India.Arie Offers Spiritual 'Voyage'

Excerpted from the magazine for

It's unusual to meet a successful artist who is not caught up in the pressures of celebrity. India.Arie seems to be of that rare breed. Having achieved renown with her "Acoustic Soul" debut -- which sold more than 1.6 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- Arie returns Sept. 24 with "Voyage to India" (Motown). If she feels any pressure, you can't tell.

"The thought crossed my mind about not wanting to alienate my fan base, but I don't know what would alienate them or bring them in, so I decided not to think about it," Arie says in her first interview about the new album. "I made a conscious decision when I was recording 'Acoustic Soul' to -- and this is one of my mantras -- follow the music and let the chips fall where they may. That's what I did with this album. It would have been way too much to try to live up to some expectations when I don't even know what they are."

For her sophomore set, Arie did make at least one change: collaborating more with her band. "I took a more open-minded approach to songwriting," says Arie. "Normally, I would write a guitar part and write lyrics around it or the other way around, but the song would always start with me. Because I had a band and liked a lot of their ideas, everything didn't always start with me [for this album]. Lyrically, everything still starts with me but not necessarily musically."

She cites as an example "Little Things," the album's first single, which she says "doesn't have any guitar at all. My production partner/musical director, Shannon Sanders, said he had this 'cold idea.' He played it, and he said it sounded like a song about getting free. So, we wrote it together in Jamaica. This album is still guitar-driven, but there are just a few songs that are not. Whether it is guitar-driven or not, it doesn't matter. I'm still saying what it is I want to say, and it's still me."

The single is also emblematic of Arie's meteoric rise. "I love 'Little Things,' because that's how I feel," she says. "That's the lesson that I learned last year put into one song."

Additionally, Arie reached back to songs that did not make the cut for "Acoustic Soul" to include on the new 15-track set. "'Right Direction' was supposed to be on 'Acoustic Soul,'" Arie says. "It's funny how songs come back around and the meaning makes itself known when it's time. It meant something for 'Acoustic Soul'; it was one of the first songs I recorded for it. I was making this big step in my life, and I was going in a certain direction -- that was a big statement. Now it's even bigger, because I have different pressures, life experiences, and responsibilities. It means more to me now than it did then."

The album will be released in most international markets Sept. 24. Arie will promote the new album in Japan during the first week of October. Later in the month she'll return to the U.S. for a 27-city small-theater tour with newcomer Chaos, DJ Rogers Jr., Floetry, and Slum Village.

Since the release of "Acoustic Soul" -- which earned seven Grammy Award nominations -- Arie has collaborated on recordings with Julia Fordham, 2001 Billboard Century Award honoree John Mellencamp, and Motown labelmate Lathun, as well as being chosen to be on the "listmakers" panel for the second annual Shortlist Music Prize.

With all of her recent successes Arie understands -- and accepts -- that rumors, paparazzi, and the other baggage of celebrity status.

"Everything needs its opposite," Arie says with a smile. "If the celebrity part and all the stuff that goes along with it didn't exist, I wouldn't be learning any lessons. There would be nothing pushing me to be a better person. It would just be me floating around, like on a cloud, wearing different clothes and singing my songs. If there weren't flights, early mornings, and lack of anonymity-it would be perfect! Those things just balance it out, so it just makes me grow.

Excerpted from the Sept. 7, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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