Music Interviews
7:59 pm
Sat December 10, 2011

Robin Thicke: Heart And Soul In 'Love After War'

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 10:30 am

"They used to call me Brian McWhite," Robin Thicke says, laughing.

Discovered by Brian McKnight, the singer-songwriter got a record deal at 16, and got his start writing and producing songs for artists like Brandy and Christina Aguilera. Since embarking on his solo career in 2003, Thicke has released five albums, the latest of which is titled Love After War.

With his own music, Thicke says he has a love/hate relationship typical of Pisces — "two fish going in opposite directions all the time." He jokingly says he likes "to treat my music like a bastard child."

Thicke says he doesn't consider himself R&B, but more of a soul singer. To him, modern R&B is "more 'Drop It Like It's Hot' — [there's] no vulnerability in R&B anymore." After a 16-year relationship with actress Paula Patton, he says that's the problem.

"I don't think that most of these guys have a female relationship, maybe besides their mom," Thicke says. "They don't have a partner like I do, so my songs reflect my consistent need for my lovely wife, you know?"

Thicke isn't afraid to talk about his race in his music, on stage and in his personal life.

"I think it's just because that was the music I related to," Thicke says. "And then, when I met my lady, she was president of the black student union in school. She taught me compassion and righteousness, and she taught me all these hidden things that were going on in America that most white people wouldn't be able to understand unless they had a relationship and conversations about it with a black person who's having the black experience in America. And her father was a Mississippi sharecropper, you know? So the respect for the journey, I think, is just inevitable, because she's my heart and soul. I live as much in her shoes as I possibly can."

In an interview with NPR's Audie Cornish, Thicke also talks about the Huffington Post article penned by his father, the actor Alan Thicke, about being "the son of a White Canadian Sitcom Dad, aka 'Street Cred Death'"; the criticisms that still bother him; and his song "When I Get You Alone" being featured on Glee.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Robin Thicke knows all the R&D cliches; the wistful choruses, sexy murmuring and pretty boy falsettos. So, on his latest album he's mixing it up a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

ROBIN THICKE: (Singing) Stay in the bushes. Look in the trees. They got their red laser sniper rifle stuck on me. Creeping up, so ducking down real low, they're going to hurt me 'cause they knocked down the door. Come on now...

CORNISH: The Grammy-winning soul singer's newest album is called "Love After War," and it showcases the full range of his songwriting skills, skills he learned from the pros as a teenager, after being discovered by the R&B artist Brian McKnight.

THICKE: I was 14 years old and he heard a demo that I had done. And he heard I was a white guy and he was like, are you kidding, is a white guy. And so than Brian got me a record deal at Interscope Records when I was 16. He became one of my first mentors.

CORNISH: So from that...

THICKE: They used to call me Brian McWhite.

CORNISH: Did they really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: What did you learn about how to build a song?

THICKE: Well, he works very fast. He just spits out songs one after the other; where me, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with my music. You know, I like to go create some turmoil and some I hate you, I love you today, now I hate you - you're not good enough, you're never going to make it. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: But he would cut like a song a day, where I'll spend three, four weeks on a song sometimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANGEROUS")

THICKE: (Singing) You're idealistic, so filled with glee. You see me as your shining prince, but I'm a treacherous king. You'll accept my olive branch but I'm poison ivy...

CORNISH: That's a song that kind of gets everybody's heads...

THICKE: Oh, nice.

CORNISH: ...moving a little bit.

THICKE: Excellent.

CORNISH: Tell us about the writing of that of this.

THICKE: Oh, you know, I have - I'm a Pisces, so I'm two fish going in opposite directions all the time, which explains the love-hate relationship. And I think that there's a side of me, it's almost like: Sorry. You know, it's very light on its feet. Like, hey, I'm sorry. I just happened to be dangerous. Just deal with it, babe. You know, I can't help it anymore?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: What are some of the R&B cliches that you think kind of exists out there in the pop music scene that you try and avoid your writing?

THICKE: Well, I don't really consider myself R&B, per se. I consider myself more of a soul singer. Because R&B today, it's more drop it like it's hot. There's no vulnerability in R&B anymore. It's all I'm popping bottles. I got lots of money. I'm at the club. There's a lot of misogyny.

That's also because most of these guys is you who are singing these records have not been with the same woman for 16 years, like I have. And my whole life is about love and connection and compromise...

CORNISH: And your wife is the actress Paula Patton.

THICKE: My wife is a lovely Paula Patton, staring in "Mission Impossible."

CORNISH: So you met in high school, I guess...

THICKE: We met when we were 14 and, yes. So she is my all-star, my muse, my guide. And I don't think that most of these guys have a female relationship - maybe besides their mom. They don't have a partner the way I do, so my songs reflect my consistent need for my lovely wife, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO BE YOU")

THICKE: (Singing) I don't know. I don't know how it feels to be you...

That song actually came out of an argument...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: ...where my wife said, no matter how hard you try, Robin, or how compassionate you are, you'll never know what it's like to be black, and you'll never know what it's like to be a woman. And so, I walked right upstairs to the piano and it I said...

(Singing) I don't know how it feels to be you, though I try my best to understand what you're going through. I don't know how it feels to be you.

Because I think that no matter how hard you try, you know, we all have our differences, you know. And I'm making the best effort I can, but sometimes I'm still going to get it wrong. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO BE YOU")

THICKE: (Singing) Everyday I ask myself are we really on the very same page. Oh-oh-hoo-hoo, and every day I wonder is there something that I'm supposed to say. I wonder, baby...

CORNISH: It seems like you're not afraid to talk about your race in your music, on stage, and in your personal life.

THICKE: Yes.

CORNISH: What is it like for you I mean being white and having, I guess maybe mostly black audiences a lot of the time?

THICKE: It's not I guess. It's 90 percent every night. And I think it's just because, you know, that was the music that I related to. And then when I met my lady, she was president of the Black Student Union in high school. So, she taught me all these hidden things that were going on in America that most white people wouldn't be able to understand, unless they had a relationship and conversations about it with a black person who's having the black experience in America. You know?

So, the respect that I have for the journey, I think, is just inevitable 'cause she's my heart and soul. So, you know, I live as much in her shoes as I possibly can.

CORNISH: It seems like people still give you an incredibly hard time about it.

THICKE: Who?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Music critics, folks on Twitter and...

THICKE: I'd say they're white, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: Now the black critics, they embrace me much faster. The black...

CORNISH: There are some, as well. I remember when you first came out, you know, The New York Times critic kind of saying...

THICKE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

CORNISH: ...like, oh no, slow jams from the son of an actor, you know.

THICKE: Yeah. Oh yeah, my dad has a new and in an article - there's an article now for the Huffington Post and...

CORNISH: And we should have said your dad is Alan Thicke.

THICKE: Yes.

CORNISH: He was an actor on "Growing Pains," and your mom Gloria Loring.

THICKE: She said being in a Canadian sitcom dad is pretty much the anti-street cred for a young soul, hip-hop singer. You know?

And so, yeah, I had to fight through all of that. But it only makes it sweeter when it stays real, because I could've started making meaningless dance music so I can get rich. I like listening to it when other people do it, but I don't feel it. You know? It doesn't touch my soul, so I can't do it, you know, even though I've tried.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I GET YOU ALONE)

THICKE: (Singing) Oh-oh-oh-oh. Baby girl, where you at? Got no strings, got men attached...

CORNISH: One of your early hit songs where he was covered on the TV show "Glee" recently?

THICKE: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I GET YOU ALONE)

THICKE: (Singing) All these illusions just take us too long and I want it back...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: (Singing) Because you walk pretty, because you talk pretty, 'cause you make me sick and I'm not leaving...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: (Singing) ...till you're leaving...

CORNISH: And that's the song "When I Get You Alone."

THICKE: Oh, that's hilarious. I've never heard that.

CORNISH: Oh, you haven't...

THICKE: Oh, my gosh.

CORNISH: ...an a cappella version of it?

THICKE: Oh, my God, that's comedy.

CORNISH: Well, your version of that song I remember it was back in the day in a music video where you're playing the long haired...

THICKE: I had long hair.

CORNISH: ...bike messenger and...

THICKE: Yes.

CORNISH: Now, I mean...

THICKE: Well, I had long hair at the time, yes.

CORNISH: That you had long - although your hair is pretty long right now. It's just...

THICKE: It's a little more vanilla iced.

CORNISH: ...coiffed - yeah.

THICKE: Right, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: A little bit. How did you - when was it that you figured out kind of who you were, image-wise?

THICKE: Oh, I think just in the last month or two.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: I'm being totally honest.

CORNISH: Really?

THICKE: Absolutely. I wore black everywhere for five years. It's only been in the last couple of months that I've finally just let go of everything. I always wanted to be such a serious, cool artist, and be so brooding. And I just gave all of that up. You know what I mean? Now I just want to enjoy myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY LITTLE HEART")

THICKE: (Singing) And now that, baby, you got me. Don't worry, your pretty little heart...

CORNISH: Well, Robin Thicke, thank you so much for coming by and for being so honest and sharing about your life....

THICKE: Thank you.

CORNISH: ...very personal life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THICKE: Thank you. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

CORNISH: And you can listen to songs from Robin Thicke's new album, "Love After War," on NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY LITTLE HEART")

THICKE: (Singing) Yeah. Don't you worry, baby. Don't you worry your pretty little heart... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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