Every once in a while an artist so perceptibly talented comes along, and you’re forced to suspend belief of the current state of the mainstream music industry, which churns out garbage and packages it as gold. Rahsaan Patterson is one such artist. With talent in abundance, you’d think the LA-based vocalist would be riding high at the top of the charts. But having plied his trade for over ten years, producing albums of such superiority as the acclaimed After Hours, the prolific singer-songwriter has ridden the waves of industry fickleness. After being dropped by MCA following his 1999 sophomore set, Love In Stereo, Patterson went the independent route, working hard to cultivate a devoted audience by consistently releasing solid, mood-defining odes to life, love and relationships.
On his latest offering Wines and Spirits (Artistry) Patterson takes us on a journey through the ups and downs of the last ten years, drawing on his life experiences to create a lyrically-honest, musically-dense set.
The native New Yorker, who back in the day produced tracks for Brandy, Tevin Campbell and Jody Watley, was in a characteristically upbeat mood as we chatted about everything from music to movies. He’d just returned from a successful European tour where he’d performed both as a solo act and with his band, SugaRush Beat Company. Listen in as we get in to the mind of a man who’s the past, present and future of soul.
Q: What’s the thinking behind your new album, Wines and Spirits, and what is the significance of the title?
A: It’s a title that’s been floating around in my head since I was a kid in New York and driving around with my parents and grandparents and always seeing ‘wines and spirits’ over liquor stores. Growing up in a religious family from a Pentecostal and Baptist background, I just found a fascination with the religious connotations of wines and spirits as far as communion is concerned, and the Holy Ghost, and trying to find the correlation in the secular world and bringing those worlds together, trying to understand and find a happy medium. It’s pretty much been the course of my life, growing up in church and then abruptly being put in to the world of music and entertainment, which brings on several struggles and issues and torment. The songs on the album are about me and my transition back in to a spiritual connection with God.
Q: Were you out of touch with God before?
A: Well, it seemed that way but actually, no, because that’s how I got closer. How I got to understand that the light is always within me, always guiding me to where I need to be. And you’ve got to go through the dark sometimes to get to the light to know the difference, to appreciate the light. It’s been a process, and I’m better now.
Q: So, what’s been the progression between your latest album, Wines and Spirits and previous ones? How have you grown?
A: Just life experiences, you know. I started writing my first album when I was 18, and the album was released when I was 23, and that album pretty much captured those experiences from 18 to 23. Love in Stereo captured 23 to 25. After Hours captured 25 to 29. And then this album showcases, not only the last 3-4 years of my life but the last ten years of being a recording artist and the trials and tribulations that all come with it–the perks, the downsides and all that stuff.
Q: Why did you decide to hook up with your old writing partner on this album? Do you feel like you’ve come full circle?
A: Yeah, that was definitely the idea in working with Keith Crouch again. He and I hadn’t worked together since the first album in ’97, and he had suffered the loss of his father as well. And I knew that whatever we would do in the studio would allow us to resonate and connect on another level from having had that experience, that we would connect in a way which we hadn’t before.
Q: Over the last decade you’ve come out with four albums. Which one is your favorite and why?
A: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t have a favorite.
Q: You must have a favorite!
A: No, not at all. They’re all so completely different, and they captured different stages of my life, and no stage of my life is better than the other, really. It’s all a growing process. It’s interesting to listen back to my first album and hearing how young I was, and where I was compared to now.
Q: But all those songs from the first album– “So Fine,” “Tears Ago”– are fan favorites and have stood the test of time. You really don’t have a favorite?
A: [Laughs] No! People always ask that, and I know they hate that answer, but it’s so true. As far as favorite songs go, it really depends on the day, like, if I’m listening to myself, what song I’ll gravitate towards. It really isn’t about picking a favorite.
Q: So you don’t even have a favorite song that you like to perform?
A: Oh, well, that’s different. One favorite that I like to do live is “So Fine.” I do love doing that. I don’t always do it, but I do love doing that. I love doing “Any Other Love,” “The Best,” “The One for Me…”
Q:You didn’t do any of those songs when I saw you recently!
A: [Laughs] Maybe you came on a different day.
Q: OK. Two of your albums have been released independently. Why did you decide to go down the independent route? Surely you could have signed with another major.
A: Well, I really had no choice at the time because when MCA was no longer a label under the Universal banner, I had to figure out what I was gonna do. Luckily, MCA gave me my master of the After Hours album, so that really gave me the incentive to do it independently. It’s been great but after seven years with MCA, I felt a need for a fresh start. The record industry and the major labels and all the shit that comes with it was pretty annoying, and I wasn’t looking to do that again.
Q: So, could you ever see yourself going back to a major label having been independent?
A: I’m actually on Sony BMG with my group, SugaRush Beat Company in the UK, and major record companies are really all the same. Thus far, I’m already seeing and feeling the same shit that I used to go through with MCA, but what’s different now is that I know the difference so I don’t react to it. I don’t let myself be affected by it and just take it as it is. It’s interesting. I don’t know if I would as a solo artist though. Doing it this way just kind of makes it fun because I’m also in a group with other people and I don’t have to take all of it alone.
Q: You’ve managed to outlast many of your peers in terms of being prolific and consistent. Why do you think that is?
A: Probably because I’m me, and I don’t really think about what everybody else is doing. I just stay on my path, and when I’m inspired, I make music. And I’ve been lucky enough to have a path that allows me to continuously make music and have it released. But basically, I persevere, and I keep it moving, and I try to constantly be inspired.
Q: Wines and Spirits is your most commercially successful album to date. It’s all well and good being critically acclaimed but do you crave commercial success, too? Honestly?
A: It’s not really a crave. It’s something that would be nice to be able to reap the rewards of consistently recording and making music that I think is good. I feel that I’ve made music that has the potential to be commercially successful but just in comparison to where the music industry was going at the time, and everyone that I was up against, and what they were doing musically, and what the public was buying or what was being fed to the public, it didn’t compare to what I was doing. But my music reaches the people that it’s supposed to reach, and I’m grateful for that. And hopefully in the future, it’ll reach more and more and more people. But I can’t say it’s a crave, no.