On the morning after the election, urban soul artist Maxwell describes himself as “mortified.”
Talking on the way to a show in Philadelphia, he tries to discuss his first album in six years, “blackSUMMERS’night,” and “The King and Queen of Hearts Tour” with Mary J. Blige, which hits Spectrum Center Tuesday. Yet his thoughts keep returning to the election.
“I’m not worried about my future,” he says. “I’ve never played it by the book. I’m classic American. Call it naiveté. I can be anything I want to be. If I have a dream, I can go and do it if I work hard and put time into it. If I do it with the good intention of being the best I can be and contribute to my community, I can make it happen. Not that that always works. I was lucky.”
“I’m worried for that 80 percent of the world who don’t believe that,” he continues. “People who’ve gone to college and have degrees and still can’t get a job. I worry about the fact that the world would rather have the most crass, tasteless person than to have a woman in the Oval Office. Says a lot about us on a sexist level. It’s a bad message we sent the entire world, and the ramifications will play out. I want America to thrive and people to be happy, and pursue happiness, unencumbered. With all the inflammatory statements he (President-elect Donald Trump) has made in the past, I don’t know how welcoming the world will be to him.”
Still, Maxwell’s sure his negative feelings will melt away Saturday night, when he’s on stage.
“I won’t have anything in my mind other than happiness and joy,” he says. “I will be highlighting some of the greater aspects of our culture and how far we’ve gotten and how much further we will go in my show. The great gift of being in the world of music and partnering up with the legendary Mary J Blige and the great Ro James (their opening act) is we get to be the solace people need right now in this troubling time.”
His thoughts turn back to Trump.
“It’s so hard to talk about this show with what just happened,” he adds. “It was like watching an accident in slow motion.”
Maxwell, 43, emerged on the R&B scene in the mid-’90s. Blige already had numerous hits under her gold-plated belt. While she delivered by-the-book ballads and sassy, funky, and sometimes feminist declarations, Maxwell followed his quirky muse. Rolling Stone called him the Thom Yorke of R&B, comparing him to the eccentric Radiohead frontman.
“I’m just so stubborn. It’s the only way I could do it,” he says of taking the road less traveled, making albums that are often jazzier, creatively rhythmic, laid-back and more experimental than some of his peers. “I was a busboy. I used to pick up the dirty dishes and clean the bathroom. I worked at Pizza Hut. I knew what a job was, and art was a passion. I promised myself that I would stay true to the craft.”
He in turn worked with like-minded co-writers and producers that helped him mold a unique career.
“I was able to connect with people who have a wealth of music (knowledge) – not just R&B or hip-hop, but soul, rock, country, thrash. They knew it all,” he says. “When we were writing and making a decision, we knew we could take a risk on the intelligence of everyone out there musically. When there’s honest feeling behind what you do, it translates.”
Mary J. Blige co-headlines “The King and Queen of Hearts World Tour.”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com