The 35-year-old Californian’s 2010 single I Need a Dollar was not only a massive seller, but also was featured as the theme for the HBO series How to Make it in America. His soaring vocal on Swedish DJ Avicii’s smash Wake Me Up was as ubiquitous last summer as sunshine.
Since then, apart from releasing new album Lift Your Spirit and advising Adam Levine’s team on the hit US television series The Voice, Blacc has worked as a brand collaborator with the Lincoln Motor Company, creating original videos and lending the Ford subsidiary some of his suave, urbane cool. During a visit to New York, Blacc sat to discuss his musical inspirations, his uncannily reserved vehicular tastes and his tips for getting out of traffic tickets.
Brett Berk: You’ve mentioned Sly and the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix among the greatest influences on your work. Who else is in heavy rotation on your headphones?
Aloe Blacc: There's an artist by the name of Eugene McDaniels who put out two fantastic albums in the early ‘70s, and I listen to those pretty religiously, because the lyrics are very heavy. Very political – I think to the point where the Nixon administration banned his album.
There's another fantastic soul gospel artist from that same era, early ‘70s, named DJ Rogers, who released, in my opinion, his seminal work, It's Good to Be Alive. And that was a very happy, uplifting, joyful album. That inspired what I'm doing with Lift Your Spirit, an album that really speaks to the positivity in life, despite the challenges and obstacles.
You grew up in southern California. When did you learn to drive?
When I turned 16, I inherited the family minivan. And I drove that to school, and trips up to LA with friends to go to clubs. My dad enjoyed having cars, and I can count about 13 different vehicles we had through my childhood. To this day, he still owns four different vehicles: a minivan, an SUV, an RV and an ‘80s sports car.
Did you buy something special when you signed your first contract?
I've always been conscious of having something that felt right for me, but also, like my dad, finding the right price. So when I signed to an indie label back in 2005, I was able to find myself a nice, used Infiniti coupe. But I parked it in the wrong neighborhood one night, and when I returned it was gone. And when the police found it, it was pretty much stripped and useless at that point.
The wheels on those cars are a popular target, for some reason.
That's actually what they took! After that, I ended up getting a Volvo 850. A sedan. And I still own that. I kept it. And my wife kept saying, “Well, we signed a major recording deal, we have money to spend. Why don't you get a new car that's comfortable?” That's really what it's about for us, comfort, and quality, and knowing that you're going to arrive safely. So I said “Well, why don't I get you a car?” And we picked the Ford Fusion Hybrid. And we're really happy with that.
Then, working with Interscope, I had the opportunity to partner with Lincoln, and I thought, beautiful. I'm familiar with the Ford family, I like the vehicles, let's do something that's crafted correctly for my art and my presentation. The character I've presented is largely thanks to my dad, who always said to look nice, to always dress well. So you'll find most of my photos in a suit, or a blazer and tie. You can't really knock something that's classy.
What form has your Lincoln relationship taken so far?
We put together this beautiful music video for the song Love Is the Answer – for me, the most important message on my album. We had this awesome location in Los Angeles, where we shot a video that allows the viewer to choose one of four different points of view, four different story lines, as I sing and dance through this building from the rooftop down to the bottom floor, and get inside my Lincoln [MKZ sedan] and drive away.
Is it safe to assume you are driving a Lincoln these days?
I'll be in the MKC when I finish this tour with Bruno Mars.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you in a car?
I was driving through Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard, and I mistakenly ran a red light. It was an honest mistake. But a cop pulled me over, and he came up to the window and he said, “Did you know you ran a red light?” And I said, “Yeah. I was afraid that the car behind me was going to hit me.” Which… could have been true. And he said, “OK, well, you know, just be careful next time.” And he let me go.
As I'm on my way home, I got on the 101 freeway. I have some friends who are graffiti artists. And they're really good graffiti artists – they've actually graduated from street graffiti to MoMA and MoCA and all these big museums. And they’d painted a billboard for me, of my likeness, to promote my album, and you could only see it from the 101. So, I decided that I was going to stop and take a photo of this billboard. I pulled over to the side of the freeway, cars were buzzing by. And as I was opening my door, a cop pulled up behind me. And I was thinking, “Oh, no. For sure I'm going to get a ticket this time.” There’s no way you can be pulled over twice within the same 10-minute span.
So I got out of the car, and the cop walked up. And it's the same exact police officer. And he's like, “What are you doing now?” And I looked at him like, there's no way I can really talk myself out of this one. So I said, “You know what, I just wanted to take a picture of that billboard over there.” And I pointed at it, and he looked at the billboard, and he looked back at me, and he said, “Hurry up and take your picture and get off the freeway!” And so, since then, I've had tremendous respect for LA police officers.