Interview: Ice Cube

May 24, 2006 10:02 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

For the last decade, rapper/actor Ice Cube has back-burnered promoting his musical career to push his latest flick. Movies such as "Three Kings," "Barbershop," the "Friday" series and "Are We There Yet?" fared well, but he's been yearning to give his music more attention.

On June 6, Ice Cube will release "Laugh Now, Cry Later," his first album in six years. It features the first single "Why We Thugs" (the clean version of which is streaming on his website) and production by Swizz Beatz, Lil Jon and Scott Storch, as well as guest appearances by Snoop Dogg and Dub C.

"I'm definitely with it," Ice Cube said via telephone during a recent tour stop in San Diego. "It feels good just to be back in the game doing hip-hop, being engulfed in it. No movies to worry about right now. It feels real good."

According to the Internet Movie Database, Ice Cube has one new movie in pre-production, "Are We Done Yet?" and two more that have been announced, "Teacher of the Year" and "The Extractors."

Born O'Shea Jackson on June 15, 1969, Ice Cube talked to LiveDaily about the new album, his future in movies and the meaning behind "Why We Thugs."

liveDaily: Why did you decide that now was the time to release an album?

Swizz Beatz and Lil Jon. [Laughs] I worked on [Lil Jon's] album, "Crunk Juice," a song from that. Then he gave me some beats. I let them sit for about a month. Then I was kind of bored, so I started listening to them and they were bangin'. I started writing and I never stopped.

So you wrote your songs before you went into the studio?

I never hardly write while I'm in the studio. With so many people around, I like to know what I'm going to do before I get there. I just like to get there and execute my plan.

Are you a planner?

Yeah, I like to know what I'm going to do. Time is money.

How long did it take to write "Laugh Now, Cry Later"?

I was working on it for about a year.

So you took a good five years off from music.

Not really, because I did the Westside Connection record. I didn't get a chance to promote it. That's been the story of my life for the last 10 years--doing records and not being able to promote them because I was working on a movie or somethin'.

Tell me about the single "Why We Thugs." It's relentlessly catchy.

"Why We Thugs" was produced by Scott Storch. I wanted to make a song that was relevant to the people buying the music, not just a song about me, a song about dancing, females, none of that. I just wanted to do a song that talked about what was really going down, and put knowledge back in the streets, you know? That's why I kept it on this record. Everybody talks about thug life. I wanted to do something about why we thugs, because you got people taking million-dollar machines and making hundred-dollar guns and 50-cent bullets. These AK-47s don't just pop up. Somebody designs, makes and distributes them. I just want people to be aware that there's a bigger plan at play. And with a beat by Scott Storch, I wanted it to bang too. I think we had mission accomplished.

So basically, you're saying thugs shouldn't totally be blamed for what's going on, there's a wider picture here with people who were making guns.

Yeah, no doubt, no doubt.

What is the overriding theme of the album?

"Laugh Now, Cry Later" is really about the state hip-hop, the state of urban America. The state of America, period. Everybody's in this happy, happy [mood] in their own world. Consumerism and materialism is taking over. Nobody's worried about what's going on overseas. Nobody's really worried about everything that's prophesized. "Laugh Now, Cry Later" is an attempt to have a record that was fun and serious, and also just to get people thinking again in hip-hop.

Do you anticipate returning to movies?

I ain't even thinking about movies right now. I plan on releasing multiple albums and doing this for awhile.

Do you have songs written for multiple albums? How many songs did you write for "Laugh Now, Cry Later"?

Yeah. I got about 35 done. I picked out the best 17. We still got some songs that were good. They just didn't fit the theme of this album. They're still good songs. We plan on using them for a future album.

We all know that Ice Cube, founding member of NWA and former "hardcore gangster rapper," performs in family-friendly fluff comedy flicks aimed at the most mainstream of family audiences, but no one with any sense cuts him serious flack for that. Not only are the Friday and Barber Shop movies pretty great, but do you have any idea how big his bank account is by now? When it comes to music, what is the dude to do? It's obviously his first love, but he has about three choices: to work with the Neptunes and try to update himself; to go completely middle America and do a Broadway revue or something; or he can do what he's always done: flex his lyrical muscles, squint a lot, bark out some hardcore lines on top of slick hip-hop--you know, to try and restore his cred. A glance at the song titles will tell you which choice he made. It's interesting to know that the very rich still have problems ("Child Support") and even millionaires have to convince us all that they're tough just like they did when they were broke-ass ("Why We Thugs"). There's some real political commentary here, but it gets lost in uninspired beats and that super-dated style, genre... everything. It would seem that Cube's producers forgot to tell him that no one really cares for that '92 stuff anymore.

Interview: Robin Thicke

May 17, 2006 01:35 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Robin Thicke is truly his parents' son. He has the musical talent of his mother, soap-opera star/singer Gloria Loring, and the smooth nature of his father, actor Alan Thicke.

Taking a break from working in his Los Angeles studio to talk to a reporter, he's gracious when told that his debut album was a stellar effort, and he peppers his conversation with "sweetie."

"My mom was the singer and my dad was the schmoozer," Thicke said with a laugh. "He's the king of the schmooze."

Thicke is preparing for the release of his sophomore effort, "The Evolution of Robin Thicke," featuring the single "Wanna Love U Girl," a collaboration with Pharrell Williams. To push the CD, which hits stores July 18, the video is streaming on his website.

Besides his own albums, Thicke is a Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter. At 16, with no formal training, he began professionally writing and producing music for recording artists like Brandy and Brian McKnight. Over the years, he has amassed dozens of gold and platinum records with artists including Usher, Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson and Christina Aguilera

Thicke spoke to LiveDaily about his songwriting process, working with Williams and kick-starting his music career at a young age.

LiveDaily: I really enjoyed your 2003 debut, "A Beautiful World." What is the direction of this album?

Robin Thicke: I'm just trying to make something pure, that's all.

Pure--how so?

Just to make sure that every song has a real pure intention. Whatever I'm trying to say and how I'm trying to sing it that it really means something to me especially.

Does that mean it's a little more personal?

It's very personal, but it's also very universal, because it's about the human spirit and the human experience.

Is it difficult to sing personal songs?

No, they're the easiest ones.

It seems like it would be hard to spill your guts in front of a large group of people or on record.

No, spilling my guys is what I've gotten good at. There's nothing like the truth. That's one of my lyrics to one of my songs.

You worked with Pharrell Williams on this record. What was it like to work with him?

It was awesome. He's amazing and kind and fun and, uh, very motivated.

What do you think he brought to your music?

I think he brought just fun and extra sexiness to it. [Laughs]

How did you hook up with him?

We had met in the studio years ago when I was working on my first album. When he got a new record deal at Interscope Records, he asked about me, and [Interscope exec] Jimmy Iovine hooked us up together. I'm proud to be working with such a guy. He's a cool cat.

Who else did you work with on the album? Advances of the album aren't available yet.

I like everyone to kind of experience it at the same time on their own, because it's an experience all together. I worked with Faith Evans, because that was incredible. I worked with Lil Wayne. I worked with some other people on some things that haven't exactly panned out.

How was it to work with Faith Evans?

She's a sweetheart and a phenomenal singer and a joy to be around.

Tell me about your writing process.

I write in the studio in my house. I have a patio with the sun out and the birds chirping right where my studio is. So I just kind of sit there and write. I have a piano in my house in front of a fireplace, so that's where I do all my writing.

That sounds like a great atmosphere for writing.

It really is.

How long have you been playing music?

Since I was about 14. I started playing piano when I was 12. And I started writing professionally when I was 15.

Have your parents been supportive of your career?

Yeah. They were skeptical because they know it's a difficult business, but they supported me all the way through.

Your parents are in the entertainment field, so they know the ups and downs you could go through.

Yeah, definitely.

Do they come to your shows?

My dad comes to every show, if he can. He tries not to miss any. I'm always trying to tell them they're at a different place. "Yeah dad, it's in Orange County." [Laughs]

Are you going to tour in support of your album when it's released?

Yeah. I was on tour with Keyshia Cole for a little while, and I'll be rejoining her and doing the Hennessey tour in July leading up to the release of the album. I'll be doing some Virgin Mega Store dates in Europe and out here and on the East Coast.

Do you have a big following in Europe?

I have a cult following. I don't know about a big following. I have very loving and supportive fans.

Interview: Martina McBride

May 10, 2006 11:26 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Country star Martina McBride calls her current concert tour's set list a bit "strange." Although she recently released an album of classics, "Timeless," she does not want to alienate her longtime fans who want to hear her previous hits.

So, she decided to play one hour of "Timeless," take a 15-minute break, and then perform an hour of hits, including "Concrete Angel."

"It's kind of a strange concept a little bit," McBride said via telephone from her home, where kids were heard playing in the background. "Doing the two shows, I didn't know how it was going to work out, but the crowds have been so receptive, especially to the second part of the show.

"Even to the first part of the show, people sing along. It's great when you can look out and see all ages--even 7 and 8 year olds--singing to the Ray Price songs. Everyone who comes through the autograph line has the CD and they seem really familiar with the music, which is great. It's a lot of fun."

Fun but a lot of hard work, said her manager Brad Garrett.

"The second set is chock full of 14 hits right in a row," he said. "For her to be able to sustain that singing for two-plus hours every night is one thing that amazes me."

McBride talked to LiveDaily about the massive number of songs she listens to in creating an album, and producing her music herself.

LiveDaily: How did you chose the songs for "Timeless"?

Martina McBride: There's a bunch of songs I've always wanted to sing; them being classics, I had a lot to chose from. The rest of it, the band and I sat around and just talked about the songs and just tried out different ones, got everybody else's ideas and had a lot of fun going through those old songs.

How long had the "Timeless" project been percolating in your mind?

I think I had the idea for it really since, I want to say, a year ago September. A year before it came out.

It must have been fun to sing the songs in the studio and put your own spin on it.

It was a complete joy from beginning to end. Getting to sing those songs and getting to work on those classic melodies and records every day was really fun. It wasn't even work.

Did you find it difficult to produce your own record?

I didn't find it tough at all. I love it. I co-produced all my records. This was the first time doing it all on my own. It was a blast.

Why did you decide to take the leap and produce it all on your own?

I just felt like it was time. I made eight records with Paul Worley. I felt like I kind of wanted to step out on my own, and kind of make a record on my own. So I guess I did. He was still involved. He played on all the tracks. We had fun sharing music together. But I just did all the work. I produced it myself.

Have you started working on a new record?

I started gathering songs but I haven't started recording yet.

What do you look for in songs when you are preparing to record an album?

It's really instinct. The song has to hit me the right way. Something I want to say, or a song that I feel I wanted to sing for a really long time. I might listen to 1,000 songs, and the ones that stand out and draw me in are the ones that make the record.

How many songs do you listen to in the course of recording an album?

Between 1,000 and 2,000. It's a lot of work. It's a long process. The thing is, listening to that many songs, the good ones--the ones that are right for you--really stand out. The trick is finding the song that's right for you. It's a perfect fit. It's like, there might be 20 beautiful dresses hanging on the rack, but there's one that looks great on you. They're all beautiful, but you have to find the right one. That's the challenge. I really look forward to that part of the process. It's a lot of fun.

In paying tribute to her roots, Martina McBride doesn't merely cover a selection of classic country favorites, she conjures an entire era. You'd swear that was Floyd Cramer playing piano on the album-opening "You Win Again," and Chet Atkins picking guitar on the following "I'll Be There." The steel guitar featured so prominently throughout Timeless recalls a time when country sounded distinctly--and proudly--different from rock, while the background chorale on "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Once a Day," as well as the soaring strings on "Rose Garden," remind one of the "countrypolitan" crossover sound. Except for a delicate rendering of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," McBride's versions don't really add anything to the originals, because these songs weren't missing anything. But she makes "I Don't Hurt Anymore" sound as fresh and pure as it did when Hank Snow recorded it more than a half-century ago, while her rendition of "Till I Can Make It on My Own" has all the brittle conviction that Tammy Wynette invested in it.

Interview: Scott Stapp

May 03, 2006 11:20 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Former Creed frontman Scott Stapp hears plenty of stories about how his music changed fans' lives. But, he admitted, he is tired of the ups and downs in his life that spur his confessional lyrics.

"I get a lot of deep stories, and it's hard to put in perspective for me. I got a story last night from a guy who was [stationed] in Afghanistan. He said, 'Man, without your CD, we don't think we would have gotten through it,'" Stapp said.

"Or I've had people say, 'I had a gun to my head and this song came on the radio, and I stopped.' I just hope I don't have to keep going down to the low lows, and then coming back and fighting my way out to inspire songs, because I don't know if I can handle it anymore. I'm getting old," he added.

Stapp's "lows" have been fodder for supermarket tabloids in recent months. He was arrested for public drunkenness on his way to his honeymoon in Hawaii, but charges were subsequently dropped. It was also widely reported that he was in a fistfight with members of the reggae-rock band 311 last November.

Earlier this year, a sex tape involving Stapp, Kid Rock and a host of strippers appeared on the Internet. Stapp and Rock successfully sued to block the sale of the video. Soon afterward, a woman in the video sued for invasion of privacy, unauthorized use of her likeness and infliction of emotional distress.

Stapp takes a matter-of-fact approach to his problems.

"Aside from all the other stuff [arrests, the leak of the sex tape], which I don't even concern myself with--why worry about things you can't control?--things couldn't be better. My wife and my son will be here in a couple hours. Usually they come with me on Friday and stay with me through the weekend. He had Friday off of school," Stapp said.

Before a recent soundcheck, Stapp talked to LiveDaily about his debut solo effort, "The Great Divide," playing Creed songs live, and bonding with a new band.

LiveDaily: Congratulations on your wedding.

Scott Stapp: Thank you. It was amazing. We had a perfect cool night at our wedding. We were married in Miami Beach.

How's the tour going so far?

It's going great.

It must be a lot less stressful being able to go out and do your own thing.

I haven't changed anything really. I just have different guys behind me.

Did you write the songs for "The Great Divide" any differently than you did with Creed?

I worked with different guitar players. That was the only difference. I had to kind of develop a way of communicating with them. I play rhythm guitars with open tunings, and piano to write. But I'm not, like, a master guitar player or piano player. But I know well enough to write my own songs and to show them to somebody else. I sing parts to the guys, and, once we developed a relationship, they started throwing in some ideas. I think they really contributed a lot to the music on the record. I taught them my sound and the tunings that complement my voice.

How did you meet your band?

They were in a band called Gone Blind. They played on a side stage for us [Creed] when we played around '99 or 2000. We met those guys and became friends with them, and I just stayed in touch. It was important to me to try to find a cohesive group of guys. [They've] learned how to communicate within themselves. They've been together for a long time. They'd been together like 12 years. I thought it would be easier than to mish-mash a bunch of guys together that had never worked together. Another thing was, just meeting the guys, they're such positive, good people. They do this because they love it. That's what I want to surround myself with.

Do you play any Creed songs live?

Yeah, I do. Those are my songs. I play half and half. I play my whole new album, and then I play Creed songs. It's been great responses everywhere. The album is doing well. I just heard it went double platinum.

Your album is very confessional. It seems that that would be very difficult to recreate on stage every night.

No, all my albums have been that way. It's just the way I write. My first single, "My Own Prison," [sings] "I've created my own prison," it's confessional. It's just the way I do things. Once it's released for me, it's kind of a cathartic experience. Especially on this album, in particular, I don't know why I couldn't jump back in to the feeling or the emotion that I felt when I was writing or making demos. A lot of my vocal tracks I used my demo vocal tracks. Like "Justify," for example. The first time I ever sang that song is on the record. I tried over and over and over again to capture what I had captured on the demo that I made, and I couldn't do it. It happened on some other songs, I can't recall right now. Whatever songs it did happen on, I just kept the demo vocal tracks. This album was more about feeling and capturing that feeling, and less about perfection. Also, I wanted to be even more straightforward and more clear in my lyrical writing than I had been in the past.

Were you a perfectionist with Creed?

I'm still a perfectionist. It's just it's my nature. On [Creed's last album, "Weathered"], I wanted it to be perfect--as perfect as I knew how to make it at the time with people I had around me. [Creed guitarist] Mark [Tremonti] agreed. He wanted it to be sonically that way too. With this record, my approach was just different. It probably had to do with the frame of mind I was in. I finally came back into music, and just feeling it myself. All these songs--any time there's some kind of glimmer of hope or saying "I still can go on" or "I believe" or whatnot--I'm talking to myself. I'm trying to motivate myself. I never write about what I am or have an agenda. I write about what goes on in my head--the decisions I have to make, the people around me who inspire myself, and experiences I went through and how I handle it. This is the way I know how to get out of a situation, but that doesn't mean I handled it that way. My writings are like diaries. I just share them with the world.

On his solo debut Creed vocalist Scott Stapp steps up with an album that delicately balances his past with his present but without apology for either. Songs such as "Reach Out" and "You Will Soar" appease longtime fans without serving as mere Creed retreads, but the material that breaks almost entirely from tradition (namely "Sublime") remains some of the most satisfying. With no fewer than three single-worthy tracks--"Let Me Go," "Surround Me," "You Will Soar," plus the already-released title cut--The Great Divide doesn't just find Stapp standing firmly on his own feet it also finds him, more often than not, reaching for new heights.