Boy George :: Calmer, Relaxed, & On Tour With A New CD
In 1983 the world was introduced to the British band Culture Club through its debut album "Colour by Numbers." With its out front man Boy George, the band went on to be the first group since The Beatles to have three Top Ten hits in the United States from a debut album, and to receive the Best New Artist Grammy Award following the album’s release.
With seven Top Ten U.S. singles under his belt and continued success as a solo artist with over 150 million records sold, Boy George is without a doubt a living legend. George’s latest release and first studio album in 18 years, This Is What I Do, introduces us to a much calmer and relax Boy George than of years past, but is successful in reminding us of his innovative songwriting ability and his desire to tell a story.
"I wanted to make a baggy album, not overproduced and I think I have achieved it," George released in a statement. "I was listening to things like ’Beast of Burden’ by The Stones, and I had my head most definitely in the ’70s." George acknowledges that "This Is What I Do" comes from a happier place, perhaps, than solo albums he has made in the past. "This time, no ex-lovers to get revenge on. For me, ’Bigger Than War’ (the song) sums up the tone of the album," says George.
Though George hasn’t released a studio album in 18 years, he was not absent from the music scene. For some 20 years, George has been a hugely respected international DJ. His dance music fans may have expected his latest release to be more of a collection of dance tracks because of his DJ passion. "I really didn’t want to try and do dance music," George expressed. "Plus, the dance music I play in clubs isn’t the kind of stuff you hear on the radio."
Gone are the days of arrests, jail time, and substance abuse (George has been sober for 6 years), but his triumph through his rocky life over the more than 30 years of his music career can definitely be heard in his voice and in the lyrics of his first two music video releases for "King of Everything" and "My God." These two songs definitely make us aware that George was less concerned about being played on the radio and making hits as in his Culture Club days, and more concerned about being more direct in his writing. Of his voice George says, "I sing in a different way now, more gravitized and experienced."
"This Is What I Do" was written by George and his longtime writing partners John Themis, Kevan Frost and Richie Stevens, and released independently on Boy George’s own imprint, Very Me Records. He is also setto take his 9-piece band on a limited North American Tour kicking off on April 18 in Philadelphia.
I spoke with George from his home in London about independently releasing "This Is What I Do," Buddhism and the calmer, more relaxed Boy George, his excitement to play this album’s music live on tour, and what he’d say if he wins another Grammy.
Who he’s become
BeBe: I know your new collection of music ’This Is What I Do’ released March 25 in the United States and is your first studio album in 18 years, but you have been busy during that time between albums primarily deejaying all over the world. So, with that being said, do you think the public may have expected a more dance music-oriented album from you at this time?
Boy George: Possibly, but I am an artist, and you just go with what you’re feeling at the moment. I wanted to make a studio album, but I wanted it to be with my band. I really didn’t want to try and do dance music; plus, the dance music I play in clubs isn’t the kind of stuff you hear on the radio. I wouldn’t be able to make the kind of dance music they are hearing on the charts. Not that I was concerned about being on the radio (just) that kind of music didn’t appeal to me.
BeBe: Could the title of the album have easily been ’This Is Who I’ve Become?’
Boy George: Yes, possibly (with laughter).
His changing voice
BeBe: As I listen to the lyrics, it just seems that it was written from happy place. I can hear the joy of who you are right now. I can see this being autobiographical.
Boy George: Everything I do has been a reflection of where I’ve been at the time. That’s all you can ever do, is reflect what you’re feeling right then and there. Sometimes you look back at things and go, ’I’d never sing that now or think of liking that now.’ You just have to be honest about where you are.
Somebody told me the other day that ’the album is really flat,’ and I said, ’Really?’ Life is very complicated, and can be happy and sad at the same time.
BeBe: In the ’80s and ’90s there is no doubt that your voice was one of the most recognizable voices in pop music. Many had compared the impact of your voice on music as they did Smokey Robinson’s voice in the ’60s. But of course, with time and some worldly-living, your voice has taken on a different characteristic than before. How have you embraced the changes in your voice and how it affects what you sing?
Boy George: Well, your voice changes anyway, whatever you do, especially for men. Anyone will tell you that. I think for me, I think one of the best compliments I had was when I was doing a show with Rufus Wainwright a couple of years ago, and a friend came up and said how much he really liked my voice. That was Peter Gabriel. He said he liked what was happening to my voice. I didn’t know anything was happening to it (laughs).
BeBe: Well, you are a lyricist and tell stories, and many times we, the listener, relate how believable the stories are to how you sound singing it. For me, it’s like how I viewed the changes that occurred in Whitney Houston’s voice. Though an amazing instrument with an amazing sound in her early career, as she matured and her voice changed I loved her music more because it sounded more from the heart and more lived. With your voice’s grit now, that’s what I take from listening to you.
Boy George: It’s interesting because there are some songs from the past -- for example, ’Victims’ (1983), which is one of my favorite Culture Club songs -- I sing in a different way now, more gravitized and experienced. It’d be really strange if I sang like I was 19.
BeBe: You are a Buddhist, and reference God and the Lord a few times in different songs on the album, particularly in ’My God,’ one of my album favorites (love the Lady Bunny shout out). So, how much did being a Buddhist play in getting you to this point to record the album?
Boy George: Not really at all, because it’s only been in the last two years (practicing Buddhism). I had explored it in the ’80s, and I guess I wasn’t really able to absorb it back then. It’s been after getting a lot more calm and focused that I’ve been able to go back to it. I look at Buddhism as kind of adding something to my life because I got calmer. I don’t think I could have gotten into it while being my old former self or a younger man because I wasn’t able to sit still.
BeBe: Your biggest solo success in the U.S. was the theme song from the film ’The Crying Game’ in 1992. In your opinion, is there a song on ’This Is What I Do’ that would compare to that type of song?
Boy George: Probably ’Video Games,’ which is not my song (it is a cover of a Lana Del Rey’s song). That’s the one I’d compare to ’The Crying Game’ in terms of its kind of ’out there,’ traditional pop song.
BeBe: ’This What I Do’ was independently produced and released under you own imprint, Very Me Records, instead of by a major label. So, you don’t have that major support in distribution that a label can bring to a project, but you also don’t have anyone building up walls in your work. How has the journey in releasing this album independently been for you?
Boy George: I don’t know. There was a lot of music I made that never was released in America when I was with Virgin Records. That’s a whole other story. It never came out there because Virgin just didn’t get it. That was really the beginning of my relationship with dance music 20 years ago because what was the point in trying to make records when the label doesn’t get what I’m doing? But you have to remember that there is always someone out there with an opinion.
And I think as an artist, maybe not in America, but certainly in the UK, there are tracks from my album that I would have put out as singles, like ’My Star,’ but I was told very early on that there would be no point of that because it wouldn’t get played on the radio, because they didn’t play stuff like that. There are always restrictions. There’s always things you can’t do. It’s a funny ol’ business, that creative business, because it’s not very creative (we both laugh).
I’ve reached a point in my life where I just go, ’I don’t know how the business works at all. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.’ So, I leave that to management and whomever I’m working with. I let them do what they do, and try not to get too involved in that. I laid (down) an album.
The one thing about this record is, I love the album. And an artist like me in the UK, for example, doesn’t really release singles. They’re called focus tracks. I’m not going to have singles because I don’t have a young audience. My audience is not a download audience; but rather, an older sort of crowd, usually. Whatever you do at whatever time, even if you do it independently, it is not without complications. There’s always struggles and battles.
His upcoming tour
BeBe: You’re about to embark on your North American tour during the month of April with your 9-piece band. You are only doing 8 cities on this limited tour. This album, to me, sounds like it will translate well in live performance. Tell me your excitement level going into these shows in the U.S.
Boy George: You know, the live thing to me is the most exciting thing, because it’s the one thing you have absolute control (laughs). You know what you want to do. I think this album is all about life and the life experience. We did a tour right before Christmas last year, and we were playing about 80% new material, which is wonderful to kind of be out there and get that reaction to your work.
BeBe: Getting the feedback immediately from a live audience can be wonderful. You don’t have to wait for a Billboard Chart or a review to come out. You get feedback immediately.
Boy George: And also, it’s quite different now because we don’t do things in the way we used to. The way we release things is different, and the way people sort of pick things up is different. It’s an interesting time culturally and musically.
BeBe: My two most favorite cuts off the album are ’Any Road,’ which is quite different from the other, ’My Star.’ In my opinion ’My Star’ is the most commercial song on the album primarily because of the rap section. Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Boy George: Live, I love doing ’Bigger Than War’ because it’s kind of groupie, and ’Live Your Life’ I like to perform as well. But, I like the whole thing, and it’s kind of difficult for me to pull it apart because for me it all works together. It’s pretty quite eclectic but flows really well to me.
BeBe: I think it’s eclectic in sound, but flows lyrically, if that makes any sense. It’s one of those collections where every time you listen to it, you hear something different that you didn’t pick up the previous time. That makes it fresh every time it’s played.
Boy George: Aw, thank you.
Winning another Grammy?
BeBe: You know, it’s been thirty years since you and Culture Club picked up the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1984, and as you accepted via satellite you said, ’Thank you America. You’ve got style. You’ve got taste. And, you know a good drag queen when you see one.’ If you win a Grammy with ’This Is What I Do,’ what do you think you’ll say?
Boy George: If I get a Grammy now, I’d be like, ’THANKS!!’
BeBe: (under both of our laughter) ’You like me. You really like me now!’
Boy George: I’d be so happy to get one now. I’d probably cry.
BeBe: As I said earlier, ’This Is What I Do’ screams autobiography, and you have written a couple of books previously (’Take It Like A Man’ and ’Straight’), the last being published about 10 years ago. Might there be another autobiographical book for you that comes out of this music?
Boy George: I don’t think so. Writing a book again just doesn’t appeal to me. There’s nothing left to say because it’s all been said. That’s how I feel. I’m over books. The best place for me to express myself is through my music.
"This Is What I Do’ by Boy George is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and all other online and retail music outlets.
Boy George and his 9-piece Band will be touring North America on the following dates:
04/18 - The Theater of the Living Arts - Philadelphia, PA
04/19 - Royale Nightclub - Boston, MA
04/21 - 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
04/22 - Irving Plaza - New York, NY
04/24 - Danforth Music Hall - Toronto, ON
04/26 - House of Blues - Chicago, IL
04/28 - The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA
04/20 - The Belasco - Los Angeles, CA
Enter to win tickets to see BOY GEORGE LIVE IN CONCERT in Philadelphia on April 18th on www.edgephiladelphia.com (link: http://www.edgephiladelphia.com/index.php?ch=giveawaycenter&sc=giveaway_enter&id=11005). Contest ends April 7, 2014
For updates on concert dates and other Boy George news follow him at www.BoyGeorgeuk.com and www.facebook.com/boygeorgeofficial
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.