On Monday night, Def Jam hosted a listening lounge for Ne-Yo’s upcoming album Year of the Gentleman at the Gramophone, the new venue on Manchester in the Grove. We snagged a quick Q&A with the singer/songwriter.
Kristy Wendt: You describe your upcoming album Year of the Gentleman as having a different sound than previous ones In My Own Words and Because of You. Will you describe what you mean? Ne-Yo: Well, those first two albums are traditional R&B. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, listening to new kinds of music, and I wanted to try something new. I stayed in England for a while recently, and I’m trying to bring some of that house culture and nightlife into my music, and I’m also trying to break out of the box with new lyrics. There’s a little more of a rock sound than before. It’s more organic in some places that way.
You hail from Arkansas. Any country influence? I love country music. The storyline always seems so clear; there’s a clear beginning, middle,and end, and it enhances the beauty of it -- the beauty of a good story. I have a high appreciation of country music.
What was it like growing up in Vegas? I went to high school in Vegas and it’s really divided into the strip versus the people who are living there. The trip of the strip is different than living there. It’s a tourist town, so friends that you have for a year will often be gone the next, and you have to learn to make new friends.
That sounds hard. Where were you when you got your “in”? I was actually in California. I was in a group with three other guys called Envy. We had no money, no place to stay, and a plan. We were going to drive to the front of the Capitol Records building in a VW van and [stand on top of the van singing] until we got a record deal. [laughs] That didn’t work out so well. I was working small jobs -- McDonalds, Pizza Hut, you name it. And I got a job working for a production company called New Time Entertainment, who had signed Youngstown and they allowed me to start writing professionally for that group and others. [Envy] broke up, but I got a solo deal with Columbia Records.
Whoa. Yeah, it sounds like a big deal. And it was -- but it wasn’t -- but it was. If you come into the music business not knowing who you are, they will create you. And if you decide that’s not who you want to be, or you grow into someone else, then you get shelved.
So you’re happier with Def Jam? Yeah. They’re letting me be who I am.
Ne-Yo presented six songs from Year of the Gentleman...
He prefaced my favorite “So You Can Cry” with: “This is a story about a homegirl of mine whose dude had done her wrong, and she locked herself up in her apartment for two weeks. And I told her, ‘Love hurts. It’s painful. But you gotta live too.’ And then I was jokin’ around with her, trying to cheer her up. I said, ‘Well, I’ll ask the sun to shine away today so you can cry.’ And then I made it into a song.” The house favorites were “In The Way,” which described the relationship difficulties of an on-the-road lifestyle, and his last song, “Stop This World,” which was about the experience of falling in love. I could hear the difference he mentioned in his interview, but only just -- the difference for me translated to stronger instrumentals: a tinny piano here, a violin there. I liked the more organic sound of his new album, but it was the thought of Ne-Yo as a kid (he lived there until he was five) in Arkansas tuning in to the stories of the music around him that stayed with me. I left most impressed with his ability, like good country songwriters, to prolifically translate life’s experiences and stories into song, and his gracious acknowledgment of the unlikely genre.
-- Kristy Wendt