LAS VEGAS — After taking a few years off to make a leap to the big screen, Justin Timberlake is returning to music in 2006 and he's got one of music's most respected producers at his side.
Along with frequent collaborators Timbaland and the Black Eyed Peas' Will.I.Am, JT is working on his Justified follow-up with Rick Rubin, the mastermind behind some of metal and hip-hop's top projects of the past quarter century.
"Interestingly enough — this is funny how our community works — I saw Chris Rock out one night and he said, 'You know who you should work with? Rick Rubin. He never does anything bad,' " Timberlake said Wednesday. "I was like, 'You've got a point.' I never thought about it myself. ... And then I saw him at Coachella. I was standing in the middle of the crowd and I went up and approached him."
Timberlake then met with Rubin at his studio and played him some demos, including a ballad he thought the producer would be perfect for.
"He's a nice guy and cool and humble and obviously a genius, and I'm looking forward to hearing myself do something I've never done," the singer said. "He was like, 'I'm not going to influence you. I want you to do what you do.' And that's such a comforting thing as an artist."
Between his work with Timbaland, Will.I.Am and Rubin, Justin has finished more than a dozen tracks, but he plans to keep working through the spring, with his eye on a summer release date.
Timberlake kept a guitar and keyboard in his trailer while filming "Edison," "Black Snake Moan" and "Alpha Dog" and worked on fragments of songs. But for the most part, he took a well-needed hiatus.
"I just needed time from touring and promoting," he said. "I needed time to live. I was sucking myself dry of creativity. ... I needed the time away from myself too. I was sick of me. But I'm over that now. I'm ready to return to your TV 24 hours a day!
"All those songs on the first record were every great idea I ever had, so it was like two decades in the making," Timberlake added. "So doing that again the following year was a challenge I wasn't up for. I would rather take some time to work on it again."
It's a bit early for JT to say how the as-yet-untitled new record will sound, but he's sure it will be far different from Justified.
"It's going to be interesting to see what comes out of this record because everything I wrote on the last record, I wanted it concentrated to one thing: a pop R&B sound," he explained. "This one, it's more fly by the seat of your pants. ... It's less concentrated to one sound. It's more broad as far as the styles I wanted to mix in to my own type of thing."
Timberlake is also playing a lot of guitar and piano on the new music, which is a first.
"That's been a lot of fun to wrap my brain around because before, songwriting was writing a melody that was catchy and coming up with lyrics for it," he said.
As Timberlake's movies hit theaters throughout the year ("Alpha Dog" premieres at Sundance later this month), the singer is likely to get more acting offers. And although he's focused on music, he plans to keep making movies when possible. "Hopefully I'll find a way to manage the two, because it does become a stretch," he said. "I always wanted to get into film and then the right opportunities came up and I didn't want to poop on them. I got to work with directors I thought were cool and I had a blast."
Timberlake was in Sin City as part of Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive technology conference. The singer joined Microsoft founder Bill Gates during his keynote address, specifically promoting Urge, MTV Networks' new online music distribution service, which will be integrated into Microsoft's new version of Windows Media Player.
Check out the feature "2006: A Look Ahead" for more on Timberlake's LP and the year's other anticipated releases.