Alicia Keys

5 Questions With Alicia Keys

April 10th, 2005

Alicia Keys could probably soothe a saber tooth tiger who just had his tail set on fire. Hearing her voice is like falling into an enormous featherbed wrapped in silk — seriously. The 24-year-old R&B songstress is soft and thoughtful with a rich laugh, and despite the fact she has been wildly popular since her 2001 debut, “Songs in A Minor,” Keys seems to remain down to earth and very much in touch with her emotions.

And now that her second CD, “The Diary of Alicia Keys” (2003) helped the singer bring her total Grammy awards to nine and laid to rest any doubts that fans and critics had about her sophomore release, Keys has settled into her own groove as one of the biggest R&B singers out there with some real staying power. Of course, just because she’s good doesn’t mean she can sit around and let the success roll in: Keys has been touring heavily since “The Diary of Alicia Keys” hit stores. On a conference call from Toronto while en route to her next performance, Keys chatted briefly with The Day and another reporter about her busy life, her dream duets, and the importance of art in a young person’s life. The following five questions were taken from both reporters. Keys performs two sold-out shows at Foxwoods’ Fox Theatre this week.

1 When you set out to record “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” what was your thinking?

Keys: Well when I went in to record this album I’d been on tour for a long time. After my first record, we worked that album for a year and a half out on tour. When I finally sat down after that whirlwind of so much touring and learning so much I was really excited to produce new music.

My manager set aside a good month after touring for me to recoup and just do nothing. But I was ready; I was just sooo ready. Usually I work out of my house, but I wanted to work in a more understated place. So I got a place that was really understated, and I just slept there and worked there and let all of my feelings out.

2 I’ve read that you are going to do an acoustic album. Is that true?

Keys: I am working on an unplugged album … it’s almost 100 percent officially confirmed. We’re going to be working on it in July. I’m excited to do it because that’s really getting back down to my essence. We used to do these hotel tours and these small clubs. To be able to really strip down my music and to bring it down to where it begins, and rearrange it, that will be really nice. It will be a mixture of new stuff and acoustic versions of songs from my other records.

3 It must have been a dream come true to do a duet with Stevie Wonder. Are there any other duets or collaborations you’ve always dreamed of doing?

Keys: Oh, definitely, that was totally a dream come true. The entire experience was amazing, to talk on the phone with him and develop a relationship where we could just call each other and be like “What’s goin’ on?” It was like the highest high I’ve ever felt. There are definitely other people I’d like to work with. Lauren Hill, Prince, Gwen Stefani. I’d also like to do something really different, like work with Queens of the Stone Age or The Strokes. That would be really fun.

4 My father, who is a jazz pianist and a music teacher, always complains about how the arts aren’t taken as seriously in school as sports and other parts of the curriculum. Do you think the arts should be a bigger part of a young person’s education?

Keys: Definitely. I think that anything creative in a young person’s life is important. And we often don’t get exposed to that creativity as kids. I think it’s really necessary to have people who are caring people around young kids, and who can expose you to different ideas and thought patterns. But so many of the school systems are dead or underfunded. I try to get as involved as I can. I’m doing VH1 Save the Music, and I’m going to do a performance with a whole kids orchestra. It’s really fun to just talk and jam and vibe with the kids, to be around them.

5 If you had to choose between being a lesser known artist in the underground urban music scene who had a lot of creative control over her music, and being a chart-topping pop music artist with less control over your music, which would you choose?

Keys: Well, I have to say that I feel fortunate at this time of my life in that I have the best of both worlds. I have the opportunity to be in complete control of everything I say and do. Being told what to do and who to be is something everyone struggles with. I started my career being really adamant about my feelings, and I have been able to maintain that and remain true to who I am. And I definitely feel blessed to be able to have people understand me and relate to me and my style of music. Right now, I’m fortunate to be able to walk freely among who I choose, and work with all different people.

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