It was a mere three years ago that the Milwaukee, WI-born singer, songwriter and producer released Hurricane, ending his six-year haitus from the recording studio and giving the world a glimpse into the pain and loss he experienced after his tumultous, tabloid-attracting break-up with Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry. His latest CD, Love & Life, is the sunshine after the storm, displaying his new-found optimism as a man and a musician. In-between greeting fans at a recent listening party in Dallas, Mr. Benet happily recounted Love & Life's recording process, what keeps him excited about his career after more than a decade in the biz and---strictly for the ladies now---if he's still looking for that "Only One" to spend his life with....
There's a marked difference between 2005's Hurricane and your latest CD, Love & Life, a real exuberance that we haven't heard in awhile.
"Thanks for noticing that (laughs). I'm the kind of songwriter where the lyrics reflect where I'm at in my life. The last album, Hurricane, was a very introspective, soul-searching, sometimes a little dark, kind of record. Right now I'm in this place of happiness, peace, and loving life, hence the name of the album. I also physically went back to my home town of Milwaukee and wrote most of these songs with my partners in music, Demonte, and my cousin George (Nash). We just locked ourselves up in the studio and made this record that we're very proud of."
How did you approach the recording process?
"There was a certain way of crafting a song back in the day that a lot of artists have strayed away from. I think nine times out ten, when you hear an R&B song, some producer was in the studio, made a hot track and gave it to somebody to write on top of the track. But the way they used to make music is that somebody would sit at the piano and they would weave the melody in with the chords and have the lyrics make sense with it all. Songs would have a beginning, a build and an end, and that's the way I try to write the songs on this album. On his first single, 'you're the only one,' you can really feel that old school, classic R&B."
Having a number one (Urban Adult Contemporary) right out the box, especially after being on the scene for so long, must feel phenomenal.
"I'm very grateful, and thanks to everybody out there who made this song number one, for staying with me throughout my career and allowing my music to touch you. I'm just blessed. I think about the fact that I've been able to still be in this industry, doing something that I love so much while keeping a roof over my daughter's head and being able to pay her tuition, and to get love like this from people, it's just an amazing blessing. I'm just learning to be grateful for every moment, for every day of my life. I'm just feeling so much gratitude."
I know you didn't get to work with Faith Evans this time because of record label politics, but you did collaborate for the first time with your daughter, India.
"She writes, plays the guitar, she's extremely talented. She was a little nervous, because I've never put her on a CD before, and this her first time, but she knocked it out of the park. She went in there like she was a pro. I've worked with a lot of background singers before and she just nailed it right away, which is rare. As for Faith, I love her: she's one of those who don't act like an artist. She's just like one of your cousins that you just love hanging out with. She'll get in the studio and just blow away all these singers with her talent. She's a wonderful mother and I love her to death."
Is there anyone else left that you haven't collaborated with that you'd like to?
"There's a lot of people I would love to work with; Al Green, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Caldwell, Steely Dan----that would be a dream come true."
You're a very personable artist that doesn't mind mingling with the fans; is it still exciting for you as it was when you first came out?
"I love shaking the hands, looking at the people who bought my record in their eyes and saying 'thank you.' I'm only here because of them, I'm only able to put food on my table for my daughter because of them. That ignites me, it makes me want to go into the studio and do even better."
Are you single these days or attached? You know the ladies would get at me if I didn't ask.
"I've been seeing somebody for a while (Manuela Testolini, Prince's ex), so I'm not accepting or putting out any applications right now (laughs)."
Any other parting words for the fans?
"I'd like to beg people to vote, register to vote this year. It's the most important moment in history and we cannot let the Republicans' Jedi mind tricks of fear and big business take over this country again. Please, please, please register to vote, make that change and please support Barack Obama."
by Melody Charles