MUSIC & CULTURE
Photography KEVIN SINCLAIR | vestalmag.com
Luke is perhaps known for his unparalleled musical talent, where he draws on inspiration from both the past and present to create an R&B sound with the perfect blend of new and old soul and powerhouse vocals. Luke debuted a brand-new R&B album this winter, “to feel love/d” and recently announced an eight-city promotional U.S. tour to accompany the release. Both the album and tour include sounds and performances which serve as “an intimate voyage to feel love(d) during the month of love.” The new album marks Luke’s much awaited return to his widely successful music career, following a hiatus to focus on his work in acting. His two newly released singles from the album, “go girl” ft. BJ The Chicago Kid and Ro James and “all of your love” have taken the music streaming platforms by force, including features on massive playlists, including Spotify’s New Music Friday, A&B, and rotation on Amazon’s Global R&B platform. Luke also recently performed a medley of both singles on BET’S 2019 Soul Train Awards, which broadcasted live in five countries. Throughout his career, Luke has also written songs for the likes of Snoh Aalegra, Justin Bieber, and Britney Spears. He has also performed alongside the late Prince and is one of the very few artists to ever open for Beyoncé dur- ing her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. In 2012, he received his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance for his hit song “I Want You” (from his first mix-tape “#Luke”) and received his second Grammy nomination in 2015 for Best R&B Song for “Options” ft. Rick Ross (from his self-titled debut album “Luke James”). Raised by a single mother in New Orleans, LA, Luke was exposed to the rich musical heritage of the city at an early age, even taking up the saxophone for a number of years. As a child, he was heavily influenced by an array of artists, from Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin to Miles Davis and D’Angelo. It was after seeing D’Angelo in concert at age 11 that Luke decided on music as his career path.
On the television front, it was recently announced that Luke is set to star in the third season of the hit Showtime drama series, “The Chi.” Created by Lena Waithe, the series follows the lives of a group of people in the South Side neighborhood of Chicago after a fateful turn of events sends shock waves through the community but also connects them in unexpected ways. The series is set to return to Showtime in 2020. Luke also recently starred in the smash hit Universal Pictures’ comedy “Little,” opposite Issa Rae, Regina Hall, and Marsai Martin. He is well known for his starring role in the musical drama series “Star” on FOX, created and helmed by Oscar nominated director Lee Daniels. Additional acting credits for Luke include recurring arcs on HBO’s “Insecure,” USA’s “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.,” and his role as R&B singer Johnny Gill on BET’s “The Bobby Brown Story.”
MAGO: Hi Luke. I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me. Please feel free to share anything, so our viewers get to know you on a deeper musical and creative level. First, is there anything you want to tell us; what are you currently working on?
Luke James: Well, my latest independent Venture right now is a new project coming out at the end of this month, “To Feel Loved.” That’s pretty much the most important thing as of right now that I am really thrilled about.
Tell our readers about this project and what we can expect from it?
It’s an album of music that I’ve worked on and put together over a span of five years. After my first album’s debut release with Island Def Jam, I just wanted to take some time before putting the body of work out. I wanted to take my time exploring and creating music and honestly getting to a place of loving what I do.
How did you get into that zone of getting back to the good vibes?
Well, it initially started with locking myself in the recording studio in Miami. I also inviting friends I love to collaborate with and just experimenting with new ideas and creating some dope things out of thin air, you know? Just experimenting.
I think that’s important as an artist; experimenting helps you break the molds, and be an individual. What do you think makes you stand apart from other artists in your genre?
I think there’s only one Luke James. I feel that my songs do not sound like anyone else’s does. I really don’t particularly fancy remakes, to be honest with you.
Yea, I’m feeling your eclectic sound! So, how do you get inspired? How does the rhythm come to you?
Sometimes things just come to me. It can start from just a hum or heartbeat sound that I’m making with my mouth, and I start from there and build on that adding sounds like doo-wop. The technology today is awesome. You can transpose a pitch and just move things around digitally until it feels like a right balance that fits your style.
Did you go to school for music?
Yes and no. I started out playing saxophone. I didn’t go too serious with it, though. In New Orleans, we have a school called NOCCA, which is a performing arts school. I went there a couple of times, which got me motivated. It was like being at a Jazz camp. Christian Scott, Trumbo Shorty John Baptiste, all of them went to the same camp. New Orleans is a very unique Town. It is very musical, so you can’t help but be in some ways influenced by all the different sounds you experience there.
Do you feel like that musical community, and your neighborhood inspired you and have influence within your music?
Yes, absolutely. You know, I moved to LA to jump on the hustle of just getting my song placements on the radio. So I start designing songs for radio. I got stuck in that realm for a bit, and it took some time to get out of it, which is one of the reasons why I took four-year hiatus. That was really just to get myself out of a place of creating music from a business standpoint rather than feeling real true honesty. The city is very emotional, the music of jazz is emotional, blues is emotional, and those things influence me greatly.
So, let’s talk about young Luke. Explain to us where this rich brew as an entertainer came to be in your childhood influence? Seems like it’s in your bones?
Yeah. I’m an only child. So being an only child and growing up in the late 90s crime was really high, and I didn’t have that many safe outlets to go to, so I was very isolated. And so being an only child and a product of my environment, isolation isn’t something that I’m not familiar with. My mother had endless vinyls before Katrina, and I would just play records and listen to those records and just dive into all of that music, and it influenced me.
What are a few records from that collection that stand out to you, if you were to pick three off the top of your head?
Three albums, hm... Sinead O’Connor, I think “Nothing Compares” was on that album. Donny Hathaway, But of course you had on “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” songs like that. Then the third record got to be honest, ‘Alabama.’
What a collection your mother had, that’s really cool! Now you started off singing professionally as a background singer, after being in a musical group? How was it to first hit the stage? What was the first experience that you really got the butterflies in your stomach? The moment you’re like, “this is really happening in my career”?
I certainly did not get butterflies from background singing. Background singing was depressing. Although coming straight out of high school and going on tour with Tyrese and singing background for someone like that at the time was fun. Touring the world, making money, and all that kind of stuff was exciting at that time, but I later wanted something more, and the facade quickly went away. I had to find my way to the foreground where I needed to be.
So, how did you break away as a solo artist?
I started out songwriting, and doing that allowed me to create relationships with other people. This gave me a way to see what gets people going, which in turn gave me the opportunities to showcase what I can do. After a while, people would say, “who is that?” And I go, “that’s me.” They say, “Oh, sh*t, you can sing!” I’m like, “yeah, I do that. I do lots of things on top of it.” I got my break this way.
You’re definitely a jack of all trades. You’ve said in 2015 to Teen Vogue that you had a bucket list. What are three things on your list?
I guess, seeing more of the world is one of them. That was so long ago since I touched on that topic, I’m trying to think. I have to look at that buckle list again and get back to you on that one.
Okay, I am going to hold you to that one. I know that you’ve touched on TV and other things, could you share with our readers a little bit about that experience?
I was in a comedy last year called “Little,” which starred Marsai Martin, who produced it and is the youngest producer in history. Issa Rae, Regina Hall all starred in the movie, and I play the love interest in that which is really cool. It was my first comedy role, and it was really exciting to be a part of. Also, I did two TV movies. One called the “New Edition Story” based on the New Edition group. A short biopic and update that I played Johnny Gill in that group. I also starred in a limited series called “Unsolved,” which was based on the Biggie and Tupac Murders. I play Sean Puffy Combs.
I have to check out every movie you have played in now. So, jumping off topic. What about love?
I think that love is inside of the happiness. I guess love will be the title of the list. (Laugh)
Do you have a love interest right now? How is it for you to maintain a relationship with your busy schedule that you have? How do you tend to your personal life?
Well, I’m being “loving.” I am in a loving place, which is really cool. I wasn’t always in a “loving” place, but now I found comfort in where I am, and because of that, I am inspired! That is my love.
That’s so nice, it’s good to always keep love in your heart. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Luke. Thank you!
Luke James__ Thank you. Thank you so much.