INTERVIEW: Avant discusses new Unsung episode, making timeless music and how KeKe is the most talented singer out here

Image courtesy of publicist

Image courtesy of publicist

This Sunday’s episode of TV One’s “UNSUNG” features R&B sensation Avant.   So when I was approached about interviewing one of Cleveland's most successful artists, I couldn't say no, I could just say yes. LOL

Avant is best known for the success of his singles Separated, My First Love, and Read Your Mind. With the help of these hits, the singer turned his name into a powerhouse brand.  Hailing from Cleveland Ohio, he helped impact the R&B scene in the late 90s and early 2000s. More recently, he's finishing up a new album on MO-B Entertainment being distributed through Capitol Music Group, while simultaneously preparing to hit the road and introduce followers to his new music.

From the OH: You’ve released 8 studio projects. What do you feel is your best body of work?

Avant: It's really hard to say because their moments. It's like if I was going through something or somebody else was going through something, it had a special part of my heart. Maybe the first album [My Thoughts] because that was my whole body of work from the time I was born basically. You know, I remember after that it became more of the things I've seen or I've heard and I started adding different pieces in.  As you get older, you start learning more so it's hard to say it could be the last album [The VIII] I've done because I learned so much on how to out a body of work together .. so it's crazy because it's moments for me.

From the OH: When you were approached by Unsung and TV One with this opportunity to finally tell your story, were you a little nervous or were you like, “It’s about time!”

Avant: Well, not necessarily.  I was just more of I didn't know what to be because it was like, okay I've been doing this for 18-19 years of course I have a few things to say but at the end of the day I don't think everybody should have every part of your whole soul inside of a program, you know? At the end of the day I know I have fans that want to know.  So I was even-kill about it, put it like that.

From the OH: Was it difficult to talk to those producers and/or writers who may have felt wronged by you? Was it hard to hear their viewpoints?

Avant: Not necessarily, because everybody has their own opinion.  *laughs* You're either gonna love me or hate me regardless of how it goes down but at the end of the day if they ask you I guess your opinions count. People are gonna view you the way they want to view you regardless.  One thing I can say about this music game is you have to have thick skin because with thin skin you'll never.. you can't.  I learned that early, I learned that with Separated (the first song) actually, that was a true story for me and I was thin skinned.  I didn't know how to approach it, I didn't know what to say it was like I started writing it as a poem and then my manager at that time was like no, you gotta make this a song and I'm like don't nobody wanna hear my growing pains and then I found out I wasn't the only one going through it, it was a lot of people going through a situation. You gotta learn that.

From the OH: You know what, you put yourself out there.  Whenever you have a chance to put yourself out there; the actual you there's always a downside to it but I guarantee you there is always somebody going through it or have been through a similar situation that can relate.

Avant: Yeah, I heard that so much.

From the OH:  Do you feel your work and/or contributions to the music industry gets overlooked? What are you doing to make sure you’re being recognized?

Avant: At times.  Everybody can probably say the same thing yes at times you do but it's all about the kind of music you put out there.  That's very vital. If you have the music that's just fly by night, then it's gonna fly by night. Then you have a song like Don't Take your Love Away or Read Your Mind or songs that will stick like glue then it's a different outcome. 

From the OH: How do you feel about the state of R&B now?

Avant: The state of R&B had to change.   I tell people all of the time, yes we probably don't like the direction that it's going in but it has to make that transition. The reason I say so is that you think about the Marvin Gaye's of the world and those people, they probably look at the music that we've done like "aw man, they've really watered it down."  You don't wanna be like that old fart that be like.. Yo, they messing the music up." I just say this, all of the new artists gotta understand there's a torch that you're holding and you have to keep it lit, you have to pass it down to the next generation.  If you don't keep it lit, then this thing is gonna go away.  So that's the main focus to leave, yeah you can do it your way but you also have to show the others how to do it the right way.

From the OH:  It seems like some of the best songs that you’ve had included KeKe Wyatt; you guys have remarkable chemistry. How was it working with her? Any talks of a duet album?

Avant: Everybody asks that, yes it's talks of it but it's more of us both being busy and trying to figure out the right time to make things happen. We gotta catch each other but it's a beautiful thing.  She's the most talented girl to me, out of everyone out here she can sing her tale off.  You know what I mean? So, it's one of those things that honing in the skill of her singing and making it perfect for a real record.  That's what the whole fight and trying to get that right for her but other than that, she has it.

From the OH: She has a beautiful voice and it seems as if whenever you guys are on songs together you made magic and you can actually feel the vibe while listening to the song.  That's what made the chemistry so remarkable. 

Avant: *laughs* It's crazy because it's just business with me and her, but that's the whole thing.  You gotta make it organic where it feels like wow, it's more than just a song.

Image courtesy of BlackAmericaWeb

Image courtesy of BlackAmericaWeb

From the OH:  You said something along the lines of.. whenever the labels refused to release your music you would send an advance copy to the radio for them to play it and generate that attention. Is that something that you think can still be used in this day and age?

Avant: I  think for myself back then, I had to do it.  Now I don't know exactly how they would approach it because it's so much music out here now and there's so many different avenues.  It's a lot of people that's selling music online, selling records from radio, etc.  So whatever your approach may be, however you're trying to reach your audience you have to go the extra mile.  If you just focus on the record companies doing it, then trust me you're gonna fall behind. They have so many artists on so many different labels and so many different levels that by the time it gets around to you they'll be like Oh we don't have the time.  So you have to be thinking forward.  Every time I was blessed to have a record, they couldn't deny.  They were like this record is poppin', I probably took shine from other peoples records but I didn't mind because I'm like I know i need this for my career.

From the OH: It's funny because in this day and age you have people that try and go around the radio or they claim that you don't need it but I love how you embraced that.  Those relationships with Kym Sellers and I remember when you would do your radio runs and you showed them that much love that when it came time to play that album they had no problem doing it because you showed them love from the very beginning.

Courtesy of BlackAmericaWeb

Courtesy of BlackAmericaWeb

Avant: Mmhmm.  To me, radio is what really mattered.  That's what I came up listening to, I'm not old but I'm not young like that anymore but I remember when we used to only watch videos on Friday.  It was Friday night videos but we got all of our vibe from radio.  Friday night videos were only showing like Michael Jackson and somebody else.. all of the top artists so radio meant the world to us when we were coming up. This was before cable really jumped in like that so the nature of it all was, this was a vital part of our lives. A lot of times, I didn't know what the artists looked like but I knew what the sounded like.  That was the most important thing.

From the OH:  Why do you think “The Letter” didn’t generate the same response as the other albums you released?

Avant: I think it was just the time, everything had changed. It's different levels, it's internet and internet followers are younger.  They really follow and buy music and my generation; you know I fall in line with a couple of more artists and their really not looking for that music like that anymore. Hopefully we can open up another avenue that appeases them to make them want to buy, to make them want to support but right now we're in a dry stage right now.  I thought The Letter was wonderful, myself *laughs*  I was also on an Independent label as well so you don't have the major following that's a difference as well.

From the OH:   You’ve been through a lot in your musical career; is there some advice that you received that was dead wrong and you’re glad you didn’t take?

Avant: Indeed, I had a lot of people coming to me like, "yo man, you need to do this record, you need to do that record" but I was like that's not an Avant record. "But I'm telling you if you wanna go to this level ..." "No, its not me." and if you don't stick to your guns then you'll be out here sounding like everybody, and doing what everybody do. You wont have a fanbase because they'll say you got that from such-n-such and I'll just follow him. you have yo carve your niche and you have to stick with it and that's what I tried to do. 

Image courtesy of GettyImages   

Image courtesy of GettyImages


From the OH: Well, I commend you for that because it seems like from the very beginning you knew who you were and you stood by your passion and although they tried to stop you you still were that passionate that you pushed it anyway, the way you wanted to get the results you wanted. For some of these artists they are so into these 360 deals or on a label just so that they can say they are on a label but they are so scared/ timid to say anything that they end up sounding like whoever else, or looking like everyone else. You stood your ground.

Avant: I had to and it was hard but at the end of the day, I felt it was the best for me. You know what my father always told me, "If it's your decision you can live with the results." I always go by that til this day, I tell me son if its your decision then you can live with the results because it was something that you wanted to do whether it was right or wrong you can live with the results.

From the OH: You decided to I guess recharge your creativity and joined the stage play “Love Overboard”, how was that experience?  Was it what you expected and would you do more acting?

Avant: Oh it was fun, because I came from the Cleveland School of the Arts so that's what we did.  To me its so strenuous and so tough because people come out and see the play one time.  It's not like music, they don't have it in their pocket and they can listen to it all of the time.  So every time you perform that play you have to be the same, you have to have the same energy to come across and shock the people so it's very strenuous but it was fun.  The movie Fences came out and I knew every line because we did that play *laughs*.  I did that when I was in the 8th grade, I was Bono but that's what I can say that school bred.  It bred so many artists and so many entertainers that came from that school, it's amazing that they were ahead of the game the way they were.

From the OH: What can the fans expect now from Avant?

Avant: I have a book out that Vincent Dixon wrote, that's called "The Trial of Mankind." I love it because it's rhythm and rhyme too but it's about how us human mistreat animals but in this enchanted forest that he created mentally, the animals can speak back so it's really interesting.  If you can, check it out.  I'm also in the studio working on a new project and you guys are gonna get some great Avant music.

You can purchase the The Trial of Mankind via Amazon HERE

NOTE: Make sure you tune in to TV One's Unsung this Sunday to catch Avant's episode!