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If you love good music, you love music from Robin Thicke. The five-time Grammy-nominated, diamond-selling musician creates nothing short of timeless musics. Getting his start songwriting for the likes of Christina Aguilera and Pink, it wasn’t long before Thicke was discovered by the late great Andre Harrell in the early 2000s, who helped mold him into the superstar he is today.
Capitalizing on the momentum from working on standout albums such as Usher’s Confessions and Lil Wayne’s Carter III, as well as critically acclaimed singles “Lost Without U,” “Magic,” and “Sex Therapy,” it was 2013’s “Blurred Lines” featuring T.I. and Pharrell that solidified his place in the music industry. The record peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 12 weeks.
Now, Thicke returns with his brand eighth studio album titled On Earth, and in Heaven, his first release since 2014. On the project, the Los Angeles native taps into his most vulnerable thoughts: losing his father in 2016, losing another father figure with Harrell and more.
REVOLT caught up with Thicke via Zoom, who honored Andre Harrell by putting polka dots in the shot. He stated, “He always wore polka dots, it was his signature thing and I made sure it was in the shot.”
Read below as we discuss his new project, his close relationship with Harrell, working with Pharrell, the phenomena of “Blurred Lines,” white privilege, and more!
On Earth, and In Heaven out now. How are you feeling?
Feeling really well. It’s been nice to get it done, feel good about it and get some love back. My mentor Andre Harrell who passed away last year, and my father who passed away four years ago, I hadn’t released an album since I lost them. I really wanted this album to speak to everything they gave me and all the love I have in my life still after all these tough years. My family, my children, my fiancée, my mom, to honor and dedicate a project to all the love in my life.
How was the creative process on this project versus the others? I know you experienced a lot of loss.
I was making records then when my father passed, I put all those records aside and wrote some new songs to get through those emotions. I remember Andre reminding me during that process, don’t forget about to add the celebration. You want to deal with the hard times, but you also want to celebrate everybody that’s here and the great life you have, so make sure that’s in the music also. I was working on this music for years, but it wasn’t until Andre passed last year that I really dedicated myself to finishing it. I wanted to make the best project I could so he’d be proud of me like, “Oh you killed that Rob, you killed that!” (Laughs) I want him to be proud and say up in heaven that I did my job.
What are your fondest memories with him?
There isn’t a bad memory with him, he changed my life. He made me cooler than I will ever be again. He taught me everything. He taught me how to treat people, how to connect with people through your art. Not how to try to be better than people, but to connect. To get into people’s hearts, to get them on the dance floor, to make them smile, to make them laugh, to make them cry, to make them feel. He taught me if you want to be something with your music or your art, then make people feel in the most powerful way you possibly can. I’m trying to keep making people feel something when I make music.
Best piece of advice he’s given you?
So many pieces of advice, how to do everything. Everything my father taught me, Andre was like college. My dad was K through 12, and Andre was university. He taught me about fashion. He introduced me to people who are lifelong friends that have changed the scope of my work and my life. He’s undoubtedly the biggest game changer or life-changing person I’ve ever had.
What was it like working with Andre so early in your career?
He changed my life. I was a chubby producer with no style. I was a good songwriter, producer, but I was about 30 pounds overweight and didn’t know what my visual message was going to be to the world. I was the sonics guy, I was a singer-songwriter. He came and he heard the voice, he heard the music. He saw a white Stevie Wonder. He’s like, “Holy shit, let me start from scratch with you. I’ma take you shopping, I’ma get you a trainer. We’re gonna take photos...” He took the Polaroids. He told me how to walk and talk, and made me what I wanted to be anyway.
“This music is the sunshine coming out after the rain.” How true is that to the music? It’s a beautiful project.
Thank you, it took time to get there. The thing that’s helped me the most is after losing Andre, I focused on what the intention of my music was again. Once you have some hits and you hop on other people’s records, you sing a few choruses, sometimes it’s “yeah, let’s make a fun record.” You lose your intention of what you wanted your music to really be about because you’re just having fun! This time, I really wanted to refocus my intention on making people feel like they’re not alone. Making people feel like the struggles, and the problems they have and the loss they go through, they’re not alone. We all feel it, we all go through it. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. If you love yourself and you do the work, anything’s possible. Love is possible, happiness is possible, that’s what I try to live by. This music’s gotten me through these times. It feels like the music that made the sunshine come out for me. It helped me get to this point.
“Look Easy” is such a vibe. What were you going through recording this one?
A friend of mine wrote that song. I helped with the music, but most of the song was written. He brought me this beautiful song. I heard “you make love look easy,” but the rest of the song, I really felt it was “you make the challenges look easy. You make sacrifice look easy, you make hard work look easy.” It made me think of the frontline workers. It made me think of my mom, my fiancée. People that go through the toughest things in life, the toughest challenges, and they keep smiling and they keep dancing. They keep laughing and they keep making people around them feel good. So, it was a dedication to those people in my life and those people all around the world who sacrificed themselves for the better good of society.
What songs mean the most to you on the project?
Every song is very personal in a different way. “Lola Mia” is about my daughters. “That’s What Love Can Do” was the first song I wrote after my father passed. It was really about my relationship with my father and my son — turning a boy into a good man. “Lucky Star” was dedicated to Andre and my father also. “Out Of My Mind” is about dealing with your anxieties and depressions, coming to a sense of peace and learning to love yourself through your regrets.
“Beautiful” is a song about taking everything the world throws at us. All the negatives, all the loss and the heartache, being able to see the beauty and the love in humanity and each other. To create a better world without racism, without poverty. A lot of different messages in there are very important to me and everything I’ve seen and felt over the last four or five years of my life.
How was it working with Pharrell on “Take Me Higher”?
Well that was an old thing, Pharrell and I had started that record many years ago. We got back together and added some horns, an intro and some strings — beefed it up a little bit. I put it in my back pocket and said, “Okay, I’m saving this until I finish this album.” When I had the rest of the story, then I was able to put a fun track on there. I wanted to make sure I had my story in there first.
How was that compared to when you guys made “Blurred Lines”?
It was around that same time that we started the record. It was over that same writing period. We wrote “Blurred Lines” and we started “Take Me Higher.” It wasn’t until many years later that we decided to finish it.
Were you ready for the success of “Blurred Lines”?
No, not at all. It was nice just performing it. Performing with Pharrell different places, performing all around the world, going to different cities I’ve never gotten to perform before. Being able to spread my music to a whole other fanbase was wonderful after 20 years, that was a great blessing.
How hard was it writing about your father?
It was very hard because I wanted to write so much and say so much. I still don’t know if I’ve written the song that honors my father properly and everything he is to me. He finds his way into all of my messages somehow. My messages to my children, my reminders to myself, my message in my music is still what he stood for. He stood for family, he stood for kindness, he stood for hard work. He stood for laughter and celebration, and so did Andre. Those are the things I stand for and I want my music to embody that.
I know you’ve struggled with substance abuse. What was the key to overcoming addiction for you?
For me, it was more of a lifestyle than it was an addiction because I was doing everything at once. I was still working, I was still managing my family. I was on a non-stop train that thought it could handle everything at the same time. All of a sudden, the train hits the wall. You gotta look at what’s working and what’s not. I was lucky enough that my family was my rehabilitation. My love for my family was my rehab. Over a period of time, I’ve changed different parts of my lifestyle to get my head right; to get my heart right. To be a great father to my children and a great partner to my wife, a good son to my mom and a good artist. The more I kept chipping away at the things I didn’t need in my life — they weren’t getting me anywhere — it was easy to focus on how much love I had and how much joy they brought me.
How important is therapy?
Therapy is necessary. We all do therapy in some form. Some of us go to our friends, some of us go for a hike, some of us talk to a person and pay them money (laughs). We all have a version of therapy. Some of us like reading a book all by ourselves on the beach. When it comes to two people trying to work something out together and hit a wall, there’s no better way to break the ice, change the patterns and rhythms than have a third party help you through that door. Once you get through that door, there might be sunshine on the other side.
REVOLT is really big on social justice and Black Lives Matter. What is white privilege to you?
Oh man, it’s historical. That’s what my song “Beautiful” is about. When the George Floyd incident happened, I finished that song. I had some of the lyrics and the chorus, but I didn’t have the story. George Floyd’s face, his smile and his eyes, I saw that’s what love is all about. How can we love each other as human beings? These things should never be happening, especially after all we know now — all we’ve seen, all we’ve read. It was one thing when they tried to hide the truth from us, they still do in many ways but now we’re seeing it. It’s on your television. There’s no way for white people to run and hide from the truth anymore. It’s time to face up, it’s time for some form of reparations. It’s time for the playing field to finally even out, for everyone to have the same chance.
One thing you want fans to take away from this project?
I want them to pour that glass of wine or light that cigar, light that fireplace and kick those feet up, or dance around the kitchen with the people you love. A lot of my friends have said, “Man we put this on and the whole family’s dancing around the kitchen.” It’s barbecue music. It’s fun, it’s friendly. It’s about bringing people together — hugging, holding, and sharing.
Anything else you want to let us know?
All the REVOLT family, thank you for the love you’ve given me over the years. Andre was my second father, he was my everything and I know what he meant to the family out there. We’re all brothers and sisters and children of Andre, I want to send all my love to the whole REVOLT family.