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INTERVIEW: Alexander O’Neal

M Right. Okay.  You are currently on tour doing Hearsay.  I just wondered why have you decided to re-record a classic album?

AO Well, first of all, you know when you record it to try something different Mark because I have never heard of an album being re-record, a whole album the one I recorded re-recorded 30 years later.  Where did the time go?  So, we just, re-recording Hearsay the title of it called Hearsay 30 and it’s in conjunction with the tour.  We done the Hearsay 30 tour so everything was in conjunction with the tour and I am very delighted to be able to re-record that album because we put a new different twist with the music so it’s, it’s like Hearsay was, the original Hearsay was the young man and now this is the all grown up Hearsay okay.

M How was it again going back to a lot of those songs. I’m sure some of them you’ve probably never performed live before.

AO Oh, all those songs I’ve performed live, all the songs and the thing about it, you know something amazing Mark is that I am still singing the songs in the same key I recorded them in 30 years ago.  Now that’s a blessing.

M Yeah, certainly.

AO And I also think the body belongs to Alexander O’Neal but the voice belongs to God.

M Yeah, then again, you’ve got another tour coming up next year, Resurrected.  What’s the idea behind that tour?

AO Well, we are launching a new record label called Resurrection Records.  We are launching my new album which is called Resurrected and the tour is called Resurrection so it’s just still Alexander O’Neal about working with a new team of people, here in Manchester, I’m living in Manchester, I am working with my new management and my new producing team, production team that we are doing the albums with and all the stuff that we’re doing so, my career has been somewhat reinvented and I am just going with the flow and we thought that Resurrected would be just as good a title as any.

M Why have you decided to relocate to the UK?

AO I’ve been, I’ve been in and out of the UK for my whole career, it will be for 30 years, you know, and I have lived here on occasions and moved back to America lived here, but after enjoying, having such a buzz Mark out of performing for my fans in the UK and in England, Ireland, I am looking forward to coming and performing for my fans you know and that’s what I do, you know, and the fans that grew up with you they grow old with you and they give me so much love in the UK and so I just love giving the love back with my music.

M Okay.  That new album you mentioned there, that’s the first new studio album from yourself for 15 years.  Why has it taken you so long to bring out a new album?

AO Well actually, that’s the breakdown for 15 years because I have another one that people forget, called Alexander O’Neal – Five Questions. Okay, if you look online, but just now, I think the thing is Mark, you know, what I do is, I’m a working-class entertainer and that’s what I do.  The best of Alexander O’Neal is what I do on stage. So, I have just been working, and I work all over the world and it’s to doing the same thing the average man does, keep the lights on, pay the mortgage, you know, the whole nine.

M I have read also that new album is a blues album.  I just wondered, why?

AO Well it’s not actually a blues album, it’s an R&B blues/pop/folk it has a lot of different elements.  Mark, I have come out of my comfort zone here just being an R&B singer and I am always going to be noted as just a great singer so I am doing, getting the chance to do something, do something that I wanna, you know, throw my hand in at and this is a great opportunity to do it.

M Yeah, okay.  You brought out your autobiography this year.  I just wondered, how you managed go about the whole writing process and how did that differ from writing a song to actually writing a book?

AO Well actually the book was something that I had been procrastinating for years, Mark, I have been wanting to write a book of my life story since everybody accused me of being somewhat rebel, shall we say, in my career and I just thought that a book would be a great opportunity for my fans and other readers to get to know who Alexander O’Neal really is.  Its autobiographical, it’s all true events and it is about, you know, telling them about my upbringing in Mississippi, you know, US, which is back in a time in the 50s/60s when the Klu Klux Klan was running rampant and all the hate groups and all the hatred, being raised with that stuff as a child and its effects on you.  So I wanted to tell here some stuff also it has got a chapter in there with my relationship with Prince and all of the stuff that we have and some of the different other things, so it gives an opportunity for my fans to get to know more about Alexander O’Neal.

M Do you find, did you find that a positive experience, revisiting some of those old memories again?

AO Everything is positive because I don’t do, I don’t do negative, you know, I’ve got, you know, you could be in kind of bad situations where you just have to be a little patient sometimes, you know and actually a lot of things in life it’s not where you come from or what you experienced but of where you are going.  You can sit there and get on with your journey and things might be much better for you.

M Of course you’ve also stepped into the world of UK tv shows.  You’ve appeared on several.  I just wondered how you viewed that whole experience of UK tv shows?

AO The UK they have these shows you know. I’ve been fortunate to be a guest involved with some of the top-flight reality shows in the UK and you know it’s a big experience you know it’s just like my experience in the Big Brother, Celebrity Big Brother House you know, my biggest thing is that when I came there, I was determined to just be myself Mark.  I wouldn’t know how to play to cameras, I wouldn’t know to play games, I’m good at being Alex.  One thing about Alexander O’Neal, when you get me, you get Alex, the same Alex all day every day, he cannot change, he can’t at all so I was just determined to be myself and go in there but do you know what it was just kids experience, I couldn’t understand how grown people, grown adults could go in there and behave like 14-year olds.  You know, acting like we lived there all live by the way.  We don’t live here, we’re not friends, we’re not family, we’re not anything, it’s a reality show and fortunately enough for me, I could separate you know the difference between a reality show because some people are doing that trying to be a star, right, trying to get in the limelight and for me, you know, being there and doing that, I’m just here and I am not trying to convince you guys…

M  Okay so, you mentioned there that one of your first musical breaks was being signed by Prince and to Warner Brothers.  I just wondered now that Prince sadly is no longer around, if you had maybe any personal Prince stories that you like to share?

AO Well, one thing I talk about Prince you know, he is the kind of nostalgic kind of person you know because the first car that Prince ever bought was a black BMW 1977, 76, something like that and he still had that car.  That to me, to hang on to your first memory, I have always thought that that’s pretty incredible.  When I see him driving that car and it’s like 2005 or something and I’m seeing him drive that same car..   that whole experience of this person recording contract must have had a  quite a significant effect on him, he must have been quite affected by it and that time  but it must have had a lifelong effect on him to that he decided to keep forever and that car was one of the things symbolised that.

M Okay I mean you’ve been widely termed for many years a musical legend.  I just wonder how you feel about that description, being described as a legend.

AO Well Mark you know what man, I pretty much, that’s the fans describing. It isn’t over ’till it’s over, my career isn’t over ’till it’s over. I just keep going to work and keep doing what I can do, keep trying to conquer new ground and keep recording.  One thing about this industry, for a lot of us, especially if you’re an artist in the  industry I have been around for a while, you’ve got to be careful not to start settling. I am a fighter, so I fight for everything that I get and you’re not gonna get anything by expecting someone to give it to you.  You’ve got to fight it, you gotta take it and the way you take it in the music industry if you stay active, to keep recording and I keep recording, I am always looking for that next big hit, hit record.  I don’t care if you are 75 years old, you still want the same kind of notoriety you had when you was 25, you know.  You don’t want to, we as artists, what I do, one of my secrets is that staying hungry and never, never not be hungry.

M Yeah, yeah.  What would have been your very first introduction to music? Can you remember that, maybe a song on the radio…

AO I would have to say my first real introduction in music would have to be James Brown, back in the 60’s, a record called I feel good, that was the first record I ever bought, the first 45 I ever bought and I think it was like 65   or something.  The first record I ever bought ..so James Brown was the first artist,and  it was Otis Redding but firstly  James Brown because I identified with, they were southerners, they were from the southern region, it was motivating to have a southern black man to have so much success, okay.  

M Yeah. Was music always something that you wanted to follow or was there maybe another career that you tried first?

AO No, growing up, my dad always wanted to be a professional American footballer, that was my whole thing.  I went to college on an athletic scholarship, I went to two colleges and then I found out that that was when my life started changing because college is not for everybody and I found out that when I went to college, I wasn’t prepared to study.  I didn’t know how to study, okay, I would rather be a good athlete but not study and so I really wasn’t prepared to be a college student at the time and consequently I quit.  So, that was the beginning of Alexander O’Neal because I realised when I said you know whenever I plan my  life again, I am never going to be a quitter and it happened to be music and that’s what the reason I am here talking to you years later Mark.

M Okay. You’ve spent obviously many, many years in the music industry, music business.  I just wondered if you ever have time for any outside interests or hobbies.

AO Yeah, I have time for hobbies.  I like riding my bicycle.  I like riding my bicycle and I like going for walks especially to the waterfront.  I like that.

M Yeah, so you are very into being at peace with nature and stuff like that.

AO Yeah, I love that, I love nature …

M What in your life are you most proud of?

AO I think, oh golly, probably religion, to keep my spirituality with my God.  That’s what I’m proud of.

M Just a couple more questions that I have to ask.

AO No problem.

M If you could look back on your career, what would be particular high points and low points that stand out for you?

AO I would probably say the low point would probably be how people use my reputation against me.

How they lied on me and how they made me seem like unreliable.

A Drug addicted person that can’t, that needs somebody to hold their hand to cross the street.

Which is absolutely not true.

And the high point would be my six sell out nights at Wembley Arena.

M Next one. Did you find fame difficult to deal with when it came along?

AO No, no I didn’t because actually, you know when you grew up, grow up poor Mark, you know, you, it’s not where you come from.  I came from a poor family, a poor environment but not a terrible environment.  It is just we didn’t have all the things we wanted but we always had all the things we needed.

My mother always made sure of that so we never could have the other things that other kids had to have.  I grew up without a father.  My father was deceased when my mother was pregnant with me and so that created some, obviously some psychological thoughts, some psychological scars, (come on in big dog), psychological scars that I was dealing with and but when I got to, got my record deal, and everything, you know, it was a, just something to solidify that I had arrived, okay. And that’s, that’s all it was.

M Okay, if you could look back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? Do something maybe differently, you know, with the benefit of hindsight…

AO I would be a little more protective.

Within my career and not so gullible and not so open because when I came out about the drug addiction, I actually meant, I was doing this trying to help somebody, okay.

I thought that if this would help everybody, anybody who was dealing with the same demons that I’m dealing with, then if I could help them if you fall, keep getting up, fall, keep getting up and that’s what it is because a lot of the guys with drug addiction they fall and they don’t get up.

Okay.  So, my thing was to say keep getting up, I’m going to keep getting up and here it is 30 years later and I’m keep getting up and I’m gonna keep getting up, okay.

Because I don’t care about what people say about Alexander O’Neal that don’t know me.  If you don’t know me, then there’s nothing you really can say.

M I agree. Are you still ambitious even now after all these years, do you still have hopes and dreams?

AO Oh, don’t ever give up your hopes and dreams dog.  You always wanna have those.  If you do that, then you stop existing.

Now I still, I still have things that I am still yet to achieve, that’s why I don’t settle for being an R&B legend or being this, that and the other as people perceive me, that’s not something, that’s not a title that I gave myself, it’s one that they said I am so if they say I am, then they must know something.

So I just keep working hard Mark and hopefully I will get to places where I need to be and I have had a lot of success in my career but I just haven’t had it all at the same time.

Okay, so a lot of other art, look if I was a white artist man, if I was white and being Alexander O’Neal, I would have £100 million dollars right now, okay.

That’s the difference in success for white artists that are legendary and successful. Black artists that are legendary but it doesn’t bother me Mark because I am very comfortable in my own skin as a man, I am a working-class entertainer and that’s what I do.  I myself am with the average working-class man. My dreams are not unachievable, I don’t place them so high and sometimes I don’t want something because somebody else has it, because somebody else has this kind of success then I want it.  I only want what I have achieved and if I work for it, work hard for it, they let me have it.

M Of course there has been many changes in the music business since you first started out.  Is it more difficult these days to sustain a living from music?

AO I have been very fortunate Mark within my career that I have these very loyal fans and one thing about when you keep, don’t disappoint your fans, they grow up with you and they grow older with you and I have been so, I have enjoyed a new generation of younger people coming out to my shows, I have got people 80 some years old, I have got people middle aged and I have got people young, young adults, even young kids so I have been very, very blessed to be able to keep going and achieve a lot of things in the industry through my singing and through my career.  If it is difficult to, difficult to maintain, I think one of the things that amends for that is that if you have foundation.  A lot of times artists get one hit record, they get a record that’s kind of a hit, but to have several hits and to have several hit albums, it pretty much gives you foundation I think that that’s the reason why I’m still around.

M You mentioned earlier working with Prince.  I just wondered would he have been the most inspiring musician that you have ever worked with or would it have been maybe somebody else.

AO I don’t know if he, no he didn’t inspire me, he might have inspired a lot of people but he didn’t inspire me.  I inspired myself, I was already inspired.  I had everything, I had the weight of my family on my back, I had a legacy of stuff to carry on into this success with me so, no, I think that he did inspire a lot of people though and what a great artist, you know, and a lot of great songs.

M Would there be anybody then, you mentioned that James Brown, the early, the early musical references there, who would have inspired you?  Would it have been somebody like James Brown?

AO I think that Otis Redding would have been the guy who inspired me the most, you know, because I was always very intrigued with the fact that Otis Redding was a brawny guy but he also did those greats, see cos I don’t, when you slated as a balladeer it is hard to break out of it but you got to give the rough stuff and the soft stuff, right, and Otis could hit that hard stuff like satisfaction and then he could turn around and hit you with the soft stuff like try a little tenderness, you know, so I was always intrigued with that and that’s the kind of artist that I kind of emulated myself to be, yeah.

M How, looking back on your own musical legacy, how does it make you feel?  You must be very, very proud of what you have achieved.

AO Well I guess I am proud of what I achieved but I am just a proud, look Mike, I’m a proud, I am proud to be living.  I am proud of life.  That’s a big achievement to me at 62 years old, that’s a big achievement of me with anything that I have achieved musically, okay.  The back of trying to keep my relationship with my God and trying to live my life out and to live it fully so, yeah, that’s a big achievement.

M Just a final one, I am sure you have done many, many interviews over the years but who would you Alexander O’Neal actually like to sit down and interview, with yourself maybe asking the questions?

AO I would probably say Patti Labelle.  Patti Labelle, I just love Patti Labelle and she’d be the person that I would love to be interviewing me.

M That would be great.  Okay, I see your tour is actually coming through Manchester next year. I am actually living in Manchester myself.

AO Oh well I live in Manchester too.

M So anyway, I am looking forward to maybe getting along and seeing the tour in Manchester next year.

AO But you got to come back and say, you got to come back and introduce yourself and say hi when you come to the show.  Please come, okay.

M That would be incredible, that would be really, it would really be, really, really satisfying for me personally to actually meet you.

AO Thank you, it would be my privilege.

M Thank you very much for chatting to me today.

AO Thank you so much Mark for having me and, and have a blessed day brother, okay.

M And you, thanks again.

AO Bye, bye.

M Thanks, bye.


Tour Dates 2018

Friday 6th April               Armadillo                           Glasgow

Saturday 7th April                     Lowry                                   Salford

Sunday 8th April                         City Hall                              Hull 

Wednesday 18th April  Cliffs Pavillion                   Southend 

Thursday 19th April                  Colston Hall                        Bristol

Friday 20th April                        Town Hall                           Birmingham

Tuesday 24th April                    De Montford Hall             Leicester

Wednesday 25th April London Palladium           London 

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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