During GRAMMY week Justin Timberlake sat down with two GRAMMY Camp alumni, San Diego's Allison Spice and Atlanta's Cameron Capers. Timberlake, a huge proponent of music education who joined Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow on the 55th GRAMMY telecast to announce The Academy's new Music Educator Award, which will be presented in conjunction with the GRAMMY Foundation, spoke with Spice and Capers following his 55th GRAMMY rehearsal on Feb. 8 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Timberlake opened up on a variety of subjects, from his forthcoming new album and relationship with close friend Timbaland to advice he has received from actor Kevin Spacey and how he's been influenced by Bob Dylan, among other topics.
You could do any interview, why speak with us?
Because I like talking to people who love music. I don't necessarily do a lot of interviews anymore because a lot of times a writer will interview you for an editorial piece and, this happened to me when I was younger, you end up reading the article and it becomes more about them than it even is about the subject. So you feel them projecting those thoughts on you or whatever objective they have. Sonia [Muckle, Timberlake's publicist] brought it up and I said, "Yeah, I'd much rather talk to somebody who is younger than me that was excited about music and wanted to talk about music rather than have to sit around and answer questions that have nothing to do with even the GRAMMYs or anything."
What made you come back now?
This is one of those times when stuff gets projected onto you. I would have taken a break regardless of if I would’ve done films or not because my last record was all-consuming and to go on tour like that, for me, I will not be the type of artist that puts out 10 to 15 albums, that's just not who I am. They're really special to me. I write music all the time, but until you really feel that desperate need to shout from the rooftops and express yourself in that way I just kind of keep it to myself. I enjoy making music so much that if it doesn’t come out that's okay. If I get to listen to it in my car by myself I'm just as happy because I get to hear something that I made. I’m not so caught up in the fact that you have to be the center of attention. For me, when I do have something that I'm ready to express I'm gonna burrow through whatever to get it heard. But for me, the journey along the way is really the most fun part, it's not about the outcome. It's really about making something that feels authentic.
What does making music mean to you?
[The studio] really is one place that you can still go to that you can be completely free, at least in my opinion. You can lock yourself in a room and make a whole other world. I’m 32 and I still love it as much as I did when I was 18, so that should tell you how amazing it is.
Can you give us a preview of the new album?
There are 10 songs on this one, but the average length of each song is seven, eight minutes. It's not so much a narrative or a story, but sonically we really made it to listen from top to bottom.
Would you say you and Timbaland have the same perspective?
My relationship with Tim is a relationship that I have with nobody else in the world. We're like brothers really. You have friends like that, friends you don't have to say much too, but you know they just get who you are. That's the relationship I have with Tim, where we go in the studio and kind of don’t even speak to each other. He'll start tinkering around or I'll start playing some chords and start tinkering around with some loop of something and that'll give him an idea and then we'll start looping it and then I'll start humming a melody and then we just ping pong an idea back and forth. And I have that relationship with Pharrell a little bit as well. But my relationship with Tim is very unique. We share the same perspective that we always want to make something that reminds us of music that we love, but at the same time is something we’ve never heard before.
What is some of the music that has at timeless appeal to you?
If "Superstition" was to come out right now it'd be fresh. You'd be like, "Who is this new artist?" Same thing with Prince and Michael too, if those guys were to come out now — Marvin Gaye, if those records were to come out now, you'd be like, "Whoa, it sounds so fresh."
How has your acting affected your music?
In some ways it’s made me take a slightly different approach to storytelling in some of my songs. I'm gonna put a lot of music out over the course of the year and some songs have become really concept-driven, some songs have become a simple idea that turns into something big. I look back at my last album, to me, that was a character. I don't wear three-piece suits every day [laughs], I'm not always on my suit and tie. There's a time and a place for everything, but when you hear it and you see it, all of a sudden the visual comes into place, I would say they're actually more alike than people would think. I try to explain to people who Robert Zimmerman was, a lot of people don't know that's Bob Dylan’s real name. I'm not gonna speak for Bob Dylan, he's one of my idols, but from my perspective as a fan, it seems to me that he started creating music that made him feel like another person and that's what it should do. You should be able to create another world that you can live in. Music is for dreamers I think.
Who has taught you the most to make you who you are today?
Honestly, my parents. They're just two great people. My mom said two things to me that I'll always remember. One of them was if you put out a 115 percent, if you go past whatever you think is a 100 percent, then you can expect a good outcome. And when I was younger, I always sang, I've always been into music, and she goes, "I want you to know that I think you have an extraordinary gift, but it’s a gift, it was given to you." And she said, "I'm gonna say two things to you about it. One, if you don’t cultivate it then what are you saying about how you receive the world?" I was like, "Wow." And then the second thing was just because you have this one gift doesn't make you better or bigger or different than anybody else. You just have this one gift, you still put your pants on one leg at a time. Of course for two days I tried to jump into my pants just to mess with my mom, but just that [idea] of just because you have a gift doesn't mean you get to slack off in the person that you are, you still have to be a good person. So I think that’s helped me a lot, because what I was just talking about before, some things go misunderstood with your career and how people perceive things. Some things are blatant lies, some things go well, but at the end of the day, good or bad, you wake up the next day and you're like, "Alright, what do we got? What is life throwing at me? And how can I make a song out of it." That’s just how I attack it.
What’s the concept behind the album cover?
We're talking about The 20/20 Experience, what it was like to have perfect vision, and I have some songs on the record that allude to vision, a song called "Tunnel Vision." I'm really bad at coming up with album titles, really bad at it. Sometimes I don't even know what to name a song when I get done with it and I'll let somebody else tell me what I should call it because it's whatever stuck in their head. And with Future Sex/Love Sounds I just looked at the sequence of the songs and I was like, "A lot of songs about love and sex." And I remember Tim saying, "No, man, you gotta make something that sounds futuristic." So that's why I put those words together, it wasn't really that thought out. I probably should think about it more. But, my best friend came into the studio and he was listening to some of the songs and it's that thing we were talking about before where you feel you can encapsulate yourself in that world and not just be the character, but create the whole world around that character, and he goes, "I really feel like I can see where I am when I’m listening to these songs." I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "I just feel like the music is very visual." And I said, "Keep going." He goes, "I feel like I'm in a movie. I feel like I can see the music, I feel like I can see different colors for different songs.” I said, "That's really cool, music that you can see, not just hear. That's a real experience. What if I just called this The 20/20 Experience?" And he's like, "That sounds cool." I said, "Cool, I don't have to worry about that anymore." So then the idea for the album cover just came out of that.
Having started so young yourself, what advice would you give to young musicians?
I've always approached things like an athlete, and there are a lot of good values in team sports. So if I could borrow one from them, practice does count, rehearsal and practice do the same thing. It's one of those things where you can never have too much knowledge. When I first started acting, Kevin Spacey, who's obviously a great actor, told me, "Do your homework." And I said, "What do you mean by that?" He said, "Just watch as many movies as you can. Watch what each actor does." And I think about music in that same way: Listen to everything you can even if it’s a style of music you don’t respond to. Listen to everything you can because you'll find out later on it will remind you of things, it will inspire things. Music is one of those very interesting things that can inspire, remind [and] can help you escape, depending on whatever the song is. Sometimes it just can help you get through rush-hour traffic. So that's what I would say: You can never have too much knowledge. Listen to everything, digest it, take from it what you will. You can never have too much music knowledge.
(GRAMMY Camp alumni Cameron Capers and Allison Spice were selected to cover various GRAMMY Week events for the GRAMMY Foundation's website www.grammyintheschools.com and social media platforms. Teens interested in attending 2013 GRAMMY Camp can apply now through March 31.)