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Will Wheaton: Express Yourself

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The human soul is the essence of all music. Whether in joy or pain, a musician must be able to feel to express themselves in order to reach others. While most of today’s music genres are rapidly changing, when it comes to soul, you can’t beat that classic “old school” sound.

Will Wheaton is a good example of an artist that, despite trials and tribulations, overcame all odds. After winning Dick Clark’s USA Music Challenge and working with a number of musical talents including Quincy Jones, Tevin Campbell and Earth, Wind and Fire, there was still a time when no one gave a damn. After having several albums shelved by record labels, many artists in Will’s position would have quit and pursued other interests. Despite the challenges, Will knew that he had the talent and the ability to touch the depths of his listeners.

After going on tour with award winning singer Rod Stewart, Will decided take things into his own hands. He is continuing the traditional soul sound with the release of his new album, Old School Soul. AllHipHop.com Alternatives spoke with Will Wheaton about the hard knocks of the music industry and what really touches his soul.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: What’s the definition of ‘old school soul’ in you opinion?

Will Wheaton: If you want the definition of old school soul, it’s Aretha Franklin, bottom line. She’s number 1. I’m also soul; I play Al Green to Parliament to Hip-Hop soul. Soul is really what ever gets people vibing.

AHHA: Who are some of the old school soul musicians that you listen and take inspiration from?

Will: Anything from the Parliament to John Legend. Isaac Hayes, Al Green and Luther Vandross are also always old school. Luther did it for real. All the cats that did it ‘for real’ before Prince.

AHHA: Who are some of the artists of today that you think have that an “old school soul sound”?

Will: Musiq is a strong contemporary soul singer. Joe is the quiet fire. He does what you call ‘real singing’. Alicia Keys is the bomb. Jill Scott, all of these people are pioneers in new school soul, but still have the strong old school sound.

AHHA: You’ve worked with a lot of people. What was it like to work with Quincy Jones? What’s kinds of skills did you pick up from him?

Will: With Quincy, you learn that it ain’t good enough ‘til its good enough. I was working on a track with Patti Austin. We were working great together and laid it down really quickly. Quincy came in and said, ‘That’s great. Now do it again.’ I learned that just being good enough won’t do. It must have essence.

AHHA: You have also written songs for artists like Tevin Campbell and Earth, Wind and Fire. Do you choose the artist or do they come to you?

Will: I didn’t really work with Tevin Campbell, although he sang my song. People I write for have complete and honest faith in my abilities. I write a type of song with a particular vibe, the artists are the ones that choose it. For example, I wrote the song ‘Not That Kind’ for Anastacia. When I wrote it, I was like, ‘We need to find a funky white girl to sing this one’. A friend of mine worked with her, she heard it and the rest is history. I don’t just write songs for Raphael Saadiq or Luther Vandross, but rather artists like them.

AHHA: Do you meet the artists that you write for?

Will: I may not meet them right when they record the song, but I eventually do. I gave Anastacia her song four years before I met her – the same with Earth, Wind and Fire. It all comes together in the end.

AHHA: You won Dick Clark’s talent competition USA Music Challenge.

Will: Yeah, in ‘92. It was on the heels of Star Search, pre-American Idol because the winner got a recording contract. I was shocked. Out of 3000 applicants, I won. From that experience, I learned the real politics of the music business – I wound up on the losing side. The album that I recorded from winning never saw the light of day. I then went to PolyGram, which I think has since merged with Universal. Again, the album wasn’t released. It was frustrating, but brought me to my current point.

I recorded a collaboration album with David Foster and a few others. It was a group project, but wasn’t released because of changes at Atlantic. I then went on tour, singing back up for Rod Stewart and a Japanese artist, Namie Amuro. I came back and decided to do my own thing.

AHHA: What kinds of personal experiences were inspirations for tracks on the new album?

Will: The whole records. It’s that old school soul. The track ‘When Nobody Gave A Damn’ is about the frustration of my career. No one wanted to hear my first album. I was trying to get on with out money, and trying to get it known without radio play. There were even quite a few people that told me that I wasn’t good enough to make it. But then I began to think of all of the people who actually gave a damn. People party to old school soul. I grew up on it. I love it – it gives me life. People go to shows to hear a singer sing their songs, but I made it okay for people to come to a Will Wheaton show and hear a few Al Green or Isley Brothers tracks.

AHHA: Through all of this, what kinds of things have you learned about the music business?

Will: My first album Consenting Adultz helped me figure it all out. All the songs that hadn’t been released in ‘99 were on that album. I didn’t do the kinds of promotion that I’m doing now. People were still buying it, so it let me know that there was a market for what I do. Back then the only promotion that I had was from websites, live shows and by word of mouth. Going on tour with Rod gave me a better understanding of how things worked behind the scenes. I learned a lot about the business as a whole, what to and what not to do. You mainly learn that while you’re getting attention, to save your money. Music is first about art, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you still need to know the ins and outs of everything.

AHHA: Some of your songs from Consenting Adultz were in the BET film Midnight Blue?

Will: A friend of mine produced the film. He had bought the cd at a show and liked it so much that he [picked] three tracks for the love scene. It lets people know what you’re doing.

AHHA: What do you think of people comparing you to Luther Vandross?

Will: I’m shocked that people would even compare. Luther was a singer’s singer. I know how much and how well he could sing. He was the king and an amazing person.

AHHA: Let’s do a little word association. Woman…

Will: My mother. She was strong, wise, compassionate, and complete in every sense of the word.

AHHA: Music industry…

Will: Hard knocks. You can overcome if you put your mind to it. Do what you do, but don’t sleep on it.

AHHA: George Clinton…

Will: Funk. Straight up crazy mad funk.

AHHA: Gospel music has always been a strong influence in your music career?

Will: No matter who you are or where you come from, you always draw from your original experiences. I always remember what my mother and other have taught me. We have to remember, that no one is just original. We all emulate something, we’re a melting pot.

AHHA: You were born in Mississippi and grew up in Los Angeles. What values did you learn in those places that you still hold strong today?

Will: I don’t really know too much about Mississippi because I moved to L.A. when I was two-years-old. My parents are my Mississippi influence whether I want it or not. L.A. taught me to do and work to the best of my abilities. People come to places like L.A., Atlanta and New York to try and make it in the business. There’s always some one right behind you ready to take your spot. It’s cool though, it keeps you on top of your game. It makes you strive for more.

AHHA: Who are some of the soul artists that you would like to work with or write for?

Will: Gerald Levert is a song writer extraordinaire. R. Kelly, because I feel that he’s a very musical person. I would love to write for Whitney Houston – despite what people say, she’s not done yet.

AHHA: What’s next for Will Wheaton?

Will: Definitely touring for the new album. I also want to start throwing Old School Soul parties. I want to do it around the world – just a big network of people jamming out. It can happen, I just need to find the right corporate sponsors.

AHHA: Do you see yourself taking on any new sounds, like perhaps a DJ on stage?

Will: I’m opposed to nothing as long as it’s musical. You could take a tuba and if it has a good melody, then it’s on.

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