treysongz1It’s Sunday afternoon and Trey Songz is sipping tea. Having flown into London merely hours before, following a show in Amsterdam he gears up for the evening’s show he is due to headline at London’s Indig02 with J Holiday.

“From the time I come out to the time I leave the stage I try to make sure I connect with the fans, the audience is very much involved in the show and that [the fans] are happy,” he says on the subject of performing.

As he prepares for the release of his third studio album Ready, due mid-summer 2009, we discuss his debut release I Gotta Make It. The album saw Songz emerge on the market in 2005 and even featured a guest appearance from soul legend Aretha Franklin. The sales, however, were lacklustre.

“That was my first album so I didn’t know much about sales or radio play, or things of that nature so I think that album definitely as a stepping stone for me. As far my original fan base in concerned, as far as the image I was portraying, I think it was definitely an introduction of me to the world and the world to me so I take it as it is,” he says, optimistically pointing out that I Gotta Make It still gave him opportunity to provide for his family. “I think that album was great and I got a lot of my core fans from that. If people have that album it means they’re a definite Trey Songz fan.”

The album to follow this, Trey Day, released in late 2007, saw Songz developing a stronger sense of his musical identity, lessening the comparisons of his vocal arrangement and production style to early R. Kelly. “They still try every now and then!” Songz laughs, “But it’s cool; he’s definitely someone great to be compared to vocally… I definitely admire his vocal ability and song writing ability.”

Trey Day was more commercially successful and gained Songz his first Grammy nomination at the 2009 Grammy awards for “Can’t Help But Wait.” “With Trey Day the commercialism definitely picked up and I think up to date, this next album is more anticipated than any album I’ve done.”

Ready, due to be released 30th June stateside, will feature production from Songz’ original collaborator, Troy Taylor, as well as prominent names in the R&B production scene including Jermaine Dupri, Stargate, Sean Garrett and co-executive production by Johnta Austin.

[audio: Songz – I Need A Girl.mp3]

ZAEH_SONGZ_SHOT4-23Whilst much of the production is supplied by established producers with trademark sounds, the material leaked from the album hints towards exploration of new sounds and genres. Should fans expect any musical curveballs? “Yes, most definitely!” he says. “This album brings together a lot of different styles of music on one album very cohesively so I think this is the album that shows all I can do musically up to this point. And I think vocally it’s definitely my best album. But album will be the one where you listen like ‘oh! He did something a little crazy there!’ you know what I mean?”

Songz explains the meaning behind the title. “You think of both albums and you think of where I’ve come from and how hard I’ve worked to get where I am. And I think I’m ready, musically, vocally, as a man, as an artist; for all that will come because this is the best album I’ve made and this is the album that’s gonna cross me all the way over and I’m ready for that.”

As Songz expresses his belief that Ready will ‘cross him over’, I ask whether he is actually aiming for mainstream success or if he’d be happy with a cult-following. “I mean, to say that I wouldn’t be trying to break mainstream would be a lie. Because the music business is a business, and in order to be a prosperous businessman I’d have to want to do all that I can so I’m definitely trying to break mainstream. And I think it’s inevitable that it will happen because I work so hard for it. And if enough people keep saying ‘you’re underrated, you’re underrated, you’re underrated,’ soon enough you’ll get your props.”

So he’s heard that he’s underrated before, then? Laughing, he says, “Yeah! I hear that every day! It’s reassuring though – at least people aren’t like… ‘YOU SUCK!’”

We discuss the role of the internet in his ambition to break the mainstream, as Songz is an artist with a large online presence. “I think it’s definitely a big part of the evolution of my career…” he muses before plugging his page and telephone number, “A lot of people know who I am because of it. Because if you think about back in the day, if you didn’t know who I am you’d have to come to a show, but now if you like me and you wanted to tell your home girl you could just point her to a link so she can hear it, or if she wants to follow me she can follow on Twitter, so who wouldn’t do that?”

I point out that he’s a lot more interactive with the fans online than a lot of artists as established as him. “Sometimes I use it to let people know what I’m feeling. As an entertainer and someone with a lot of fans, a lot of people take what I say seriously so I use inspiring words at times.”

Upon mentioning his perceived responsibility as an entertainer, we discuss a lesser-known aspect of his career – his community work. “Songz For Peace is a new organisation and what we strive for is bringing awareness to the youth, what we do is bring some local celebrities in to perform with kids. We’ve recently done one in Chicago and one in Virginia. We’ll have a district attorney or a sergeant [for example], to talk to them about what they could do and what they shouldn’t do. Because you know, the violence rate is rising; the numbers are getting higher and the ages [of people committing or being victims of the crimes] are getting lower so a lot of youth don’t have a voice.” He explains ardently.

“I feel I have a responsibility; because a lot of people say they’re not role models, but once you’re on the TV doing something that every kid wants to do you may not take the responsibility of being a role model but you are. So I try to calculate my steps well when I do things of that nature most definitely, just speak to the kids and let them know there’s another way out.”

trey_songz1While less people might have heard about Trey Songz’ community work, one thing his name is synonymous for is the effect he has on females. I ask how he goes about being a ladies’ man without seeming corny. With a knowing smile of quiet confidence he responds, “I think anybody who portrays a certain image and isn’t true to them will come off corny – but you know, I do think I have a thing with the ladies and it comes off naturally so I don’t think it’s corny.”

Then he says something that teeters very closely on corny: “I just channel what it is the ladies want from me and I try very much to give them that because it’s about what they want, it isn’t about what I wanna do, you know what I mean? It’s about pleasing those who support so…ladies I’m here for you!”

…Refocusing on his artistic talents, I ask what other creative endeavours outside of music he’ll be pursuing in the future. “I’m trying to get into this digital game very strong actually – see what revenue streams are popping out there that would make sense for me creatively. Outside of that we’re jumping into movies.

“I just did a movie called The Preacher’s Kid, where I have a small-yet-pivotal role. I was casted actually for another movie but we’re working on the album now so I couldn’t get into it, but that’s something that we’re very, very interested in and want to get into very soon.”

Between his albums, Songz also stays active in the studio. This is evident from the plethora of mixtape songs and remixes of popular tracks to which he’s lent his vocal. “It’s fun for me. Just to take someone else’s song, the familiarity [audiences] already have with it will make it noticeable when they hear it anyway; it’s just my spin on it. And it’s a way to gain new fans. It’s also a way to keep the internet flooded with music when I’m not putting out commercial releases.”

As we near the end of our interview, I ask when he last wrote a song, and what it was about. “I don’t write songs,” he says, explaining that he records himself, so his song-writing process consists of forming an idea and recording it organically when he gets in the studio. “

I actually had an idea for a song the other day…” showing me the contents of his BlackBerry, he reveals the amply titled “It Always Rains In London” – an idea for a slow-jam not quite about our inclement weather but about lovemaking in London.

See? Ladies man.

The cheeky star closes with a mission statement of his impact on the current state of R&B; “I think I’m gon’ do it a great justice!”

Ready will be in stores mid-summer 2009 (Atlantic Records).


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