kids.

Nero: And Dylan is how old?
Babyface: Dylan is 6. And Brandon, he'll be 11 on Aug. 28.

Nero: Have you played the song "Not Going Nowhere" for them?
Babyface: No. That would make 'em sad under the circumstances right now. Interestingly, I wrote the song for them as my sentiment, then as I thought about the people it would affect, I felt it would affect dads that were going through situations, going through divorces. Even though you're saying the right thing - 'I'm not going anywhere,' it can still be a sad situation.

Nero: And the other new song on the album, "Soldier's Song," can you tell me a little bit about that song and talk about how it came to be?
Babyface: I was in Washington, D.C. staying at a friend's house and his son was in the service and he had just came home. He had a friend in the service who had just got killed in Iraq. Then I got on the Internet and looked up all the kids - all the soldiers who had died in this war. And the thing just kind of hit me, in terms of how these kids are going there and sacrificing their lives. They are going there with the intention of believing they are fighting for a purpose, fighting to protect us here back at home. Regardless of what the politics are ... it just hit me that for every life we lose there, they didn't die in vain. We appreciate the fact that they gave their lives for us. And I think the song just kind of came to me thinking that regardless of what their reasoning were, that we respect and honor their lives.

Nero: So you think you might be touring in support of the album?
Babyface: Yeah, we're definitely looking at that. Probably ... November, December. We've got something that we're working on.

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