Cee Lo Green has spent more than three years putting together 70 tracks for his third solo album. So determined was he to make it a success that he took advice on which songs should make the final cut. It was a painful business, the self-styled romantic tells JIM CARROLL
CEE LO GREEN must possess the patience of a saint. The pop-soul kingpin has been based in Europe for a couple of weeks. His days have involved talking to journalists and radio stations about his new album, The Lady Killer.His nights involve going onstage in various cities with his all-girl band, playing tunes from that record.
But there’s a slight problem. The album – which he started working on three years ago, has written 70 songs for and is released today – was still not finished when we spoke a few weeks back.
Usually, an album is done and dusted by the time the endless rounds of promotion begin, but Green was working right up to the wire on this one.
There are enough tracks already out there to whet appetites for The Lady Killer. Sitting in a London studio, Green would have been forgiven for giving promotional duties short shrift in favour of getting back to work. Instead, he politely and serenely gets on with the business of selling the album.
“I usually have blocks of time where I’m focused and totally preoccupied with writing and recording,” he says softly, explaining why it’s taken so long.
“It’s normally a month or so, but you can get spurts here or there and the odd afternoon where songs come together and you can be productive. But the art of recording and mixing takes up a lot of time compared to other things.”
There have been plenty of “other things” on Green’s schedule recently. There’s his soon-to-come liquor brand, a vodka-rum hybrid. “That doesn’t take up a lot of my time,” he says with a smile and a regal wave of his hand. “I’m there to go ‘I like that bottle’ or ‘I don’t like that bottle’. Then I go to the studio and do my real work.”
There’s a TV show called Lay it Downfor US cable channel Fuse. “I’m the host, and it’s going to be different from other music TV shows in that it’s artist-to-artist,” he says. “I haven’t seen any of the finished shows yet so I’m excited to see how it turns out. I talked to acts like Janelle Monáe, Public Enemy, Ludacris and Lil Jon about what music means to them and what inspires them.”
There’s also a lucrative sideline as a songwriter for hire. Most famously, he wrote Don’t Chafor Pussycat Dolls, and he’s also written tunes for Amerie, Solange Knowles and other other r’n’b royalty.
“I like to be couture when I write songs,” he says. “I try not to write or consider what I’m doing to be off the rack. I like to tailor a song to who I’m working with so they can live vicariously through it or so the song can say certain things that they can’t say themselves.”
Then there’s Gnarls Barkley, the collaboration with Danger Mouse that produced the knockout hit Crazyand put Green on the mainstream map. Sure, the dude who initially came to prominence as a member of Atlanta hip-hop hot shots Goodie Mob received plenty of props for his solo albums – especially Cee Lo Green Is The Soul Machine– but Gnarls Barkley was off the scale to anything Green had experienced before.
“That was so intense, because it’s the kind of freak happening which doesn’t come along too often. There may be other Gnarls Barkley albums in the future, but right now I just want to be Lo.”
This is where The Lady Killercomes in. His third solo album shows Green’s finely honed chops when it comes to sunny soul-funk boom tunes and flamboyant heartbreakers. There are plenty of collaborators on board – Bruno Mars co-wrote recent smash hit Fuck You (aka Forget You), and the production cast includes Salaam Remi – but Green is the cat at the controls.
“This album is about marksmanship as opposed to random gunfire,” is how he explains the title. “It’s supercool to say that I’m the lover of many, but this is about the relentless pursuit of the one and that could be a lady or something else.
“People call a storm or a ship a she. I would say that this industry, the music industry, is a she because it’s something you have to be kind, courteous and consistent with. If this game could be considered a she, then my aim is on the game.
“This album is about me being a professional. Each time I do something new, I usually just open fire as opposed to taking one single shot. It’s always about opening fire out of emotion rather than rational thought. Now I want to look at the causes and effects and work out a clear, concise approach.”
Many people will look at the title and the photo of Green on the sleeve and think Barry White. “Oh man, I hope so,” Green says with a laugh. “Barry White was one of my influences going into this album because of how he and Love Unlimited Orchestra combined classic r’n’b with amazing sheet music. What I did is not better than what they did, but it’s definitely inspired by it. The same with Serge Gainsbourg, he inspired this album a lot.”
The album also plays with the notion of Green as a ladies man. “I’m a romantic,” he says. “I didn’t realise that it was something people saw me as or that they could see this side of me until now. I’ve definitely got a lot of heart, and that’s been obvious over the years. It could be about showing heart towards a social issue or towards someone you love, but I can be very romantic.
“I want to empower the ladies with this album. That’s one reason why I have the lady killer band. I wanted to be surrounded by soft, sophisticated, strong people. Yes, they’re easy on the eye, but they’re also killer musicians, talented players.”
Green also wants The Lady Killerto be a hit. Previous albums were critically acclaimed, but they didn’t make the cash registers ring out. This time, Green took the advice of people from his label and management about which songs should and should not go on the album.
“I’m disappointed that some songs I really liked didn’t make it,” he says of this committee process. “I’d say to people ‘I like this’, but they preferred other songs. It was very difficult and awkward, heartbreaking even. I tried to talk people around, but it didn’t work. It’s the first time I’ve ever come across that in my career.
“But I don’t know which is worse – that feeling or the feeling when people don’t buy your record. When that happens like it happened before, you realise how much of your subconscious is wrapped up in the recording experience. You do something and you hope it pleases everyone, and when that doesn’t happen, man, it hurts.”
The songs that don’t make the cut will get a release, albeit on the side. “I’ve written 70 songs for this album, so I plan to release the songs which didn’t make the cut over the next while here and there on mixtapes. People can collect them all.”
There are, Green knows, plenty of artists who thought they knew what their fans wanted and found out otherwise. “Prince is a good example of over-insistence being a virtue,” he says. “I love Prince, but I didn’t want to insist that I was right. I can relate to him because we’re both Geminis.”
For once, Green is happy to hedge his bets. “Sure, it’s difficult involving other people in deciding which songs go on the album and getting their opinions, but you’re splitting the risk.
“I’m very faithful when it comes to music. I trust Prince, for example, but other opinions are helpful. I think people might like this album, but will they buy it? That’s the big question. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
* The Lady Killeris released today