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,
garnering critical acclaim in his home country.
This summer, as part of Hal Lintons
introduction to American audiences, he will be accompanying Anthony Hamilton,
Kem, Jaheim, Raheem DeVaughn and Abraham McDonald on Budweisers
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
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 Saadiqs 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 thats 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 thats 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? Thats 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 dont 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, whats 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
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. Thats my opinion.
AllHipHop.com: On a personal note, you covered one of my favorite songs on
your independent album, Spirit:Life:Love Al Greens Lets 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 Greens 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. Thats 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 dont 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
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]
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