Music star Aloe Blacc, known for his mega-hit collaboration with Avicci, “Wake Me Up,” was in Toronto for Canadian Music Week and we had the opportunity to chat with him about his movie, America’s Musical Journey.
I love all the different kinds of music featured in America’s Musical Journey. You’re not only the star but you executive-produced it as well. How did that come to fruition?
Well, I had a chance to speak with MacGillivray Freeman Films about the concept of a movie that discussed music and America and American cities, and we came up with this idea to travel from city to city but focus on the genres of music that have been created in America and spread across the world.
It’s not only a lot of fun, it’s also very emotional at times. Do you have a favorite memory from making the movie?
There’s a few favorite memories, but one for sure is dancing with my parents in Little Havana because that was something that reminded me of being a little kid at the parties my parents would take me to and the salsa music that would be blaring through the stereos and everybody having fun. It was fun to do it again 30 years later.
Did you have a favorite place that you visited in the film?
I really enjoyed visiting New Orleans, I always do. It’s an electric city, it’s full of energy — the music, the people, the food. I have a really good friend who was my guide through the city. His name is John Batiste. He showed me around, which is always helpful when you get a local, somebody who really knows the place and is kind of known for being a local.
Have you thought about doing this for other countries, like going to other countries and finding out all their music and just doing a tour through their country?
I think that could be interesting.
It could be like a series.
It could be like a series. I think starting with the U.S. is important. I wonder if tracing the roots of music in other countries would lead to the same kind of discoveries we have in the U.S. though, because we’ve got jazz music being born in New Orleans, we’ve got the blues being born in the Mississippi Delta or Memphis, and we’ve got country music in Nashville, folk and rock and hip-hop and soul… I just wonder, traveling to other countries, what will we find in terms of music that’s had such a worldwide impact. I imagine it would be an interesting process.
One of my favorite songs of yours — “Wake Me Up” — is in the movie. You not only sing it, but you co-wrote it with Avicci. How did that collaboration happen?
I was in the studio a couple of times with Avicii working on songs, and we had a session booked to finish songs that we had started, but he’d double-booked. So, he was in the studio with Mike Einziger from Incubus and he invited me and said, “Look, I’ve double-booked. We should just all three of us work together on something new.” So, I went in and I brought lyrics that I thought were really strong because when you go into a session, you want to come with something to contribute. It’s sometimes nice to just make it up as you go, but other times you should be prepared, bring something that will be worthwhile. And I felt like these lyrics were really strong, and I just needed to be sure they would work with whatever music we decided to create. I think it worked out fantastically. It’s really tragic and it’s a shame that Avicii is no longer with us. He was such a talented, passionate musician.
What does the song mean to you?
“Wake Me Up” is a song about nostalgia and a song about hope for the future. It’s a song about being young and loving every moment about your youth, and a song about being not-so-young and remembering back to those moments where you could live care-free and fearless.
You say on your website that when you signed a contract with a major recording label, you wanted to use your voice for social change. Which songs have come from that, and which social changes are you hoping to address?
There’s a song I wrote called “Love is the Answer,” which really is kind of a cliché concept, we’ve heard it in many different songs. But, I think it’s important to remind folks, especially when you’ve got a megaphone and access to the world’s ears, you keep reminding people about the importance of compassion and togetherness and love. A song like “Live My Life,” which is a release that I did in conjunction with Malaria No More UK. We put together a music video about the importance of insecticidal nets and distribution throughout the parts of the world that are affected by malaria and mosquitos, because malaria still kills. Every two minutes, a child dies. I think there are so many other topics and philanthropic issues that people are focused on that we kind of forget about the ones that are actually doing the most damage. The most deadly animal in the world is the mosquito.
Tell me about your upcoming album. What singles can we expect to see from it?
Well, I’ve just dropped a single called “Brooklyn in the Summer,” and that’s available everywhere for people to stream or purchase. I’m putting together a body of songs that feel like they still communicate soul music but, I think, kind of advance my profile and share new stories I haven’t shared before. “Brooklyn in the Summer” is a love song. I’ve stayed very close to aspirational, inspirational and motivational themes, but here is one that’s more about relationships, and I think it’s time for me to share that side of my humanity.
Now you’re going on tour overseas next, right?
Yes, spending the summer in Europe to do festivals.
Are you planning to tour Canada soon?
Absolutely. I don’t have any dates locked in just yet, but I plan to tour North America, and of course, Canada would be included.
Finally, what are the plans for this movie? Where can people see it?
The film is going to be shown at IMAX theaters. Quite often you can find them at Science Centers or museums where IMAX theaters are available.
America’s Musical Journey next opens in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre on June 23, 2018. ~Photo and interview by Alexandra Heilbron