Raphael Saadiq has more than one sound ringing in his head these days. As he begins work on a new album in his Los Angeles studio, he’s already moving beyond the classic soul flavor of 2011’s critically acclaimed Stone Rollin’, which captured the warmth and excitement of Sixties/Seventies funk and R&B for a new generation.
“I’m going to switch it up,” Saadiq tells Rolling Stone. “I want to put everything together and see what I come out with on the other side. It’s a fresh beginning for me.”
That means the new music will encompass a wider range of his influences, going back to the moment Saadiq was first recruited by Prince as a teen to play bass in Sheila E.’s band, followed by his years as a hitmaker mingling classic and contemporary soul in Tony! Toni! Tone! The singer-guitarist has been writing and recording for about a month.
“It’s a little scary. It’s going to still be soulful, but I’m flipping to an Eighties, dreamy type of thing on some stuff,” said Saadiq, whose personal playlist has lately included Reagan-era hits by Duran Duran, the Police and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. “There’s some heavy guitar, Mellotron and actual orchestra stuff mixed in with some distortion. It’s going to be more of a collective sound of what I’ve been doing in the course of my career.”
He spends his days in the studio and crashes there between sessions. “I live there,” he says with a grin. “I have a little tiny room with a shower – that’s it, with Ms. Pac-Man. Every day I get up, go for a walk or a run, livin’ myself up. And later in the day I start recording. I’m a studio hog. I’m all into the gear.”
While in the studio, Saadiq has also recently produced songs for Trombone Shorty and veteran funk singer Chaka Khan, whom he described as “so rock & roll. She’s got that spirit of today and yesterday. It sounds really good, like old-school Rufus.” One of the songs written with Trombone Shorty might end up on the Saadiq album, he says.
Another sound he expects to include on the album was directly inspired by the vivid new Bob Marley documentary, Marley. “There’s one joint they did in the movie that inspired me to do something like they did in the early Sixties in the ska world,” Saadiq says. “I love Bob Marley and the Wailers. I love Peter Tosh. I listen to a lot of that, in heavy, heavy, heavy rotation. And I catch the riff-raff of everything. I really love music.”
His fiery performance last weekend outside the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A. was a daylong break from his writing sessions. “I’m in the middle of writing, trying some directions and figuring out what I’m going to do. I haven’t really hit it yet, though I have some things that I like,” Saadiq explains. “I just grab a guitar, sit at a piano, play. Different people inspire different things. I’ll drive down the beach for some inspiration – whatever you can pull from.”