The-Dream interview on his new album, remote work for Beyoncé – Business Insider – Business Insider - Freelance Rack

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Monday, May 11, 2020

The-Dream interview on his new album, remote work for Beyoncé – Business Insider – Business Insider

  • Grammy-winning artist The-Dream spoke to Business Insider last week in a wide-ranging interview tied to the release of his new album, “SXTP4.”
  • We also discussed his experience of balancing remote work for Beyoncé with the college fashion courses he’s taking during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential longterm effects of the virus on the music industry. 

While the standard operations of the music industry have largely been put on hold due to COVID-19, four-time Grammy-winning artist The-Dream has managed to remain active on several fronts during the pandemic.

The-Dream, whose real name is Terius Nash, spoke to Business Insider last week from his home for a wide-ranging phone interview tied to the release of his new album, “SXTP4.”

A celebrated songwriter with credits on No. 1 hits like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” The-Dream related his quarantine experience of balancing remote songwriting work for Beyoncé with the online courses he’s taking at the Savannah College of Art and Design to prepare for work on his own fashion line. 

We also discussed how he sees COVID-19 effecting the music industry’s future, Jay-Z’s 2011 reaction to two songs included on “SXTP4,” and finding solace in the music of jazz great John Coltrane. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

John Lynch: Why drop a project at this time, when so many artists are shelving their albums?

The-Dream: I think it’s more so just the point that I’m probably more first a songwriter and a kind of in-the-moment type of guy, and definitely always at service of the people. So when I thought about putting it out, of course the first thing that came to my mind was, “Do people really want to hear this right now?” Everybody’s going through something, you know, a lot of people lost their lives.

And then, the lesser of the two evils was, let me do my purpose, which was my first purpose in life. And I feel like that’s to serve the people, to take your mind off of anything that I can, ’cause what I’m doing is definitely small compared it to what’s going on in the world. It wasn’t like an economic thing that came to mind or anything like that. It was more so, what can I do to also keep people in the house and not going out. But just being of service to the people so that then, hopefully, other artists follow that lead and not be so frightened about numbers or what you’re going to do first week. People may not have it, or may have it, but just do it. It’s art.

Lynch: Did I hear the project is self-produced, you did the whole thing?

The-Dream: Yeah, definitely. I produce a record every now and then. I’ve been getting that a lot with this album, and I hadn’t even thought about it, to be honest, because most of the time I’m crafting something, whether it’s by myself or with other producers that I love and that I definitely respect, I just look at it as an overall finished thing, like, “get it done.” Sometimes there are special people around me to help get it done, which takes off the pressure of me having to sit tediously through a session.

Everybody knows I love to like “idea, create the idea, write the lyrics, write the top line, keep it moving, go to the next thing.” Because to me, that’s the most important part of songs. I feel like any song can be produced if you give it enough time, especially if it’s something that you’re passionate about and that’s actually what your craftsmanship is built around. Producing something to me is the easiest part there is. Coming up with original ideas and creating these top lines and new melodies, so on and so forth, I love that part, but I know that that’s the hardest part of this business.

Lynch: You know, the album is cohesive, and you can tell a lot went into it. I would imagine this is one that you wish you could tour.

The-Dream: Oh man. Yeah, man. I hadn’t even thought about it then. Of course, it’s sinking in, you know, that a lot of people can’t go out. You can’t just break away and go to a concert, a lot of those liberties that we have. I think more about other people than I do even about myself when it comes to touring. The first thing I thought about was the fans not being able to get away with their girl, coming to a Dream concert and just enjoying that moment.

I keep a very intimate crowd, so everybody always leaves feeling like we met each other, or that we’re there in the same space. And I love being in that space with my fans. So the first thing I thought about was them, the people who bought this album and took it home and want to hear it live and be beside other people who cherish what I’m all about. It’s kinda heartbreaking in a sense. It’s not the worst thing though, like I said, in the world, that’s happening to a lot of other people and a lot of other families.

Lynch: It’s good for this time, but you’ve always been about diversifying your skillsets.

The-Dream: Yeah.

Lynch: How did you decide, though, that college courses were the right way to get into fashion?

The-Dream: It wasn’t that I decided. It was more so, “Do I have the time to do it?” I can pull the time out of anywhere. I’m more solidified in my day job [laughs] as a musician, and that changes things a lot. Of course, you’d rather go 10 years ago, 15 years ago, but I think it was a great time to go. “Do I have the patience to sit in a space where I could easily probably make a phone call and make something happen,” is what the test was. Like it wasn’t even about college. It’s about the respect for fashion period. And I think that people see your respect for different things depending on how you go about them and your seriousness of them.

Of course it’s not an act, but I’d rather be seen as serious because I am, versus I’m just another guy trying to put a logo on a hoodie and saying that I got a clothing line, or trying to be a creative director of a place and I have no background in nothing. Haven’t been through the rigorous ideas of college courses, especially at SCAD, which is really known for that. So I’m pretty proud. I’m doing really good. I’m meeting a lot of new young minds, great teachers. So I’ll be ready to go once I get this degree and get up out of here.

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Lynch: What’s something specific in the courses that you’ve taken away, that you’ll want to apply to a line?

The-Dream: Well, I’ve always been into the idea of everyday things making up how I feel. It’s the salty/sweet aspect of even my records, and that’s what goes into the idea of anything that’s in my closet or that I wear: the juxtaposition. The juxtaposition of the idea of “this goes with this, but not really, but it could, depending on where you are in your life.” You know, like it’s a whole bunch of variables that make up whether you can wear Jordans with Adidas pants. So that’s the thing.

It’s like, I remember seeing Michael Jackson shopping for something, and he had these pajama pants on, and he had this like Balmain jacket on, and he was like [imitates Michael Jackson], “Yeah, I like that. I want to buy that one, I want this one, and I’ll take that one.” And I was like, “That’s f—ing ballin’ on a whole different level.” Excuse my French. But just like, “Okay, what is this?” And what’s ballin about it, and the idea and confidence behind it is it’s not about the amount of money. It wasn’t about Michael Jackson. It was the idea of, “Oh, you’re trying to see if my clothes match. I got so much sh-t to do, I don’t even check for it. But everything I have on is something that’s meaningful,” you know? And so that particular space is what I love most about my ideas of fashion, just the salty and sweet parts of it, and putting them together.

Lynch: I was gonna say, as an aside, something that fit together well was that “Body Work” double single, fitting in on the album.

The-Dream: [Laughs].

Lynch: I played that like a hundred times on an iPod Nano [laughs], back in 2011, when it dropped.

The-Dream: Oh man, yeah, “Body Work” and “F.B.,” [laughs at the acronym] “F.M.B.O.” was definitely a fan favorite. I got hammered for that record like, “Yo, we want this record. We want it high quality. I need it mixed, mastered.” I remember the record just floating, and [Jay-Z] hit me one day out of the blue, like, “What’s this?” Like he just found it somewhere. I think there was something going on with Prince with Jay at the time. I don’t know what the thoughts were behind whatever it was. It was just an odd text of “What is this record?” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s old news.” And he was like, “Uh.. yeah. I need more of these.”

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Lynch: You know, like Prince, some of your greatest work has been written for women.

The-Dream: Right.

Lynch: You’ve got that Prince-like ability. Do you find that that songwriting work is creatively distinct from your solo work, or how do you approach it?

The-Dream: I just approach it with “power versus power,” right? I’m not here to be rendered powerless because I’m a man in the eye and in the wake of a powerful woman. It’s kinda sad that I think there are men grouped together in this space of not wanting women to succeed or be a certain thing. If that’s a percentage you could take, a lot of men who are about their own business and just out in the world making it happen, that’s not a conversation that comes up. There’s no imaginary boy’s club that exists, not in the culture of me and the men that I’m around. So, whenever I hear that, it makes me kind of determine how I want to write naturally for a woman, and how I naturally want to write for myself, because nobody wants a meek individual regardless of gender. You don’t want a meek guy if you’re dating him. You don’t want a meek girl if you’re dating her. So I try to make sure that I position myself and my music and my lyrics in a space on both sides to say that.

Anybody that follows my music personally, my stuff as, as a man, I hope they get that from me, that Old-School Testament idea of, it’s okay to open the door up for your girl or for your wife, and you know, do the things that you’re accustomed to doing, versus just laying down and saying, “Okay, well, I give up.” And it’s a lot of guys that are in those “I give up” places. And that’s not to say I give up, like I’m not doing nothing, but it’s been determined almost to let guys off the hook, like too much of it kind of relieves them of a job with the person they’re supposed to be connected to, regardless of who you are, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation. Like the idea is, literally, no battery works without a negative and a positive. It’s like you need both things to make a relationship work, and you need them at their strength. So that’s kinda how I think about it.

Lynch: You could say we got an example of that with this Beyoncé verse on the “Savage (Remix).” Did your work on that come together remotely? Was it written during the pandemic?

The-Dream: Definitely, definitely remotely. And you have to understand, I’m in school at the time. And I’m still, literally, I just got out of class like 30 minutes ago. So for me, it’s trying to do what I can in the times, because I know that this thing’s coming, and I know she needs it, but I also have an assignment due [laughs]. I’m like, “Oh God, I got two assignments due in two different classes. I need to help get this thing done. Where’s my brain?” It’s like I got busier since I started school. I have no idea how I could even get busier, but it actually happened. But I’ve been able to kind of keep a cap on it.

And yeah, the “Savage (Remix)” came together remotely, but it wasn’t going to be a hard thing to get done. I mean, Bey always knows what she wants to say, you know? It’s always just about her delegating who needs to say what, depending on how she’s feeling at the moment about whatever’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the culture, musically where she’s trying to go. Because most of the times when you hear something, it’s not about that particular thing. It’s about where we’re going next.

Lynch: I’m curious, just technically, like what sort of technology are you using to accomplish something like that, remote work with artists during this time?

The-Dream: It’s still Pro Tools. I record myself, send it back, drop it into WeTransfer, bounce it down, send it to the engineer on that side. They got it. I know that sounds simple. People reading this are like, “Yeah, we have no idea.” But yeah, it’s so many advantages now. You know, when I grew up, it was ADATs. It wasn’t sending anything. It was, you’re putting it in the mailbox. If you needed somebody to get on something or do something, they had to go through mail. And they would get it five, six days from now and then work on it, and then send it back, especially if you didn’t have money to travel, especially in the late nineties.

It’s so much easier now, man. You can also go into GarageBand. Like these kids got this stuff figured out, and I learned a lot from them, coupled with what I already know. Like when Pro Tools first got on the scene, because I had to be so pointed and fast at ADATs, because you couldn’t waste the tapes, the tapes cost so much money, I spent my time honing in on my craft of trying to get it done. Don’t waste no tape, don’t waste any time. And so once Pro Tools reared its head to be available for somebody like me that couldn’t afford everything but somehow, you know, garnered up enough money to finally get Pro Tools early in, or probably 2000 on the nose, actually — that just made everything fast. Like, “Done. Songs, 20 minutes.” Like it was nothing.

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Lynch: With these young artists right now, I keep thinking about how hard it must be to start out at this time, in this environment. 

The-Dream: Oh yeah, no. Definitely. Hard, and if you have momentum on your side, and you was just about to. Now your pace of how you was running had to slow down, but the pace of those others who are coming is going to speed up, or it’s starting to feel like they’re speeding up. So I feel more so for that, that we’re going to lose some artists that have momentum that we’re not thinking about right now, because of course, like I said, in that little world, it doesn’t really matter yet. But once everything is kind of back to a space where we’re acting normal again, I think we’re going to look at certain artists that we felt like were just about to bubble or do something at that time. This time is going to do something to them, and I hate that. I hate that for them.

Lynch: It’s unprecedented what we’re going through, obviously, but if you had to give advice to those artists, what would you say to them about what plans they should put forward?

The-Dream: Yeah, I would just stay engaged, of course, with new fans, older fans, and try to use the time to stay new, you know, and develop things that you feel like are your weakest things you need to develop. So when you do rear your head and you come back out, it’s definitely a change. You know, it’s like going to get a haircut, you’ve got a beard, you got this, you got that, we’re sitting in quarantine. And then, you get to go to the barbershop. And you come out, it’s like, “Ahh, there you go.” Just the idea of, don’t get too down or depressed. Get ready to be brand new again and re-represent yourself.

Lynch: How’s the stress of this time, and you’ve got a ton going on — is it affecting your creativity at all, or do you find you’re still able to get ideas off?

The-Dream: No, like I said, I’m more of a servant. If I’m having a day that could be stressful, I just always turn my stress into energy that creates songs. It’s the communication outlet. The best thing for anybody to do I think is to communicate. So, when it comes to these moments, I’m feeling like, actually, to be honest, it takes a lot for me to even think that, “Yo, you’re in the house. You know you’re in the house, right?,” because there is always something creative going on in my mind. All I need is a corner and some paper. If you sketch, draw, think of other ideas, look up things, watch tutorials on Croakies design, different people I admire like JW Anderson. Just different things that I can get into it.

I think even though they say this is a more stressful time now than it could have ever been, I can’t imagine that that’s really true. I think we’re a lot more sensitive today than the past generations of us as people, our grandparents and great grandparents that went through wars and World Wars and the ’60s, things that were really horrible situations. We’re probably going to have more deaths than any time that those things happened, but the horrendous nature of how they were happening in that time, just the 1900s period when you think about it, overall as a century. It was pretty damning. You know, there’s a war, there’s a depression, and I’ve heard all the stories from my grandfather about the feeling of all of these decades and how he felt.

Now we have more outlets to be able to just call somebody, or FaceTime somebody, like it’s right in front of you. It just depends on how you interpret what you have and whether you feel like even in this moment you’re blessed. That’s why it really doesn’t make that much sense to really go outside if you don’t really have to because it’s really kind of silly. Like everybody’s been on their cell phone this whole time, and now everybody wants to go outside. Like nobody wanted to go outside. At first, it was literally just me outside by myself [laughs], but now everybody wants to go outside. Everybody wants to go fishing, go play golf again. I’m like “Man, stop.” I used to have to harass people, “Hey man, let’s go play golf.” “Uh man, I got something to do.” Now everyday, man, it’s like “Oh, I wish I could play golf.” Like, “Oh God, bro…”

Lynch: You know, it’s your closing track and I kind of wanted to close with this, but I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in John Coltrane recently. I was wondering if that’s the same for you, if you’ve been listening to him. 

The-Dream: Oh man. In the house, man. It just plays. He just plays, man. It’s so beautiful, and I did that on purpose. That’s back to the “serving” thing again, man. It’s like, I could have made that record any record. There was another “Sextape” record I could have put there. Really. I put that there to educate and to give people an understanding of where I am, or what I’m listening to, or what my day is like. And when you have that on, you look out the window, and it’s a different picture, it’s a different picture than it was before, when you’re not listening to John Coltrane. So, you know, all those guys, John, even if you go to B.B. King, you can go Frank Sinatra. It’s just a different picture. You want to change your atmosphere, your picture of what you’re looking at if you’re in the house, it’s just the music. Just go through it.



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