Bilal has had a successful music career since stepping onto the scene in 2001, releasing three albums and numerous singles as well as receiving a couple of Grammy nods throughout the years. But for the R&B singer/songwriter/producer, the February release of his album A Love Surreal (eOne) is a much-needed "new beginning."
"My career has had its ups and downs, [but] I look at this album as new beginnings," explains the New York City-based musician. "I was waiting around for a long time trying to get signed after my first album. My second record never came out, and I went through a lot of war with the label I was on. A lot of years passed of me not making any music.
"I look at this album as a start back into my stride," he continues. "I feel like I'm on the right track now."
Part of the restructuring for Bilal took place with his thought process when creating this record, a process he calls "simplifying."
"The goal was to simplify what I was doing," he says. "On my last record . . . my partner [and I] realized it was too many tracks. It was like seven guitars, nine keyboards. I wanted to simplify my ideas this time around . . . And it made it so different [in] how fast it was done. I usually take, like, three years to do an album, but this time I did it in five months."
Not only was the recording quicker, but by simplifying, it allowed Bilal to see the bigger picture. When he was making the music, he imagined as far ahead as video concepts and visual aspects. In turn, those things "drove the creative process of the album, not just the music," he says.
Bilal also came up with a more cohesive idea for the album's overall theme. A Love Surreal is not just a collection of songs but a "sonic art piece inspired by visual art. I wanted to use the concept of a painter when I was making [it]. I wanted to approach it from a visual aspect."
The album title is a take on Salvador Dali's surrealist art style, and the cover is a recreation of one of Dali's famous pieces redone by artist Marc Baptiste.
Now that Bilal is on this newfound path, things are falling into place. He recently performed in New York for the Music of Prince tribute concert ("I learned a lot," he says), and he is set to go on tour this summer. The album's next single, "West Side Girl," is out now, and the accompanying video has already been shot.
But according to Bilal, he still has a ways to go.
"I want my music to reach a level of a certain status where I can reach the world with what I'm doing on a big level, because I put so much into it," he says. "But I'm not walking around everyday like, 'Man, I want to be famous.' I just have something to say and I want a lot of people to hear it. And I want it to affect it a lot people."