Many women, including myself, have wondered while listening to his seriously seductive songs what it’d be like to get up close and personal with Eric Benet. From the mellow harmonious vibes of Georgy Porgy to the quiet storm of Spend My Life With You, Benet’s music has provided the soundtrack to many a passionate encounter, a modern day Luther for the neo-soul generation. And while we may have made babies to True to Myself (1996) and A Day in the Life (1999), 2005’s Hurricane wasn’t so much an aphrodisiac as a wake-up call. Following the public breakdown of his marriage to everyone’s favorite actress, Benet’s career seemed lost in the tabloidization of his life, thus obscuring his craft. But with the release of his latest offering, Love & Life, he’s well and truly back. Sensual and solid, it’s vintage Benet, re-confirming the Milwaukee native’s status as a true R&B star.
I was lucky enough to be granted a one-to-one with the previously MIA singer and, ladies, he exceeded all expectations. Proving to be as honest and down-to-earth as you’d hope him to be, we chatted about anything and everything, from love and life to Love & Life. And if you haven’t already done so you’d do well to get hold of the album and find out just what’s right with Eric Benet’s life. In the meantime, read on…
Clutch: Eric, good to have you back! Where’ve you been and what’ve you been up to over the last four years?
Eric: I’ve been doing some gigs to pay the bills, doing some shows here and there and, actually, for the past four years I’ve been working on a screenplay and I’m about finished with that. It really looks like next year I’m gonna be spending a lot of energy getting that green light and making a movie and making more music, producing some other artists so… just been busy. Right now, I’m in New York and the single has been number one for the second week. I had a great first day of sales on my record so I’m in a great mood.
Clutch: What took you so long to come out with this new album?
Eric: Well, it took a minute for me to make this record on the terms that I wanted to make it. This time around I had complete control creatively, no A&R knocking on the door saying, “We want you to work on a couple of songs with this producer or that songwriter.” I had a pretty definitive and strong idea of what my creative statement is and I just thought it was time for me to make my record my way on my own terms. And sometimes, politically, that may take a second to go down the way you want it to go down. But I’m very, very happy with the outcome.
Clutch: The album is called Love & Life and that’s a pretty straightforward title but what’s the story behind it? What was the inspiration?
Eric: I’ve always been the kind of guy where wherever I’m at in my life you’re gonna feel it. All you have to do is listen to the song and you get an idea of what the hell is up with Eric Benet! Like on the last record Hurricane, very introspective, very “Wow! I’ve really made some huge mistakes in my life” and I need to write about it and I feel sorry about it, let me write about it. And that’s kind of where I was. With this record I just feel happy and I wanna dance, I wanna sing, I wanna make love, I wanna feel good about life, I wanna feel good about the lessons I’ve learned. I want people to feel this in the music. That was really the whole inspiration for the album.
Clutch: So it’s kind of autobiographical?
Eric: I guess you could say that. I just like to think of it as more of a reflection of where I’m at at the moment, like, during the creation of this record this is where I’m at right now.
Clutch: What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
Eric: It’s always difficult for me to pick a favorite song when I’m creating the songs but there is a song that is the favorite to perform – Chocolate Legs. Chocolate Legs is a song which I started experimenting with last year singing in my live shows and just seeing how people would react to it knowing that they’ve never heard it before and it was incredible. By the time I got to the second chorus women were screaming and it’s always a load of fun and it really touches people in a very strong and positive way.
Clutch: And what are the men doing when the women are screaming?
Eric: They’re appreciating the event! And trying to reap the rewards of the women being in the mood that they’re in! (Laughing).
Clutch: You’ve got some interestingly titled songs on your album! The next single is called The Hunger. What’s that about?
Eric: The Hunger is about when you feel a physical attraction to somebody that is stronger than what you’re used to, then when you finally do, if you’re fortunate enough, actually make that physical connection and the physical experience surpasses the fantasies, and you just can’t seem to get enough of that person. So, it’s basically that carnal desire, that carnal hunger that’s so damn good you can’t get enough.
Clutch: Why were you so adamant that the first single should be You’re The Only One?
Eric: I felt like it set the CD up perfectly because from the intro you can feel and hear this appreciation for that old, heartfelt, from-the-soul R&B that, in my opinion, seems to be missing from the airwaves these days, that old Philly International, O’Jays, Stylistics, Blue Magic, all that stuff. And there was something about that song that I felt was so familiar and so heartfelt that I thought people would react to it right away.
Clutch: You’ve gone through some well-documented personal problems. How difficult is it living in the public domain? And how do you balance making music and fame?
Eric: I try not to and maybe that’s where I go wrong. I try not to pay too much attention to the whole fame part. It’s really interesting because I didn’t start doing this to become famous. I started doing this because I love making music and I love standing on a stage and singing for people and seeing people sing lyrics that I wrote back at me with passion, there’s no better feeling in the world than that. And I guess a little bit of fame goes along with that or quite possibly a lot. When things happen like the whole public break-up and divorce, as much as I possibly can I just try to detach myself from it. And things like tabloid magazines and tabloid television shows I just turn off and don’t watch and I encourage my daughter to do the same thing, which turns out to be a great thing because I end up talking to her more and spending more time with her and making it more about what’s real, who’s really close to me and what’s good and healthy in my life.
Clutch: Has that whole experience influenced who you would now date?
Eric: (Laughing) What you’re trying to ask is would you date another actress…
Eric: You’re just trying to be diplomatic.
Clutch: (Laughing) Not very skillfully, obviously!
Eric:I will never say never but who I’m with now, we are enjoying each other’s company immensely. And she’s an incredible person with an incredible heart and she has no aspirations to acting, singing or tap dancing or anything like that! She’s quite the philanthropist and businesswoman and entrepreneur, just a wonderful person to have a conversation with. So, there, that answers that! (Laughs)
Clutch: You’re a single father raising a teenage daughter. What is that experience teaching you?
Eric: It’s funny, when you’re a parent one of the things that I’ve found most fascinating about this job, which is the best and most rewarding and most difficult job there is, is by teaching her and trying to guide her, I’m re-teaching myself. I’m reiterating some things that maybe didn’t sink in earlier on by trying to teach her and guide her. I’m just trying to give myself another dose of that lesson. So she’s constantly teaching me, I’m constantly learning from being a father. Learning how to be more honest with myself, learning how to say what’s right and what’s important for me and trying to teach her to do the same thing, to do things with dignity, honor and respect.
Clutch: You’ve been in the game a long time. At this stage in your career, how would you define success?
Eric: Success for me means a) doing what I love and what is my passion and getting a check for it; b) having that job affect people in a positive way; and c) having yourself surrounded by people who love you, family members who are there for you and doing as much laughing and dancing and being happy as often as you can.
Clutch: And would you say you’ve reached that place now?
Eric: By that criteria I am an extremely successful man.