Truth be told, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds loves the behind-the-scenes stuff.
He loves songwriting. Loves being in the studio. Has a passion for working with other artists — especially the young ones he’s signed to his new label, Sodapop — and a touch for making hits. He even enjoys working on his own records once in awhile, though it’s been three years since his last release, the covers set “Playlist,” and five since his last album of original material, the platinum “Grown & Sexy.”
But sometimes, Babyface notes, the road beckons — and he’s pretty happy there, too.
“I just have a good time at it,” says the Indiana-born Babyface, 52. “The more I do it, the more comfortable I get with it, so it’s one of those things I try to make sure that, throughout the year, I get sporadic dates and just go do it.
“I’m not interested in a full-out tour where you stay out for three or four months. Just doing this sporadically makes it more fun.”
And even though he’s known for mellow romantic singles such as “It’s No Crime,” “Tender Lover,” “Give U My Heart” and others, Babyface likes the fact that his concerts tend to surprise those who think they have him pegged.
“It’s more of an energetic show than people usually expect,” says the man whose musical credits also include writing and producing hits for Boyz II Men, Madonna, TLC, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Pink and Brandy, as well as collaborations with Eric Clapton and fellow Hoosier state icon John Mellencamp.
“It always is a surprise, I think, just because when you hear the name, Babyface, you think of love songs and you just think, ‘He’s probably gonna be boring,’ ” Babyface adds with a laugh. “It usually doesn’t turn out that way, and over the years, I think I even push it a little more. The more comfortable I get, the easier it is to put yourself out a little more.”
Nevertheless, Babyface does acknowledge that going on the road competes with the rest of his creative agenda. But, he explains, “I try to work within it. It does get difficult, and this is kind of a busy time, ’cause I’ve got a number of new artists and stuff I’m working with for a new album and also working on a new record for myself.
“So (touring) does get in the way a little bit, but at the same time, if I’ve got my computer with me, it’s like having my studio with me. I’m still able to get a lot of work done.”
And there’s plenty of work to do in Babyface’s world.
Sodapop got off to a good start last year with Kristinia DeBarge, the daughter of singer James DeBarge, whose debut album debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 and launched the hits “Goodbye” and “Sabotage.” Babyface is anxious to follow it up, but he’s also coy about what’s coming next from the Sodapop carton.
“I have four different artists at this point, but I don’t want to mention any names ’cause it can switch,” says Babyface, whose own favorite pop is Faygo Rock & Rye. “The priorities can switch, and it changes the whole game. No one’s set just yet.”
His goals for the label are pretty straightforward, however.
“What are we trying to do? We’re trying to capture magic in a bottle again,” Babyface explains. “It’s hard to do that, especially today. It’s a different world musically and the way the music is in general. But we’re just looking for artists we think are special — not flavor of the month artists, but artists who can have careers.”
Babyface is looking to add to his own career as well, though he says creating a new album is an ephemeral process. “I’ve gone through a whole bunch of different (songs) to try to make sure I have the right collection,” he explains. “It was supposed to be out by now, but I’m not ready for it just yet. So maybe by this fall — but I can’t promise.”
He says that he expects the eventual album to be “more of the same ... just classic Babyface, love songs.” But with a track record that includes four platinum-or-better albums, more than three dozen Billboard Hot 100 hits and 10 Grammy Awards — not to mention a 25-mile stretch of I-65 in Indiana that’s named for him — he knows the standards are high, which makes him a bit harder to satisfy.
“It is harder, yeah,” Babyface notes. “It really comes down to, ‘Is it heartfelt? I someone gonna feel this? Are they gonna feel what you’re talking about? Is someone gonna be touched by it?’
“And if I don’t feel like that, then it won’t come out. That’s what makes me take more time with it. I could be 75 percent done today and 90 percent at the top of next week, or I could be back down to 50 percent in two weeks. It can drive you crazy, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Babyface and After 7 perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 5, at the Chene Park Amphitheater, Chene and Atwater streets, Detroit. Tickets are $37 and $57 pavilion, $22 lawn. Call 313-393-0292 or visit www.cheneparkdetroit.com
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