Our Interview with Avant on His Latest Album, The VIII
Cleveland, Ohio native, Avant needs little introduction in any circle of even the most moderate R&B listeners. The name Avant is synonymous with hit songs, baby making ballads and a knack for consistency that very few artists of the last couple decades can truly claim. A casual listener may have trouble instantly recalling some of Avant’s hits since they span 15 years, but it only takes a turn to an Avant playlist on your streaming service of choice to be reminded of the veteran’s prowess over an extended stay in the conversation of music. Songs like “Separated,” “My First Love,” “Read Your Mind,” “4 Minutes,” “When It Hurts,” “Making Good Love” and “Lie About Us” are just a few of the tracks that would line up his greatest hits album. With his latest album, The VIII (Eighth) set to be released on September 25th, Avant is more focused than ever in his pursuit of providing quality music.
When Avant emerged on the scene in early 2000, R&B was a dominant genre and artists like R. Kelly, Joe, Destiny’s Child and so many others in the genre were having their way. Music all around was in a better place, because people were eager to receive it. Avant’s debut album, My Thoughts sold 41,000 copies in its first week, but it would go platinum and sell millions of copies worldwide within a few months. These days, there are many artists who are making great music, R&B and otherwise, who would be lucky and thankful just to sell 41,000 copies total.
should be noted that the genre goes by another name all together now: Urban Adult Contemporary or Urban AC. The idea is to be inclusive and allow Sam Smith, Charlie Wilson, Kirk Franklin and The Weeknd to all get ranked on the same charts, but unless you’re an artist like Robin Thicke who can essentially cross over into Urban AC while continuing to have success on the Pop charts, the Urban AC title can essentially place you in an abyss in today’s market. Avant is very clear on this. And it’s become a constant topic among R&B veterans of late with Tyrese essentially campaigning against the Urban AC label with his Black Rose album promo and his Parlé magazine interview. Avant understands the reality of the label, Urban AC, but he also understands that the audience that supported his early releases still exists. [The aforementioned My Thoughts album was certified platinum while his second and third albums, Ecstacy and Private Room respectively were both certified Gold.] In fact, the audience is older and likely in a better position to support. Still, there’s only so much that can be done by Avant. His primary focus now is to simply make sure that when he does release music it’s remains of the caliber of his early releases.
Avant’s latest single, “Special” is one of those vintage R&B songs that remind you why slow jams were dominant in the 90’s and at the turn of the millennium. The song has been present on the Urban AC chart for weeks and on radio stations that are heavy supporters of the format, but instead of a complete stronghold on the ears of listeners, the track is maintaining a slow, steady leak, making its rounds to fans.
Avant took some time to talk with us about his new single, the album and much more. Check out the full interview here.
Parlé Magazine: You are eight albums in with this new album. Let’s talk about your consistency. What keeps you relevant in the game after all these years?
Avant: Yeah, eight albums in. What I always try to do is give great story lines, great musicianship, real instruments. My goal is to find the fans that brought the million copies that I’ve had. I know it’s more that our age bracket don’t like to press the button, they not feeling the digital thing, but at the same token there has to be a way to get that back into the music. One thing’s for sure, if you don’t press the button then you don’t really care. You just listen to what they play on the radio. We have to find that angle to make them want to hear great music. We also have to put out good music too, not just something that reminds you of something, but fresh new records that make you feel good, that make you want to get married, that’s what we have to do.
Parlé: The single “Special” finds you in a bit of a different lane, still quality music, but slightly different from what we’ve come to expect from AV. What was the thought process when you were putting that record together?
Avant: Well you know I been in the game for 15 years man. And I see so many people and they just don’t look happy with themselves. They be in relationships and still be out of it. I’m like why don’t you find you someone special? When you find you someone special it’s like the song say, “we didn’t get married, but this feels special… that’s what you mean to me,” that’s when you want to get married.
Parlé: Tell me about a few of the other records on the project and what the creative process was like behind it all.
Avant: Well I wrote the whole record. I got a song called “Both of Us,” it’s basically stating that through all these trials and tribulations we still been together, but it takes both of us. I’m not going to be great all the time and I understand that you’re not going to always be great. So quit looking at me like I’m supposed to be perfect.
For me it’s about taking what we do as grown folks and making it relevant to the younger folks.
I got a song called “Find My Way” – It sound like I’m talking about love but i’m talking about music. If there’s one thing I know about music, it’s that it’s a cheater and it has a lot of people in love and a lot of people is dating. But we all want a piece of it. So I’m trying to find my way back, like remember me?!
Parlé: I’ve interviewed you a few times, you make these great R&B songs, but is Avant still single?
Avant: I’m a single man. I’m looking for a person that understands the ups and downs of life. One that understands that I’m gonna make sure you good, but you gotta put me in a comfortable position so I don’t feel like I’m compromising what I do and what I love to be with you. Cause this right here is going to feed us both, so I’ma take care of us but I love this shit and I gotta put this time in.
Parlé: I been wondering man, cause like you said, our generation isn’t into the digital music and R&B by our folks isn’t doing what it’s supposed to in terms of sales. How do these online sites, Spotify, apple music, whatever, there are more ways to access your music these days, but how does that compare to when you were dropping “Read Your Mind” and “4 Minutes”?
Avant: Well it don’t compare, but at the same token you know people are playing your music, they loving your music, they want to find you. But this is the whole point, I been blessed to sell, there’s a fan base out there, I just have to find them. We’re wasting a lot of our time not focusing on those people. Those people got the jobs. They got a lot of different priorities but we made music so much about us instead of the love of what they want to hear.
You listen to the Isley Brothers, they make people feel good. And that’s the point.
Parlé: The R&B fan base is so fickle now, but with this new album, how can you grasp these fans?
Avant: I been blessed to be a storyteller and I am telling some great stories on this album. I have a song called “Apart,” which is like you been with your girl for a few months and you get so busy that you can grow apart in front of your very eyes.
Parlé: What’s your favorite Avant song to listen to and to perform?
Avant: Maaaaaan, all of them songs are period pieces. I mean I listen to “Separated” that shit hurt so much, but it feel so good. If I didn’t write that song I wouldn’t be who I am. “Separated” is one of my favorites. “Making Good Love” that’s the second album, (laughs) I thought I was sexy as shit. Then “Read Your Mind,” “Four Minutes,” that’s why people want to hear my music and they call me consistent.
Parlé: Fifteen years in the game, you had the Magic Johnson/MCA label situation, you had the Universal situation, Interscope, EMI and now at Caroline, do you feel like Avant gets the respect he deserves? I know your saying the artist has to take themselves out the equation and that’s one thing, but when you put the time in like you have, do you get the credit for that and are you where you should be?
Avant: Not at all. But I also know the nature of the game. I had to fight through so much stuff. First off when I came in I was the R. Kelly wannabe, everybody said that. So I’m like I’m going up against R. Kelly, but at that time there was also Joe, Brian McKnight, so many talented dudes. So at the end of the day, yeah I feel like I should be at another level but my consistency still has me here. I seen a lot of people catapult and go, I don’t know where they are. And here I am working on my eighth album, I got a record out, doing well on Urban AC, shooting up the charts. What else can I ask for? Everybody can say they not where they supposed to be. I definitely still want to grow, don’t get me wrong. But ain’t no sense crying over spilt milk either.
Avant’s new album, The VIII, in stores now.
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