Interview: Johnta Austin talks 'Love' EP, working with Aaliyah, & state of R&B Music
Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Johnta Austin (pronounced John-Tay) is a force to be reckoned with. After penning hits for the likes of Tyrese, Aaliyah, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston this Atlanta based R&B loyalist is looking to pen a few for himself on his "Love” EP. The first of a three EP series. We talk Aaliyah, Whitney, and the state of R&B.
Some fans of TheNext2Shine may be new to your music, but you are not new to music. For those that may not know your history can you give us a little background?
Absolutely, I think my first big record was Tyrese’s “Sweet Lady”. but I think the two biggest records I had success with was Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” and Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”. And mixed in there we’re records for Aaliyah, Chris Brown, & Usher over the years... 15 to be exact. That makes me sound old.
Not at all, in fact with that kind of experience, if there’s anyone who can answer this question, you can. What are your thought’s on the present state of R&B?
I think it’s a little lean right now. Coming from a time in R&B that I grew up listening to Jodeci, Boyz II Men, Joe, SWV, & Keith Sweat. Simply because there are not a lot of artists doing just R&B. Genres of music have crossed each other so much that it’s hard to just hear good R&B. There are some that are representing it well though.
In the long list of artists you've worked with you mentioned Aaliyah; and I know you've also worked with Whitney Houston; both of which are no longer with us. What was it like working with them?
With Aaliyah it was like working with your big sister. She fun to be around and very easy to bounce ideas off of. And Whitney, she was a legend. But she was also able to put you at ease. Both of those sessions were excitement just to be in the same room with them, especially with Whitney.
With experiences like that and with the other’s you've worked with, what’s the difference in writing for them versus writing for yourself?
For myself I want to tailor make a story. When you're working on another person's project you’re bring maybe a song or two to assist them in their vision; whereas with my own project, it’s my story, my vision, my interpretation of what I want the music to be. So it takes a minute to lock in on what I want to say. That’s what I did with the new EP “Love”
The word on the street is this EP “Love” is a small piece of a much larger picture, can you give us a little more on that?
The concept started out as “Love, Sex, & Religion” as a full album, but JD (Jermaine DuPri), Bryan Michael Cox, and myself realized as we were doing songs that we had a lot; and toyed with the idea then decided to break them up and give the people 6 or 7 songs from each topic.
Your roots run deep with JD and Bryan Michael Cox are they the only people you worked with on this project?
For the most part we share the load for the majority of the material but there are other collaborators like Pop & Oak, Jerry Wonder, Eric Hudson, and Troy Taylor.
In an industry where loyalty is hard to come by how have you, Jermaine, and Bryan maintained such a strong relationship over the years?
Well, we’re friends! That helps the creative process and it helps to be in the studio with someone you like. we have fun in the studio. We take what we do seriously but not too life and death. And I think we all get each other and share a perspective on the music that we want to offer to the people. It’s easy to stay loyal to your friends.
Like many in the R&B game these days you could have easily gone the pop route or the ‘I can’t really tell if he’s a rapper or singer’ route, but you've stayed true to R&B... why?
It’s what I grew up listening to. It’s the genre that I love the most. I love all genres, but I think when R&B is done right with great songs, great melodies, great topics I think it’s the best genre. And I think people really want to hear it. I think that represented by the fact that you have an artist like Miguel that’s having great success and doing great music that it’s a testament that if you give people great music that they’ll buy it. The perspective for a little while was that “R&B is dead” or “no one is into it”, but I think it was just that no one was giving them anything to get into. [Ultimately], I have to do what moves me as an artist and a writer and a creator. I can’t go chasing this genre or that genre if I really don’t feel comfortable about it. I have to the things that seem the truest to me. And if the people enjoy it, it makes it that much better.
JD hit us with Xscape when there was a void in female R&B groups, then he hit us with Jagged Edge when their was a void in male groups... What void does Johnta Austin fill?
The male R&B artist. [The artist] that ladies can listen to and fellas don’t feel is too sappy. R&B back to the days of the Marvin Gayes, and the Sam Cooks, and the Otis Reddings.
The first single “What A Feeling” is out. What’s the vibe of that record?
It’s a feel good record! The kind of record you play at the Barbeque, play in your car, it can play anywhere I feel. It’s about living life, enjoying yourself, and having a good time. When you listen to it, I’m coming out of the ending of something like a relationship or a less than desirable situation. I think a lot of people can relate to having gone through something bad and now things are great... that’s “What A Feeling”
What other songs on this EP should we look out for?
A ballad called “In Love”. It’s extremely personal, that’s one and, a record I did with Jerry Wonder called “No Girl”, that’s a great record as well. I think the topics really give you an insight and make the music more real.
Any last words for fans that may themselves be up and coming writer, producers, or singers?
Probably some of the most cliche words you would hear but “Never give up! Never stop believing in yourself! And you have to believe it and sell it before someone else can. It may not happen overnight and may take longer than you originally saw it taking, but it’s never too late and the window is never closed if you believe in yourself".