When Clay Aiken and his executive producer Jaymes Foster began the search for songs to record for Aiken’s first album of original material since his 2003 chart-topping debut Measure of A Man, they both fell in love with a song written by OneRepublic frontman Ryan “Alias” Tedder called “On My Way Here.” The message of the lyrics – how the lessons we learn while growing up shape us into who we become as adults – struck such a deep chord with Aiken that it wound up inspiring the theme (and title) of his new collection.
“I thought if we could find songs along those lines, that deal with my life over the past five years and what I’ve learned from my experiences, it would be a great concept for an album,” Aiken says. “Since I got into this business, I’ve learned so much about myself and about life and the world. I’m nowhere near an expert, but this album has taken on the form of addressing how far I’ve come in those five years and how I feel like I’ve found myself.”
As Aiken’s millions of devoted fans around the world already know, it’s been a whirlwind journey. We had the honor of sitting down with the multi-talented artist to talk about his upcoming album, the future tour, Spamalot, his ever-changing hair, and so much more! He’s the most charming star we’ve interviewed to date. Here’s what he had to say:
I think the #1 question everyone wants to know is when is the tour?
I don’t have an answer for that actually. I have no idea. We were going to take some time off, and we haven’t started planning one. I’m sure we will do it, we just don’t know when as of now.
Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
No, I couldn’t pick one. I mean this is the first album where everything is handpicked by myself and my executive producer, so we have reasons we liked every song. There’s an eclectic mix, there’s some variety in it without question, and that makes many of them favorites for different reasons.
Do you have any plans to do videos for any of the songs on the new album?
We probably won’t do any videos to be honest with you. Videos are for MTV and they don’t really play those anymore. When is the last time you saw a full music video?
So it’s $300,000 for something that is never going to get used and if it does get used, it’s only going to be about 30 seconds of it… TRL only shows like 30 seconds. So videos don’t really serve the same purpose anymore. Who knows? I could eat crow later and make one, but usually videos go along with radio singles which would be “On My Way Here”.
Tweaking the relationship between music and lyric in order to nuance a story or evoke a certain image seems like it could be daunting, especially if it’s personal or emotional to the artist. So I could see how someone might go over and over a small bit of music until, finally, it merges together and tells the story in just the right way they had conceptualized. Is there a song the new album that presented more of a challenge for you in that way?
Well, there are some songs that aren’t as personal. If they’re not as personal, you kind of have to act a little bit and imagine more universal themes. There are love songs on the album that are not necessarily things that I am feeling, or feel. So I kind of have to pretend and act a little bit [laughs]. There are some songs that are a little tougher, but when the lyrics are as good as they are, they make it easy for you.
You mentioned in one of the earlier interviews, I’m not sure who it was with, but you mentioned using an “out of tune” piano.
Oh did I? Did I mention that? Who did I say that to?
A sound that you liked that Kipper was able to reproduce for you?
Yeah, I can’t believe I said that to someone, but okay. It’s true, so I guess I must have.
Your fans want to know what song uses that as accompaniment?
Well I’m not going to tell them. Let them figure it out. It is true, it’s in at least one, it might actually be in two, but it’s in at least one. Let them guess! I can’t believe I told that… I do love that sound. We decided to get an upright piano, and do it that way, and when I heard it I was like,” HOLY CRAP! That’s it!”
So it’s in there. Let’s see how good their ears are [laughs]!
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that the track “As Long As We’re Here” was influenced by your experiences in Indonesia. In addition to the connection with the lyrics, did the music of the region influence the way that you and Kipper approached the song?
No, no, no. It’s all lyrical. The song “As Long As We’re Here” we put on there for many, many reasons. It’s actually a song I found while I was traveling to Indonesia. It wasn’t necessarily influenced by my trip to Indonesia, it was kind of influenced more by the fact that it was a Unicef trip, and what Unicef does throughout the world. Also, the irony behind that song, I found it on my trip to Indonesia, and then brought it back to meet with some executive producers. I walked into this interview with one of them, and she came in and said that she’s brought a song that I might like, and it was the same song that I had listened to and picked out of 10,000 songs. Literally, you want to talk about a needle in a haystack! She had brought the same song that I loved, and that’s how we started working together. So that song has lots of significance to it. It’s the social message song of the album.
You originally said you weren’t sure about doing a Broadway show because you couldn’t imagine doing the same thing over and over and over again. Now that you have done it for awhile- would you do it again? And if so, is there another play you would like to do?
I won’t turn it down, but we’re not looking for anything. If the right opportunity comes along, the right part in the right show… I’ve had a great time doing it, I’ve really enjoyed it. So if the right thing comes along, then I’d love to, but we’re not seeking it out necessarily.
I’ve seen Spamalot, and I’m a huge fan as well. How do you keep a straight face, especially as the drunken guard Prince Herbert scene?
I don’t keep a straight face. Well during the drunken guard scene I do, because I don’t think it’s funny [laughs]. But honestly, it’s because it’s not that easy to do. It’s not an easy thing for me. I have to think about it constantly. That’s the one scene of the show where I still have to think about my lines. Normally, the rest of the play I don’t even have to pay attention to my lines, but that’s the one scene where I still do have to pay attention, so I don’t say the wrong thing. But there are plenty of parts throughout the play where I don’t keep a straight face.
Down the line, if the opportunity ever arose would you consider acting on television or perhaps in movies?
Yeah, I would love that. I always like to try new things. That was the reason we decided to do Spamalot. Something to kind of push us out of our comfort zone, so if the right opportunity came along then sure, absolutely.
Are you going to be appearing on American Idol to promote the new album at all?
No I don’t think so. I’ve been in New York and not LA, so I kind of highly doubt that I will. I think they did a little thing on me last Wednesday though.
Five years ago when this whole journey started you once said you didn’t quite understand what the big deal was because when you looked in the mirror you still saw you… It seems so much has changed since then so my question is, are you still that same person ?
I still don’t understand why people like my ass, I’m sorry [laughs].
No [still laughing] I have no idea.
So do you feel like the same person?
Obviously, I’m a little bit more comfortable with what I do, and some of it’s a little old hat… I’m not the same performer; I’m not the same in that way. I think, hopefully, I’ve grown in some ways. I still don’t understand the motivation behind people that are excited and enthusiastic as they are.
Your hair is actually a big conversation topic with your fans! Can we expect any more hair changes from you in the near future?
Who knows? I have absolutely no idea. I just got it cut today, just finished up before we started talking. But yeah, I have no idea. We change it all the time. I get bored, and someone else gets bored and says let’s do this. I mean, I think we’ve gone through all the colors that are possible right now. We won’t do green or anything. We could go to my natural hair color, which is probably gray [laughs].
Your fans miss the “Tug.”! So I have to ask since we all love it so much, do you intend to use it again?
Oh Lord, no. That has its mark. If I sing that song again, I’ll do it again if I’m in the mood. That was actually an accident that happened, it… it became a phenomenon! So when I do it, I do it for the fans and not naturally. We kind of joke around backstage sometimes when I’m about to sing “Invisible”, and I’m like, “Oh crap where am I supposed to do that?” I can never remember where it’s supposed to be [laughs], so we do it on purpose now. I think that has its place.
Interview By: Emma Loggins