The Black Eyed Peas’ latest album, “The E.N.D.,” came out to high hopes from the record company and radio programmers, and great excitement from fans.
And fear from group leader, will. i.am.
“I was scared,” says the songwriter, musician and producer, who co-founded the Peas during 1995 in Los Angeles, explaining he was concerned that the changing sales climate, particularly on the retail end, would negatively impact his band.
“It’s kind of like being a professional surfer and all the freakin’ oceans dried up — ‘Let’s go surfing!’ ‘Riiiiight.’ That’s the equivalent of musicians putting out records with no record stores out there anymore. (‘The E.N.D.’) just exploded without the traditional record industry, which was great.
“But we couldn’t be sure that would happen. It was scary.”
The Peas’ fifth studio album is, in fact, the “Boom Boom Pow” heard ’round the world. The 15-song set debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and topped charts in seven other countries. Its first two singles — “Boom Boom Pow” and the party anthem “I Gotta Feeling” — spent 26 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, and the Peas scooped up three Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Vocal Album. A third single, “Imma Be,” also went No. 1.
Clearly, “The E.N.D.” is living up to its titular acronym — The Energy Never Dies.
“We just made an album for the time,” explains will.i.am (real name William Adams), 34, “and the time right now is club life. To say, ‘Hey, let’s make a radio record ...,’ that’s dangerous right now. The only place music actually lives is in clubs. So we made this work out of the clubs.”
The group’s Fergie (aka Stacy Ferguson), adds that the sound “just represents a new energy” for the Peas, even though the group’s previous releases — including hits such as “Let’s Get It Started,” “Where is the Love?” “My Humps” and “Pump It” — were also dance floor favorites. “Going out to the clubs, that really inspired a lot of this album,” she says. “We were more inspired by the new and the fresh and pushing things forward, and we decided to go with our guts.”
“The E.N.D.’s” success also represents a successful reactivation after several years where most of the Peas’ musical activity took place outside the pod, leading to rumors of the group’s demise.
The Peas’ two albums after Fergie joined, 2003’s “Elephunk” and 2005’s “Monkey Business,” were both multiplatinum hits that turned the quartet into international stars and will. i.am into an in-demand, go-to producer in the pop world. After “Monkey Business,” however, the members took advantage of that profile to work on their own. Fergie, 34, released the triple-platinum solo album “The Dutchess,” married actor Josh Duhamel and appeared in the film musical “Nine.” will.i.am, meanwhile, released his own solo album, 2007’s “Songs About Girls,” and helmed records by Fergie, U2, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, John Legend, Mariah Carey, Usher, Diddy, Rihanna and the late Michael Jackson, among others. He also launched an online social network called Dipdive and created the “Yes We Can” viral video for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
The group’s other members, apl.de.ap (Jaime Gomez) and Taboo (Allan Lindo) pursued their own solo musical and acting projects.
The net result of all this, however, was a perception and a steady stream of rumors that the Peas were no more — something Fergie says was never the case.
“I think that other people were talking about it, not us,” she explains. “It was just people speculating, and you have to expect some of that in this day and age. But we’re friends first, so for us it was never a question of doing another album. It was just a matter of when it made sense.”
Ideas for “The E.N.D.” actually began surfacing in 2006, and the group even had a working title — “Evolution,” which was subsequently changed when R&B singer Ciara chose that title for her 2006 album. “From Roots to Fruits” was also considered before the quartet embraced the concept of “The E.N.D,” but after touring to support “Monkey Business,” will.i.am says the quartet was “burned out” and took its time warming to another group outing.
By September of 2008 things were kicking into gear. With Fergie in London filming “Nine” the other Peas came to her, brimming with ideas; more than 60 songs were worked on for the album at Metropolis Studios, where the Peas took up residence in several different rooms.
“It was really cool, kind of like a musical factory,” Fergie recalls. “You’d spend hours in one room doing one song, and when your ears kind of burned out on it you’d go into another room where people were working on a different song and there’s a whole new, fresh vibe, and you’d have fresh ears for that. It felt comfortable, and it was great and it was good vibes.
“On this album,” she adds, “I got to completely explore different parts of my voice, different characters. I was channeling early Madonna on ‘Meet Me Halfway’ ’cause the world ‘borderline’ was in there and it took me back to when I was 10 or 11 years old and going to the Like a Virgin Tour. And in ‘Out of My Head’ I was kind of channeling Millie Jackson. I got to be all over the place.”
And it wasn’t just work, either, as the Peas — who also worked on the album in Los Angeles and Paris — popped into London nightclubs to both dance and do a little market research for their new material.
“will and apl would be deejaying and we’d just have a lot of fun and chill with each other,” Fergie says. “I feel on this album the same excitement that I felt in the beginning, with ‘Elephunk,’ when I was just joining the band. It feels so new and fresh and fun.
“That’s what it is — it’s fun again. That energy comes from time spent away and time spent doing things and then coming back and realizing how much we like being together and being this group.”
And nowhere, she says, was that spirit embodied more than in “I Gotta Feeling,” “The E.N.D.’s” ebullient second single that took on additional lives at sporting events, on TV commercials and even, according to will. i.am, as a voice mail message on Oprah Winfrey’s personal cell phone. “This is the song dedicated to all those people with 9-to-5 jobs who are just wanting to get to Friday,” Fergie explains. “It’s like an army of people wanting to have a good time.”
And that they did, says will. i.am, who turned all of “The E.N.D.’s” material loose for deejays around the world to remix and share online. “No matter where you went, what country you’re in, you heard ‘I Gotta Feeling,’ eight, 10 different versions of it in one night,” he says. “That’s crazy. But we made that kind of record. We wanted people to do their own thing with the songs, not just listen to our thing and go, ‘Yeah, that’s cool ...’ ”
The Peas’ energy remains strong for “The E.N.D” as well. The group has hit the road with a high-tech stage show, which will.i.am. calls “some futuristic partying on stage,” supplemented by some serious sub-woofer action — “Just bass in yo’ face,” he says. The trek is scheduled to last well into 2011, but will. i.am says the next batch of Peas music may come sooner rather than later, and most likely while the group is on the road.
“We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for something as early as June,” says will.i.am, who also collaborated with The Who and Slash for a remix of the former’s hit “My Generation,” which will be sold online to benefit Haitian relief efforts. “I can’t say what it is yet, though. I just don’t want the group to get mad at me. I’d rather say it as a group, ’cause that’s what we are. But the future IS here, lemme tell you that.”
Black Eyed Peas, Ludacris and LMFAO perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 9) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $82.50, $62.50 and $49.50. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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