Q&A: John Legend talks still proving his musical relevance
LOS ANGELES (AP) — John Legend may have multiple Grammys and achieved the rare EGOT status, but the prolific singer still feels the need to prove himself.
That’s one of the reasons Legend cut back on traveling early last year to devote more time toward the writing process of his self-titled eighth studio album, “Legend,” which releases Friday. It’s the first double album project of Legend’s extraordinary career, which achieved new heights in 2018 when he became the first Black man to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award.
After all his accolades, Legend still feels motivated to deliver fresh content about his joys of life, him being inspired by wife Chrissy Teigen and heartbreak after their pregnancy loss a couple years ago. His new album — executive produced by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder — features several guest appearances including Jazmine Sullivan, Jhené Aiko, Muni Long, JID, Ty Dolla $ign and Rick Ross.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Legend spoke about his reluctance to make a double album, a potential EP with Ross, Las Vegas residency relevance and being nervously excited after Teigen announced she was pregnant last month.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: How does feel to be pregnant again after the unfortunate loss of Jack in 2020?
LEGEND: We’re excited. I think whenever you lose a pregnancy, your optimism is a little more guarded the next time. But we feel good. We feel excited, and we can’t wait to welcome our baby into the world. You know, we have so much fun being parents together and our kids bring so much light into our lives. We’re looking forward to another one doing the same thing.
AP: Chrissy talked about being nervous before making the announcement on social media. How did you both navigate everything?
LEGEND: She was going to start to be visibly pregnant. Either you tell people or you just stay in the house and try to hide for quite a long time, which seemed like an untenable way to go. We felt like we should tell people at some point. It’s tough to figure out when the right time is, but sooner or later, people are going to start to see it. We felt like we wanted to control the narrative and tell people when we were ready to.
AP: What made you want to do a double album?
LEGEND: I’ve never done a double album before, and I was always reluctant because it’s a lot of material for a fan to digest. But these are separate albums, with different moods.
A lot of this album is joyful, celebratory, fun, and sexy. But particularly on the second disc, we talk a little bit more about what it feels like to struggle and try to come back from a struggle, what it feels like to deal with challenges and how you make it through that together. Some of those songs are written as songs of comfort, as we were dealing with some tough circumstances in our lives.
AP: For this album, how did Chrissy inspire your music?
LEGEND: Quite a few of the songs are inspired by Chrissy. But also, I want them to be songs that you can dedicate to the women in your lives. Whenever I’m writing songs that are inspired by my own life and my own love and my own family, I want it to feel like you can find a way to apply that to your own life. I think particularly when I’m seeing the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth and all those things and knowing how difficult it is for someone carrying a pregnancy, you must marvel at the women in our lives and give them the honor that they’re due.
AP: How was it working with Ryan Tedder as your executive producer?
LEGEND: Both of us grew up in the church, and both of us grew up with that as our foundation. But he’s more in the pop rock world and I’ve been more obviously in the soul and hip-hop world with a little bit of pop. I think because we’re different, our skills and our sensibilities complement each other well. I’m dealing with a certain palette and a certain set of references, and he is, too. When we bring it together, it’s an interesting chemistry and it works well.
AP: How important is collaboration for you?
LEGEND: It’s been a part of my music life since the beginning. It was always about collaboration. A lot of it was with hip-hop artists, particularly with Rick Ross. I made more songs with him — either him featured on my project or me featured on his — than any other artists. We’re different, but we sync up very well. The kind of beats that we both like. That soulful kind of lush soundscape that we like. We even talked about doing an EP together or something like that. But if you put all the songs together that we’ve done, it would be pretty much a whole album by now.
AP: You, Usher, Bruno Mars and other big artists have had a residency in Las Vegas. How has the perception of Vegas changed for major acts over the years?
LEGEND: I think people used to look at it as kind of like this is your swan song. This is your retirement residency. But I think of late you really see a lot of artists still in their prime doing it. Some of my favorite artists like Usher, Bruno, Anderson .Paak and so many great kinds of younger artists, but still with enough repertoire to sustain the show are doing it. I think it’s a great way in the middle of our careers to say we’re so grateful for everything that has come before us. We’re going to celebrate that. But also, I’ve been previewing songs from the new album as well. It’s like looking back but also previewing what’s to come.
AP: After achieving EGOT status, what keeps you driven?
LEGEND: I don’t think about awards as accomplishments I’m trying to achieve. I think about every album and every project that I make that I must prove myself to my fans. I have to prove myself to the world every single time, so I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t rest on my previous accomplishments. I must prove myself with the music with the creativity and the product that we give people. If we don’t do that, then I’ll just be kind of a forgotten artist. A has been. I want to keep proving myself to them every single time.