Eric Benét Talks Authentic Music, Recording an Album With Tamia, Honoring The Late Prince, Donald Trump, Family, More

Four-time Grammy-nominated R&B singer/songwriter, Eric Benét will release his self-titled, eighth studio album on October 7. On the upcoming opus, Benét reunites with long-time collaborator Tamia, who was also featured on his #1 hit, “Spend My Life With You,” for a remix of the first single, “Sunshine.”

Singersroom sat down with Eric recently, and he opened up about keeping R&B alive and staying true to himself while creating authentic music. He also spoke about his stance in the current presidential election race, honoring late music legend Prince, spending time with family, and the new artists that he loves. Check it out!

You waited until your eighth studio album to release your first self-titled project. Was this planned?

It really wasn’t planned. I generally don’t name the albums until after I’m finished, and I’ve lived with them. I kind of let the album speak to me and tell me what the title is. This was one of those records; for the first time in my career, I just felt like it sums me up so well creatively. It has so much live music, and so many different influences, and I did it on my own terms and my own time. It just seemed very appropriate to self-title the album.

What new things will fans learn about Eric Benet on this biographical LP?

I don’t really know if they’re going to learn a whole lot more about me. It more so confirms everything that they already knew; that I’m really about authentic music, live instrumentation, issues that are real and personal to me, and lyrics that are vulnerable and honest. I think my fans have come to expect that from me. That’s definitely what this album is bringing.

As a veteran R&B artist, tell me about your musical growth at this stage of your career.

I’m one of those artists who likes to do what I do and not really try to reinvent my version of R&B; not really try to chase different trends or fads. That has really worked out well for me throughout my career. It has allowed me to have stamina and resilience in an industry where a lot of my contemporaries [people he started with] has kind of slipped to the ‘where are they now’ type of vibe. My first album was called ‘True to Myself.’ I’m just going to concentrate on my brand of creativity as it relates to music; not trying to adopt somebody else’s. Every time I put out an album, it’s just a further exploration into me.

You’ve tweeted, “Somebody’s gotta keep the soul in R&B. I’m honored and up for the task.” How do you feel about the state of R&B today?

A lot of music that is labeled R&B isn’t. Some of it is being categorized by race. You can have a pop/club track, but if you’re black and you’re singing on top of it, then it’s R&B. It’s pretty clearly defined on what Rhythm & Blues is. It’s instruments, it’s real singing, it’s lyrics that mean something to the person that’s singing it. Nonetheless, I feel like I’m falling in love with new artists again. Ro James, Anderson .Paak, BJ The Chicago Kid, The Internet… they’re doing what we were doing in the mid and early 90s. My contemporaries when I was growing up, like Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Anthony Hamilton, D’Angelo…we just loved music.

What was it like working with the beautiful Tamia again on the “Sunshine” remix?

It’s just like riding a bike; it’s crazy. Tamia and I, we’ve seen each other, and we’ve even done some stuff in the studio over the years together, and it was always great, but it’s been a few years since we hung out in the studio. Even though we did record a song together on her record, I wasn’t in the studio with her when she did it; she had to send me the tracks, and I did it in LA. This was the first time we were in the studio together hanging out, vibing on a song together, and it was amazing. She’s so incredibly talented. There are very few singers who have the different layers, levels, and textures that she has in her vocal arsenal. She can be tender, she can do runs, she can have power, she can be strong; it’s rare to have all those things. It’s a joy to be in the studio with her; it was so much fun that we even talked about doing a project together, which I would like to get to. She’s just an amazing artist.

Recently, you visited the country of Georgia to promote your forthcoming album; a testament that places all over the world still love R&B. How was the reception over there?

The reception in Georgia was huge. The passion for R&B in the rest of the world really does feel stronger than here. The Georgian people, an Eastern European country, they love soul music and R&B so much. They’ve been this people that somebody is always trying to take them over, control them, take away their rights, take away their country, so there’s quite a comradery on a few different levels. They’ve been like this resilient, proud, strong, beautiful people in the face of so much attempted stifling and crushing of their power, so as a people, we definitely got that in common. It was just a beautiful reception, and it’s a country that I fell in love with, and I’m gonna be going back there many times.

You honored Prince alongside Stevie Wonder, Aloe Blacc, Faith Evans and more at the L.A. tribute back in May. How was that experience and what did Prince mean to you?

Whenever we lose somebody, it hurts. And when we lose someone in the music industry, it’s so painful. It’s such an honor to do a tribute for that person. Prince is kind of one of those exceptions. Everything about his artistry was so specific and so unique. He was like a genre all to himself; how many artists can you say that about? So, when trying to do a musical tribute to him, for me, I just felt like I’m honored to be here, and I’m gonna do my thing, but don’t none of us hold a candle to what he was creatively and artistically. I’m sure he was looking down and loving the sentiment because so much of his statement was about celebrating your individuality. So, while I’m having hang-ups about trying to sing this Prince song and doing it justice, Prince was probably somewhere clapping his hands to all the artists that were giving the tribute to him for bringing their own individuality to his music. That’s what he was all about.

When he came on the scene in the late 70s, he was like this dude who was androgynous, wearing women’s underwear and a trench coat and made us slightly uncomfortable because we’ve never seen nothing like that before. But we embraced it because he wore it so authentically. That’s probably one of the more powerful and lasting legacies about Prince. It’s obvious he meant a lot to me as an artist. Obviously, I have closer ties to Prince through my wife. The loss of him meant so much more to our family personally. We’re never going to see somebody in our lifetime just that ridiculously gifted on so many levels.

You’re very vocal on Twitter about politics. How do you feel about the state of American politics right now? Do you trust the current presidential candidates?

There are so many really important things we need to talk about in this country and this world. There’s so much racial injustice, so much economic injustice. I think it’s absolutely perfect that the Republican candidate is a reality TV star because their personality is what’s going to get them the attention that’s necessary to become the leader of the United States of America, which is insanity. We live in this world where some of the biggest celebrities on the planet don’t really have the talent, and it just makes perfect sense that the nominee for one of the two biggest parties in the U.S. has seemingly no knowledge of foreign affairs, or how government works. It’s almost like he doesn’t care, and he’s celebrated by his followers for his ignorance. It’s scary man! You take somebody like Hillary Clinton, lots of people have a lot of negative things to say about her, but one thing you can say about her is she knows policy back and forth. She’s more experienced than any other presidential candidate, probably in the history of this country. There really should be no contest. I think we just need to stop being distracted as much as we are and pay attention to the things that could be the difference between the human race being together 50 years from now or being obliterated. I implore everyone out there to pay attention to what’s going on politically.

You’re about to go on tour with Anthony Hamilton and Lalah Hathaway. Tell us about that.

I’m so excited. Let’s talk about Lalah; it doesn’t even make physical sense how dope her voice is. Clearly her father’s daughter. Such an amazing artist and a beautiful person. Anthony just puts on a hell of a show. I don’t be playing when I get on stage either. It’s just gonna be an incredible tour, and if y’all miss it then you played yourself.

So, what’s a day in the life of Eric Benet like without music?

It’s all about family. It’s all about my wife; it’s all about Lucia, Luna, India, my sisters, my brother, maybe a handful of friends; just spending as much time with the people who are most important to me. That’s what matters, and that’s what gives me strength. Nothing like waking up in the morning to my little one grabbing my neck and kissing me. That’s what life is about!

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Gary Gentles

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