Soul singer-songwriter D’Angelo was the latest featured guest at Red Bull Music Academy. Hosted by famed music critic and author, Nelson George, “A Conversation With D’Angelo” took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the reclusive artist behind such beloved albums as Brown Sugar and Voodoo shared anecdotes about his life and career, but also spoke about his new musical direction. He revealed that classic rock has been guiding his creativity as of late.
“Jimi Hendrix was a big influence and just a big spirit in the building,” D’Angelo explained. “On piano, I always emulated the guitar and bass. I didn’t play much guitar, I played a lot of keyboards. I really wanted to produce the sound that was in my head that I was trying to emulate on the keys,” he continued.
D’Angelo spoke about collaborating with Jesse Johnson, lead guitarist for The Time and revealed that it helped him evolve as a guitar player. “I was just asking him about everything,” he explained.
“It’s a natural progression for me,” he shared. “Years and years of crate-digging and listening to old music, you kinda start to connect the dots. I was seeing the thread that was connecting everything together, which is pretty much the blues. Everything soul or funk —it starts with that, it’s the nucleus. It was a natural progression.”
George pointed out that audience reactions to D’Angelo’s set were mixed when he opened for Mary J. Blige a few years ago.
“A couple of shows that we did … I don’t know if people were expecting what they got from us,” he recalled. “We did a lot of new material and there was a kind of confused look on certain people’s faces. Other people were really receiving where we were going. But if it’s confusing at first, that’s a good sign.”
George asked if D’Angelo’s recent live covers of songs by rock acts like David Bowie and the Beatles are indicators of what’s to come.
“I don’t know who is not influenced by them,” D’Angelo said of the Beatles. “They were the masters of —and Prince, too — all of these interesting, different eccentric ideas, but they were able to fit it into a simple pop format. To be able to fit your vision into this simple format —whether it be a pop song or 12-bar blues — that’s the challenge.”