ROME (Reuters Life!) - Desperate to record song ideas, Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Erykah Badu used to dial her own phone number and sing into the voicemail.
That’s until her 10-year-old son took pity on her and explained how to use Apple computer’s built-in music recording program, GarageBand.
The result for the self-proclaimed “analog girl” was 72 new songs in three months that ended a dry spell away from the studio. It also led to the diva’s critically acclaimed new album “New Amerykah Part One (4th World War),” which blends soul, funk, hip-hop and blues. Part Two is due out shortly.
Badu sat down with Reuters during her European tour to discuss her return to recording music, the use of new technologies and her fascination with blues legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Q: It’s been a long time since your last album. Why the delay?
A: I tour eight months out of the year. That’s what I do. I’m mainly a performance artist. I also enjoy recording too... When there is something to say, when I have something to write about, I do that. And I don’t try to beat the clock or push. I have all my life.
Q: It was your son that taught you how to use (the computer to record music ideas)?
A: Garageband? Yes. Because he felt sorry for me. I would get my cell phone and try to remember a song, and he said: “Mom. You don’t have to do that. All you have to do is drag the music into this one track. And then create some tracks to sing on and you can record right now.”
And I began to do that and to manipulate the system and to EQ, and add effects and instrumentation and I had an opportunity to write 72 songs in a very short span of time — a three month period, which led me to come in with New America Part One, and then Part Two ... because of that freedom, of being able to record and just be wherever. Anywhere.
So I’m an analog girl, definitely. I record with reels. So I dumped everything that I did digitally to reels. You know, just to get that warm feeling. I compare everything to Stevie Wonder’s “Original Musiquarium,” the sound. If it has that sound, then it’s good for me.
Q: Do you think you’ll be using computers a lot more in the future (to record music)?
A: I’m now learning to become an engineer, and it’s a freeing thing. Since I’m a control freak anyway, it feels good to control the frequency of my music. Q: Just wondering what you’re listening to these days.
A: Oh man, so much. I played a couple of things on my computer tonight that I’m listening to. I’m listening to blues a lot right now: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith. Those kind of things.
The roots of that — I don’t know how to read music. I didn’t study jazz or blues or anything. I recently came into this voice. Around 1996, I started to feel out music, so I have so much new territory to discover. Right now there’s blues. I could see that being the foundation of a whole lot of different stuff that we hear today.
Q: Are there any small bands that you think people should be listening to?
A: Sa-Ra (www.myspace.com/saramusic)
Janelle Monae (www.myspace.com/janellemonae)
Kimya Dawson (www.kimyadawson.com). Are you familiar with the film Juno? That’s her.
Jay Electronica (www.myspace.com/jayelect). He’s a MC who is peculiarly intelligent, he’s good. Really good.
The Mars Volta (www.themarsvolta.com)... I really respect their time signature in the music. It reminds of a whole album full of “Money” from Dark Side of the Moon...
Shuggie Otis (www.luakabop.com/shuggie_otis/) ... He's still alive right now. I hope he gets some kind of accolade.
Editing by Paul Casciato