Friday night I saw Ne-Yo headline Radio City Music Hall, and like his spellbinding set at last December’s Jingle Ball, the 75 minutes he spent on stage were a whirlwind of slick songs, mic-stand twirls, and wise words on love. Monday afternoon, I caught up with the singer at Electric Lady Studios in New York, where he was working with fellow Grammy winner Chrisette Michele on her new album. After the jump, we chat about the nitty-gritty of relationships, his average song output per day, his upcoming acting projects, and the injuries one can sustain when trying to perfect the twirling of microphone stands.
It seems like you have so many songs – how many do you write in a month?
Well now, it depends on what I’m actually doing. For example, this month, in particular, I haven’t done as much writing, because it’s my first time headlining a tour, and it’s a lot more time-consuming than I knew, so I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing this month. I may have done, within the month of February, maybe ten songs. When I’m not headlining a tour or doing something like that, I can do anywhere from three to five songs a day. I’ll let you do the math.
It seems like you’re so good at getting the essence of relationships. You picked out the one couple at the show on Friday—where do you get the insights on relationships, from watching?
Some of it is personal experience, some of it is observation. I grew up in a house with a lot of very straightforward, bold, honest, strong-willed women who were not afraid to say what they wanted and who were not afraid to go get what they wanted. Being that kind of woman can be difficult when it comes to the forefront of relationships and whatnot, because that can be intimidating to a man, a woman that isn’t going to cower before you—a woman that wants you, but doesn’t necessarily need you. It makes dating and trying to have a relationship with somebody a little difficult, so me being the only guy in the house—it was me, my mother, my grandmother, my sister, my father, my aunts and me—so basically, I got to see the black, white and gray of what it is to be in a relationship. So that’s where it comes from.
You could probably write a book or do an advice column.
I don’t know about an advice column… what I come to find about the knowledge that I have is that if I were to try to give someone advice on a relationship, the phrase that normally shoots it down is, “It’s a lot easier said than done.” You can tell somebody how to do something all day long, but getting that person to apply it or finding an easy way for a person to apply it… that’s what everyone’s looking for, everyone’s looking for the easy way out, everyone’s looking for the path of least resistance, and that’s not a relationship. A relationship is, as much as it’s love, it’s pain. As much as it’s light, it’s dark. You have to experience both, there’s no getting around it.
How’s the tour going?
Tour’s going really well. It’s me, Jazmine Sullivan, Musiq Soulchild, and a brand new group called Electric Red. It’s going really, really good. We’re pretty much selling out everywhere we go. What I love about this tour and the people on this tour is that I was calling this the “music appreciation tour,” because this is a show that you come to if you appreciate music and performance, not smoke and mirrors and pyrotechnics and stages that do 360s and all of that stuff, we don’t got none of that, we’re not doing that. This is about the band, maybe some background singers, maybe some dancers, and an artist just pouring their heart out. If that’s what you love about music, if you love that realness about music, as cliché as it may sound, that true heart and soul of music, this is definitely a show you don’t want to miss.
How long did it take you to perfect your mic-stand moves?
That took some time, it definitely took some doing. Many a busted lip learning how to do that. I’ll leave it there, it took some time.
The tour ends later this month?
Yeah, I think March 1 is the official end of the tour.
Then what? Vacation?
No, that’s for the weary. I immediately start shooting on a movie, one of two that I’m doing this year. The first one is called Red Tails, and it’s about the Tuskegee Airmen, some of the first African-American fighter pilots, so I’m headed to Prague to start flight simulation school and boot camp and all that, and George Lucas is a major, major factor in this movie, so it’s kind of a big deal. After that, right after that, we come back to the States and I start shooting a movie called Venice Beach. It’s a music movie, it’s kind of going to be my Purple Rain. Busy, busy, busy.
I hope you come back out on tour.
Absolutely. Music will never, ever not be part of my life, it’s always going to be there, so no worries. No matter how many movies I do, all that stuff, there’s always going to be music.