Singer John Legend released a new R&B album, “Evolver,” on Oct. 8 and has a prominent cameo in the movie comedy “Soul Men,” opening Friday.
But Legend wasn't exactly keeping a low profile in the months leading up to all this. He sang at the Democratic National Convention, performed at several fundraisers for Barack Obama and anchored the ubiquitous YouTube pro-Obama music video “Yes We Can.”
“Don't forget doing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner' with Stephen Colbert,” Legend adds, laughing. “Yeah, I like to stay busy.”
Legend's polished new album pumps up his sound with his first club song (the current single “Green Light”) and includes more forthright lyrics in its love ballads. It seems Legend would like to get just about every woman he knows – platonically or otherwise – into bed.
But Legend is so sincere in his propositions that it's hard to be offended.
Here we talk to the five-time Grammy winner about his current projects.
Q. Let's start with “Soul Men.” Did you listen to Southern soul music growing up?
My mother listened almost strictly to gospel. My dad was a Motown fan. That and The Sound of Philadelphia. He liked it smooth – Smokey Robinson, Supremes. So I didn't start really getting into Stax-type soul until I was in college.
Q. What about discovering your “Soul Men” co-star, Isaac Hayes?
Oh, yeah. I found “Hot Buttered Soul.” I love him. He was a genius musically.
Q. You think you could pull off a 12-minute suite like he did with “Walk on By”?
(Legend sings the chorus of “Walk on By” and laughs.) That's tough. I don't know if you can get away with a 12-minute song anymore. But I'll try it one day. Why not?
Q. Your album has a lot of variety – piano-driven ballads, electro-funk, hip-hop, reggae, club music, love songs.
It comes from listening to a lot of different music.
Q. Working with different writers and producers gives you variety.
Some people think it's better to work with the same producer and have one sound throughout. But I'm there to unify the sound.
Q. You're working on an album of social protest songs now. Is that an outgrowth of your work with the campaign?
It's just another arena. It's mostly covers of '60s and '70s songs, some overtly political, others more like social movement kinds of songs. I'm doing it with the Roots, mostly Ahmir (aka ?uestlove) and his crew from Philadelphia.
Q. What songs are you recording?
Not “What's Going On.” That would have been too obvious. One we did was “Wake Up Everybody,” the Teddy Pendergrass song.
Q. Quite a leap from that to “Good Morning.”
Yes. That's my most explicit sex song. I had to go there sooner or later.
Q. “Good Morning” is on smooth-jazz stations now. That's where some people probably first heard you with “Save Room.”
“Save Room” found its home at smooth jazz after a brief stint trying – unsuccessfully – to get airplay on other stations. But it worked out well.
Q. What should people expect from your concerts?
The new album will round out the show really well with some good, high-energy, up-tempo songs. I want to go from being a theater artist to an arena artist. I think some of these newer songs have a bigger sound and will help me do that.