will.i.am is the co-founder and creative force behind dance and hip hop juggernauts The Black Eyed Peas. To date, the band has sold an estimated 27 million albums worldwide, plus an additional 20 million singles. With the Peas' new album, The Beginning, set to hit stores worldwide, the enigmatic songwriter and I caught up to talk a little music, live performing, and politics.
Steven Shehori: So right out of the gate, what sort of thematic relationship does The Beginning have with 2009's The E.N.D.? Obviously the names play off each other.
will.i.am: I'd say it's a continuation of some of the positivity. For example, if someone's having a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, and they say to you, "You know Steve, I'm tired of this. I'm going to change, and I'm going to start right now. I've got a feeling tonight's gonna be a good night." And the next morning you say, "Hey, how was it?" And he or she is going to say, "You know, I had the time of my life." So yeah, there's a lyrical correlation. It's about keeping it moving and staying positive.
With the "Time of my Life" lyric and melody being the anchor of your Dirty Bit single, I'm guessing you were a fan of the old Bill Medley / Jennifer Warnes song.
Just the chorus. I didn't like the verses. (laughs)
Oh man, you're preaching to the choir on that one... So take me through The Beginning's recording process. Pretty DIY.
Definitely. We were on tour when we recorded this record, so our studio was our hotel room. We had a traveling studio: laptops, microphones, etc... So we recorded as we toured. And every night after the Black Eyed Peas shows, I'd do an underground DJ set and play some new beats in front of different audiences. Crowds that respected us but didn't necessarily love our music.
So you got off on the challenge of winning them over. You're a glutton for punishment, Will.
Yeah, trying to earn it the hard way, that fuels me. A lot of times groups get on the mic and say "Make some noise!" That's not the way it's supposed to work. Audiences are supposed to make noise when they want to make noise. Michael Jackson was able to just stand there and people started screaming.
I remember seeing him live when I was 12, in the Thriller era. Dude never had to rev up the crowd. They were his devoted army, ready to topple empires on his command.
Exactly. He worked it.
The new album tries to have it both ways a bit: you like to be positive and carry a social message, but then you'll pull back with some flat-out party tracks. Does straddling that line help define you guys as a band?
Yeah. If it was only "Yes We Can, Yes We Can, Yes We Can," the youth would stop relating. So you have to balance things, or how are you going to connect? That's what separates us from politicians, because a lot of them can't relate to young people.
Which kinda sounds like the message you put out when you campaigned for Obama back in 2008. Telling urban communities they don't have to be suit-wearing lobbyists to get involved in the political process.
Yeah, we're confronted by a process designed that way on purpose. To be exclusionary. Which is the reason why a lot of people in urban areas aren't connected to politics.
The election seems like ages ago, now. Are you still finding ways to be socially and politically involved?
I'll continue to be involved for sure. I have sympathy for Obama. People turned to him to clean things up, and a few months later he's blamed for things being messed up in the first place.
The climate's more reactionary, it seems.
I'm going to say something a little bit controversial, but so be it. Say for example, what if the Gulf oil spill was a terrorist attack? You know what would have happened? We would have gone to war with somebody.
So when tragic events aren't directly tied to national security concerns, you feel there's less of a response?
We've spent trillions of dollars to find people in caves, and by doing that we're sending America's youth into caves, metaphorically. Because they don't have jobs in those caves. They don't have education in those caves. We're doing this in the name of preventing terrorism, while the youth of America is terrorized every single day on the education front because it's not equipped to compete with the youth of other countries. Think about that. Homeland Security? I thought securing the homeland involved securing education first.
The Beginning will be released on Tuesday, November 30th.