Luke James’s new album is not just an outstanding slice of soulful R&B. As the singer/actor tells us, ‘To Feel Love/d’ is a way for him to presently bridge the music of his past to the sound of his future.
“It’s weird, because I have moments where I’ll be in conversation or asked a question, and then I’ll remember something that I hadn’t remembered in years, or thought of in years,” says Luke James at the start of his EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife. The breakdown between the past, the present, and the future lie in the heart of the conversation since the R&B singer just released his sophomore album To Feel Love/d. A deft bridging of the soul and funk of yesteryear with modern hip-hop and R&B, To Feel Love/d sounds like it’s a timeless classic in the making. Listening to the album – nine tracks in total, including the previous three singles, “go girl,” “blow” and “all of your love” – one can be transported back to the height of Motown, to the R&B resurgence of the 80s and 90s, before casting their ears (and eyes) towards the future.
It’s fitting that To Feel Love/d is not just an album to James, but, as he describes it, a “bridge.” The album is “a bridge from where I’ve been — to where I’ve gone — to get to where I’m going. So, this is where I’ve gone. Everyone knows where I’ve been, here’s where I’ve gone, and this is where I’m on my way to,” he tells HollywoodLife. To Feel Love/d is also a way to re-introduce him to those who might have slept on his 2014 eponymous debut.
Luke took a break from music to focus on acting. He appeared in movies like Little and BET’s The New Edition Story, while also landing a featured role in the third season of The Chi. In the conversation with HollywoodLife, Luke spoke about his earliest influences, about a once-in-a-lifetime moment with Prince (revealed in the gallery above), and where he’s “going” with To Feel Love/d. But, before talking about the future, Luke James must first take it all the way back to the beginning.
Hollywood: Do you have memories of when you first discovered music, or maybe an influential artist? Do you have any artists that you can point to and be like, “Oh yeah, this person put me on this path right now, and this is where I took the first step.”
Luke James: Well, it’s weird because I have moments where I’ll be in conversation or asked a question, and then I’ll remember something that I hadn’t remembered in years, or thought of in years. To answer that, I do have a few, but then I know that tomorrow I could think of oh whoa — A Goofy Movie.
The one with Powerline?
Powerline. I remember doing the dances and just thinking is that Tevin Campbell singing? And then even just thinking about man, could I ever do a talent show? I don’t know if I could do a talent show. I would be so nervous. I would have to have friends like Max had to be able to do it. So, I have those moments like that and Prince.
There is a moment. It’s not extremely young, but in high school, I got kicked out of a private school that I really wanted to graduate from. It’s a prestigious high school. Most of the men in my family graduated from there. It’s called St. Augustine High School. A Catholic all-boys school, but there’s something to it, more than just that. It was just the camaraderie, the brotherhood.
I was really hurt and depressed about [being kicked out], and my mom sent me away to my cousin’s place in Memphis, Tennessee, before summer camp started. He, of course, had to go to work. As a kid, I always wondered, damn, do adults get summers and stuff like that? Hell no. They just continue to work. So, I’m in this house by myself, and I was just searching through his things, and I found a Purple Rain cassette tape. And he had this big sound system, full-on DVD, changeable and tapes and everything, and a DAT player as well. I played the tape, and I just remember the sky opening up. And it’s weird because before that I used to be scared of Prince. Prince used to scare me. I think it was the Batman soundtrack.
I can remember watching that at my Uncle’s house with my cousin Cedric, and I remember because it had to have been very long ago because Kris Kross was going. “Iesha” by Another Bad Creation was around that time. I remember seeing this video, and Prince had half clown face and not, and it just was erotic, and it was so intense, and I remember being afraid. Fast forward, I got introduced to D’Angelo, and his Voodoo album is like — if I were told that I could only have one piece of music to live and listen to for the rest of my life, it would be the Voodoo album. If I had never heard that, I’d probably be sure I wouldn’t as open to when I heard it. Because I’d seen Purple Rain, but I think I watched it, it was VHS playing it, and it got commercials, so you can’t really dive into things with commercials.
So here’s this cassette tape, and I’m just in this dark place because I’m hurt, and all my friends are going to school and going to graduate, and I’ve got to go to this public school. Then I got to go to summer camp, and I’m just ugh, where is my life going? I’m not going to college. This is going to be so bad. And here’s this tape, and it just saved me. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to express myself that way, that freely, and then I thought about it. I was like damn, I used to be afraid of this dude, but maybe it was just so intense that I think I liked it. I think I liked it, and that weirded me out. Why do I like this? And I’m a kid, so I’m just now getting to the place of talking to girls, or do I? Or, how do you talk to girls? I’m a goof, so I don’t know.
Discovering Prince at the moment probably helped.
It helped. Totally helped, because when you watch Purple Rain, Prince is a goof. But he doesn’t care. He’s just I’m a goof and ‘you know it, and I’m sexy about it. Then that draws you to me, and you know I don’t care.’ Oh man, it’s everything, so yeah. Those moments like that.
In the lead up to To Be Love/d’s release, you put out a handful of singles, and “Blow” was rather transcendent. It sounded like a soulful song taken straight from the mid-’70s but done with a modern flare. And it got cosmic in the lyrics.
When creating that particular song, I had met this producer – a brilliant composer. He goes by the name of Cobaine Ivory, and I just love how his music just had so much soul in it by itself. It sounds like it belonged in a movie, on soundtracks. It just was profoundly intense to me. He played me this riff, and all it was, was just a couple of riffs, the guitar. And at the time, I had really just been digging deep into just funk and just trying to find other inspirations that just moved me.
I was quite depressed around the time, so I was in a lucid place when creating [“Blow”], and some of this music. Really just in my head, trying to get outside of it and think of a happy ending. I had never experienced Coachella, and so I was, I guess, dreaming of what that would feel like, what that experience would be like. “Blow,” in my mind, was the score to that dream. That’s how I came up with it. Thinking of micro-dosing shrooms and stuff like that, just thinking if I were to go to Coachella. Everyone’s like yeah, you want to go to these big concerts. You want to go there, and especially ones that are outside, and they’re in the desert, and you can see the stars.
It sounds like To Feel Love/d, is paying homage to the ’90s and ’70s. Do you see that as the direction R&B is going, incorporating these classic sounds, or is that just your personal thing?
Both. I’d say it’s both. I think Soulquariums, that era birthed a lot of artists who are going today, right now, who have a voice in some sort of way. I think it’s hard to deny what those feelings were. OutKast, and just all of the artists around that particular era that were throwing out music, Erykah Badu, and it was so freeing. And then the 2000s happened, and music is different and sounds different, and you just can’t wait to get to the studio and create your own body of work.
Me and my friends, we always use colors. [To Feel Love/d] was this rich, golden brown, rich caramel, mocha sound that just felt “ooh,” like that’s what you want to smell when you wake up. That’s the scent you want in the air, like breakfast. It’s like, “oh, breakfast, it’s time to wake up.” That’s the only time I really am gladly, extremely happy to wake up early for.
That’s the kind of music that I want to make. So, going through my fits and my feelings and whatnot, of being an artist and signed, not having my way like most artists feel, and feeling boxed in and not really appreciated to the point of allowing me the space to find my creative genius, or whatever that is. What you’re hearing now is me like, “oh my god, I’m so glad I get to let my hair down. I can do it the way I want to do it. No one’s going to tell me no.” I have a team around me now that is just like, “Yes, yes, yes
Now, putting what I put down, I just had this sense of freedom where I didn’t even think about radio, I didn’t think about anyone else besides what I like. What really moves me.
The album went through some name changes, right? I think it was initially going to be called Black Light.
What prompted the shift To Feel Love/d?
Well, Black Light. That’s a title I’ll use after this one because I feel like it was important for me to create an album. Originally, this album was going to be an EP. It’s an album, but I was going to title it an EP because I felt I needed a bridge. I personally needed a bridge from where I’ve been to where I’ve gone, to get to where I’m going.
Everyone knows where I’ve been, here’s where I’ve gone, and this is where I’m on my way to. So I needed to do that. I felt I really needed to do that for myself and also for my new fans, or anybody that wants to listen. I thought it just was important. I don’t particularly fancy my earlier work. I don’t feel like it spoke to the essence of me, my identity, or the things I love and the creations I love. I feel like it just doesn’t represent me. I know that there’s love in some of that, for sure, so I just thought it was important to make a bridge.
So, this album is a bridge, and what is the notion that I want, that I’m looking for? That while creating this music, what was it I was searching for? Love. Love for myself. Me loving what I do. Me loving myself, my own person, and being comfortable to say, “F-ck everybody else. I love me, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine. It’s okay. I’m happy with me the way I’m doing what I do.” I needed that. I needed to make sure I had some sort of a transition. I think I hope it’s smooth, and it may not be, and that’s okay. It’s the transition that I needed, and hopefully, people gravitate towards where I’m going. And that’s okay if they don’t. I’m still here.
So, where are you going?
Well, Black Light. This music and just listening. I’ve been living with some of this music for four years, and every day, I’m evolving and hearing things differently, and nuances in it. I’ve realized, because I used to fight it, to be fair — I used to fight funk. I used to fight those brown, caramel, mocha feelings. I used to fight it because you sign to a label, you have all these other artists around you. Some artists are really good at not giving a shit. At this point, I was very green, so I was giving a shit about everything. Like “oh, I got to give a song that fits the radio, and mix in with that, and mix in with this.” Conforming and compromising everything about myself, thinking oh, “let me just get to this point of success,” and then you can do what you want.
But it doesn’t work that way. You get stuck. You get stuck, and no one wants to hear this other idea, because they want you to stay the same. Now, I fully embrace it. I realize my happiness is in soul, and soul is in everything — all genres — so, I have to feel it. It has to be written by me. Collaborative efforts, I’m open to that, but it has to come from me. I have to have my hand in all through in it, so I had to get to a point where I could do that and have that space and that energy around me. So now I’m genuinely in that bag, and Black Light, the funk, the experimental, theatrical, esoteric and outwardly gone, outer space vibrations and psychedelics, I’m pouring it all out because that’s all I’m about. So yeah, this was a bridge to where I’m on my way to.
To Feel Love/d is out now.