Joe Thomas, better known as Joe, could never be mistaken for average–everything about him exudes a certain sophistication. Whether he’s singing or speaking, his voice possesses an understated passion that immediately grabs your attention.
Speaking to him offers a different experience of quiet eloquence. The lower baritone of his speaking voice, different from the usual three octave tenor part we’re used to hearing from him, leaves the listener hanging on his every word.
Whether he’s dropping gems in the form of wisdom or bars, there’s no denying that the man is blessed with a powerful voice that he uses for the better.
Joe took some time out from his studio schedule, where he’s working on his next album, Bridges, to talk to us about his lead single, “Love & Sex, Pt. 2”.
The Source: Your lead single from Bridges (due summer 2014) is “Love and Sex, Pt. 2″. What made you decide to do a part two?
Joe: I felt I needed to revisit this song because the first one doesn’t explain the difference between love and sex adequately. I needed this message to reach another audience. It’s a beautiful record, a beautiful song, and having Kelly [Rowland] on it makes it all the more special.
TS: It’s got a different sound than the first track. “Love & Sex, Pt 1” is more like a ballad, whereas this is more upbeat.
Joe: Exactly, it appeals to my fans that love hip hop and pop as well. They’re hearing the message too. It’s more inclusive and it reaches another part of my audience. I have a lot of fans that appreciate all different types of music, not just R&B. There’s a big crossover, which leaves room for legendary collaborations, like things I’ve done in the past with Big Pun and Mariah Carey; now this. It’s all in making good, quality music.
TS: How did Kelly Rowland end up on the track with you? Did you have her in mind?
Joe: I had her in mind. She’s been on my checklist of artists that I wanted to work with. We’ve seen her grow and develop as an artist; her talent is extraordinary as well. She did an amazing job.
TS: She did! The video came out fantastic!
Joe: (laughs) She looks fly, right?
TS: She does! Absolutely flawless. Between you, Kelly, and Bille Woodruff [director], you guys created a visual and musical masterpiece. I wouldn’t expect anything less, especially since you’ve revisited this topic twice. Is it safe to say that this is something you have strong feelings about, the difference between love and sex?
Joe: You know, maybe so! You have to learn to balance the two.
TS: Maybe everyone kind of has this “Aha!” moment, when they realize there really is a marked difference between the two. Do you remember when that “Aha!” moment happened for you, personally?
Joe: When it comes to anything at all, there has to be balance. Love and sex included. There’s always a good and a bad side to everything. It comes down to choices, because that’s what dictates everything: Choices. Every day that I wake up, it’s about choices. I try to have constant and continual learning moments, in every arena of life. Love, sex, and life is all about learning and growing–that’s what we’re here for. To learn, grow, and develop. Once good values have been instilled, those values become a decision making factor. There’s no one moment for me; it’s a series of growth opportunities and fluid choices. Experience is a good teacher.
TS: It is. And it can be hard to pinpoint the exact moment you started applying that experience to your everyday interactions, since like you said, it’s coming down to making decisions based on your values. So in your opinion–writing this song–and with your values, what’s the difference between love and sex?
Joe: That’s the thing. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to tell the difference, because they’re so close. Especially if you are a passionate person; when you’re passionate you give your all to everything you do, no matter what it is. You go all in on both levels when it comes to that. It goes back to choices and moments–when it’s more than sex, when there’s love, there’s a commitment with your partner and understanding what that commitment entails, then making conscious decisions, moment by moment, to live that.
TS: Exactly. You’re an artist who spans generations. I remember listening to you in middle school, high school, and now well into my adulthood. When you first came into the game, the idea of love and sex was very different than the construct we have today. You said you need this message to reach a larger audience. When you see love and sex portrayed today, in both relationships and pop culture, where things seem so disposable, what do you think? Do we have it all wrong?
Joe: Each generation brings with it a different mindset. Just like you and I went through things to develop our values, this is what they’ve got to go through. There’s room to grow and more importantly, processes to go through and grow through. Then we also have to take some sort of responsibility that maybe some of these ideas–good and bad–have come from us and what we’ve put out there. We need to own that and correct any bad ideas that we’ve helped to instill. That’s where we need to be strong, be leaders, and be an example.
TS: Very well said. You’re definitely taking ownership with this collaboration and getting that message out, musically. So let’s talk about collabs for a minute. You’ve mentioned some legendary ones–Big Pun, Mariah Carey–and I remember “Stutter” with Mystikal. That was my jam. Freshman year in high school, it was on repeat.
Joe: (laughs) Oh man, classic. And G-Unit, too.
TS: I remember that too, “Ride With You.” That was another big record. Do you have any other collabs coming up?
Joe: Absolutely. I love the music industry. There are so many talented people from so many different genres and backgrounds. Every collaboration is a growth opportunity–I absolutely love them. But–a lot of the fun at this point is in the element of surprise. I’m really focused on my album coming out this summer, Bridges. It’s a really great project. This collaboration with Kelly is the perfect lead off. Bridges has a lot of great content, I can say that without spoiling any surprises.
TS: Okay, now we really can’t wait to hear the whole project. We wouldn’t expect anything less than greatness from you. Your career has been blessed with the gift of longevity. It takes more than sheer talent to do what you’ve done. What’s the personal formula that has allowed you to sell 10 million plus albums, receive seven Grammy nominations, and keep making music that the world wants to hear? You’ve got hit after hit under your belt; it’s win after win–and it’s spanning generations. You’re honestly one of the only other artists that I can name besides Jay Z that’s given millennials great music from middle school to adulthood. That’s rare. Spill the secret!
Joe: I can’t take all the credit, I gotta say that. There’s God, for one. There are people around me who continually inspire me. I have a great team of engineers, musicians, writers, producers, just a great team. They help me stay focused on making great R&B. Beyond that, it’s nice to be comfortable, in the sense that I’m not stressed or worrying. I’m just focused. We get so distracted by things; I think finances can be one of the main distractions. It’s about being grateful for the simple things in life. I’m grateful and I’m having a good time, too. True fans know where I come from; they know I love what I do, regardless of whatever situation. There’s a reason why I do what I do. I feel that if I can inspire someone or bless someone through music, I’m paying it forward, like it was done for me.
TS: I love the “paying it forward” concept, can you elaborate a little more on that–who paid it forward for you and how, industry wise?
Joe: When I was growing up, I remember listening to Bobby Brown and New Edition. Jodeci, too. They left a mark on me–and on the music industry. Don’t get me wrong, we love our hip hop as well, but R&B represented. They paid it forward in the sense that they set a very high bar for the genre, not to mention the inspiration and the influence they left behind, that carries over today.
TS: It’s a legacy, that you’ve now become an integral part of. You’re carrying that torch. It’s your turn now and we see you’re doing big things with it. One thing I see is that you’ve got your own label now, Plaid Take-Over. What’s the story behind the name?
Joe: Plaid is who I am. It’s very representative of me: the different fibers, the layers. I’m both a businessman and an artist, I want to leave something positive for young black men to carry and emulate. It’s like a classy, grown man feel.
TS: Definitely feeling that. That’s a big change to make, going from a major label to having your own. What prompted the switch?
Joe: It is, but it was so simple for me to make that decision. I’ve been in the industry more than twenty years; I was on a major label for 11 of those. I really appreciate Jive and Kedar–they allowed me the opportunity to do what I do and make a living out of it–I’m grateful for that. After all these years of experience, I get it, I understand it, and I understand what it takes to make it in entertainment, so I decided to make that happen for myself and for others. I believe so, so, so, so hard in what I do and in my team. This is going to be something positive, that will be built into a mega empire. Then of course, there’s always the fact that I don’t have to deal with any of the label politics or back and forth that so many artists are affected by.
TS: Makes perfect sense. Have you faced any difficulties or challenges in being both an artist and a label owner?
Joe: No, not at all. It is a business, so you do need to know what you’re doing and at this point, I do. I grew up in this, so I’m not afraid of any moment of opportunity–especially when it comes to performing. Performing, for me, is the easy part. Understanding the business side is a skill that I’ve acquired along the way. That business part is all learning, but I’ve developed a passion for that as well, so it’s an easy transition now.
TS: Do you ever feel the need to separate the roles between artist and business owner?
Joe: It really is fun being both. This is where the importance of having a good, strong team comes in. When there’s an opportunity for something to go left, it’s good to have people on the other side of the table that can help you oversee those processes and make sure they go right.
TS: Teamwork is the dreamwork, for sure. I know you said you’re focusing on Bridges, but do you have any exciting releases or upcoming artists coming from team Plaid Take-Over?
Joe: I’m in the process of looking. I’m taking the time to really look. I feel like we can get an artistic revival of the 60’s and 70’s going. I want to really create stars, real stars, that are the total package. Not hits, but stars. Artists with class and style, that are making quality music. Can I feel something as soon as you sing the first couple lines? I’m loyal to a T. I’m a man of character and integrity. So when it comes to what I do, whether it’s performing, dressing, whatever, it’s nothing but quality. That’s what any act I sign will represent.
TS: I definitely see and feel your vision. Artist, label owner, and A&R too. Are you going to entrust anyone else with executing that vision, A&R wise?
Joe: I’m going to be 100% involved, every step of the way, because that’s just me. You do need a team of people that can work the record. That’s very delicate. It has to be treated with a personal level of respect, as well as on a business level.
TS: Exactly. You’ve got a ton on your plate, are there any other ventures we should look out for?
Joe: Definitely, I’m looking for a lot to happen these coming months. I’m just so involved in this project and seeing how it takes off. It’s been an incredible journey. I have an ambitious vision of building to the plateau of Motown status. I don’t like to talk about things until they’re set in stone. A lot will happen in the coming months, I’m excited to see the label off and moving. And of course, the release of Bridges, July 3rd.
Be sure to listen for more hits from Bridges.
In the meantime, hit the flip to be wowed by Joe and Kelly in the “Love & Sex, Pt. 2” video.
April Dawn (@scarlettsinatra)