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Putting A Name And Face To A Famous Voice

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Putting A Name And Face To A Famous Voice

Music Interviews

Putting A Name And Face To A Famous Voice

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If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


ALOE BLACC: (Singing) So wake me up when it's all over, when I'm wiser and I'm older.

RATH: This is the most streamed song ever on Spotify, "Wake Me Up" by Swedish DJ Avicii. A lot of people assume that was Avicii singing, which make sense. The actual singer wasn't even listed.


BLACC: (Singing) When I'm wiser and I'm older.

RATH: That singular voice belongs to Aloe Blacc. He actually wrote the lyrics months before the collaboration with Avicii.

BLACC: I was on a flight from Geneva to Los Angeles. It was just a moment where I felt like my life could get no better. I was really happy with how things were going and sitting in first class because the organization that invited me to Geneva paid for everything. And I thought, wow, you know, from indie label struggling artist to first-class flights, I thought wake me up when it's all over.

RATH: Aloe Blacc's new album, "Lift Your Spirit," includes a stripped-down version of the song.

BLACC: When I first recorded the song, we recorded an acoustic version. It was just Mike Einziger from Incubus on his guitar. A couple days later, Avicii made his dance remix. But I'd always had an affinity for the acoustic version and wanted my fans to hear the song for its songwriting and not the steroids of dance music around it.


BLACC: (Singing) I can't tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.

RATH: You're the really big hit right now, the man. That's the first single off this album. It's been climbing up the billboard charts. And like "Wake Me Up," that sort of turned into a popular anthem. What is it about these songs, you think, that are...

BLACC: Wow. Well, my goal, of course, is to make songs that will last the test of time and to be worthy of the space in your mind. I want to create themes that hold your attention.


BLACC: (Singing) Well you can tell everybody, yeah, you can tell everybody, go ahead and tell everybody, I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man.

"The Man" was a theme that I wrote based on, of course, an Elton John interpolation. I took one line from an Elton John song - and part of the melody as well - and made a loop of it. I come from a hip-hop background, and that's what we do quite often. The lyrics I wrote were to try to impress Dr. Dre.


RATH: Did it work?

BLACC: The song ended up in Beats by Dre commercial, so I think it worked.


BLACC: (Singing) my world. Stand up now and face the sun, won't hide my tail or turn and run. It's time to do what must be done. Be a king when kingdom comes. Girl, you can tell everybody...

RATH: You've had a pretty enthusiastic but select audience. And now it feels like you're hitting it big in a way that seems very much reflective of our new times. Like, it wasn't radio stations who got behind you. It wasn't record stores.

BLACC: It seems to me like the third way is television shows and television commercials. It's been extremely helpful in my career. "I Need a Dollar" was the first...


BLACC: (Singing) I need a dollar, dollar, dollar that's what I need. Hey, hey. Well, I need...

...with the licensing for the theme of "How to Make it in America," the HBO special. And since then, I've had a few songs from this album that have been synced to television commercials and sporting events. And that's been extremely helpful in magnifying my voice and getting the music out there for people to hear and decide whether they like it enough to go find it and buy it.

RATH: I'm talking with Aloe Blacc. His new album is called "Lift Your Spirit."


RATH: My favorite track might be "Love is the Answer."


BLACC: (Singing) Broken hearts everywhere. From stepping on them, we don't care. Somebody tell me what we're going to do.

RATH: That was a collaboration with Pharrell.


RATH: What was it like working with him?

BLACC: First of all, it was an honor to work with Pharrell. Of course, I set my sights on working with really talented and accomplished producers. Pharrell would be one. But I never thought I would have the chance. And he happened to be in L.A., and I had finished my album, at least I thought I had. Pharrell was eager to challenge what I thought was a finished album with creating a new song.


BLACC: (Singing) 'Cause love is the answer. It's the answer to the questions in your mind. Love is the answer. It's the answer if you look and you will find.

We finished a song within five hours - four to five hours. I loved it. I thought it was worth putting on the album for sure.


BLACC: (Singing) The answer is love. I'm telling you now. The answer is love.

RATH: You hit a lot of different feelings, a lot of different moods on this album. What was missing there that this song helps complete?

BLACC: Well, we were able to do something that was analogous to my heroes, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, where you create a wonderful pop song and put an awesome message in the middle of it.


BLACC: (Singing) Just believe that love is the only thing that's real and true. Love is the answer.

RATH: The title is "Lift Your Spirit." And they're pretty happy songs, generally pretty uplifting, but there's one tune in particular, though, that takes a different turn.


BLACC: Yeah. That's "Ticking Bomb."

RATH: Yeah.

BLACC: And, you know, I struggled with putting it on the album called "Lift Your Spirit."


BLACC: (Singing) The whole world's sitting on a ticking bomb. The whole world's sitting on a ticking bomb. So keep your calm, carry on. The whole world's sitting on a ticking bomb...

I have a relationship with an organization called Falling Whistles. And this organization does as much as they can to create awareness around the conflict in the Congo, which is a conflict around natural resources. I think it's important for us to recognize it, realize it and for me, as an artist who knows about this, to use my megaphone to bring awareness.


BLACC: (Singing) We're staring down a loaded gun, no refuge found, no solid ground. This human race can't be won.

RATH: Is there a feeling you might want to do more songs like that?

BLACC: I absolutely will do more songs like that. I have a lot of them. But, you know, I got a pretty strict directive from my pops who said to make a happier album this time. So this one's for Pops.

RATH: Seems like you can play about any style you want to. What haven't you accomplished that you want to do?

BLACC: You know what would be really nice for me is to really get into a country music production and songwriting field. I spend a lot of time crafting my words. I look at traditional country music as some of the strongest song writing that we've been able to deliver from the United States.

RATH: People used to make fun of Charlie Parker for listening to country music, and he said, those cats know how to tell a story.

BLACC: That's my goal. I feel accomplished whenever a song becomes popular that I've done a good job telling a story.

RATH: Aloe Blacc, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

BLACC: Thank you.


BLACC: (Singing) Come on lift your spirits and toast to cheers to all the good times throughout the years...

RATH: Aloe Blacc's new album, "Lift Your Spirit," is out Tuesday.


BLACC: (Singing) It ain't who you know, it's who's got your back, who's got your back. Times have changed, everything's strange, nothing's what it seems...

RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app and follow us on Twitter @nprwatc. We're back tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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