THE_VIII

*Wait, so Tyrese not too long ago dropped another album to critical acclaim and it shot to #1 on the charts, Trey Songz is continuing to drop records that do the same and resonate with traditional and digital audiences, and Avant, who’s latest release ‘Special‘ is currently climbing the Urban AC charts, drops his eighth studio album today?

Are you trying to tell me that R&B is giving hip hop a smooth elbow to the ribs and is finessing its way back into the good graces of discriminating music lovers?

It’s kind of looking that way to me.

Music fans have been lamenting the decline of respect for “good” R&B for a long while now. Not that nobody has been doing love songs and smooth vocals (Ne-Yo, Usher, Tank, etc), but there’s barely been a solid platform for it and, consequently, sales have been met with crickets – relatively speaking. But with the Tyreses (who just successfully used more relevant tactics to effectively promote his latest project) and Avants of the world, there’s the chance that the ship that was once thought to be sinking is at the very least steadying its float and getting consistent attention as it did in the distant past.

I spoke with proud R&B crooner Avant about his forthcoming album – entitled The VIII simply because he’s “just excited about being around to deliver eight albums during an ever-changing music industry.”   He shared his thoughts on the subject of R&B, his career and new album, and we engaged in some behind-the-pen talk about how he keeps producing enduring “love” songs for his fans.

Gerald Radford: How does it feel to be labeled as on of the quintessential R&B crooners over such a long span?

Avant: I think it’s a beautiful thing. Me coming up and idolizing people like Marvin Gaye, Babyface, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson … you know what I’m saying? It’s really a ‘thank you’ and I’m humbled by it.

G.R.: You’ve been around for 15 years. How are you different today e r lease of your first album?

Avant: Well, you know what? A lot more to talk about. It’s funny because when you do your first album, that’s everything within the span of your life that you talk about right there, but me being eight in now and a songwriter, it’s a beautiful thing because now I can pull from not just my life, but other people that I know that I’ve encountered and experienced their lives, and you know I’ve been blessed to be able to write from different aspects of music.

G.R.: Being a celebrated writer as much as you are a singer, what inspires your lyrics?

Avant: From people’s stories. Like even in ‘Special,’ I said “we didn’t hit the lottery …” You know, everybody wants to hit the lottery one day, so I thought that would be a cool line to use because, you know, the lottery, it’s so high now. I’m like, yo, even if you ain’t no lottery player, I’m gonna buy one to see if I got a chance at it. It’s nothing new under the sun, but it’s just different ways to telling a story.

G.R.: You still write and sing about love when it seems like doing that, in terms of addressing the emotion itself, is a dying art and the emphasis is on the crude physicality of it. What keeps you giving love its props in your music?

Avant: I think it’s just … people ask me about the state of R&B … I don’t think it’s [about] that, I just think it needs tweaking. And the reason I say so is we focus on the wrong things. The truth is, the focus should stay on the consumer. We should make you guys the superstar, really honestly. And, you know. When you do records in that nature, that’s when you win.

We look at it saying, you know, ‘I wanna talk about what I’ve encountered now and the things that I have [experienced], but it’s like, with the consumer, that’s taking them out of the equation. So, the nature of it all is, once we get back to what the consumer wants, what they wanna purchase, then I think R&B will be in a better state.

G.R.: 15 years in you’ve seen the industry change dramatically. Are you adjusting well to the digital age of music?

Avant: You have to. You have to get on some of these blogs you have to get people to want to be digital and press the button, because that’s the nature of everything. Everything has changed, you know, it’s like I have over a million people that bought my album. I have to find those people and cater to those and make it easy to buy albums and make music matter again. I think that’s one of the main focuses…I’ve been focusing on trying to find those consumers that can turn me on to those young kids and say, “oh, this guy was alright or he’s ok”, so that’s the whole nature. So, we’ve been trying a few different things.

G.R.: Even the measure of success has changed. What will make you feel like you’ve succeeded with your new album?

Avant: Well, you know, when they hear songs that are true like ‘Special,’ you know what I mean, and I see that it’s doing very well on Urban AC charts. And people want to really feel good about themselves, and the reason I wrote the record is I’ve been out for 15 years now and it seems like I run into people thats not happy in their situation. It’s like why even be in it, you know what I’m saying? It [the song] makes you feel special, so I wrote that record for just the thought of my fans. I was like, ‘yo, I want you guys to be encouraged to find the right person.’

G.R.: Was there any special reason being naming the album VIII

Avant: I was just proud to have eight albums. I was like, ‘wow,’ I remember having my first album and thinking that’s all I had to do, and it was like three weeks after that one, they was like ‘yo, you need to work on a another album!’ and I was like, ‘for real?’ and they was like, ‘yeah, this is how this thing goes.’ So, for me to have eight right now, that feels good.

G.R.: What drew you to producers Tim and Bob on this new project?

Avant: We worked on the last album … extremely talented guys. And every time I get in the studio, I want to do something different all the time, so that’d be my pitch to all my producers, like let’s do something … you know ain’t nothing new under the sun, but let’s make people feel like this is 2015 and it’s something new. So, I think we accomplished those things.

G.R.: Of all the albums you’ve released is there one or a song you would consider as the gold standard that you aim to duplicate or exceed the success of?

Avant: I can’t say. I wrote all that stuff and everything is periods for me. You know, when people hear ‘Separated,’ they go nuts, but … or ‘Read Your Mind’ or ‘Four Minutes’ it ’s kind of hard. To me, by it being periods in my life, I respect them, but I don’t like to go back and say, ‘I want to compete with this period …’ I always want to try and make something new and fresh. But whatever they respect, i’m gonna always try to be better than that.

G.R.: You’re also known for your great collaborations, particularly with KeKe Wyatt. Any on the new album?

Avant: I didn’t do any collaborations with her on it, but I did do one with my male artist who’s name is Malone. He’s from Chicago. And I didn’t do anything with my female artist, but she’s coming. Her name is Vicki and she’s from Dallas, but basically I tried to focus on those people that love the Avant from back, those stories that I was giving. I also have to do a duet album with KeKe, so I didn’t want to spoil you guys with any more material. I gotta keep some of that stuff in.

G.R.: You intimated that music is in a good place today. What artists of today do you listen to or draw inspiration from?

Avant: Artists of today … I’ve gotta give it up to Chris Brown, Trey Songz, those guys, they’re doing it real big right now on a major level…. I wouldn’t say they’re my go to artists when I need some inspiration, but I’m definitely listening to those guys. You know, I get my inspiration from the people, so I try to pull from their situations, their stories and try to make melodies from that.

The VIII is in stores and online NOW.