Alicia Keys has transformed right before our very eyes. The “No One” singer is gearing up for the release of her album, Girl On Fire. And thanks to a little man named Egypt, Keys was able to grow as an artist and channel her love for him into her music. Keys chatted with Entertainment Weekly about the recording process, the album title, evolving as an artist and much more.
Check out some excerpts from her interview below.
EW: Let’s start with your album title, Girl on Fire. I know that you wrote that you wanted to make a change in your life and represent a new journey and a fresh start, but is the title also influenced by The Hunger Games?
Alicia Keys: You know, the funny thing is that it’s actually not. It was such a shock when I heard about The Hunger Games — I wasn’t aware of the book at that point. And I didn’t realize that, I guess, that’s what they call the one girl. So we tried very hard to make it all work and put the song in — and to put parts of what I was developing in with the movie. Anyway, obviously it came out way too early, so the timing wasn’t right. But, no, it has nothing to do with The Hunger Games. That powerful feeling is what it’s all about.
So this will be your first grown-up record, would you say?
Yeah. It’s interesting, even as I think about it, my last record — which I’m so proud of and I loved the way we were able to do so many progressive musical things and kind of push the envelope forward for me as an artist. As an artist that’s part of what gives me excitement — pushing myself forward to a new place. So for The Element of Freedom to have done that for me, to have been able to do that with my last record, I’m so proud of it. But as I look back on it, I’m like, “Interesting, Alicia, that you chose to call this an element of freedom because, in actuality, at that point, there was only an element of it.” Now, there is far more to it. It’s kind of incredible; it’s great.
So were all these songs written after Egypt? Or were some of them from before?
I have to say pretty much all of them were written after Egypt. You know, I have a lot of songs, and many of them won’t make the record—but that’s just the nature of things. I do feel like the majority of them were written after, so that’s cool.
Where did you record the album? You said you traveled the world recording it…
The majority of where I recorded was in New York.That’s my hometown, so I love being here and there’s something really powerful about this city that resonates in me. I was definitely here for the majority of the time, and then there were a couple of other places as well. I recorded in London and in Jamaica, which was the first time I ever did that. And that was really cool because it was a gathering of these very interesting collaborators that would never be in one space together…ever! And it just created such an igniting, crazy creation of music and just like explosive situation. That was really cool. I told myself, “I’m never doing an album without doing something like that.”
What ways musically does this album represent a new start?
This album represents a new me in every way. I mean, you’re still going to feel me and you’re still going to identify with what part of me you’ve identified with before. So that’s the cool part. But everything about it is different because my mind frame is different, the energy about it is different, the song lyrics are different. There was something that happened to me that I just really wanted to write these great songs. I sat there and was just really focused on writing songs. I wasn’t focused so much on creating some crazy beat. I wanted to write these insane songs that could live on their own and people couldn’t deny them. So I started a lot of the process like that and because of that a lot of the songs are actually very simple.
But because they’re so simple, there might be this big, huge beat in it. And maybe there’s the piano in it, and then maybe there’s like this kind of piano in it that sounds like a guitar in it. And then maybe there’s like a bass in my voice — and that’s it. Whereas I thought [before] that I had to put 300,000 different instruments in a track for it to sound big, I realized that the less I put in it, the bigger it sounded because it just occupied difference spaces. And that was it. So there’s kind of a rawness to it, I think — like a bigness from that.