2007 - December: "Ebony" Magazine Interview PDF Print E-mail


On his creative process for his Thriller album & on how he creates songs in general:

I was pretty deliberate [about it]. Even though it all came together some kind of way, consciously, it was created in this universe, but once the right chemistry gets in the room, magic has to happen. It has to. It’s like putting certain elements in one hemisphere and it produces this magic in the other. It’s science. And getting in there with some of the great people, it’s just wonderful. […] We would work on a track and then we’d meet at [Quincy Jones’] house, play what we worked on, and he would say, ‘Smelly, let it talk to you.’ I’d go, ‘OK.’ He’d say, ‘If the song needs something, it’ll tell you. Let it talk to you.’ I’ve learned to do that. The key to being a wonderful writer is not to write. You just get out of the way. Leave room for God to walk in the room. And when I write something that I know is right, I get on my knees and say thank you. […] I’m always writing. When you know it’s right, sometimes you feel like something’s coming, a gestation, almost like a pregnancy or something. You get emotional, and you start to feel something gestating and, magic, there it is! It’s an explosion of something that’s so beautiful, you go, 'WOW! There it is.' That’s how it works through you. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a universe of where you can go, with those 12 notes… […] What I do when I write is that I’ll do a raggedy, rough version just to hear the chorus, just to see how much I like the chorus. If it works for me that way when it’s raggedy, then I know it’ll work … Listen to that, that’s at home. Janet, Randy, me … Janet and I are going “Whoo, Whoo … Whoo, Whoo …” I do that, the same process with every song. It’s the melody, the melody is most important. If the melody can sell me, if I like the rough, then I’ll go to the next step. If it sounds good in my head, it’s usually good when I do it. The idea is to transcribe from what’s in your mentality onto tape. If you take a song like “Billie Jean,” where the bass line is the prominent, dominant piece, the protagonist of the song, the main driving rift that you hear, getting the character of that riff to be just the way you want it to be, that takes a lot of time. Listen, you’re hearing four basses on there, doing four different personalities, and that’s what gives it the character. But it takes a lot of work.”

On working with the young generation of artists:

“Sure. I’ve always been the type where, I don’t care if it’s the mailman or the guy sweeping the floor. If it’s a great song, it’s a great song. Some of the most ingenious ideas come from everyday people, who just go, ‘Why don’t you try this, or do this.’ It’ll be a wonderful idea, so you should just try it. […] I always want to do music that inspires or influences another generation. You want what you create to live, be it sculpture or painting or music. Like Michelangelo, he said, “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.” And that’s how I feel. I give my all to my work. I want it to just live.”

On whether or not he thinks a great deal of him having affected history:

“Yeah, I do, I really do. I’m very proud that we opened doors, that it helped tear down a lot. Going around the world, doing tours, in stadiums, you see the influence of the music. When you just look out over the stage, as far as the naked eye could see, you see people. And it’s a wonderful feeling, but it came with a lot of pain, a lot of pain. […] When you’re on top of your game, when you’re a pioneer, people come at you. It’s there, who’s at the top, you want to get at them. But I feel grateful, all those record-breaking things, to the biggest albums, to those No. 1’s, I still feel grateful. […]”

On the kind of music he likes to create:

“I think, like, the rap thing that is happening now, when it first came out, I always felt that it was gonna take more of a melodic structure to make it more universal, ‘cause not everybody speak (sic) English. And you are limited to your country. But when you can have a melody, and everybody can hum a melody, then that’s when it became France, The Middle East, everywhere! All over the world now, ‘cause they put that melodic, linear thread in there. You have to be able to hum it, from the farmer in Ireland to the lady who scrubs toilets in Harlem to anybody who can whistle to a child poppin’ their fingers. You have to be able to hum it.”

On the difference between the Michael of 25 years ago and the Michael of today:

“That Michael is probably the same Michael here. I just wanted to get certain things accomplished first. But I always had this tug in the back of my head, the things I wanted to do, to raise children, have children. I’m enjoying it very much.”

On the press’ coverage of him:

“I don’t pay attention to that. In my opinion, it’s ignorance. It’s usually not based on fact. It’s based on, you know, myth. The guy who you don’t get to see. Every neighborhood has the guy who you don’t see, so you gossip about him. You see those stories about him, there’s the myth that he did this or he did that. People are crazy! I’m just about wanting to do wonderful music. But back to Motown 25, one of the things that touched me the most about doing that was, after I did the performance - I’ll never forget. There was Marvin Gaye in the wings, and the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and my brothers, they were hugging me and kissing me and holding me. […] That was my reward. […] I remember doing the performance so clearly, and I remembered that I was so upset with myself, ‘cause it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to be more. But not until I finished. It was a little child, a little Jewish child backstage with a little tuxedo on, he looked at me, and he said [in a stunned voice] ‘Who taught you to move like that?’ And I said, ‘I guess God… and rehearsal.’”