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Interview:
Usher wants ne tour to celebrate 20 years of Experience
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Usher came to a startling realization while preparing for his just-launched The UR Experience tour.

"I'm going to be seeing fans out there who were probably conceived while their (parents) were listening to 'Nice & Slow,' " he notes with a laugh.

It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Since "Nice & Slow" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 20 years ago, Usher Raymond IV has become one of the top-selling multi-faceted entertainers of the past two decades, amassing album sales of more than 65 million worldwide, with eight more No. 1 hits, eight Grammy Awards and an equal number of American Music Awards.

Billboard named Usher the second most successful artist of the 00s, with his 2004 release "Confessions" ranking as the top solo album of that decade. He also operates a label, US Records, that launched Justin Bieber's career, has acted in the films "Light It Up," "The Faculty" and "In the Mix" and on Broadway in "Chicago," judged one season on "The Voice" and is a part owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

Clearly the guy has made a footprint that's gone well beyond just the hits, and that's what The UR Experience is designed to commemorate.

"It's a career tour and a celebration of 20 years of music," explains the Dallas-born Usher, 36, who was raised mostly in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Atlanta before being discovered by L.A. Reid and signed to his LaFace Records label. "It feels as great as it did 20 years ago. I don't know if I can put a time stamp on any of it; maybe when I get in front my audience, that's when I'll being to realize how much time has past.

"Selfishly I just really want to be in front of my audience, making that reconnection. I've tried a lot of things within the last five, six years of my life in music, so I want to just be able to reconnect to that source and have that instant gratification of knowing where people are and what they love and what they think. And maybe it'll be a bit educational for my fans that don't necessarily know my earlier work."

Truth be told, Usher hoped to have a new album, "UR," ready for the tour, his eighth overall and the-follow up to 2012's "Looking 4 Myself." It is, he says, "about 75 percent finished," but he made a determination earlier this year not to rush it out, even with a tour looming.

"It just wasn't ready," says Usher, who has primary custody of the two songs from his three-year marriage to Tameka Foster. "For this album, the defining factor is the 10 percent; somewhere within that last 25 percent is the 10 that really is the foundation and the fabric of who I am as an entertainer, and I haven't gotten that locked down yet.

"So I want to make sure that when I go back into making the album I'm fresh off a tour in front of my audience, playing live. When I go out there I'm able to reconnect -- reconnect to radio, reconnect to my fans regionally, and all of that kind of prepares you for the album, those spontaneous moments that become the best part of the records."

That doesn't mean he's without new music, however. He's released two singles this year -- "Good Kisser" and "She Came to Give It To You," the latter featuring Nicki Minaj -- and he also appears on Chris Brown's "New Flame" and Kid Ink's "Body Language." All that will be reflected in The UR Experience show, he says, and they serve notice that even as he reviews his career so far he's hardly resting on his laurels.

"I feel like I can create records that speak to many different people," Usher notes. "My demographic is not young or old. I can have a record like 'New Flame' or I can have a record like 'She Came to Give It To You' and then have records you haven't heard that I've been preparing for this new album that I think are going to really redefine R&B music and soul music in a way."

Some of those are tracks he's working on with EDM artists such as Diplo and Skrillex, including a song with the latter that he co-wrote with British troubadour Ed Sheeran. "It's all just music to me, you know?" Usher says. "Opening myself to other genres is basically what R&B has always been. R&B has never been specifically categorized. It can be anything.

"I mean, when you think about Michael Jackson, he's pop but he came from R&B and you can't really put his style of music in any genre, right? Or when Prince put out an album, it fit everywhere. It was its own unique style. So I consider all those things when I'm working with different produces to try to make sure the songs still represent a soulful aspect but also feel progressive, too."

Usher vows to put the "UR" album back on the fasttrack after his tour wraps in mid-December, but there will be other distractions. He's "extremely excited" about the Cavaliers upcoming season with LeBron James back on the team, noting that, "this was a move that was bigger than basketball for LeBron" and it's really forcing the issue to make Cleveland an exciting story this year." And Usher is conscious that the Cavs have "a pretty odd" relationship to Detroit since the team's principal owner is Quicken Loans CEO and Detroit civic leader Dan Gilbert.

A European tour lies ahead starting in mid-February, and Usher acknowledges that he's been staying on top of Justin Bieber's highly publicized misadventures during the past year andand trying to provide some guidance -- while at the same time feeling that some of the incidents are being misconstrued.

"I'm just trying to be supportive like any friend would, man," says Usher, who became a tabloid target himself during his relationship with TLC's Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and during his acrimonious 2009 divorce from Tameka Foster. "It's unfortunate that everything that may be said is sensationalized, but that's what his life has become. When you have the type of success everything is news, no matter how big or small.

"So what I always say to people is believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. And if you didn't see it with your eyes, then don't invest all of what you feel in it."

Usher, August Alsina and DJ Cassidy

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4

The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills.

Tickets are $38-$93.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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