Date of Interview: 07/08/2008
© 2008 Clayton Perry
When an artist achieves multi-platinum sales one would assume that a record label would learn to trust his or her artistic judgment – especially when the number is 13 million albums worldwide. Unfortunately, in this fickle world of music, where attention is fixed on first-week sales and Billboard formulas supersede reason, Craig David has consistently found himself battling to uphold his artistic integrity and secure an audience in the American market.
Although the U.S. has historically turned a “cold shoulder” to British R&B acts, over the past decade, Craig David’s music has consistently traveled across “the Pond” and landed him critical acclaim and commercial success. Since his 2000 debut, David has garnered four MOBOs, three Ivor Novello Awards, and two MTV Europe Awards.
In spite of Craig David’s numerous accolades, his musical exploits are often understated and go unacknowledged, even though his accomplishments surpass his British contemporaries and a host of American superstars. Thus, when all things are considered, there’s no denying that David was “born to do it.”
On November 24, 2008, Warner Music Group and Shire Records will release a compilation of Craig David’s greatest hits. For most artists, a collection of this sort would mark the end of a career and the completion of musical journey. For David, however, the set serves as a grand celebration of career that has weathered several trans-Atlantic storms and a musical passion that transcends continental boundaries.
Upon review of Trust Me, Craig David managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on David Bowie, Cuban influences and 2008’s “British Invasion.”
Clayton Perry:Trust Me is the fourth album in your catalog, but your third one, The Story Goes…, wasn’t released in the US. What’s the backstory with that release?
Craig David: It was just one of those things. At the time, I was on Atlantic and they weren’t really sure about releasing it to America. They felt that there was good stuff on the album, but there wasn’t a clear single that could be used to push the album to American audiences. Whereas, I felt very strongly that wasn’t the case. It was one of those things that you can’t fight sometimes – an uphill battle. “Why don’t we put you in the studio with this person and that person and write a few more songs that are little bit more for the American market?” At the same time, there’s me standing there saying, “Well, I’m not going to do that. Why am I going to try to make songs for one audience, when I feel that the record I have created has just enough material for the American audience as it has for European audience or anywhere else for that matter.” For me, it was the principle of the matter. I felt confident with my music. As an artist, you have to stick with that, because there are other people who really don’t see the same vision. I had the same thing on the first album. People told me that I could not release “Fill Me In” as the first single. “You have to do ‘7 Days.’” They all have their own interpretation of what you should do, but I’m a big believer that if I’m going to fail, let me fail on my own terms. And that’s pretty much why the third album was dropped – because I wasn’t really prepared for trying to be reactive and try to create a whole record for an album I’d already created.
Clayton Perry: What’s the significance behind the title Trust Me?
Craig David: I was just trying to make a record, but with the record company…sometimes there can be too many cooks in the kitchen all trying to throw in their different opinions on things. I wanted to make a record new and fun like I did in the past where I didn’t know about industry and I didn’t know about business – I just made the music because I loved making music. I thought, “Let’s all respect each other. Trust me. Let me do what I do and hopefully we can get out there and sell a record together because we all want the same thing.” So, the album’s title is really all about trusting.
Clayton Perry: Since a lot of Americans haven’t really had the opportunity to hear some of your previous work, when you look back at your first album, Born to Do It, what significance do those words have for you today?
Craig David: I’m even more passionate about music now. You can become jaded about the music industry during times where things are not going the way you want. In this career you have ups and downs, but they make you who you are. It’s all about how you deal with the lows – that’s what makes you appreciate the highs. I still feel, and I will always feel, that I was born to do this – I was born to make music.
Clayton Perry:Trust Me integrates a great deal of Hispanic influences. What led you to Cuba for some of the recording sessions?
Craig David: It was all about timing. One of the things about my music is that it’s always about a hook and lyric. The producer I was working with was involved in different projects along the way. He believed we could have something that moves people, if I traded in a performance section. In a country like Cuba, you don’t have the luxury of the studios you have over here, so the final product was going to be a little more raw and have a little more color. So, we put it out there, and next thing I know, we were booking tickets to Havana. I couldn’t complain.
Clayton Perry: What song do you think is the most reflective of your time in Cuba?
Craig David: I think it would probably be either “6 of 1 Thing” or “Friday Night.” Those songs were produced by a one-section percussion – the pianist, who was a seventeen year old kid, played the piano like it was second nature. I think those two songs are definitely uplifting and energetic. A little about rhythm, plus the melody just kind of flows and the lyrics make it just right.
Clayton Perry: “Hot Stuff (Let’s Dance)” served as the lead single off of Trust Me. Did you at any point feel intimidated by sampling such a well known hit?
Craig David: To me, it was like the magic behind “Been Around the World” when Puffy and Mase did it. When I approached it, I thought, “Let me put it down and see how it goes.” I was loving the energy of it, so I don’t have a real reason why I went with it. The song has an awesome bassline and it just sounded good to me.
Clayton Perry: Have you been able to get a response from Bowie?
Craig David: Yeah. I went to see if he would care to hear the sample and get clearance from the publisher’s side if he was cool. I got a response saying, “We liked how you approached the song. You brought something new to table and it is an extension of the original. We’ll get you in contact with all the necessary people to clear everything so you can use it on a creative level.” I was like, “Even if I don’t make a dime from this, it’s about the fact that someone as iconic as David Bowie was telling to me that he appreciated what I’d done as a songwriter.” That for me was the real key.
Clayton Perry:Trust Me comes out in the midst of what seems to be the third “British Invasion.” What’s your take on the current love for U.K. R&B?
Craig David: The U.K. doesn’t try to make music that America already has. We don’t need to see another Usher or another Chris Brown because it would only be a watered-down version of what the world already has. If you can bring your influences and your experiences, you can inspire a certain genre and have something special that is completely different.
Clayton Perry: A lot of British artists have come and gone since you came out in 2000. What do you think made you survive and stand out from everyone else?
Craig David: I think it was just about being young and all about the time and place and being ready for it. I’d been DJing and on the microphone in the clubs. I think all those factors helped me enter my life stage where I can refocus on the things I was trying to achieve. And everybody’s like, “You know, if you just work hard and you’ve got the singles to back it up, then the hit is definitely in there.” We had other songs on records that could have been singles, but you have to keep your feet on the floor and remember that you are only as good as your last song. Recognize that it is not always going to be perfect and go the way you want it to go. There are a lot of complications sometimes, but the one thing I do is make sure that I make great music and let the others do their part.
Clayton Perry: It’s hard to believe that you have been in the music industry for a decade. What key lessons have you learned along the way?
Craig David: I’ve learned, ultimately, keep your head down. The amount of people that I have seen come and go in the period of time I have been performing is ridiculous. I’ve seen so many artists, desperate for their big break, that literally come and go and are fixing cars and cleaning windows. You think, “Wow, how did that happen?” It just always keeps me very grounded. My management always keeps me grounded. My family keeps me grounded. I just love that I came into this world believing that I should enjoy myself and not let my ego own me, because the music is what got me to where I am. People want to listen to my music; they don’t want to hear me preach to them. They are interested in the art because of the music, and when you start to forget that and you start thinking that you’re bigger than the song, it all starts to go wrong for you.
Clayton Perry: One of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell, came out with this concept of “failing forward.” Was there a mistake you might have made in the early years that you think was crucial to your development as an artist?
Craig David: I could have come very slowly into the industry, maybe sold a few records the first album and kept building up over the years. I could have been on this slow incline, making records and everything. But I got thrown into the mix really quickly. It shows if you can work under pressure or if you can’t. I found that when I make a mistake, I need to try to learn from that mistake quickly and never do it again. For example, one time, I thought I didn’t need a sound check, that I could just turn up at the performance and do a great job. I was confident in my ability and then the next thing I know, I couldn’t hear myself properly. I went, “Why couldn’t I get that just right?” When the monitoring is off or whatever is the case, then I’m not hitting the notes correctly. So, I learned if you keep on making the same mistakes, then you are a complete idiot. I learned that you make it once, then learn from that and then never do it again.
Clayton Perry: You are frequently regarded as a sex symbol. How do you feel about that?
Craig David: It’s not a terrible place to be. You know I’m very flattered . . . Back in the day, I was a very overweight kid. Now, I’m thinking, “Wow, everything has turned around.” Inside, I feel that same mentality of how the little fat boy kid felt, and now people are saying that they see me as a sex symbol. It’s crazy how things have changed [laughing].
Clayton Perry: Interesting [laughing]. In the days leading up to this interview, I had a lot of people ask me to hand off their phone numbers and the like.
Craig David: Back in the day, you work so hard to try and make things happen and now things get thrown at you. It’s like if people could have given me free clothing, free things back in the day when I really would have appreciated it and it’s great. It’s only when you get to achieve and get to a certain level that people give you free clothes and free this and free that. It’s a very bizarre way in which the world works. It’s really flattering to see people enjoying me in that way. I never see myself as being anything but just somebody making music.
Clayton Perry: Well, my favorite track off of the album is “Officially Yours.” How did you develop the concept?
Craig David: We were sitting down and I was talking about having a second chance in a relationship and everyone was relating to what I was saying. What would be the way to get to “I really do want to make this happen and sorry for making mistakes in the past.” We were just trying to find a different approach to saying “give me a second chance.”
Clayton Perry: As you make your second emergence in America, what impression do you want to leave on listeners that are being introduced to you for the first time?
Craig David: I just want to be known as someone that was able to push the boundaries and one of the few UK artists that was able to penetrate into America and understood the culture and the mentality of the American audience. I am never going to lose my integrity or change the way I am, so that I can be embraced by America. I want to be remembered as someone, when asked, who was able to push the boundaries musically within the way that I write my songs and willing to take risks. And, ultimately, made quite a lot of people happier. I am content—knowing that I was able to create albums with songs on them that were consistently above standard. I never let my guard down or got knocked out.
For more information on Craig David, visit his official website: http://www.craigdavid.com