Life for Anthony David has been an interesting journey. Over the last few years, the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter has served his country, rocked out with fellow headbangers and toured the world with India.Arie. All in the name of music.
Davids new album, The Red Clay Chronicles, serves not only as a musical elevation from his 2004 release 3 Chords and the Truth, but also a declaration of pride in being an ATL representative. The crooner took a moment to indulge us in a chat concerning the Atlanta R&B scene, R.Kellys influence in reworking an 80s classic and the difference between R&B and soul.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: I understand you used to play in a rock band.
Anthony David: It was a rock Hip-Hop kind of outfit. They started as a Hip-Hop group and I was a big fan of theirs. I used to be at shows of theirs all the time. It was on some Leaders of the New School type of sh*t when they started…And then I jumped in because they needed somebody to play while they were jumping around. And I was still doing what I was doing, but this was something to kind of balance that out til I learned to get my wild side out. I just loved what they were doing all the time. Theyre called El Pus.
Long story short, we all got signed to Virgin and the record actually came out. It was called Hoodlum Rock, but Virgin didnt support it. I was actually out of it because I had got my deal by that time. It took so long to come out. I had already been on tour with India[.Arie] and everything else.
AHHA: In a recent review of The Red Clay Chronicles, the reviewer said that said you “traverse the line between R&B and soul elegantly and eloquently.” Can you break down the difference between the two?
Anthony: R&B and soul are like, to me, what people say about Hip-Hop and rap, or like an MC and a rapper. I think to the bigger sense of where people started to draw that line again, an MC writes his own sh*t. You know youre getting it from him, and you know that its going to be relevant to him and you can feel it. That would be soul.
R&B is like maybe Mariah Carey or Jagged Edge. That doesnt mean that its not going to be a good song, but most of the time, that person isnt really attached to it in that way. Theres a very soulful element to all of that, but it just depends. Like Usher, he would moreso call himself an entertainer. He would have some very soulful songs, but it aint about what hes saying so much. Its about how good hes singing and how hes dancing and all that other stuff. Thats the only thing I would see at all. There might be a little sound difference, but these are little minute details
AHHA: The whole R&B/soul thing is one dimension. Your album, particularly the title track “Red Clay Chronicles,” its got sort of a political edge to it.
Anthony: Were playing a character kinda in that. Its about gentrification, which has been going on in every city. Urban renewal and all that kind of stuff…The projects are going away. The soul of a lot of neighborhoods [is] disappearing. So it was just kind of an observation on that.
AHHA: Only a handful of soul/R&B artists out now are putting that type of vibe in their music. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who said that entertainers should, as the title of the Dixie Chicks documentary says, Shut Up and Sing. Should entertainers stick to making music and not mix the two?
Anthony: The funny part about entertainment that I feel a little weird about…to be in entertainment, sometimes you tend to feel like youre not supposed to have a brain. You cant be a complete human, like you just cant shut up and sing. I do think that sometimes you should just shut up and sing, but I think that vibration youre singing about sometimes could be something interesting that can be relevant to regular life, what some people talk about throughout the day. If you work at a corporate job somewhere, you should just shut up and do that job. What I propose is that people should deal with their art the way they deal with their regular life. Some days Im talking about a strip club. Im going to the strip club or some hour Im in the strip club or some hour Im in some other sh*t that I might be telling you to be at.
But then at the same time, Im talking in an intellectual discussion in a coffee shop somewhere. Lots of humans have lots of sides to them, and I think an album should reflect as many as you can while still being entertaining and inspirational. I felt like that qualifies. I cant go away from an album without talking about as many things as I can. Its like you dont get to use your brain in music or something and I dont think thats right.
Granted, now I will say this. Just because you are a singer and you are some kind of entertainer and you have this big window dont mean you know more than anybody else. Im not saying this about [the Dixie Chicks]. Sometimes some artists think that because theyre in that position that theyre job is to enlighten everybody. Naw. Youre just expressing your opinion. Tupac was wrong about a lot of sh*t, but he said it and he had that window to say it. Bob Marley was wrong about a lot of sh*t, but you take it with a grain of salt. You just take it as what it is. Its another person who happens to be in the spotlight who is saying what he thinks through some of his experiences at that time. Thats all anybody is doing.
AHHA: When did you discover your passion for music?
Anthony: When I was in the Army. I always wrote. I would always be creative whenever I needed to be. When I was in the Army I joined this thing, it was a dedication. Every year they would do this thing called the safety show – they show little slides and presentations about people who died the year before drunk driving whenever people go home for Christmas. And so each year before everybody goes home, the safety show drives home the message “Be careful when you go home,” and then we get out there and sing show tunes in between. So in order to get in that, you had to audition.
My unit was the unit that had the most deaths, so I didnt have to audition. I got in it and I was around all these singers. Then the next year, I actually did have to audition and I sang something I wrote and it worked. Then everybody was like, “Yo, you write songs? What song was that? That was good.” I was sharing my songs with people all the time, and I didnt know that I had written so many songs. Thats when I was like “Oh, maybe I can be a songwriter or something.” [laughs]
AHHA: One of my favorite songs on the album is “Words” with India.Arie. You two seem to gel real well in the studio. How was it working with her?
Anthony: Weve been good friends. Were like brother and sister. She was the first person I met in Atlanta. Shes a big part of my story. She was the first person after I got here to be actually singing my songs. Weve been friends before we were ever doing music together. Actually I had the song, I thought, done. It was rather short. I gave her my album and she gave me her album, the one thats out now. We were listening and kind of critiquing each other and she was like, “That song is short, but I love that one. I want to write to that.” I was like “Bet!” Her verse really made my verses make more sense, because I think it was more abstract until she put her stuff in there.
AHHA: Would you have pursued music if you never met India.Arie?
Anthony: Of course. I mean its all relative. If not her, it wouldve been somebody else, but you never can tell. I did it now. [laughs] I believe in some ways in destiny in that way – she was definitely a very important vessel. It just happened to be her.
AHHA: There is definitely some love for Atlanta on this album. How is the R&B/soul scene down there?
Anthony: India was the only person to get recognized nationally and internationally in that way, but she emerged from a scene. Its a very healthy scene. And the part that was crazy about that, when she got her deal, she was the first person and she was young and she had to deal with producers. Nobody was really making records at the time she came out. We have a great live scene. When she got her deal, she didnt get a chance to utilize her own producers or none of that. Her deal came from New York and she had to utilize producers from New York, like Mark Batson, who did a bomb job on her first album. Tore it up.
So we already had a lot of talent that we grew musically watching and grew up with in that way. I felt like that, besides giving props to Sleepy [Brown] and working with who he works with, theres not enough work here. For instance, the Philly movement – you got Jill Scott, Kindred and Floetry and all of these musicians that live there. These Philly guys get a lot of work. New York dudes always get work. Even L.A. guys get a lot of work. And theres no way for everybody to see, at least on this side of things, how good we have it in Atlanta. So I just wanted to be true to what I have been sitting there listening to all the time. It was a no-brainer. Thats I why its called The Red Clay Chronicles, because its a part of showcasing musicians. Not just the singers, but the other musicians. I just thought it would be appropriate.
AHHA: Youve got a remake of one of my favorite 80s tunes, Level 42’s “Something About You.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear this.
Anthony: Actually its a single overseas, but Im noticing it right now. I got to give props to basically R. Kelly on that because I was in Chicago and I was listening to a bunch of step music and stuff like that. Of course, his songs were running. I had been playing that song in my acoustic set, and I had thought, “I want to redo this, but how am I going to do it?” And thats the funny thing. That goes back to the line between R&B and soul. What is R. Kelly? Hes everything. Hes crazy, but hes everything.
Im trying to represent our thing. Were not corny down here. I had to think of a way to pull it off and that came up and that was it. That was the way to do it. I came back home and was like, “We got to do it like this.” Chicago definitely made me feel that vibe and I wanted to get that up in there.
Thats one of them songs that melodically is so good. And oh, you want to talk about these lines? What is soul? Whats R&B? Like, what is that song? Pop, or I dont know, but everybody knows it. Thats why I used to do it in my acoustic set because it was one of those songs that even Black people knew, but didnt know why they knew it. It was one of them sing-a-longs where theyre like, “I dont know the words, but I know the hook part” – [sings] “Something about you.” I love it.
AHHA: Continuing with the ’80s vibe, if you could collaborate with any artist from that period, who would it be and why?
Anthony: Man, theres too many… I got two. Anita Baker is my number one influence. I love her. I mean that was the first person that when I used listen to songs that I could kind of sing with it and sort of sounded like the song. Her or Alexander ONeal. That dude is dope. Hes such a raw motherf****r, Im telling you. Hes the sh*t. Especially that Fake album. Ive just been walking around and hearing it on the streets and stuff lately. Its just like, “Wow that sh*t was so clever.”
AHHA: You’ve got a diverse array of influences. Was there any performer that you saw live that inspired you to do what you do?
Anthony: Actually David Ryan Harris, I dont know if youve heard of him. He plays with John Mayer. Hes actually a great solo artist of his own. He wrote songs with Dionne Farris. He was a big part of her thing. He was in a band called Follow for Now.
AHHA: Whats the best concert youve ever seen?
Anthony: Prince. What he does is what most people do on the best night they could ever have. He does that in the first 10 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, the bad part is that hes actually too good because he has to slide at some point in order to top his sh*t. In order to take it higher, hes going to have to take off and literally fly in the air. [laughs] Seriously, hes already done too much, playing solos and singing in 50 million voices, dancing. He does what everybody that you like does. He plays like Eric Clapton or better. He dances like Michael Jackson or better. Theres nothing like it. Its just a combination of everything.