Hal Linton: The Next D’Angelo?

Hal Linton is the latest musical export

from the island of Barbados.  Following

in the footsteps of Rihanna (Def Jam Recordings), Shontelle (Universal Motown),

Livvi Franc (Jive Records), Jaicko (Capitol Records), Rupee (Atlantic) and Vita

Chambers (Universal Motown), Linton is preparing his solo debut, Return to

the Future, after

garnering critical acclaim in his home country.

This summer, as part of Hal Linton’s

introduction to American audiences, he will be accompanying Anthony Hamilton,

Kem, Jaheim, Raheem DeVaughn and Abraham McDonald on Budweiser’s

2010 Superfest Tour. Before hitting the road, however, Hal Linton managed

to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview

with Clayton Perry – reflecting

on the influence of Raphael Saadiq, the details of his initial contract with

SRP, and the key reason he loves to experiment with music.

AllHipHop.com:  As a child, you grew up in a musical household. Describe the

early influence your mother, father and other family members had on your

career.

Hal Linton:  In a

way, I was kind of like most kids, because I really didn’t want to do what Mom

and Dad did. Although they were musicians, early on, I tried to keep away from

music because I didn’t want to be another Linton that sung. I guess you could

say that their influence was more peripheral than direct initially. Looking

back now, I see how influential they really were, in that I got the chance to

be exposed to so many genres of music, from classical to reggae to hip-hop to

big band to a cappella music. Their passion for music was a great opportunity for

me to get really into various types of music. As I got older, during my teenage

years, music became something that I took a strong interest in – singing,

writing, and just playing instruments.

AllHipHop.com:  As you noted, you’re very multi-talented, and you take a

very D-I-Y [“do it yourself”] approach to your music-making.  You have often cited Raphael Saadiq as

one of your early influences. When you look at his career, what do you most

admire about him?

Hal Linton:  Well

I just really appreciate Saadiq’s style and his approach to music. He was really

influential, because I listened to a lot of what he was doing at the time, and a

lot of the artists he was working with, like D’Angelo. Listening to him was one

of the backbones to start me off in production. At first, I used to mess around

with his type of sound. It was a real groove-based, progressive soul sound. I

always liked it, for some reason, and it just sat with me. Saadiq was

definitely one of the people that really formed my musical identity –

especially when it came to how I was going to approach music. There were a

couple of other artists as well. 

There was Tonex, who’s a gospel artist, and D’Angelo of course. His Voodoo

album is probably one of

my favorite albums of all time. Also, Take 6 and. Mark Ronson, but moreso his Nikka

Costa days – just before Amy Winehouse. Those artists and albums were the

major, early influences.

AllHipHop.com:  When you initially signed with SRP, they only wanted you to

be a writer and producer initially. 

At what point did you switch gears and begin focusing on a solo career

as a singer?

Hal Linton:  Before

I signed my production contract with SRP, I had already made up my mind that

music was something I wanted to do and it was something I was definitely going

to pursue on all cylinders. When I went to them initially, it was to be an

artist. because that’s the approach to music that I wanted to take. For some

reason, they didn’t really see me doing that, and saw me thriving more in the

production aspect of music. It was kind of cool that they held me in such high

regard, as young producer and writer, because they had produced several platinum

records and hit songs. That experience was a boost for me, because I definitely

wanted to produce.  I just wanted

to be an artist, too. It was an interesting kind of a duality with my love of

music. They eventually came around, and that’s how we moved on to Motown.

AllHipHop.com:  As a singer, songwriter and producer, which skill comes most

naturally? And when writing a song, where do you typically begin – with the

lyrics, with the melody?

Hal Linton:  What

comes naturally? That’s a good question. In a way, singing, writing and

producing all feel like natural things to do, and its all fun for me. Funny

enough, the skills all pretty much come from the same place, from a creative

standpoint.  They are just

different representations of the same emotion.  When you get up on stage to perform or go into the studio to

write music, it all comes from the same entity. In a similar way, there’s

really no definitive answer for the lyrics and melody. They both come from the

same place, and no matter which comes first, it feels the same. Writing a great

hook feels just as good as writing a good bass line or writing a great piece of

music. I’ve done things lots of ways- I’ve started with lyrics, I’ve started

with melody. However, if I had to choose, I would say most of the time it

starts with the melody.. I normally have the melody for long periods of time

before I write any lyrics to them. As we speak, I’ve still got a ton of musical

ideas down that don’t have any lyrics attached. So, if anything, I think melody

tends to come first. .

AllHipHop.com:  The title of your forthcoming debut is Return From The

Future. When you reflect

on the title, what’s the major inspiration?

Hal Linton:  It

kind of is a play on words. My whole concept behind this album is that I wanted

to make soul music, but I didn’t want it to be retro-based. I didn’t want

people to hear music and say, “This song’s old.” I wanted them to

feel like I was trying to be progressive with soul music, because I find that

soul has typically been in a place where it’s been more like throwback. People

hear it, and they say, “Yeah, that reminds me of some seventies tune,”

or something like that. Simultaneously, I think it’s hard to get away from the

fact that soul music is going to remind people of something old, just because it

is just by association. For me, that’s where the return comes in, like it’s a

return, yes, but “from the future,” in terms of my thought,

production, and decisions I made. A lot of the production ideas and musical

ideas, even “Mind Control,” the first single, are really futuristic and

have a lot of strings mixed in. It’s really a production statement more than

anything else. Return From the Future is really a transition to creating a space for “soul

pop.” That’s what I like to call my music – “soul pop.” Instead of soul

being something that is just beautiful to listen to, I want it to be something

that people can sing along with. They can still feel the soul in it, but it’s

not that complex or too over their heads that they go, “Huh?.” I want

to make soul music pop-oriented; find that hook that people will sing along

with, but yet still have that soul state of mind. That concept was the true

reasoning behind Return From The Future. It was really a production concept more than anything

else.

AllHipHop.com:  As you look back on the recording process for your debut

album, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

Hal Linton:  Well,

I mean, a couple of songs will always be special to me on this album. “Hey

Love,” can be traced back to my roots of really starting to become a

writer. It is literally the second song that I ever wrote.

AllHipHop.com:  Oh, wow!

Hal Linton:  Luckily,

that’s going to be on the album. It was the song that made me decide to want to

write more, or want to get into music. 

It has always been a significant song for me. “Press Play” is

significant, too, and pretty reminiscent of what I was talking about earlier,

about having a piece of the melody first. I literally did the melody for

“Press Play” probably like two, three years before I even wrote any

lyrics to it. It was just a piece of music that I always loved, and I just could

never find anything to write to it, because I just loved the melody. The last

song for me that was really memorable to record was “She’s Dangerous (Bang

Bang).”  That was kind of the

songwriter’s dream song. It was the sound that kind of happens purely on vibe.

I wrote that with a pretty good friend of mine, Julian Bunetta, a new up-and-coming

writer and producer who is really talented. We were in the mountains in Malibu

down in California, just chillin’ at his house. Kind of had instruments in

hand, just grooving, and it just all came together very, very, very, very

organically, and really did set a tone for the album. I think those three songs

for me are the ones that will always stand-out from this album. They kind of made

the whole experience special.

AllHipHop.com:  Earlier in the year, you released a mixtape, to give people

a sample of your musical style and direction. Playing off the title, The

Rock & Roll Experiment, do

you think that musicians are confined, in a lot of ways, to fit into a certain

genre? And on the flip side, why is it important for you to kind of experiment

with your music?

Hal Linton:  Yeah,

I do agree. I think it’s kind of unfortunate, but humans do think like that.

They love to have a title for something and it seems like everything has a title,

nowadays. It’s just how we are- We need order. But at the same time, I think

that our need for order could be our greatest weakness, too, in that we never

get to experience something different that, at the end of the day, may be good

and may work for us. There is a chance that it may not work, but that’s why I

think it’s better to experiment with it, rather than to write it off or to stay

within a comfort zone, per se. I listen to lots of different types of music, to

be honest. I just try to take from everywhere and see how that can then

influence my voice and what I have to offer. But I think slowly, but surely,

the lines are getting blurred between the B.o.B.s of the world and the Linkin

Parks of the world. We’re seeing more lines being blurred when it comes to

music, for example, with Snoop working with Willie Nelson. And my dream,

personally, is for them to get blurred beyond recognition, so we can turn on

V100 and hear Mos Def. I think it will be great for music when that happens. It

will be kind of like it was back in the day, literally, like in the sixties and

seventies where craziness came on the radio back to back. I know old musicians

always tell me, they’d hear James Brown come on, then some Elvis. Honestly, if

music starts to blur the lines, we will experience the world as a community

more, and it’s going to automatically make us think more about how we can

integrate as a community as well. I just think that as musicians, we don’t

really see our true impact. But I hope, I really hope that it blurs more. I

pray and I bow down when I see B.o.B. doing the kind of music that he’s doing

right now.  And I hope Katy Perry

calls me to do a song! [laughing]

AllHipHop.com:  That would be really interesting!

Hal Linton:  I’m

just saying, I would love to see that kind of stuff happen. For lack of a better

term, music people or people that are high up in the industry trying to do more

stuff like that, other than always thinking about, Okay, well is this

hip-hop or is it rock ‘n’ roll or is it where it’s supposed to be? I just think it will be a great day when

we think about that less. That’s my opinion.

AllHipHop.com:  On a personal note, you covered one of my favorite songs on

your independent album, Spirit:Life:Love – Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”  What special attachment do you have to

that particular song?

Hal Linton:  That

was one of the songs I heard and I just liked Al Green’s whole sound. He’s also

another pioneer when it came to how he approached songs. I just love the whole

thing. It was super cool  and kind

of effortless. It was soulful, but it wasn’t too much. He wasn’t over singing

it It wasn’t like a million ad-libs. That’s one of my favorite songs, too, I

must admit, just because of the concept, and the way he mixed the song, so it’s

super cool. I want to feed off of that, so I will try to sing songs like that,

that I just think are cool. Hopefully some of that coolness rubs off of the way

I kind of approach things.

AllHipHop.com:  As I was watching your video to “Freaky Side,” I

noticed in the closing credits that you had a directorial credit. Is there

anything that you don’t do?

Hal Linton:  I’m

an art dude right at the core. Again, as I repeat, it all really comes from the

same place. To start with, I was a film student. I actually dropped out of film

school to do music. But for me, it’s something that I didn’t want to push that

hard in this first project. I wanted to build into it. The “Freaky

Side” project was part of my mix tape, The Rock & Roll Experiment. I wanted to do some videos for the

songs in the album just because I felt like doing them.  It was one of those things where I was

curious to experiment and see what I could come up with. For no money. Just

asking some friends to come through, getting my own footage, and editing the

video and putting it together myself. I was really curious to see what I could

accomplish by doing a creative idea and see what happens. Honestly, in the

future I think you’re going to see more of that from me.

AllHipHop.com:  Cool! Well, I can not wait to see what you have planned for

the future.

Hal Linton:  I’m

just trying to give some flashes of what I’m all about, now. Hopefully people

get that I’m kind of artsy all around. I’m really into video and audio and

lyrical content. That’s the kind of picture I want people to see when they

think about me. Because all that is a flash of things to come.

AllHipHop.com:  I know the government of Barbados has been really fully

supportive of your career. And over the past few years, you have won several

awards back in your home country. What special words of thanks do you want to

share with all of the people that have seen you grow and evolve over these past

couple of years?

Hal Linton:  I can

only be in awe of the country I’m from, and it’s a beautiful thing that they

regard art so highly. It also feels good to be part of a new movement there,

because really before Rihanna, Shontelle, Vita, Jaicko and I, a kid couldn’t

wake up and tell their parents, “I want to be an artist. I want to be a

musician.” It didn’t really happen until a bunch of us started doing it

more. Also, the government itself realized the potential for something fresh

and new. They were always supportive of the arts, but they really took it up

another level as we started to settle and be more serious. So I am truly

grateful to my country, my island. They’re super-supportive. All I can do is thank

them and hope they continue to be with me on this journey. Trust me, it’s a

journey, and I’m still traveling. Hopefully, they will continue to be with me

and I will continue to be with them. I’m also thankful to all of my fellow

Barbadian artists, who are flying the flag and at the same time,

simultaneously, helping me along. It has really been a collective effort. The

collective 2-4-6 effort! [laughing]

AllHipHop.com:  Sylvia Rhone is perhaps your biggest fan.  And you have cited working with her as

being hard, beautiful, educational and inspiring.  What is the best advice that she has given you as you

prepare for your American debut?

Hal Linton:  The

best advice Sylvia has given me is to have somewhere to grow to. If there is

anything I always remember, I think it’s that. Because of who I am, I can be

really idealistic sometimes. That’s not always the best thing if you want to be

part of the music business! [laughing]

AllHipHop.com:  Right.

Hal Linton:  If

you want, you can be a totally, totally revolutionary kind of figure, if you

just want the music, and that’s fine. But I want to do music business. I want

to sell records and I want to be part of the business aspect, as well as also

doing good music. And with those two things, you really have to view things

differently. For me, I kind of came in with the concepts of what I was about,

what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to look.  I had a lot of things worked out in my

mind. You want to grow somewhere. You want to take people with you. And I guess

Sylvia saying that to me, the whole idea of having somewhere to go or grow to,

that made me think more about my fans and surrounding myself with the right kind

of people. I have a journey to complete, and I think that is what makes it

special.  That statement really

opened my mind and made me become way more relaxed in my approach to evolution

as being an artist, rather than coming in with a truly definitive idea of who I

am. Rather, I have a skeleton idea of who I am, what I’d like, and where I will

see myself going. So for me, I’ve got to say it would be finding time for me,

and just my thinking when it came to how I was going to deal with this music

thing, for sure. Now, I’m starting to walk on that path.

For more information on Hal Linton, visit his official

MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/hallinton

Related Stories