How did you make your earliest connections to music?
I think you go through different phases of music appreciation when you’re a kid. It starts with what your parents listen to, in the car or at home — even in the womb. For me, that was all Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac. Thank God my parents had great taste in music. When I was seven or eight, I got into Michael Jackson and pop music, and then around fifteen, I got more rebellious and started listening to stuff my parents didn’t like, like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all that stuff. Those bands were my heroes. The previous generation had Zeppelin and Sabbath and we had Nirvana and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But as I got older and didn’t have a deep masculine baritone, I started listening to Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Al Green. I figured that stuff was so much better for me to emulate, and it was really a renaissance in my musical life. I felt like it was the hardest thing to sing like that, and so I had to try to do it. Rock and roll music basically was dead to me. A thousand copycat versions of Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruined it for me.
So you guys didn’t aspire to play rock music when you formed the band in your teens?
I didn’t want to be in a band that was trying to be Pearl Jam. I thought it would be much more fun to be in a band that was trying to be Michael Jackson or Prince. It was almost like we were trying to subvert the fact that we were a band in the first place. It really alienated everyone in the beginning, and to this day nobody really knows what to make of us. I think it’s a much better position to be in, actually. We never wanted to be in a niche. My dream has come true. The Internet has homogenized music so much that there’s no more scene anymore. Now, there can be great metal or great disco and it doesn’t have anything to do with belonging to a scene. I don’t trust people that have a type of music they like. Anything can be good and the Internet is helping make it less exclusive and more about appreciating music, which is all I really give a shit about.
When you love a band or artist now, does it feel any different than it did when you were a kid?
There’s a certain sense of mystery that’s lost. You can’t appreciate music the way you did when you were a kid and music was magic. It’s not the same. I can’t lie and say that it is. But I do think that when something transcends the times when it’s really good. When I heard Amy Winehouse, I was blown away, the same way I was blown away when I heard Lauryn Hill for the first time. It’s rare. I don’t load up my iPod with a billion songs. I don’t even use my iPod. I’m not the kind of guy that sits down and throws on his headphones and zones out. I like to let music find me. It’s more fun that way.
How do you think the music business will change in the next decade?
It’s a very greedy, artist-exploiting business, and I think it will fall hard so it can rebuild itself with a better business model that is slightly more fair to everybody involved. But, yes, I do think that right now the music business is crumbling. Artists are starting to take back control from the labels, which is great. We have record labels to thank for a lot, but we also have them to blame for a lot. The major labels are scrambling right now and trying reactionary measures. Like, if you sign a record deal now, they take a percentage of your touring revenue. Bands are getting grabbed by the balls before they even sign a record deal and the grip on their balls is even tighter than it used to be. I think it’s only a matter of time before everyone is on an indie label. Because music isn’t going anywhere and the business is being forced to take a look at itself. It needs to go through this phase: Eventually, the scale will calibrate and the business part will ultimately survive, but I think artists will end up in a better position than they’ve ever been.