On his latest, Eric Benét stops living in the shadow of his reputation.
It can’t be easy being the guy best-known for cheating on Halle Berry. Shit like that sticks, and stick it has throughout a good deal of Eric Benét’s career. He’s the original Jesse James, the guy who proved all men are dogs—even the one married to what many consider the world’s foxiest fox. But as each year passes the gap between Benet and his most notorious deed widens, and with his new album Lost In Time he attempts to add more distance. Lost In Time, out Nov. 23, seeks to recreate the “golden era” of the R&B of the 1970s, and its first single, “Sometimes I Cry,” is a soulful, passionate show-stopping lament to loves almost lost. It’s the best song on the radio right now, reminiscent of some of the genius work D’Angelo did on Voodoo. We caught up with Benét—in Philly last week at the Loews Hotel—in advance of his upcoming World Cafe Live show to talk about the album, the music of his youth and the assumptions people make anytime he writes a “Oh, I miss you baby” song.
With Lost In Time you say you wanted to write a record that sounded like it was recorded somewhere between 1972 and 1976. How did you go about doing that?
We used a lot of the microphones that were used back then, and the production approaches were pretty much the same as they used back then. You wouldn’t separately track the bass and guitar and drums, they would all be in a room looking at one another. Just count it off, and play—that’s how all the songs were recorded. I would come throw a vocal on top of it with as much passion and as little technology and computers as possible. We used lots of strings, lots of horns. Even lyrically—there was a lyrical approach back then that was a lot more poetic and less obvious when it comes to sexual things that was beautiful and resonating. I really wanted the structure of the songs to be like they were back then, too, where people weren’t afraid to write bridges that took the song somewhere else as far as chord structures. I don’t think that magical and prolific time in music can ever be truly recaptured again, but on this record it was something we shot for. I grew up in this era. I’m a child of the ’70s and it’s when I fell in love with music. And the music of that era, in my humble opinion, was far superior than some of the computerized and cookie-cutter songs put out today.
You recorded this album in your hometown of Milwaukee. Did that affect the tone or sound of the album at all? What’s the difference recording there as opposed to a place like Los Angeles?
To tell you how or where a song comes from technically, I can’t tell you, but what I can tell you is that it all has to do with mood and emotion. so I definitely am in a different place emotionally when I’m around my family and when I’m around my mother and I’m around the places where I learned how to ride a bike for the first time. A lot of that love and a lot of that comfort translates into the music somehow. I don’t really know how that happens in the same way that when I’m just about to fall asleep I’ll hear some beautiful melody or some arrangement. I don’t know exactly where that comes from, but the feeling of whatever that melody is when it hits me has a lot to do with where my headspace is at the time.
Let’s talk about some of the tracks on the album, starting with the first single, “Sometimes I Cry.”
That song is about the threshold that we stand in when you’ve all but moved on from somebody who you used to be, and in some ways still are, in love with. You know that there’s no way you’re going back and getting together. It’s ancient history, but there are still times when you’re left alone and something may remind you emotionally of them or take you back, and you know those times happen more and more infrequently. The song is about standing right there before it’s all completely gone. It’s a sad time to have to move on sometimes, but necessary.
Is the song about anyone we know?
Uh, you know, it’s one of those things where people, whenever you’ve had a very high-profile and public breakup … anytime I write a song about “Oh, I miss you baby” people will assume … yeah, but, no. It’s not about that particular situation.
Do those assumptions irritate you or does it just come with the territory?
It comes with the territory. But I just have to understand that there are many, many assumptions made about that whole situation and me, and what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. I’m just glad that people are, you know, it’s now the second question asked. The first question is “Damn, who’s that singing that song?” As long as the first question asked is about my music, then it just comes with the territory I guess.
“Always A Reason.”
A couple songs on the record are very reminiscent of that old Philly sound and this is definitely one of them. I think it’s the perfect marriage of a classic melody with a classic lyric.
Speaking of “old Philly sound,” the song “Paid” guests Eddie Levert of the O’Jays.
Eddie kind of adds validity to my project. There were so many O’Jays’ songs that were the soundtrack of my life growing up. And he was on my wish list. When my cousin George and I started working out the structure of “Paid,” there was no one else—if he would’ve said no I don’t know what the hell I would’ve done with the song. But he heard it and loved it.
In your life and career have you known many back stabbers?
[Laughs] As you get older and wiser you get better at seeing through bullshit and I like to think that I have. Like when I was younger, oh my god man, there were some deals that I signed and people that I worked with that I, in retrospect, am like “How could I have been so stupid?” But maturity has its perks.
Do you care to name names?