The Billboard Q&A: Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey sits down with Billboard to chat about her new album, "E=MC2" -- due April 15 via Island Def Jam -- touring plans, her No. 1s, her Elizabeth Arden fragrance and much more.On a recent Monday morning, Mariah Carey flew the red-eye from New York to Los Angeles, stopped by Ryan Seacrest's morning radio show to chat, recorded a background vocal track for the song "I Stay in Love" for her upcoming album, then went through hair and makeup and recorded a video for Wal-Mart's "Soundcheck" series, which will be used as bonus footage online and played in stores.
By the time all of this was done, it was just past noon. Her afternoon consisted of another radio interview on rhythmic KPWR (Power 106) Los Angeles, and then a return to the studio at night to work on mastering the album.
For Carey, "E=MC2"—due April 15 via Island Def Jam— is the representation of her formula for success, and it's one that requires an extreme expenditure of energy.
After the comeback success of 2005's "The Emancipation of Mimi," 38-year-old Carey is in overdrive to make "E=MC2" another hit. A multitude of promotional plans—from mobile initiatives to copious TV appearances—are designed to appeal to fans of the classic balladeer Carey and her current hip-hop incarnation.
Mariah Carey made time during her busy schedule to sit down with Billboard and chat about her new album, her Elizabeth Arden fragrance, voice maintenance and much more.
How do you come up with lyrics?
I do write down phrases or things that I'm thinking of and keep them in the book. I like to see that, OK, I was doodling and I was thinking of this. With "We Belong Together," I had written that down that phrase and when we were writing the song, it was right there and it was just very obvious.
Even "Migrate" on "E=MC2," we'll be at my apartment, and let's say it's getting a little bit light out, and we're upstairs in the Moroccan Room. I'll be working on something and we'll listen to it up there because I have a good sound system there [but then] I'll say, 'We have to migrate [to the] Mermaid Room!' It's a room that's inspired by water and sand, but it has blackout shades as opposed to the light of day, like a media room.
You write or co-write almost all your songs—what's your process? What inspires you to write?
For each album, I try to have a book that I write the whole thing in. This was a long time ago. I don't have birthdays, I only have anniversaries [laughs]. But actually, this was the last birthday party I had . . . I think it was my 21st birthday, even though I'm only 12. We had it in advance [laughs]. Cyndi Lauper came to the party and I've always been a big fan of hers since I was growing up. She gave me this book, and I wound up writing the whole "Music Box" album in this book, which I still have.
Jay-Z said something to me that was really interesting, and I don't even know if he really remembers this. He's known me for a long time, and he's like, "You need to use some of your phrases in your music." I have my own little slang that I make up and say stupid stuff just for laughs. [On] the song "O.O.C."— that's a Swizz Beatz track—it means, "Out of control." So me and my friends will say that to each other, like, "OK, you're a little O.O.C. right now, tone it on down." Da Brat, who's a really good, close friend of mine since we worked on "Always Be My Baby," we wrote the lyrics together and it was so fun. By saying [sings], "I get so O.O.C./So out of control, baby," we could explain it.
When somebody was helping me type up the lyrics, and they wrote "Out of Control" in parenthesis [next to the song title], I was like, "Get rid of that. It's 'O.O.C.'! Let them figure it out! It's not that tough! I say it in the next line!"
What's your ideal schedule?
I'm kind of a nocturnal person. I don't really go outside during the day much, because I'm usually sleeping; I need like 15 hours of sleep before I sing. I have to schedule in days off for vocal rest. A lot of people say, 'What do you mean she needs this day off for that?' And it's like, well, I do. My vocal chords are very different than most people's -- even though they're strong, they're different, because I actually have nodules that are actually helpful in hitting certain high notes. But they require maintenance, and that's why you'll talk to me, like today, on a not-that-much sleep day, and I don't know if I could hit any notes today [Laughs.]
What else do you do in terms of voice maintenance you've often called it 'your instrument.'
The days of rest are really it. I sit here with my throat sprays, and spraying water and drinking a lot of water is kind of the only thing I can do. A lot of people get obsessive with trying to take things for their throat it doesn't work the same for me. And I just got over the flu, so that can be something that will stop me in my tracks. But sometimes I'll sing better with a cold, as long as it's not in my throat. It's weird. My voice has a mind of it's own [Laughs]. You have to maintain it, and you have to have these vocal rest days. I'll be doing what you're doing, just writing notes instead of talking. It's total silence, and sometimes I'll whisper softly. It's not good to whisper for your voice, it's not good to stage whisper.
Have you thought about touring for this album?
It's come up, and I'm probably going to do it, but I don't know exactly how we're going to do it or when. I'm thinking probably September. But I think it's important to tour with this album, because there are so many songs that I really want to sing live, that I really enjoy. Fun songs, like "I'm That Chick" or "O.O.C.," and then the ballads, of course. I really want to do "I Wish You Well" and "I Stay in Love" and "Bye Bye."
Do you ever think about surpassing the Beatles with their 20 No. 1s?
I do, because people bring it up. [laughs] But it's not like I sit around thinking about that type of stuff while I'm creating something. I did write this record in terms of wanting it to be a lot of songs that could potentially be singles, because people like that.
What else do you have going on right now besides music?
I did a perfume, and that's something where I didn't just say "OK, do this for me." This was very much a creation and a collaborative moment with Elizabeth Arden and the people that worked there. It did take a little bit a lot of my time, and I'm very grateful 'cause it's by the grace of God, it's been a big success for me. It just got nominated for a Fifi Award! [By the Fragrance Foundation for best Women's Luxe fragrance.] It's a big deal!
It's like major, people. It's been really cool. But the point is, anything else that I want to do does take away from the old school get in the studio and make the album. Get to singin'!