Anderson .Paak has a special place in his heart for New Zealand - a country in which he played his first ever arena show at, back in January of this year.
Flash-forward to the present, and .Paak already has another album out in the form of ‘Ventura’, the older father figure to last year’s ‘Oxnard’, with heartfelt songs like ‘Make It Better’ and ‘Twilight’ highlighting .Paak’s vocal abilities, alongside empowering anthems like ‘King James’.
We caught up with .Paak recently on the phone to discuss the new album, working with Smokey Robinson and Pharell, and more…
Everybody can stand to do something where you give back - that’s what you do when you feel your purpose; you clear that lane and you help another lane run smoothly.
COUP DE MAIN: Around the release of ‘Oxnard’ you were saying it felt like your little baby was going out and into the world (you told Complex, "He's all grown and off to college now"). If ‘Ventura’ was also embodied as a person, what do you think the relationship between him and ‘Oxnard’ would be?
ANDERSON .PAAK: ‘Ventura’ is like the father of ‘Oxnard’ who was never around, but then comes around and then tries to be like, "Yo, clean your room up, what the fuck?" Then ‘Oxnard’ is like, "Wait, where have you been?" And then he’s like, "I’ve been out here working my ass off, trying to provide for you. How do you think this house gets paid?" And then the kid is like, "Oh, wow, you really were holding it down - but you were here, can you talk to me nice?" Then 'Ventura' is like, "Can you please clean up your room?" And then the room gets cleaned, and they go off and have their relationship from there.
CDM: Is there a song from ‘Ventura’ that you’re most enjoying to perform live at the moment?
ANDERSON: I love playing ‘King James’. I love doing ‘Make It Better’, although that song is so nerve-wracking because it’s a really beautiful tune and I try not to mess it up. I’m still working on perfecting my singing voice and the chorus has a great deal of singing. A lot of my tunes I’m screaming, rapping, and drumming, but I love performing that [‘Make It Better’]. What else is a good one? I think those are probably my favourites.
CDM: What was the writing process like for ‘Make It Better’ with Smokey Robinson?
ANDERSON: Smokey Robinson came in, he had a golf hat, one of the visor ones, and he came in ready to score, to hit a hole-in-one - and that’s exactly what he did. He came in there focused, he wasn’t taking no short-cuts, he was telling everyone what to do. He was getting frustrated with my engineer Jhair [Lazo] actually. I had to tell him, "Please don’t put hands on him, Smokey," and thank god he didn’t. But he was very upset with my engineer, and I’m glad we worked it out and ended up pushing through it, and made a classic. He told me to burn him two CDs, and I hadn’t done that in a while. I was nervous to burn him two CDs, one with the instrumental, and one with the lyrics. He came back and there was a lyric I had which said, "It’s easier to run away / Than to eat what’s on your fucking plate," and he said, "Why would you say something like that? You gotta say something sweet, you gotta make love to her with your words." He said, "And it’s easier to walk away / Than to look for what would make you stay." I said, "Smokey, I’m going to cry." He wiped my tears away and then next thing you know, I’m in front of 30,000 people singing the song! You can’t write these things, they’re real life.
CDM: It’s cool to hear your journey on ‘Yada Yada’, from “them open mics at Leimert” through to now, when your “dreams become reality.” You say you’ve “found another way through the open gate and my purpose.” What, right now, is Anderson .Paak’s purpose?
ANDERSON: My purpose is to continue to be free, you know? Be a light. In hip-hop there’s not a lot of freedom - it’s one type of stereotype. You have to do one type of sound, one type of work, but I always felt like my purpose was to celebrate freedom and range, spread love, and to be that light. To be there for my family and continue to uplift and build through with my music, and stay true to myself within my music, and have fun doing it, and enjoy the freedom of being able to try different things. Be able to go to different places, exposing people to funk and soul music, and hip-hop - I feel like that’s a part of my purpose, for sure.
CDM: Do you think that life is more worthwhile when you feel a purpose to it all?
ANDERSON: Oh yeah, absolutely. I feel like you’re contributing to the bigger picture, to more than just you. And if you’re feeling your purpose, you’re helping the machine work - you’re being of use to this world and you’re helping it, and you’re helping someone else by doing that. Us truly fulfilling our purpose is helping other people out there that are listening to it, and that’s doing some sort of justice for the world, you know? When all we used to do was take from the world. Everybody can stand to do something where you give back - that’s what you do when you feel your purpose; you clear that lane and you help another lane run smoothly. If there were more people doing that they wouldn’t be out here in the way, or causing distractions, or making it hard for other people.
CDM: ‘King James’ is a really powerful political song, with lines like, “If they build a wall, let's jump the fence, I'm over this.” Do you like using your platform and musical platform to talk about issues that you’re passionate about / that are timely in society?
ANDERSON: Yeah I do! I like assessing what’s going on and putting it in song-form, and having people relate to it, and making people move to it. That’s it. I’m not a political scientist or anything like that, I’m not even really into politics, but I’m seeing these things come into my space in real time, and it feels like everybody else is seeing these headlines - what’s coming on the news. I’m just speaking for what I’m seeing and trying to process - so without a degree of political science or anything like that, I’m just seeing what’s being said and it’s a sign of the times, and I’m here to put it in song-form and make people dance to it.
CDM: What was it about Mac DeMarco’s song ‘On My Level’ that made you want to sample it at the beginning of ‘Chosen One’? You guys first met on the Laneway circuit right?
ANDERSON: Yeah! I think that album that had come out, I was already obsessed with the album, that was one of my favourite tunes, and it just so happened that I was making beats at that time. I was making a bunch of beats and I was just sampling a bunch of stuff - I sampled ‘On My Level’ and I loved it. That’s how the song actually started, it was the sample with the drums, and then I played it for The Free Nationals, then they started spelling it out with the instruments from there - we ended up using the sample for the intro. The song just took shape from there, but it definitely inspired the whole song in general. I’m just a big fan.
CDM: One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Twilight’, it’s so heartfelt - I love when you sing, “You're my twilight when it's awfully dark and I lost my way.” Do you remember how you came up with that line in particular?
ANDERSON: I didn’t come up with it, I wish that I had! That was actually written by Pharrell - most of that song is him.
CDM: What was it like collaborating with Pharrell on that song?
ANDERSON: It was really dope! He’s such a focused being. We were in there and we did three songs - and simultaneously he was holding meetings, doing four different things at once, and we somehow still came out with some beats. I wanted to get a song that he wrote, and had the melodies written - I wanted to sing one of his melodies, because he had some things he was just holding onto. In the middle of this conversation, we were talking about something else, and he was like, "Oh, I’ll play you this." He played ‘Twilight’ and I was like, "This is dope." So I literally studied it, as if Smokey Robinson wrote it for me, or Stevie Wonder, and tried to nail it as close as possible. I love how it came out.
CDM: I’m a big fan of the tour name, The Best Teef in the Game. Was that a title you declared upon yourself?
ANDERSON: I think the fans pretty much declared that for me - I kept seeing that pop up! Shout-out to Anthony Fantano. He said the beef was over and we’ve come to terms with it. But ‘Best Teef In The Game’, that was the people’s choice. I asked my management, "What do you think we should call it [the tour]?" And it was the first one we thought of.
CDM: You also recently posted a photo of you, Childish Gambino, and Thundercat titled, “Best beards in the game tour 2020.” Would you like to collaborate with Childish Gambino on music in the future?
ANDERSON: Absolutely! He’s great to hang out with. He’s funny, and if we can’t do any music, hopefully we can do a movie or something.
CDM: You’ve said that ‘Ventura’ is the last of the ‘Beach Series’ albums (named after the southern California beaches.) Have you been working on new music for something different since then?
ANDERSON: Yeah, we always working on music. We’ve been recording even on tour with The Free Nationals - they’ve been working on their album, so we wrapped that up. They’ve got an incredible album and they’re about to drop an incredible single on June 12th with Kali Uchis and Mac Miller - so we’ve been putting all gears into that and making sure that’s straight. When we’re not touring, us, The Free Nationals, Maurice Brown (our trumpet player), we’re just in the studio working on the new sound. We’ve been having fun just experimenting on different sounds.
CDM: Do you think you’ll ever make music as Breezy Lovejoy again?
ANDERSON: I’ve learned to never say never! Maybe I’ll have an alter ego and come back out with something, and it’ll be all country music or something.
CDM: What one message would you want your fans to take away from listening to ‘Ventura’?
ANDERSON: I would just say they should probably get a big speaker, walk into a public place - a library or a doctor’s office - and play the entire album until security drags them out of wherever they’re at. That would really warm my heart.
CDM: You’ve said there were four albums worth of material for ‘Oxnard’ and ‘Ventura’. Do you know if fans will ever get to hear the unreleased material one day?
ANDERSON: There’s always a home for these songs. Maybe they’ll be on a soundtrack, or maybe for the next album - there are so many different things we could do. But the ones that are supposed to be out, they’ll definitely see the light of day.
CDM: And do you have plans to return to New Zealand with ‘Ventura’? It’s so cool that you played your first ever arena show in NZ!
ANDERSON: Absolutely! We love New Zealand - that show stayed with us; I still remember that, I’ll never forget it. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to get back, we’ll definitely come back and tear it down. I can’t wait to play the new album and bring the new show, it’ll be a lot of fun.
Anderson .Paak’s album ‘Ventura’ is out now - click here to purchase and watch the ‘Make It Better’ music video below…