3 chords, 2 albums, and a quick word.
Words: Marsha Gosho Oakes
The Red Clay Chronicles is the sophomore album of an ex-army man who is the cousin of Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men, and is good pals with India.Arie. Going from “fixing radios and night-vision goggles” in the army for four years to taking his guitar and his powerfully expressive voice around the world, rising Atlanta-soul man Anthony David returns with his second offering since his 2004 acoustic debut, 3 Chords and The Truth. Whilst we’re on the subject of truth, Anthony isn’t actually from Atlanta – he was born in Savannah, Georgia – but his musical career only began once he moved to Atlanta. He explains, “I moved [to Atlanta] because I wanted to be in a bigger city and I wanted to be around more creative people. Everything from the Crunk, to the R&B, to the Hip Hop, to what we do; even rock – you can go see a lot of good bands from a lot of different genres there.” If Usher can represent the ATL so vocally despite actually being from Tennessee, then Anthony David can probably get away with it too; and rep he does, with his latest album The Red Clay Chronicles, released on independent label Brash Music, named after the red clay of Atlanta. Soul Culture sat down with Anthony on his last visit to London for a chat about shying away from the spotlight of fame, the limitations and benefits of genre-labelling, and the versatility of Atlanta’s music scene.
Speaking of talented ATLiens, Red Clay Chronicles contains a moving duet with India.Arie called ‘Words’, which highlights how well the pair fit together musically. This is no news to them, as Anthony has been writing for India for years – he penned ‘Part Of My Life’ on her first album Acoustic Soul, along with the export edition bonus track entitled ‘Butterfly’. So how does he feel about the recent number-one-album Billboard success of his long-time friend and collaborator? He smiles broadly, exclaiming, “That’s my homie, so it’s always good. Plus I wrote on the record and it’s gonna be the second single: ‘There’s Hope’. We seem to be perpetually linked and she always makes certain that things turn out a little good for me. It’s really good to see anybody hit that [number one spot].” Number one successes are a great look for soul music, particularly at a time when ‘R&B’ creates more blues than it contains, and has questionable amounts of rhythm! However, many soul artists do not appear to lap up the attention that accompanies commercial success. Sometimes they put out a fresh, genre-influencing release, and then seemingly disappear for long periods of time. Anthony admits, “One thing about the soul scene in general and artists like that, is having the success they’ve had and being that deep in the industry, they don’t like doing it so much. That’s why they put out records as least often as they can. India called me before her record was out and she was like ‘I don’t really wanna make another record’. She didn’t wanna be in the high school-type element of it, like you go to the Grammies wondering if somebody likes you. They wanna live a regular life in a way; they’ll put out an album and then see if they can live off it. At the same time, it doesn’t really help the overall scene.”
This interview took place before the vastly spreading success of his new album, but in anticipation we asked how he would personally feel about the fame and widespread recognition that is now slowly but surely creeping upon him. He thought about this quietly for a moment before responding, “I’m just like the rest of them. I like to communicate with people, I would like to do that with a minimal amount of bullshit! I love people so I like to make people happy with what I bring to the table. But of course I want to make money, I wanna eat, I wanna live, I want people to like the music. I wanna contribute.” Anthony has been taking his musical contribution seriously for the past ten years, when he started using his guitar to put music to poems. He “didn’t know” at the time that what he was writing would grow to become songs (“I didn’t notice that it was something I could do!”). ‘Butterfly’, which India.Arie recorded, began as a poem a man at a former job challenged him to write out of curiosity when he heard that he writes poetry. Learning to play the guitar helped him to find his focus, as he no longer had to write to other peoples’ tracks.
Shouting out a list of ATL artists such as Joi, Goodie Mob, Outkast, Cee-lo, and Sleepy Brown, Anthony David discusses how varied the scene in Atlanta is. “The producer that did my first album works with Lil Jon, so the genres aren’t as distinctly separate as you’d imagine.” We talk about the differences between Soul and R&B today, and the way in which artists are seen to record one or the other, as if in two different leagues. One could say there is a vast difference between the Christina Milian’s and the Jill Scott’s of the world, but Anthony argues, “The whole idea of Soul and R&B being so different is weird to me. Any song hitting you at any particular time could be considered soul. It’s just a different sound back then.” He gives the example of his cousin, Shawn Stockman, a member of soulful R&B group Boyz II Men, and the way in which Shawn would still be labelled ‘R&B’ by many now whereas Anthony would distinctly be labelled ‘Soul’. “Shawn had this deal when we were in high school, and I was like ‘you can sing really good!’ but I didn’t know they were gonna blow up like that. I was in the army when they blew up, and I was like ‘hey, that’s my cousin!’. When we were writing back then, we were a different age, and we were writing the same kinda stuff..” he says of the youthful, basic, girl-obsessed lyrics he himself wrote a decade ago but would never release or replicate now, yet which typify much of modern R&B. “Shawn would write the same stuff [as me] at this point but now people see him as R&B. He was younger when he came out, and can’t break out of that box.”
To illustrate further, he enthuses about Brandy: “I like her music, I think it’s soul music. It really gets me, it’s a weird thing between Soul and R&B and the type of artists that they are. There’s no reason Joe can’t write a really soulful song and mean it. The guy that produces all the stuff for Lil Jon, produced my first record. The dude that produced ‘Never Scared’ is a very quiet, churchy guy. I really wanna let down those little illusions. Bone Crusher would perform at the same club that we all grew up in performing soul music. Every week I would watch him freestyling to a live jazz band, and then he came out with ‘Never Scared’. Goodie Mob and Outkast were good at being all of that. They’re one of the reasons everyone can link up like that.”
Restrictive assumptions are swiftly applied to music by the industry and consumers alike, so it takes a real music fan to sit back and appreciate good music, rather than merely seeking recognition of the genre they subscribe to. In keeping an open mind, Anthony David should not be bracketed as mere ‘acoustic soul’, because he exhibits a whole lot more on his sophomore album. It was a pleasure to talk to an interviewee as warm and free as his music, and Anthony David’s album is worth checking out for its simple but infectious melodies and his powerful, direct voice – a refreshing change from much of today’s falsetto-drenched soul.
The Red Clay Chronicles is out now on Brash music, and you can view the video for his single ‘Something About You’ at http://www.myspace.com/anthonydavid.
Check out www.anthonydavidmusic.com for more info.