John Legend Works On Living Up To His Own Name

R&B newcomer admits the cocky-sounding moniker puts pressure on him.

With John Legend’s Grammy debut only days away, the R&B newcomer hopes people won’t judge him solely by his last name.

“People must think, ’This guy is so arrogant to call himself “Legend,” ’ but I didn’t start it,” the singer said. “People thought I sounded old-fashioned, kind of like those guys from another era, kind of like I had an old soul sound. They started calling me ’The Legend’ [and then] ’John Legend.’ ”

Legend says he considered the moniker a joke until it became his calling card.

“I just kind of laughed it off when I first heard it. I was like, ’Yeah, that’s cute,’ ” said the singer born John Stephens. “But people kept calling me that, and it spread. People would introduce me as that. They’d play my records for other people and say, ’Yeah, that’s John Legend.’ Before I knew it, all these people knew me as John Legend, so I had to kind of decide, ’Am I going to get rid of this name?’ Now it’s there, and I’ve got to deal with it. It does put a little pressure on me, but I like pressure, so it’s cool.”

With his name firmly established and two successful singles under his belt (see “John Legend Serves Up Both The Ordinary And The Wonder-Ful” ), Legend owes much of his success to his emotive songwriting. It’s a process that the singer says can take place anywhere.

“I don’t need a piano to write,” Legend explained. “I can write in my head. I hear chords in my head, and I can see how to play it on the piano. I basically hear and visualize everything, so I don’t actually need the instrument with me all the time. … I can write while I’m sitting on a plane, riding on the subway, while I’m in a limo on the way to a show. … I’ve played piano for 20 years now, so I don’t really need the piano all the time, but sometimes I will run down to the hotel lobby or use the piano at soundcheck or whatever. It would be cool if I played the guitar, actually. Maybe I need to take that up.”

Legend could pick up the guitar while on the road with fellow pianist Alicia Keys (see “Alicia Keys Tour Announced” ), but it looks like he will spend much of the tour working on his sophomore set.

“I’ve started writing for the new album,” Legend revealed. “I don’t really plan my albums out in advance. I just kind of keep writing until everything comes together. And I wrote one of my best songs ever. It’s a song called ’Again.’ I love it so much I might even call the album Again, as it’s my second album. I’m speaking way into the future now, [but] I really love this song, and I think I’m really growing as a lyricist and as a writer. It’s becoming a little more complex and interesting.”