FACE TiME POLiCE
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS iHSAAN KHATiM
TERMS OF ENRiCHMENTR&B crooner IHSAAN KHATIM’s music is a reminder of what much of today’s R&B has lost sight of – sense of melody and lyrics that thoughtfully analyze the dynamics of relationships and the ways of the world. Taking his queue from such legendary performers as STEVIE WONDER and AL GREEN and mixing it with the sensibilities of GARTH BROOKS and ERIC CLAPTON, KHATIM is on a mission to make music for everyone on the planet. His self-titled debut EP is set for a December release with the promise of a full length LP expected to hit stores sometime in 2010. With all of the hustle and bustle in getting the music out there, KHATIM never loses sight of all the people and loved ones who got him to this crucial point in his career. This gratitude is reflected by his use of the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. “[T]he word ‘we’ is in observance of everyone who has contributed to our lives to have us where we are and where we are going.” says KHATIM. “We wouldn’t dare stand in a space and go “I did this!” or “I did that!” We are a combination of all individuals, loved ones and souls that continue to enrich us. We say “we” because that is our standpoint.”
iHSAAN KHATiM TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS SELF-TiTLED DEBUT EP
AND MAKiNG MUSiC FOR EVERYBODY
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
IHSAAN KHATIM’s debut EP is only the tip of the iceberg for the multi-instrumental singer and if he is able to demonstrate this much finesse and refinement on his first outing, than the projected 2010 release will most definitely be an event. The first single PUMP OUR BRAKES has received enthusiastic responses through JANGO due in no small part to its soulful stride and KHATIMS’s confident delivery. While …BRAKES is a song destined to place him in the company of Neo-Soul contemporaries such as JOHN LEGEND and MAXWELL, being labeled as a Neo-Soul artist is something that KHATIM views as being counterproductive. “We just want to have a good song.” says KHATIM “We don’t say that we want this to be on the pop charts or the R&B charts. We just want to have a song that can be appreciated across the board. I think Neo-Soul is a title that can put someone in a box that they can’t get out of.”
ROCKWIRED spoke with IHSAAN KHATIM over the phone on a pleasant Sunday morning. Here is how it went.
Your self-titled EP is due out in December. Why an EP instead of a full fledged released to start off with?
We are looking to drop the full length album some time in 2010. We are really geared up to do it but we figured that the EP would be a great teaser and would be a good way of building up the fan base and reach a larger audience.
What’s all going through your head about both of these releases?
BRIAN, it has been a long road for us. People like to believe in overnight success stories but this has not been ‘overnight’ for us by any stretch of the imagination. As the EP comes close to its release, we’ve had some great feedback from fans. We’ve got about six thousand spins on JANGO right now with comments from users all over who just love that song PUMP OUR BRAKES. With the EP coming out now, we have one hundred to two hundred fans coming up to us and telling us that they can’t wait for us to do something else. I’m excited and what is exciting for us is to see the response that the world is beginning to have to our music. You never know if the world is really going to embrace what you have so for me, it’s been a sigh of relief. It gives me motivation to want to do more music.
I also think that you guys need to work on a video. That would be awesome.
I’ve got people on the management team pushing us to do that. Of the three songs that you have heard, what would you like to see a video for?
PUMP OUR BRAKES of course.
There is a story behind that song. We started out writing for other people but we eventually came to the realization that we had to be the artist. We wrote PUMP OUR BRAKES on piano with nobody else’s input on the front end. It wasn’t until the back end that we brought in other musicians to round out the sound. Ninety-nine percent of that song is our input, whereas the other two songs on the EP were sixty-to-forty percent collaborations with other musicians.
You keep saying ‘we’. Who is the ‘we’ in this process and how does songwriting get accomplished?
Not meaning to sound too far out there but coming from a spiritual base, the word ‘we’ is in observance of everyone who has contributed to our lives to have us where we are and where we are going. We wouldn’t dare stand in a space and go “I did this!” or “I did that!” We are a combination of all individuals, loved ones and souls that continue to enrich us. We say “we” because that is our standpoint. In terms of the writing process, it starts in our spirit. We look at what is going on in the world and relationships from a social standpoint. Through music, we are trying to reengineer social consciousness and how we socially interact with each other. We are looking at what is going on at the heart of humanity and asking ourselves how we can approach this situation from a love of excellence standpoint. When we sit down to write, it comes from a moment, an emotion and a feeling and then we say “I wanna write about that!” and turn away from things like cynicism and skepticism. Sometimes a song will start at the piano and sometimes it will start at the guitar and sometimes it starts with me writing some words down. We let each tune grow organically. We let the song germinate and we’ll let the pieces of the puzzle grow together over time. I don’t try to finish a tune in one or two days. I try to let it come to light as it will. I might have a piece of a tune and I will bump into another musician as I’m out and listen to their vibe and I’ll be like “That is the person to help me finish the tune!”
Has music always been intertwined with spirituality for you?
It was and it wasn’t. I did grow up reared in the Baptist Church. As time went on, we grew spiritually and moved away from any set religion and into more spirituality and spiritual consciousness. In terms of music, we went to school at CLEVELAND SCHOOL OF THE ARTS in Ohio. It was like that school in the movie FAME. It was for grades 4 to 12 so music has always been a part of my life. I grew up in theater and musical performance. At one point, I had a challenge because I didn’t know which road to take first. In the beginning, I put acting on the forefront and somehow music came around and took the center stage. What happened was, we were just writing and playing and producing for other people and then our spirituality started to speak and we were like ‘How can I express this in song for other people?’ We felt like no one else could really deliver and do the material justice because it wasn’t their forte. We started playing around with how we could take this higher metaphysical thought and put it in a musical framework that’s hip and jazzy and that really spoke to people that aren’t religious. We aspired to things like STEVIE WONDER and BOB MARLEY but giving it a sound that is more mainstream pop and jazz and soul and funk and all of that stuff fused into it. As we began to play with this sound, we found the voice where we were able to take this higher metaphysical thought and put it in a framework and found some great musicians that could fill out the sound. If we were doing the kind of R&B that is popular now, I don’t think we would really be and artist. Especially today, I don’t know how I could consider not being an artist when you consider all of the spirituality that goes into the music that we are doing.
I see what you mean – especially with a song like PUMP OUR BRAKES which emphasizes slowing things down.
With that song, we were looking back on two people getting together and realizing that the two of them had something that was really unique. In your spirit, there is a voice that says ‘if you do this, this is going to change the course of this relationship forever!’ You understand what I’m saying?
Oh hell yes!
You don’t have to tell nobody and nobody has to find out but you know that if you cross that line, that relationship will never ever be the same again. That was what PUMP OUR BRAKES came from. That is the kind of place that we want to come from in terms of creativity. We want to come from places where everyone has been and bring up the things that people never talk about.
There is this old school R&B sensibility to your work. Was this the music you were brought up on?
We were brought up on stuff like THE TEMPTATIONS ‘PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE’. We grew up on HALL AND OATES and artists who had songs that were memorable. I love songs that made you remember when. The songs that made you remember when you were having a good time with your family and that is the kind of sensibility that we bring to our music – memorable melodies and memorable lyrics and memorable hooks. We wanted the songs to anchor the people to something that they can relate to ten years from now when they hear them again. We grew up on music and musicians that were just awesome. It was black music, it was white music, it was all kinds of music and that is what you hear fused together in our music. We love GARTH BROOKS and ERIC CLAPTON and we also grew up on BABYFACE and gospel music from THE WINANS and AL GREEN and BOBBY WOMACK. You can hear all of it in there. It’s kind of new old school.
Neo-Soul is what they call it. What do you think of that title?
I think Neo-Soul has its place. It’s something old that has been renewed. Now it’s being grouped with Hip-Hop and we’ve kind of lost the genre somewhere. You’ve got a lot of Neo-Soul out there now that sounds like its Hip-Hop based. I think our sound is more of a mainstream type of thing. We want to be considered like STEVIE WONDER – whose music can’t be classified. It’s just considered good. That is what we aim for when we work. We just want to have a good song. We don’t say that we want this to be on the pop charts or the R&B charts. We just want to have a song that can be appreciated across the board. I think Neo-Soul is a title that can put someone in a box that they can’t get out of. I had a great relationship with GERALD LEVERT who passed away a couple of years ago. We used to dialog off and on. We didn’t have a musical relationship as far as working together but we had a great friendship. We would take the time to talk to each other whenever we would run into each other. GERALD, on a couple of occasions, would share with me how he was being put in a box and how he wanted to break out of that box musically. If you listen to some of his later stuff and the stuff that he never got the chance to release, you can see that he was headed more towards a broader range of music. Once you allow people to label you, then they are not going to want to see you as anything different and are going have a hard time seeing you as something different other than what they have labeled you as.
Just to switch gears slightly, your management team HAQQ ENTERTAINMENT INC. sounds interesting to me. Would you care to talk about it?
HAQQ ENTERTAINMENT is owned by the parent company MAHDI AHMAD HAQQ INCORPORATED. We have a different management style than most other companies. We’ve brought individuals together that are key in the marketplace in terms of promotion and marketing and every year we invite new people to the board to be a part of the management team and they all participate and give insight and we all carry out what we agree on. They receive the twenty percent as a group and share in it and each year we bring in new people and rotate some people out into positions within the whole conglomerate. It is a little different from the usual corporate mindset. This is more of an exchange. We want to bring true entertainment, musicianship and artistry to the marketplace. We are eventually going to break off into movies and the whole gamut of entertainment.
You’ve got a strong entrepreneurial spirit outside of music. Where do you think that comes from?
I would say that we came to the planet with it. It’s a gift and a lot of it is genetic. It comes from our lineage. We grew up admiring people like QUINCY JONES, BERRY GORDY and RUSSELL SIMMONS and in studying them we kind of felt that this was the route that we wanted to go. Everything that we have done up until now has been worth it. There were times along the journey where we wondered if going the independent route was the way to go. We went to FULL SAIL UNIVERSITY in Florida and we graduated from their we received the MIXMAG’s TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD which they give out once a year. We could’ve gone and worked for some major studios. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the GRAMMY’s that were awarded last year in engineering and production were from a FULL SAIL graduate. That’s powerful. We had the potential to follow that route but something within us said to blaze our own path.
What would you like someone to come away with after they’ve heard your music.
I’d like them to come away with the sense that here is an artist and an individual that throughout my life can provide me with substance in the form of music that will enrich my life forever. That they can walk away feeling like they could forever purchase, and follow us and come to our concerts, view our shows, engage in our journey with us and always be increased with substance from what we are going to bring to the market place. We will not compromise one bit and we will bring every bit of everything that is in us spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. It’s a little abstract but it’s not abstract because we live in a world where there are a lot of physical, superficial things going on. The things that matter most such as friendships and genuine relationships and love and trust and integrity and honesty are the things that we want to promote to enrich peoples lives.