Dwele: Neo Soul Pigeon-holes, Online Connections & Dirty Laundry

Four albums deep and on the promo run for his latest LP, W.ants W.orld W.omen, this week SoulCulture caught up with a certain Mr Andwele “Dwele” Gardner.

He needs little introduction; something of a figurehead for today’s Soul music – “neo” or otherwise – the Detroit-based singer, songwriter and producer became a staple voice in the next soul wave ever since his first single “Find A Way” dropped in 2003 from his debut release on Virgin Records, Subject.

Today’s subjects are the pros and cons of being accessible online – namely, how the singer reacts to blunt fan feedback on Twitter and how social networking sites present useful opportunities for him to connect with those who’d like to work with him, with no other means of contacting him.

He also talks about his feelings on watching the current sagas among his friends and several time collaborators Slum Village unfold publicly online.

But first, we start with the new album….

SoulCulture: Can you outline the concept of your new album, W.ants W.orld W.omen?

Dwele: The concept of the album W.ants W.orld W.omen is broken up into three sections.

The W.ants section is like my alter ego where I get to do things slightly outside of myself musically on that section of the album. I always say that part of the album is for me but I think you’ll enjoy it, it’s really just me having fun with music.

The W.orld section is like my audio time capsule of the things that have been going on. Capturing the feel of the economy. I feel like it’s our job as artists and as vocalists to capture that climate, the way that Marvin did it, the way that Donny did it back in the day. So that 15-20 years from now people know exactly what was going on in the economy – and a lot of people aren’t doing that musically nowadays.

Then you have the W.omen section and that’s the baby making music and the feel-good music for the woman.

So with this album it’s trying to cover all the bases , I’m trying to create cover different avenues so that if I want to make a political album one day I can because people are used to the idea now. Or if I wanna do a Hip Hop album… I’m trying to branch out to a few different things with this album.

SoulCulture: How does this album feel different to your previous?
Dwele: With this album right here, it’s a little different because all of the past albums I never really did too many guest features other than Slum Village. Here I felt people know enough what my sound is, that it’s a good time for me to bring on other people, other features.

This time around we have Raheem Devaughn, Slum Village of course, I got an artist out of Detroit – Monica Blaire – she’s ridiculous vocally, we got David Banner, DJ Quick – so I stretched out more on this album.

Also this album is a little bit different from past albums because I’m taking on a few different topics – there are a few songs on there that are a little bit more political, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but never really had the platform to do that on.

SoulCulture: Your Raheem Devaughn collaboration was nice, I know you’ve worked together before but this is the first time he’s appeared on you albums. How did it come together this time?

Dwele: Raheem reached out first for his album, “Nobody Wins The War”. It’s like “We Are The World” 2010. After that I thought, ‘This is as good a time as any’ to bring him on and make it happen. Since we had just worked together we were already in communication.

SoulCulture: In terms of the other people you collaborated with, Slum Village aside, were they already friends?

Dwele: I met DJ Quik in 2003 when I was working on the Subject album and very time I went out to record with G1 for ‘Find A Way’, ‘Know Your Name’, ‘I’m Cheatin’ – every time I went out to record these songs Quik always came to the studio and we always talked about working – but always did more kicking it than work. This time around I sat down and talked to him about it and we made it happen.

Monica Blaire is somebody that I’ve known for a while, she’s also from Detroit. We’ve always talked about working too so this was the perfect opportunity. That’s how ‘Detroit Sunrise’ came about.

David Banner actually reached out to me through Twitter. We made a connection through Twitter. He told me he was listening, I told him I was listening. so we decided to work. It was anther barter deal – I did something for him, he did a joint for me. I most definitely look forward to working with him in future. He’s crazy.

SoulCulture: Does that happen a lot in general – have you made particular development in your career as an artist through online networking?

Dwele: Yeah, most definitely. Via Twitter, via YouTube, I’ve actually had a few offers to do videos and things like that. That’s something I most definitely wanna start doing – as of late I really haven’t had the time to jump on any projects or take on any of those projects because of touring, but once things slow down a little bit that’s something I’ll want to get into.

SoulCulture: Are you pleased with how fans have received your album?

Dwele: The reception so far has been great. People notice that it’s a different me from the past albums and the majority of the things that I’m seeing, people are really gravitating towards it; they’re loving it.

Of course you can’t please everybody all the time – I’ve seen people that just say, “Nah, I’m not feeling it. I liked Some Kinda or Subject better,’ but some people just wanna hear the jazz or the laid back Dwele. Some people just wanna hear the club Dwele.

You can’t please everybody all of the time and I understand that, but for the most part with this album it seems like people are more into it than not.

SoulCulture: Has anything you’ve read particularly stung? Does it affect you?

Dwele: It used to affect me when I first got into the game. People can be cold sometimes! I think it used to affect me. Right now it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. I mean, I read it and I say, ‘Ooh, wow’, then I move on. For the most part it’s been good though.

SoulCulture: Going back to your collaborations… Obviously Slum Village are going through a bit of controversy this month, with Elzhi seemingly having left the group. Having worked with them for so long, is it hard for you to watch this publicly when they’re people you respect and work with?

Dwele: Yeah, it does hurt. When I first saw it surface on Twitter it really upset me to see – I’m not calling any names, but – grown men on a public platform kind of bashing their friends or people that they grew up with – and publicly making our unit not look united.

I think that’s really what it’s all about, it’s about how people see us. They can either see us as a unit, connected or they can see it as having beef within the family. I believe every family has it’s beef but I think it’s important that we handle our dirty laundry behind closed doors.

The fact that it was done publicly on the net and on radio stations and got broadcast and sent around the world for people to see a dysfunctional side? I think that was beyond. I don’t think it needed to be done. They could have handled it – they could have called each other and handled it like that. I think it was grown men acting like high-schoolers, that’s what that looked like to me. It hurts me to see that happen but unfortunately it does happen.

SoulCulture: I know a lot of people feel the same way. At least there weren’t videos this time [unlike the Little Brother/9th Wonder dispute earlier this year]… You’ve obviously still got love for them both, will there be loyalty issues working with each of them [T3 and Elzhi] in the future after this split?

Dwele: I work with them, I been working with them in the past, I’ll work with them in the future. Most definitely I feel like that has to calm down. I don’t wanna become any type of middle man. I’m gonna wait until they suss that out before I do anything, but everybody in the camp I’m still cool with. I respect their art, we’ll work.

SoulCulture: On the business side of your music, are there significant differences to your experience as an artist now that you’re signed to E1 compared to when you were with Virgin?

Dwele: I call E1 (formally Koch) a major independent record label, wherein you get some of the major label push or distribution but it’s still independent, meaning I can do my own thing. I can do what I feel, I don’t feel pressure from anybody to dress a certain way or make a certain song. I think that’s a beautiful thing and that’s really what the music business has turned into; it’s really not about major labels anymore.

SoulCulture: So what’s next? Have you thought about the next record or are you focused on promoting this one?

Dwele: Right now I’m just focused on touring. I think I’m always gonna work on albums, I never really stop making music so whenever I’m at home I’m recording and trying to fill up that vault with ideas and with music. So when it does come to time to create an album, half of the work is already done. That’s always the plan.

SoulCulture: My final question… When the so-called “Neo-Soul” explosion happened about five years ago, D’Angelo and Erykah were seen as the figureheads. I’d say you’re still one of the main names people refer to do define today’s soul, neo or otherwise. Is that something you’re comfortable with? Do you get that reference a lot?

Dwele: Yeah, I see a lot of that – people referring to me as Neo-Soul. The title neo soul doesn’t hold the same weight that it used to. Truthfully I would just call it soul music.

I think my music kinda varies… I think I have songs on my album that are more Neo-Soul then I have songs that are more Hip Hop, or R&B… So I would rather be called a Soul/R&B cat, I think that’s a little bit more of a broad horizon. I think when you’re considered Neo-Soul… It pigeonholes you.

– But if I get called Neo-Soul I don’t mind that! It is what it is… I’m not mad at it.

Dwele’s new album W.ants W.orld W.omen is out now via E1 Music.

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