Tony Rich Interview

For Antonio Jeffries, AKA Tony Rich, the title of his fifth studio CD, Exist, represents more than just another collection of new compositions---it reflects a new, minimalist mindset that can be witnessed in both his life (less material things) and his art (he played all of the instruments and even designed the cover). The 36-year-old Grammy-Award winning vocalist, songwriter and producer, who's composed Boyz II Men, TLC and Elton John, to name a few, conversed recently by phone about the recording process, how Hidden Beach became his 'factory' of choice and the one thing that he prizes more than material things these days.

Thanks for making the time to chat with us, Tony, Where are you based out of?

For Antonio Jeffries, AKA Tony Rich, the title of his fifth studio CD, Exist, represents more than just another collection of new compositions---it reflects a new, minimalist mindset that can be witnessed in both his life (less material things) and his art (he played all of the instruments and even designed the cover). The 36-year-old Grammy-Award winning vocalist, songwriter and producer, who's composed Boyz II Men, TLC and Elton John, to name a few, conversed recently by phone about the recording process, how Hidden Beach became his 'factory' of choice and the one thing that he prizes more than material things these days.

Thanks for making the time to chat with us, Tony, Where are you based out of?

"I live in both Atlanta and California. Atlanta is very quiet, really calming, and L.A. is strictly business."

I feel you; the whole 'see and be seen, have your people call my people' thing huh?

"(Laughs) I can pride myself on not having said that to anybody. I remember hearing an artist say that to me once, and I looked at them like, 'what the.... my people'? 'My people' is me. I have an agent, a publicist and the label that I work with. I'm self-managed. I don't hire security, I think that helps people to get away from the reality that they are just people with an extraordinary gift. What do I need security for? I feel quite secure going out in the world myself." 

You don't have an entourage, a crew, none of that?

 "I have stylists, a guy that I'm working with in California, and a lady that I'm working with in Atlanta. They become shoppers, find what I like, bring it to me and I pick from there. I have a great working realationship in every aspect of my career, so nobody completely does a 100% of everything for me. "

It sounds like you're not about having excess in your career or your life.

"You're right. I think that there are multiple levels of what success could be, depending on who you are. If you start out very young, you don't have a lot of responsibility; you show up at the studio, make the record and then go out to support it. I think as you start to achieve success, your life becomes more complicated, because you start adding things. First you had one car, now you have four or five cars.You were lucky to have one house, now you've got three. The one thing I never did was get that excessive: I can only live in one house at a time, and I never believed in having more cars than how many garage doors you have, so the most I ever had was two cars. I even went from a house that was about 7,000 sq ft to a small apartment. I know some people wouldn't be able to do that, but I was able to do that with no problem. The space wasn't important, what as important was me getting to a place where I could create something that was significant."

When I listened to exist, the words that came to mind were 'fluid' and 'aquatic.' It's a very soothing CD and all of the songs seem to melt into one another.

"Thank you, you're right on point with that. I spoke to Jheryl Busby, the former head of Motown, and he told me, "I'm loving it; it's so reminesent of your first project, from song to song, all the voices and the instruments just flow together."  And when you say 'aquatic,' it reminds me of when I always say that if I were an element, I would be water. Fire purifies, but water cleanses and you really can't keep water out. I mean, water breaks through concrete. And since I'm a Scorpio, a water sign....(laughs)"

I'm a Pisces, I feel you! So that fed into the creation process?

"I listened to the music only for a month straight, because I wanted to get into the groove, and then I laid my vocals on top. I don't listen to the radio when I'm working, but when I did, I realized that just about every other song has really quick melodies now, with a lot of overlapping and underlapping vocals. Very, very wordy. You ever heard a song with a lot of words, but you can't remember what the person said, let alone feel what they're saying? It makes it less memorable.  Nobody's really saying anything, or letting the music do it either. And part the problem is that once this person has to perform the record, they have to dance and sing, and realistically, they can't do it they way people first heard it because they have to breathe. Over time, as things have gotten faster, certain types of songwriters or producers have started oversaturating the songs with all of these vocals, so they risk hiding the melody. I'm going the route that nobody else going, which has always been my favorite thing. They can stay on that road, but it's about to end."

How do you like being on Hidden Beach? Jill Scott once told me that she enjoys being with the label because they don't force the art or put a timetable on her creativity.

"I have to concur with Jill. With Hidden Beach, you can go there and be whatever it is you want to be, from moment to moment. They won't tell you, 'no you can't do that,' they'll say, 'okay, let's see how we can make It happen.'

So they're not like the typical labels you'd worked with before? What makes them different in your opinion?

"It's parallel to, let's say, a toy factory. Let's say that, as a new artist, you come to a label as a round piece of plastic. You say to them, 'I want you to put me out.' They say, 'okay,' and once you get in the door and sign the deal, they tell you, 'why don't you go ahead and step in that pot right there, because we're about to melt you and pour you into this mold, and you have to fit into that. Hidden Beach is like a toy distributor that says 'wow, you're a beautiful toy, let's see how we can get you to the people who love you.'

I came to Hidden Beach with a completed record, the title, and four video shorts that I shot myself. They said 'Tony, the stuff that we typically take 4 days to arrange, you've already done. Everything makes sense.' They loved it, and it what it does for them is that they're just free to say 'wow,' let's figure out what we can add to what you've already done to make this greater.' I'd been to other labels and they were actually amazed like, you did the whole thing? I do toot my own horn, literally---yes, I play my own instruments. Have you forgotten? I'm not a new guy. You think that labels would be really attracted to the fact that you're coming to them with a finished product because the way labels are now, they're not trying to put up a lot of money to get the product made. And it's the fault of a lot of different things from back in the day, like the Jimmy Jams and Terry Lewises, the Narada Michael Waldens. Certain producers got to the point where they started to charge a lot of money, almost all of the artist's whole budget. So self-reliance is more important now."

Are your kids looking to become artists too?

"I think that all 3 of my kids are very creative, but I don't know what paths they're going to take yet. My youngest daughter likes to sing. My son is really good on the arts side, and my oldest daughter is very much into fashion and styling----she also plays piano. No matter what they choose, I'm goinng to be very supportive bcause that's what I always had growing up, people very encouraging about the fact that I wanted to go into music."

Do you have any favorites on this CD?

"The song that sticks out to me the most is 'Part the Waves.' I remember telling him that the whole CD is going to be like the vibe of this one song. 'Jordan' is another song that I like, it's a light, flowing song that reminds me of myself in the 90's, where I wanted to go and where I wanted to be in my career.'

What shapes how you create your art?

"You have recording artists that don't write their own music, but I'm very, very much in tune with the fact that what I see, feel and hear. My songs are going to be a direct reflection of that, because that's my way of documenting what I experience. A lot of artists are just concerned with 'hey, it sounds hot,' it's not about what they went through. But what shows up in my music is what I've been through at the time."

Are you going to collaborate with any labelmates or tour anytime soon?

"We're working on both of those aspects; it's gonna be great, especially the live performances, because when I was writing this record, I was thinking about the parts being played live, so my selection of the instruments focused on that so that I could tour without an 8-piece band. As far as collaborations, I'm into that, as long as the other artist is. If the chemistry is there, you should do it, but if it's not, keep doing your own thing."

As a 13-year veteran, what advice do you have for up and coming artists these days, independent or major?

"Artists must retain their vision, and in order to stay as one with your vision, you have to have creative courage, because all too often, people go fo the labels offering them the monst money, which doesn't mean anything, because that doesn't mean they're going to do right by your project. You have to be really, really certain of who you are. Be confident, make sure your mind is right."

And what are you doing to keep your mind together these days Tony?

"(Big laughter) I'm not a Buddhist, but I'm chill. I'm not trying to stress and I have no tolerance for stress. If I'm talking to someone and they turn negative, I get off the phone like, 'man, I'll' hit you back.' I don't wanna hear it.  I'm very protective of my mind, my ears and what goes in them. I'm about having peace right now."

By Melody Charles

 

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