Ne-Yo Discusses New Album 'R.E.D.,' A&R Position at Motown Records (Q&A)

Ne-Yo Grammy Press Room - P 2012
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Ne-Yo Grammy Press Room - P 2012

The singer/songwriter talks to THR about collaborating with Tim McGraw, why he rarely co-writes and his extreme issue with authority.

“You’re gonna love me for my honesty or you’re gonna hate me for being me” are the first words spoken on Ne-Yo's latest album R.E.D., an acronym for Realizing Every Dream. This is the fifth studio album from the songwriter, actor and now senior vp of A&R at Motown Records. Ne-Yo began his reign in music writing the hit “Let Me Love You" for singer Mario and has since gone on to pen major songs for artists like Beyonce ("Irreplaceable"), Rihanna ("Take a Bow") and Jennifer Hudson ("Spotlight"). 

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R.E.D. aims to please both sides of Ne-Yo’s fan base; the classic R&B love songs he’s best known for, as well as a new era of fist pumping, electro/dance pop music. Ne-Yo says regardless of genre or categories, R.E.D. is all about quality and lyrical content. “What you’re supposed to do first is listen to the lyrics, listen to what I’m saying, that’s been my M.O. from the start of this whole thing.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ne-Yo opens up about his decision to take the A&R position at Motown Records and why nobody else can write a song for him. “My songs are always very personal. How are you as a person who didn’t experience it with me, gonna write it for me? It’s never made sense to me.”

Read the full interview below.  

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THR: Let’s just jump right in and talk about R.E.D. Did you change the title?

Ne-Yo: Yes, initially the album was going to be called The Cracks in Mr. Perfect which was to be completely honest, an excuse for me to complain about the woes of being a celebrity. In the grand scheme of things I had to step back and realize that I actually have nothing to complain about, I’m blessed and highly favored and everything that’s going on in my life, good and bad is a blessing ordained by GOD. I had to realize that since eight or nine years old when I decided that it was gonna be music every dream and goal that I’ve set for myself has all been realized through music. That outweighs anything that happens negatively to me in the past 33 years.   

THR: You are currently holding a few job titles: senior vp of A&R, actor, producer, songwriter, singer, father. How do you find time to balance all of these roles?

Ne-Yo: Well, honestly I gotta say, if not for my team. If not for the people around me I wouldn’t be balancing it as well as I am. I’m a little bit scatterbrained, which is common for an artist I believe. It’s the people around me that keep it all together. They make sure that every hour and 24-hour period is counted for something. With that being said this is the point of the interview where I give a shout out to everybody in my compound team for basically holding my brain for me, because with out them I’d probably leave it in another country somewhere. 

THR: How did working with Motown come about?

Ne-Yo: Well Barry Weiss who took the place of L.A. Reid as the big chair over at Def Jam, he came to me and we talked about this whole revitalization of Motown that their doing. Basically trying to take Motown back to its former glory. There was a point in time where the name Motown was synonymous for just quality music. Not necessarily black music, white music, pop music, or R&B music; just music with some soul, some depth, just damn good! You know what I mean? He told me that he felt I would be instrumental in making that happen. That I’d figure out a way to play both sides of that line. I have respect from the urban side of things as well as the pop side of things.  That’s kind of what Motown stood for back then. Like I said it was just good music, to where everybody got into it, black, white or other. So he approached me with the idea of going over there first just as an artist and then threw in the possibility of me doing some A&R over there, as well as helping out with artist development for the new cats that we got coming up over there. That was honestly the thing that attracted me to the job the most, just being able just to take some of the information that I’ve gathered over the time that I’ve been here and pass it down to the next generation. Artist development is something that record labels don’t even do anymore, but it’s one of the most important things. In regards to record labels and artist relationships. An icon is something that’s nurtured and created it doesn’t just happen on a whim. I was more than happy to accept the position.

THR: How did you approach this album differently than your last four?

Ne-Yo: This album was basically just about trying to make sure that my entire fan base was satisfied. Honestly it’s about trying to integrate my fan base. I have my R&B fan base but I also have this new found pop and dance fan base, so this album the initial thought process was to try and A-side/B-side this album. Where side A is predominantly R&B and side B is predominantly pop. When I say pop I don’t mean just dance music and electronic music, there are songs on the album if you wanted to, you could almost call it country. There’s some easy listening type stuff on there, just basically trying to get to the point where you think Ne-Yo you don’t even think genre. You just think quality!

THR: For those who haven't picked up your album yet, what are the songs you would tell them to listen to first?

Ne:Yo:  God, that’s hard for me. Honestly it’s that thing where I’m so close to the project that it’s hard for me to really pick one over the other, it’s hard. (THR: You can pick three) If I had to pick three...To be honest I feel like the diversity of the album is the strength of the album. The fact that there’s so many different kinds of music on there, all quality like I said but two different genres. On the R&B side of things, “Stress Reliever” is definitely a favorite of mine, from the dance side of things “Forever Now” is a favorite and there’s also one called “Carry On”I don’t know where I would categorize it, but it’s another absolute favorite. The song with Tim McGraw “She Is” it’s riding the line between R&B and country music. “Alone With You” is a record that I dedicated to my daughter, it has a Beatle-esque type feel to it. The album is diverse. It’s for that person that can get in to a few different kinds of music, but digs quality overall. 

THR: I think the Tim McGraw record will be a bit of a surprise to some people, how did that come together and are you a country music fan?

Ne-Yo: Yea I am, have been for a really long time, I dig that country music is about the story. The artist story telling, you know I love that. I also love that country kind of speaks more to the common man. You don’t have to be the coolest cat in the room in a country song, I like that about country music that it’s ok just to be a person. You don’t gotta have the most money, you don’t gotta be the flyest guy, be the dude getting all the girls. You can just be a regular dude, who works a regular nine to five job so they took that guy and turned him into a hero, country music. I appreciate that. I went out to Nashville about three years ago to do some writing with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Carry Underwood. It was just a really organic experience. Tim and Faith invited me to their house. Which kind of blew my mind, because normally you go to a city, you get in a studio, you listen to a little skeletal piece of a track and write whatever your gonna write and you go on about your business. They invited me to their house I met their kids, Faith cooked chicken, it was dope.

THR: Tell us about co-writing with Sia for your current single “Let Me Love You” 

Ne-Yo: Yea, Sia…singer/songwriter ridiculously talented, she’s been in the game for a minute. I’ve been a fan of hers for a little while. The genre, if you were to look for her music it would be under the electronic genre. If you listen to it, I don’t really feel like that fits, but we categorize, whatever. But she’s incredible, I don’t know if people know this, but I don’t do a lot of co-writers. It’s not something that I do on a regular basis, but definitely made an exception for her because I feel like her talent is just top notch definitely.

THR: Why don’t you co-write?

Ne-Yo: In regards to writing for myself, I always feel like nobody’s gonna give me, better than me! That’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of incredibly talented songwriters out there, who I would have no problem collaborating with, but my songs are always very personal. I write from personal experience, about the things that have happened to me personally. So how are you as a person who didn’t experience it with me, gonna write it for me? It’s never made sense to me. 

THR: Back to “Cracks in Mr. Perfect”: What’s an imperfection about Ne-Yo that we don’t know?

Ne-Yo: I have an extreme issue with authority, I do not like being told what to do. I do not like being suggested what to do, to the point where I always take it as somebody’s trying to tell me what to do, even if that’s not the case. It’s something that I’m working on. My patience is a little short, I like what I like when I like it, and I want what I want, when I want it. Everybody is a work in progress, and I’m no exception.

THR: All the promo you’re doing seems a little hectic, how are you surviving?

Ne-Yo: Like I said before we got to talking, busy is a blessing. It could be the other way around. I could be sitting at the house on the couch watching cartoons and eating chips. It could definitely be that, so whenever I get to that place where I start feeling tired, or burnt out, I think about what could be going on. I think about what all could be happening, it could definitely be all the way around and nobody could want to talk to me, and nobody could want me on there show, and you don’t want that so, you take that into consideration and you keep pushing. Thank God every chance that you get, and you keep moving. That’s how you do it.