India.Arie was responsible for one of last year’s most unexpected success stories. Coming out of nowhere, the soulful Atlanta vocalist received an astounding seven Grammy nominations for her debut album, Acoustic Soul. She didn’t go home with any, but the media certainly wasn’t lax with its accolades regarding her impact on modern R&B. And the critics were right. Stevie Wonder’s favorite singer is a huge talent who has turned lots of heads, and her new Voyage to India is even more impressive than her debut.
Voyage never strays far from home. On “Little Things” India.Arie preaches the virtues of leading a simple life away from the spotlight. Success has changed her a bit, though. Her worries about compromising her art have been put aside, and her voice rings with renewed confidence. In a conversation with VH1, she spoke about her songs of self-discovery, and then revealed a weak spot for Eddie & the Cruisers.
VH1: On Acoustic Soul there was a song called “Strength, Courage and Wisdom.” On Voyage to India, your interludes are called “Growth,” “Healing” and “Gratitude.” How did you go from one to the other?
India.Arie: I’m growing and healing. Life continues to change, and over the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to be thankful. There’s always something good that comes out of even the worst things. The “Growth” interlude comes before “Little Things,” which is a song about understanding the growth I went through last year, when I was learning how to balance a public life with a private life.
VH1: “Little Things” reminded me of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Hollywood.” Was that intentional?
India.Arie: Yes. That’s the irony of the song. Their song says, “He’s going to Hollywood.” My song says, “I don’t need no Hollywood.” I got some other things I want to see! It’s part of my dry, sardonic wit! It’s my Virgo energy!
VH1: Tell me about the “Little Things” video.
India.Arie: I use video to make statements. Sometimes they’re covert, other times they’re blatant. This video is like a day in the life of a star - or whatever people keep calling me. That’s a joke in itself, that I would make a video saying, “Okay, I’m famous and I do photo shoots and I get in limousines and all this crap!” There’s a lot of irony in it. The first lines of the song say, “Been around the whole world/ Still haven’t seen nothing like my neighborhood/ And of all of the fancy satin and silk/ My white cotton feels so good.” So I wear white cotton through the whole video. When I sing the last line, “I don’t need no Hollywood but what I really need is love,” my whole outfit turns pink - meaning divine love - and I walk away. And you can see all of my freckles through the make-up! That’s my favorite part about the video.
VH1: The painted guitar in the video is great. Do you have a favorite?
India.Arie: My first guitar is my favorite. I don’t know why. That’s the guitar that’s in “Video.” My mom painted that one. The guitar in the “Little Things” video is the first guitar that I ever gave a name to. It has ladybugs all over it, and in the South there’s a greeting where they say, “Hey Miss Lady!” You have to be Southern to say it right. So my guitar’s name is “Miss Lady.”
VH1: When did you write “Beautiful Surprise?”
India.Arie: I wrote that song when I was on tour with Sade. I love astrology, so I wrote it on a day when there was a full moon in Pisces. Pisces is known for being mystical, idealistic and always floating away on pink clouds of love energy. I said a prayer - “I want to write a beautiful love song!” - and it came out! I’m looking forward to seeing what it's going to mean.
VH1: “Good Man” appeared on the We Were Soldiers soundtrack. How did you approach that song?
India.Arie: It’s one of those songs that finds it own way. We Were Soldiers was 50 percent about the families and what goes on at home during the war, and the other 50 percent was what goes on on the battlefield. The song is about what it means to lose a loved one, the effect it can have on children and the person who’s left behind. It sounds like it’s directly related to September 11 but I didn’t really have the nerve to sit down and write a song for September 11. That song just found its own way.
VH1: Talk about “Heading in the Right Direction.”
India.Arie: It was actually one of the first things I recorded for the first album. The only reason it’s not on Acoustic Soul is I didn’t want to have too many songs. I felt like that song would make more sense once people knew me better. It’s a beautiful thing to see how much that song really means to me now because my life has changed. The song is old school. It reminds me of the music I heard when I was growing up, pop music from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Like Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” or something like that.
VH1: With the completion of this album, are you headed in the right direction?
India.Arie: Yeah. Last year I went through the struggle of writing everything and living with the changes in my life - that’s what this album represents. It took five months to record. It was real smooth. Now I can breathe!
VH1: Did you consider using any guests on this project?
India.Arie: I wanted to do something with Musiq, but it didn’t happen. He called me back the day I turned in my album. I said, “It’s too late!” If we can’t do something for my album, maybe we’ll do something for his. He’s one of my favorite people and one of my favorite artists! I wanted to do something with Stevie Wonder. I still want to work with Bill Withers, James Taylor, and Oleta Adams. Maybe it will happen!
VH1: What new artists are there out there that you like?
India.Arie: K-OS is my favorite new artist. K-OS stands for Knowledge of Self. He sings, rhymes and plays acoustic guitar. He also has hip-hop elements and island flavor, because he’s from Trinidad. His album’s called Exit. I think Slum Village is the most innovative rap group since Outkast. I love Norah Jones’ album. I play it a lot and I’ve given away several copies! I gave Norah’s album to Stevie Wonder. I gave him Cee-Lo’s, too. Cee-Lo’s “Getting Grown” is one of my favorite songs. I love what it says and how it speaks to a very specific generation of people. Every line has a little bit of wisdom. He’s is one of my favorite hip-hop artists. No, he’s one of my favorite artists, period!
VH1: How would you describe your fashion sense?
India.Arie: I just like wearing what I wear. I like a lot of color. My mom makes all my clothes, so I can get whatever I want. When I’m on the road, I need my white cotton clothes, skirts, tube tops, wraps. In the summertime I need my whites, my pinks and my yellows. In the winter, I always need to have my orange coat and colorful scarves. I also take my brass belt everywhere. I’m a jewelry maker and I love brass. My mom had this belt and one day I was like, “Where’s that brass belt you had?” She got it out of the attic and I’ve been wearing it ever since!
VH1: Do you have a favorite movie of all time?
India.Arie: I love Eddie & the Cruisers. When I was young it came on HBO every other day. I knew all the songs! There’s a scene where he’s dead - or everybody thinks he’s dead - and his backing singer is singing a song and starts crying. When I knew that part was going to come on I put my face in front of the fan until my eyes were about to tear up. Then I would go in front of the TV and act out the scene. [Sings] “Just the memory soft and low/ There was magic in the night.” I was about 22 and met this dude who was a bass player. He had the soundtrack in his glove compartment and I was like, “You know this movie?” He put it in his tape player and sang all the songs. I couldn’t believe anybody knew that movie like I did!