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Q&A: Justin Timberlake on How Acting Shaped His New Album

Grammy star gives candid interview to two high school students

Justin Timberlake in Los Angeles.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS
February 11, 2013 4:10 PM ET

(Ed note: During Grammy week, Justin Timberlake sat down with two high school students, Cameron Capers from Atlanta and Allison Spice from San Diego. The two students are alumni of Grammy Camp, a music industry program for students from around the nation. Timberlake, a big proponent of music education, spoke with Spice and Capers for 35 minutes following his Grammy rehearsals on Friday at L.A.'s Staples Center.)

You could do any interview, why speak with us?
Because I like talking to people who love music. I don't necessarily do a lot of interviews anymore because a lot of times, a writer will interview you for an editorial piece and – this happened to me when I was younger – you end up reading the article and it becomes more about them than it even is about the subject. So you feel them projecting those thoughts on you or whatever objective they have. Sonia [his publicist] brought it up and I said, "Yeah, I'd much rather talk to somebody who is younger than me that was excited about music and wanted to talk about music rather than have to sit around and answer questions that have nothing to do with even the Grammys or anything." It's like, "So what's your favorite pasta? What you do in your free time?" "Stuff that I don't want to tell you, like private stuff; you know what private means, right?" I come from a humble beginning, but when you spend that much time in the business, you realize that there's a whole other thing going around you that really has nothing to do with you.

And for me, it's always nice to talk with young people who really love music and are interested in the expression of it or the art of it. You'll see; the older you get, the more you realize people come in and out of your life and you realize that person changed or that person wasn't exactly who I thought they were. And I found with friends, close friends that have come and gone in my life, they're like, "Oh, you changed." Everything else around you changed, you're still the same person. If you want to say that I didn't have to worry about a paparazzi following me around in my car has made me change, then yeah, sorry, I've changed, but I didn't know what that was like before. I was just a young person trying to express myself. It's just a crazy world that we live in. I don't want to paint a picture that's jaded or anything because I'm super happy to be back and doing it and I have a great time wherever I go. But the things around you change the older you get and that's just life.

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What made you come back now?
This is one of those times when stuff gets projected onto you. I would have taken a break regardless of if I would've done films or not because my last record was all-consuming and to go on tour like that, for me, I will not be the type of artist that puts out 10 to 15 albums. That's just not who I am. They're really special to me. I write music all the time, but until you really feel that desperate need to shout from the rooftops and express yourself in that way, I just kind of keep it to myself. I enjoy making music so much that if it doesn't come out, that's okay. If I get to listen to it in my car by myself, I'm just as happy because I get to hear something that I made. I'm not so caught up in the fact that you have to be in the center of attention. For me, when I do have something that I'm ready to express, I'm gonna burrow through whatever to get it heard. But for me, the journey along the way is really the most fun part; it's not about the outcome. It's really about making something that feels authentic. That's the one place you can do that.

What does making music mean to you?
[The studio] really is one place that you can still go to that you can be completely free, at least in my opinion. You can lock yourself in a room and make a whole other world. I'm 32 and I still love it as much as I did when I was 18, so that should tell you amazing how it is.

Can you give us a preview of the new album?
There are 10 songs on this one, but the average length of each song is seven, eight minutes. We made it to listen from top to bottom. It's not so much a narrative or a story, but sonically we really made it to listen from top to bottom.

Would you say you and Timbaland have the same perspective?
My relationship with Tim is a relationship that I have with nobody else in the world. We're like brothers, really. You have friends like that, friends you don't have to say much to, but you know they just get who you are. That's the relationship I have with Tim, where we go in the studio and kind of don't even speak to each other. He'll start tinkering around or I'll start playing some chords and start tinking around with some loop of something and that'll give him an idea and then we'll start looping it and then I'll start humming a melody and then we just ping-pong an idea back and forth. And I have that relationship with Pharrell a little bit as well. But my relationship with Tim is very unique; we share the same perspective that we always want to make something that reminds us of music that we love, but at the same time is something we've never heard before. You talk about making this record; we encapsulated ourselves in the studio and I didn't tell anybody. I was just like, "Let's make some music without all the hoopla of, like expectations. Let's just make something that feels genuine from us." And I'm glad we were able to do that way because, for me, it's the best stuff I've ever done.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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