John Legend Interview

John Legend
Artist:John Legend
Label:G.O.O.D. Music / Columbia
Next Project:Evolver (Out Now)
Twitter:John Legend on Twitter
Website:John Legend's Website

The words of hope and change that fueled Barack Obama‘s campaign for President and ultimately his victory in this month’s election have catalyzed a movement towards artistic growth and renewal in hip hop, and this newfound positivity has been in the foreground of much of the music being released as of late.  In addition to the cavalcade of Obama-centric mixtapes and exclusive singles from a wide range of high-profile artists, we have heard talk of a musical Renaissance from veteran emcee Q-Tip, and now another of today’s biggest names, John Legend, has released a new LP with a title invoking the very process by which growth and change occur.

Legend’s third studio album, Evolver, finds the singer forging ahead into new musical territory, with a large and fervent fanbase following each and every footstep.  Lead single “Green Light” fittingly demonstrated the singer’s drive to reach beyond the confines of his previous output, with its uptempo feel and Andre 3k feature, while “If You’re Out There,” a cut that Legend debuted at the DNC earlier this year, tugged at listeners heartstrings with a stirring plea for change and progress.

In an exclusive interview with our very own DJZ,” John Legend steps into the DJ Booth to discuss the ways in which artists must evolve to succeed in today’s music industry, the perfect day that would follow his “Good Morning,” and the possibility of working with Kanye West on an entire album.

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John Legend Interview Transcription

DJ Booth:  What’s goin’ on, everybody?  It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is one of my favorite artists, a man whose stage name is second to none when it comes to coolness.  His brand new album, Evolver, is out in stores right now.  Please welcome John Legend.

John Legend:  What up, man?

DJ Booth:  I am wonderful.  You’re on the phone with me, away from vocal rest, and about to embark on a tour in support of the new album – you’ve got to be feelin’ great!

John Legend:  I feel great, man.  I’m in LA right now, gettin’ ready to be on a TV performance for Dancing with the Stars, which should be cool.  We’re doing a rendition of Green Light, and I’m feeling good.

DJ Booth:  John, based on the title of the new album, how hard would you say it is for an artist to continually evolve?

John Legend:  You know, it’s fun to be an artist, to be creative, to experiment, to just go into each album with a sense of freshness and see what you come up with, and I think we were able to do that this time.

DJ Booth:  Was there any material that you recorded for the project which most of your followers might deem as evolutionary, but, because it didn’t fit your sound or your persona, you decided to scrap it?

John Legend:  No – any time I didn’t put a song on the album, it was really due to the quality of the record.  I wanted to make the best album with the best songs on it, and so I tried to do my best to do that.  Everybody’s got different opinions on that.  I felt like I did what was best for the album in every case.  I think songs like “Green Light” and a few others on the album definitely sound different than what we’ve done before, but then there are other things that are more familiar.  When you talk about evolution, it’s not completely changing, but it’s makin’ progress, making growth, and that’s what this album does, I think.

DJ Booth:  Absolutely.  Two weeks ago, our very own resident album reviewer extraordinaire, Nathan S., took a listen to Evolver, and he penned some thoughts on the site.  I’m going to read you an excerpt from the review-

John Legend:  Hopefully it’s good![laughs]

DJ Booth: I promise – and when I’m done, you go ahead and elaborate, if you wouldn’t mind.  He wrote, “What is it about Legend that lifts him above the huddled masses of ordinary singers?  Simply put, he makes you feel good.  I don’t mean that in a cliché , romantic way.  I’m talking about sleeping late on Sunday morning feeling good, that girl you’ve been asking out for months finally saying yes feeling good.  It’s a more ordinary and more profound feeling, which is fitting, because Legend makes extraordinary music for ordinary people.”

John Legend:  Cool!  I’ll take it! [laughs] You know, you can’t live or die by the review, ‘cause some are gonna be gonna, some are gonna be bad, but it’s nice when you get the good ones.

DJ Booth:  The last line, “Legend makes extraordinary music for ordinary people,” do you feel like you consciously do that, or is that just the end result?

John Legend:  One of the things I always think about when I’m writin’ a song is if people can relate to the story, if people get it, if people believe it, if people recognize the experience themselves.  And so that’s definitely what I try to do, and songs like “Everybody Knows” and “This Time” and “It’s Over,” all of these songs, I feel like they connect to how people really live.

DJ Booth:  Definitely.  Well, I am an ordinary person, and I connected to your first single, “Green Light.”  In it, you sing, “Do I have a girlfriend? Technically no..”  So, “technically no;” John, you need to elaborate here – what does this mean?  Did you not sign the relationship contract?

John Legend:  [laughs] That’s just somebody runnin’ game. [laughs] As you might expect, we do that sometimes.  That line is definitely about runnin’ game. 

DJ Booth:  I currently don’t have a significant other, but when I do pick my next one up, could I pay you an amount we could discuss at a later time, to come to my place and wake her up daily to a live rendition of “Good Morning?”

John Legend:  That’d be very expensive – I don’t know if you could afford that! [laughs]

DJ Booth:  I have a couple commas in the bank account.

John Legend:  Okay, all right, well let’s go, then!

DJ Booth:  Okay!  When you wrote “Good Morning,” was there a particular sweetheart in mind?

John Legend:  Well, I have a girlfriend, so, you know, we know what “Good Morning” is all about.

DJ Booth:  You mentioned in “Good Morning” how the perfect day would begin, but you leave listeners hanging on what would occur during and at the conclusion of this day.  So, take it from the end of the song – where does the rest of this perfect day go for you and your significant other?

John Legend:  Well, she’s probably goin’ to work, and maybe I have to go to work too, do some interviews, go to the studio, maybe if I get done early we’ll go out to dinner later.  You never know what’ll happen.

DJ Booth:  Okay, what if it’s a weekend?

John Legend:  If it’s the weekend, I like to have lazy days in New York, where we just walk around, go to the park, go shopping, do whatever – just hang out for the day.

DJ Booth:  Well, that sounds like my perfect Saturday also.  John, last week CBS kicked off its Biggest November Ever campaign, and it’s fueled by your music.  So, what can be said about John Legend the artist when his music can accompany sitcoms, talk shows, advertisements, and soap operas?

John Legend:  I mean, music belongs anywhere, so I feel like it’s a natural thing.  We’re using all kinds of different ways to market the music nowadays; the record business is getting smaller and smaller, so we have to use different avenues, and that CBS deal was tryin’ to get the music out to people so they knew what was goin’ on.

DJ Booth:  Do you feel like it’s hard for artists to be creative in order to discover more outlets that will get their stuff heard?

John Legend:  I don’t think it’s that hard, actually.  There’s a lot of ways to do it, and there are so many avenues, and I think the good thing is that people are listening to music a lot these days.  There’s so many ways to listen, whether it’s your iPod or your car radio – there are so many ways to consume music, and so we just have to find the listener wherever they are.

DJ Booth:  I agree.  I also don’t feel like it’s that hard.  With that said, why do you feel, then, that so many artists are just so quick to use excuses as to why their product’s not being heard?

John Legend:  Well, the truth is that records are selling less than they used to. That’s just the truth, and so if the artists are saying that, they’re not just making excuses.  It’s really the truth: the business is smaller.  So, if someone is huge now, ‘huge’ used to be 20 million albums; now, ‘huge’ is five, six million albums, if that, you know?  So, ‘huge’ has changed, and that means ‘not-so-huge’ has changed as well.  Everything has gotten smaller, and so the expectations are smaller.  That’s not an artist making excuses, that just is what it is.  We have to deal with the new reality.  We’re just not going to sell as many albums as people sold 10 years ago.

DJ Booth:  Which is why artists need to go ahead and make other opportunities occur for themselves, like you did with the CBS deal…

John Legend:  Yeah, and then touring, there’s all kinds of ways you make money, but you’ve got to realize that records aren’t going to make all the money for you.

DJ Booth:  Well, another initiative a lot of artists have started is their own label.  You have one, HomeSchool Records, and it birthed the domestic arrival of Estelle earlier this year.  Reveal a few of the newer artists on your label, John, who are going to be making their voices heard next year.

John Legend:  Yeah, the next artist we’re puttin’ out is my brother Vaughn Anthony.  He’ll be opening some of my shows on the tour comin’ up, Estelle will be doin’ some of the shows as well.  We’re also workin’ on a new Estelle album.

DJ Booth:  All right – just pumpin’ one right after the other?

John Legend:  Yes, sir.

DJ Booth:  That’s how you’ve gotta do it.  John, we fielded a bunch of questions from our readers for you, and I selected two.  The first is from Jeffrey of Quebec, Canada, and Jeff wrote, “Who or what inspired you the most while you recorded Evolver?

John Legend:  I don’t think it was any one thing.  I always have a hard time with that question, because every day is a different day when you go to the studio and you write something new, and sometimes it’s just a collaborator that you’re workin’ with that brings certain things out in you, sometimes it’s what you listen to that day; it’s any number of things, so it’s hard to say this album was inspired by this or that person.  There really isn’t one thing or one person that inspired the whole album.

DJ Booth:  Second question comes from Ryan of Middletown, Pennsylvania, and he wrote, “Mr. Legend, what are the chances that you and Kanye do an entire album together?  And, by the way, Evolver was amazing.”

John Legend:  Well thank you first of all, and I don’t know.  Every artist, we have our own vision, we have what we want to do, and so it’s hard sometimes to bring it all together for a whole album.  You know, we’ve always collaborated on individual songs, but I don’t know; I never thought about tryin’ to do a whole album together.

DJ Booth:  Okay, so I guess the follow-up would be, would you like to do a joint album together?

John Legend:  Sure, I’d be down to try it.

DJ Booth:  What would it take to make something like that happen?  Obviously both you and Kanye are very busy doin’ different things?

John Legend:  Well, we’d have to have the time in our schedules, we’d have to kind of synchronize our schedules, and we’d have to have the creative inspiration, because you can’t just go in there and say you’re gonna do it; you have to be inspired to do it.  It’s all got to come together at once, and it’s kind of a difficult thing to pull off.

DJ Booth:  I understand, but you know what I’m thinkin’?  I’m thinkin’ you need to make it happen eventually.

John Legend:  [laughs] I see you’ve got a clear agenda here! 

DJ Booth:  I do, I absolutely do.  And if you guys need any help in any way possible, once that initiative starts, you’ll give me a call. 

John Legend:  All right.

DJ Booth:  John, I love the new album, I want more people to pick up a copy so they can love it too. Go ahead, give everybody a website or a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about John Legend.

John Legend:  Well, it’s easy.  You can go to to find out more.  You can also just go ahead and buy it; go to iTunes, do whatever you gotta do, go to Circuit City – no, they don’t exist anymore – Target, Wal-Mart, wherever you gotta go, just pick up the album.  I personally can vouch for all of it.  I think people are gonna love it, and I think it’s worth your $10.00.

DJ Booth:  Absolutely, no disagreement from me.  John, thank you again so much for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth.  The best of luck.

John Legend:  Thank you.

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