Have you ever had a drink with your fans like this before?
Not as sexy as this is. Not at all as sexy as this is, but I’ve had a drink with my fans after a show, so yeah.
Was there a specific moment when you started to realize you had fans?
There are a couple of times that I can remember. Seeing people at the early shows and then seeing the same people at the next shows. You think, “Oh wow, people are really into the music.” As you keep working and there’s that consistency, you start to really, really figure out that people are paying attention. After the Grammy’s [was another time]. On tour is where you really get to gauge.
You’ve said your most recent album “Wildheart” is the closest you’ve brought fans to you. Is there anything you keep private or are you an open book?
For the most part I like to share my perspective. I think there are some things in life that are worth keeping to yourself, especially in a world where everything is so voyeuristic. I think privacy is important. You know, my personal relationships I keep very, very close. I don’t like to exploit my romantic relationship– my relationship with my woman. I think that’s very special, and it should be protected.
When’s the last time you were so excited you couldn’t fall asleep?
I think it was the third or fourth show on this tour. It was the first time I crowd surfed. It was something I always wanted to do. Talk about transcending the expectations of the stereotype. I think it was more symbolic to me than anything. I grew up loving and watching rock ‘n’ roll and wanting to do things that I saw my favorite musicians do. For so long I was trying to pull that energy out of the crowd. Finally we got to a place where the energy was just there and it was waiting for us.
How have you managed to stay grounded and humble during your success?
It’s all about who you surround yourself with. I will say, I have the advantage of having a really down-to-earth family. My mother and my father are both very chill people and raised me to be the same. So that, and keeping in mind that you can’t take anything– be it positive or negative– to heart. I think it’s all about knowing who you are, what your intention is and just trusting your instincts and going with that. Wherever that strikes a chord with people, and however people receive it has everything to do with their own perspective, and you can’t control that. It helps you keep things in perspective.
When did you feel you had a strong sense of self?
I think it’s a continuous thing. I think we are consistently confirming and reaffirming our principles, our beliefs, our insecurities and our strengths. For me, I think it’s just a matter of experience. It’s been more about, “What does happiness look like to me? What is success to me? What is wealth to me?” The more and more an individual defines that, the less likely they are to make decisions to appease the opinions of others; the more it becomes about how they really feel about things.
What are your insecurities?
Everyone has their insecurities. This finger right here. I have this weird finger! I don’t know… it’s weird. It just doesn’t connect. We pay attention to funny things.
I heard you say in between records that you had some living to do to fill the tank of inspiration. What kind of living did you do?
Man, spending time with friends and family. Just kind of realigning and recalibrating. I guess really taking a look at myself and answering those questions like, “Where do I stand? What do I believe in? What am I willing to sacrifice for what I want? What’s too far?” I think the sooner we answer those questions for ourselves the more likely we are to allow ourselves to dream. It’s when we don’t do those things that we’re just kind of going with the flow of things and not really focusing on how we feel about life and the direction we want to move. And it’s so easy because there are so many distractions in this world to keep you off-balance.
Where do you feel most creative? Where do you write?
It’s my job as a creative individual to absorb everything. Creativity for me comes in the most random moments. It’s unpredictable and I think that’s the best part about it.
Do you have a happy place? Are you on a beach? At home?
Near water is always good for me. Anyone else here love water? I grew up in San Pedro in Inglewood in Los Angeles. Where I grew up is less than five miles from Venice Beach, so I was always close to the water. San Pedro was a port city. I was always close to the beach there. So yeah, happy place for me is definitely by water.
What’s been the best drink you’ve had because of your career? Did you ever sit with an artist and think, “I can’t believe I’m having a drink with this person!”? Probably what everyone here is thinking right now about having a drink with you.
Best drinks? There have been some really good ones. Fun times: Jessie Ware, Benny Blanco. Those were some fun times. That was around the time when we were writing for [Jessie’s] latest album. Those were just good times in L.A. She’s a whiskey drinker. I love whiskey too. Lenny Kravitz– good drink. His right-hand man makes this amazing drink. I’m not much of a rum drinker, but he makes this amazing rum drink. It has its own name, and it will creep up on you. I like to taste my alcohol, and it’s the perfect amount– this specific ginger beer and rum. It’s incredible.
You’ve said every outfit you wear has a story. Can you take us through today’s look?
Today I’m just in my blues. I’m pretty much a jeans and t-shirt guy. I think I can really take it there with my choice in accessories. Today is just about being comfortable and it’s kind of warm outside. It’s perfect Chicago weather. It’s not too hot, but there’s a little bit of humidity. It’s summertime; so cottons are great.
What do you do right when you get off stage?
First thing I do is take a shower. A nice hot steamy shower. Gotta protect the vocal cords. You probably don’t want to come to my show in stilettos. I want you to come looking sexy and feeling sexy, but we are going to party. So I get off stage drenched in sweat from crowd surfing and jumping around on stage, legitimately. Like, really crowd surfing. It’s going to happen tonight.
It probably takes some discipline to stay fit and healthy on the road. What are your travel routines?
Lots of water. Vitamins at the very beginning of the day. I do a multi-vitamin and 5-HTP, which is a good amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin. It helps balance your mood and appetite and all of that so you’re aligned. The strain of the road and the schedule can sometimes leave you without sleep. Your body responds by raising your cortisol levels. This is a whole geeky thing; we are taking a geeky turn.
I’m eating all of this up.
[Laughs] Righteous. So, it changes your cravings and what-not. Because I have to stay on point, I gotta make sure I’m not eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just before I go to sleep. Although, I do make a really good peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Go-to guilty pleasure when you do splurge?
Aw man, French toast. Breakfast for everything! Lunch, dinner and everything.
What will always be a common thread between past, present and future albums?
I mean, ultimately the common thread will always be me and my perspective. I’m somewhat of a dreamer and I think the way that I create music reflects that. There’s always a dreaminess to it, and I think everyone has the ability to be the same way. I think the dreamers are the ones that accomplish monumental things, the ones that weren’t afraid, the ones that were willing to take chances– they had to dream. You can only go as far as you allow yourself to dream. I think that’s the unifying thread. There’s this idea that we can dictate and curate our realities; that’s kind of the through line in all of my music.
What was your biggest setback and how did you get through it?
So many setbacks. It doesn’t help that I’m really clumsy. Setbacks really start with the ones that you accept as setbacks. I think for me [it was] growing up of mixed origin, ethnic origin and how people treated me in my community and in school. That adversity stuck with me in a really weird way. One of my mentors says this all of the time, “Turn your stress to bless.” The things that really bother you, how do you make that something positive for yourself? I think I carried a lot of the adversity my ethnicity [brought], questioning who I was and feeling like I didn’t have a place. I carried that with me for a long time. It’s funny that on this album it was the shedding of that baggage and letting that go that I feel makes me the strongest and makes me more relatable to my fans.
Who is your mentor?
Mark Pitts is one of my mentors– close big brother mentors. He’s the person that signed me. Aside from being business partners and being involved in really wanting to change music, he’s just one of those people who has a good heart. He has been a big brother to a lot of other people including Usher, Chris Brown and Biggie.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to have a career in music?
Man, I wish I could tell you. To be honest, I’ve always just been in love with music, you know? It might be that it just made me feel something. I wanted to make people feel something. That’s all I remember early on. The music made me feel something. It’s like, how can a kid know what romantic love is? But you still feel it. When you hear Donny Hathaway sing “For All We Know” or “Roxanne” by The Police, you think, “I don’t know what this song is about, but it feels cool.” Or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even if you can’t wrap your mind around the experience or it’s not something you’ve experienced, the emotion is there. That’s powerful, man.
When you’re overwhelmed or you’ve had a bad day, do you have a quote you think about or anything you do that brings you to a better state of mind?
Here’s the thing, the human body oddly reacts to stress by not breathing. We kind of hold our breath. I think the beginning of letting go of tension starts with the breath. One of my friends and band members said something to me towards the beginning. He said there’ve been times when I’ve been on stage and he doesn’t feel like we’re connecting. He said to breathe and imagine the breath rooting me through my feet. I’ll never forget that because it changed the way that I breathe in moments of stress. Imagine the breath going all the way through you to your feet and grounding you to the floor. You’re making everything still. In moments of stress you’re playing pingpong with yourself in your head with all of the thoughts, the repercussions, the fear, this and that, and I think grounding yourself quiets all of that and lets you be in the moment. Really let it wash over you, shake it off and then you kind of have your composure.
We’re going to switch gears a little bit and play a little true or false.
Oh man, here we go! Is that why we have the tequila?
True or false? You are part of the mile-high club.
[Laughs] Can I plead the fifth? True.
True or false? You’ve kissed in a movie theatre.
True or false? You’ve been intimate on the beach.
Now this will seem like a high school thing. True or false? You’ve hooked up in a car?
Did you have a car as a teenager?
I did. I had a Honda Civic. It was white; it was my mom’s old car. I loved that car, man. It was the EX version, so everything was automatic. I thought I was so cool; you’d get in the car and the seatbelt came over [your body].
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
That’s an interesting one. A drink with anyone… Hunter S. Thompson. I feel like that would be interesting.
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