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Multi-platinum singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton is back with a new album. Love is the new trend is his first full album in five years – one that fans have been eagerly awaiting.
Hamilton is the self-proclaimed “country boy” of North Carolina whose vulnerable lyrics and gospel-tinged performance have won him fans across the globe. Many were introduced to Hamilton thanks to his popular performance Tiny Desk in 2016. Some were fans long before that – as Hamilton puts it, “when only 10 people knew me”.
NPR’s Michel Martin welcomed Hamilton back to NPR to talk about his latest album and his creative process during the pandemic.
Here are snippets, including extended web-only answers:
Do you feel like a veteran now or do you feel like people are still discovering you? Sometimes it seems like you are everyone’s “little secret”.
I feel like a veteran, like an OG as young artists call me – but I also feel like there are a lot of people who are still getting to know Anthony Hamilton, and some people who have never heard none of my music. I guess it’s good to be both. But, I understand a lot. It’s like, “I found it first!” or “I heard it first!” It’s cool, though. It’s good to be more than just a name launched out there.
I think that’s another kind of comfort that I bring. The bottom of the house. And you know, when it’s something that good, you don’t want everyone to have it, so you reveal it in little secrets. … I’m like “the Soul Man Whisperer”.
Many artists have found themselves creating a different kind of music in quarantine and reflecting on the things around them. You have a song on this album called “Mama Don’t Cry” that responds to recent events. What went through your head?
You see what’s going on in the news and around you in your town with the racial divide, and you’re just stuck in the house with the pandemic, and you get really sensitive. And just being a black man reminded me of George Floyd. At first I was going to name the song George Floyd. It’s this place that made me want to write this particular song.
We wanted to touch people’s hearts and let them know that we are losing a lot of people. But mommy doesn’t cry, daddy doesn’t cry. Be proud of me. I did it. I’m on the other side now. Do not Cry for Me. Ride just for me. Go out and do something, celebrate and shake something in my memory.
Over the past year, a lot of artists have had to cancel tours or find different ways of working. Do you have any other thoughts on how the past year and a half has affected you as a creative?
This whole past year has allowed me to see that I don’t have to rush things. I don’t have to beat the streets and abuse myself so much, getting too involved in things that may or may not move the needle in one way or another. It taught me to be really intentional about what I want to say, to be intentional about the message I want to get across. There is a lot of noise. And so I took this time to really focus on: How do I mean that? What do I really mean? And you know, you get to know your strengths and you get to know your weaknesses so that you can create from another place.
One of the things people appreciate about you is that they think you allow yourself to express your vulnerability in ways that other artists don’t. A lot of their songs are about sex, and a lot of your songs are about love and relationships. Do you feel like the last few months have intensified for you or your will to be vulnerable?
We have all felt sensitive and helpless over the past two years. Even the richest person had to be humble and become something other than what money could do for them. While we were all vulnerable. And I know a lot of people were losing their relationships and marriages were breaking down. And I wanted to help people focus on some things that could really help you get healthier and, you know, find love and see love differently. Like you’ve got it there, but you’re focusing on the wrong thing. It makes me feel like I have a job that I could have for a long time because I don’t mind exposing what I’ve been through. I don’t mind allowing myself to be, you know, a role model for a man who needs a job.
I think there is a force in knowing that I am here in my complete being. If I had a relationship where I wasn’t my best self and maybe I drank a little too much bourbon, that’s fine. You know my marriage didn’t work out. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s okay. I am not tied to these times.
You have had a long way to get to where you are. Do you remember the “times before”?
These were some of the best times of my life before the music came out. I have had a great time ever since I was successful or “successful”. But before that, oh man! Like who gets the last bag of Ooodles of Noodles, who has the last piece of chicken and the last piece of white bread? Oh my god, are you talking about a trophy! Look, these are some of the best times and not knowing how you were going to get that pair of shoes or how you were going to get into the club, how you were going to meet this young lady when you had nothing real to steal to wear. or nothing to really steal to say. It had to work! So there is power at the beginning as well.
Your duet with Jennifer Hudson, “Superstar”, was a hit with a lot of people, most notably Luther Vandross in 1983. Why did you choose this one?
It’s one of my favorite songs of all time. I was a big fan of Luther Vandross. I couldn’t understand how he could sing in such a controlled manner, and yet give you chills and that emotion as if he was moaning, like a gospel singer. It just attracted me, and I became a huge fan of this record, so I was like, “You know what? I want to do this song again.” I always wanted to do it again.
I think it’s something people don’t even know they were expecting. And I’m glad we didn’t try to outdo ourselves. We didn’t have to do all of that! We just kept the class. And we sang hell.
You have just published your first book, Cornbread, fish and green cabbage.
It’s not a cookbook, it’s a table book. It’s a bit autobiographical, but it’s more about the music, the man, the writer, and the songs you love. Like Charlene, the real story of grief and all that. And it tells the story of my childhood life in my grandmother’s house behind the big green sofa where I dreamed of being a host. And there are recipes in the book. My cabbage is amazing. My corn curry is really very good. My potato salad is awesome.
Janaya Williams and Sami Yenigun produced and edited the audio interview.