It’s safe to say that D’Angelo‘s long-awaited follow-up to 2000′s Voodoo has reached mythical status. The R&B singer started working on the album shortly after Voodoo‘s release, but the ensuing years have seen little new music or solid information about the project emerge. Until now. Having scored a Grammy for his mixing and recording work on Voodoo, New York City-based producer Russell Elevado is again behind the boards for D’Angelo’s third album –he also insists that it is still untitled and won’t be called James River, as has been widely rumored.
Elevado’s worked with some of the biggest names in the music business over the years, mixing and producing for Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, the Roots, Jay-Z and Al Green. With D’Angelo touring Europe this month and teasing audiences with renditions of alleged new songs, we became curious about the new album. Hive recently spoke with Elevado about the tracks that will make the final cut, the rock artists who influenced its direction, D’angelo’s mood these days and the food that fueled the epic recording sessions over the last decade.
D’Angelo has been performing a couple of new songs on his current tour. How do the live versions of “Charade” and “Sugar Daddy” compare to the studio recordings?
The videos out there aren’t good quality, especially the volume quality. Compared to the live versions, the studio versions are not going to be as long and instead of the background singers, you’ll hear D’Angelo’s backgrounds. It’s [drummer] Chris “Daddy” Dave playing live, but he’s not actually on the album as yet. We’re not sure if he’s going to be on it or not at this point. Most of the drums [on the album] are by ?uestlove and a couple are [former Bill Withers drummer] James Gadson.
When did work on the new album actually begin?
We started working on it right after Voodoo tour — so around 2001. We did extensive tracking for that first year, and since that time he’s been in and out of the studio. So in between that time he had a few years off obviously for health reasons and other shenanigans … so it hasn’t been a full ten or eleven years full-on.
Will anything from those first 2001 sessions make the final album?
There’s one song from 2001 that will make the album, yeah. The song that was released recently, the Soundgarden cover “Black Hole Sun,” that was done around that time too, but that’s not going to make it on the album.
How many songs will be on the album then?
All together, there’s over 50 songs that he’s cut since we started. I think he wants to put 12 songs on the album.
What’s your favorite song on the project at the moment?
I don’t think he’s done it live yet, but there’s an untitled song right now that I think is going to be like another “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” for this album. It’s going to be a monster song.
“I guess one thing we always get is Jamba Juice. We have that every day while we’re recording.”
Does the new album have a release date yet?
He actually really wanted to finish a couple a years ago but he’s written a few new songs since that time, so now we have four new songs and we’ve been working on those for the past six months or so. He wants to finish it as soon as possible, but once he gets into the studio he gets into his own zone and he’s on D’Angelo time and nothing else really matters.
In 2007, you said that you introduced D’Angelo to Jimi Hendrix’s music during the recording of Voodoo. Are there any artists or albums you’ve put him onto this time that have influenced the sound of the new album?
I was playing a lot of Led Zeppelin for him this time. After hearing Hendrix he was basically listening to a lot more rock so I started playing more and more Led Zep and the more he heard it the more he gravitated towards it. I played him David Bowie as well, and the Beatles. Actually, the Beatles is one of our blueprints, I think, for this album. This one is definitely gonna be soul, funk, rock — if there’s such a thing. It’s all mixed in there together — there’s a big fusion element in each song.
Is there anything out there at the moment that you could compare the sound to?
Right now, there’s nothing! That’s my modest opinion. There’s nothing that sounds like this album at all. It’s on a different level. It’s a different style of song writing; he’s been writing a lot of songs on the guitar as opposed to with Voodoo which was written on the keyboards, so that approach alone gives the songs a different type of energy.
In an interview with Pitchfork, ?uestlove mentioned that Fred Wesley, from the JBs, and Q-Tip are on a song. Is that true?
Fred Wesley, yes, he did — he’s on one of the songs and he’s collaborated along with Q-Tip. He’s playing some solos and a little bit of a horn arrangement on it.
Is Q-Tip rapping or singing on the song?
He’s just sort of doing some shouts outs so not any rapping at the moment. I’m not sure if a rap will end up on it; the song is still developing.
Does the song have a title yet?
No, it’s untitled at the moment.
What are D’Angelo and ?uestlove like in the studio together?
Oh, man, they’re like definitely musical brothers for sure; either that or it’s a musical marriage — but I don’t know who the female is in this instance! They definitely work and play together and collaborate and are very like minded. Their first bond was the Prince connection, and then after that it’s just been them checking in with each other. For a while they didn’t speak but once they did they didn’t even get to the studio and collaborate on anything until last year. They were reunited for the first time in like seven years and so when they first got in it was just madness. It was two musicians trying to catch up with each other — it’s pretty awesome, their relationship.
What’s the general vibe like in the studio when D’Angelo’s recording?
There’s usually a lot of musicians around — it’s always a fun time. Sometimes there’s three or four musicians around and they’ll start jamming and something will come out of it. But when it’s just me and him, it’s pretty quiet — he tries to concentrate on what needs to be done. When he’s doing his vocals he does it on his own, but all the tracking and over-dubs and everything else we pretty much do together. But he always likes to do the vocals himself; he’ll usually put the mic in the control room or in the booth with him and off he goes.
Is he a perfectionist?
I’d say to the max! Absolutely! That’s one of the reasons why [this album] has taken so long. He’s hard on himself.
Do you ever give him feedback or criticism on what he’s doing?
Yeah, we have our moments where we’re having sort of a discussion, but he rarely listens to anything but his instincts. It can be frustrating for the rest of the team, but I’m ready to finish the album and pack it away, ’cause it’s always hard to have it in the back of my mind as something I need to finish and it hasn’t been done.
What’s D’Angelo’s general demeanor like these days when he’s making music?
He’s definitely fun to be around. He’s not always really telling jokes per se but he’s always kidding around and he has a crazy laugh! When he’s really happy he can be so boisterous! He’s really good at breaking up the tension in the studio with a little bit of light-heartedness. The other side of him is when he’s really involved with making music and he’s just so focused.
Finally, what’s the most frequently ordered take-out at the studio when D’Angelo’s there?
He likes seafood so he usually orders some sort of seafood platter or something — that’s one of his favorite things. I myself like to change it up; I’ll eat anything from sushi to burgers to Spanish food. But I guess one thing we always get is Jamba Juice. We have that every day while we’re recording.
Watch D’Angelo’s video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” below.