It’s been a decade of personal change for the Michigan native, who first burst onto the scene more than forty years ago as “Little” Stevie Wonder, with the track “Fingertips Pt. 2.” Since 1995’s Conversation Peace, Wonder has gotten married, had a young son, now 3, and lost his first wife and his brother. As evident by the lyrics Wonder read aloud from Braille on his tour bus after a surprise appearance at a recent Los Angeles radio festival, A Time reflects on all these transitions. The title track, written with India.Arie, is particularly charged, addressing 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wonder promises to give fans a preview of the new record on December 18th, when he hosts his ninth annual Christmas benefit concert, House Full of Toys, at the Los Angeles Forum.
Where are you in the recording of the new record?
Right now there are fourteen songs on it. I produced it. It was at some awards show where I was talking with Snoop and I think he’s gonna do something on another song. It’s called “Keep Fooling Yourself,” and it’s a song that will have an appeal to a cross-section of audiences. His voice will just work perfectly.
Will there be other collaborations?
There’s a song called “Shelter in the Rain,” and I might do that with Yolanda Adams. “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved” will probably be the first song on the album, and I let Alicia [Keys] hear that, so she might do something on it. We have another track with Doug E. Fresh doing beatbox.
You’ve never been shy about expressing yourself, and this album appears to be no different.
People have to express themselves. When people cannot express themselves without being called “Jesus haters,” “God haters” or “anti-American,” you’re leaning in that direction. To my understanding, the greatness of being a melting pot of so many different people is people are able to express themselves. If everyone had to be and feel the same way, I think it’d be kind of boring. I wouldn’t want to be here.
There’s some romance on this album as well. What’s your favorite love song?
At different times I’ve had different love songs. As a little boy, my favorite song was the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song “I’ll Try Something New.” That’s when I was, like, eleven or twelve years old. I had this little girlfriend named Francine, and ooh, I wanted to go to the bottom of the sea and get her flowers that she’d wear in her hair and all that kind of crazy stuff. But then at another time, it was [Barbara Lewis’] “Baby, I’m Yours” — that was a great song. Then maybe a song that was just kind of a place of reflection was [the Beatles’] “Yesterday,” because it’s like love of life and things that have happened. Then there was [the Four Tops’] “I Can’t Help Myself”; and, even though I was young and didn’t all the way understand it, [Lenny Welch’s] “Since I Fell For You”; and then [Etta James’] “At Last.”
What about right now?
My favorite song right now is “Lose My Breath” by Destiny’s Child. I’m a major fan of Beyonce — she has a great voice. And I was a major fan of Aaliyah’s voice. My heart was so broke, I said, “You know what? In the next life she’s got to be my wife.” I also think Babyface has written some great stuff, and I think John Mayer is a great writer. I like his honesty a lot, and I like India’s honesty a lot, too.
There’s a lot of poetry in “Passionate Raindrops.” Do you have a favorite poet?
I can’t say a favorite poet, because I listen to different poems for different reasons. I remember the first poem I read: “My love is like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.” I was around twelve, and I would do it with a British accent or sort of an African-American cultural accent, like, “My love is like a red, red rose, baby.” I like being silly. When I was trying to talk to the little girls back in the day, they’d say, “Oh, you’re so funny.”
Sounds like you were a little ladies man.
No doubt. You gotta feel it. But love is a wonderful thing, and I’m just thankful that I’ve some wonderful people in my life. And, obviously, from knowing love and sharing love, you can write songs of love.