Toni Braxton has been at the forefront of modern R&B and soul every since she first hit the charts in 1991. Today, the multiple GRAMMY Award winning songstress is releasing her much anticipated 6th new studio album, Pulse." The record is Braxton's most personal musical statement to date that follows her recent separation from her long-time husband Keri Lewis, a move to Atlantic Records, a stint on Dancing With The Stars and a serious heart condition that created a health scare two years ago.
Produced by red hot hitmakers like Lucas Secon (Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls) and David Foster (Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion), the singer puts out a sound on "Pulse" that is classic Toni Braxton but fits the pop charts of today, balancing heartfelt balladry and uplifting, contemporary pop hits.
In my exclusive interview with Braxton, the singer talks candidly what this new album means to her and how therapeutic it was to record it. She also chats about the support of the gay community, her current health condition and (surprise!) bowling with none other than Lady Gaga. Read on for the entire interview. (Photo by Michael Leckie)
Congratulations with the release of the new album. You must be very excited to be out there again with new music.
I'm very, very excited! It is time for something new. It is a little overdue to be honest. I went to a new label, Atlantic, and every time you go to a new label you're a little anxious and you're hoping that the new relationships are going well, and I have to be honest I'm very happy at Atlantic. I'm really happy and I love the entire Atlantic family. Of course, there's a little bit of head banging now and then, but that happens when you're being creative, but in the end I'm so very happy.
After returning after all of those years with brand-new music, what is it that you wanted to accomplish musically with this album?
I definitely wanted it to be a little bit more dancey. I think Dancing With The Stars gave me a little bit of the dance bug. In addition to that I also wanted to be classic Tony, while also be current. Music has changed and I wanted to be organic and change along as a performer. That was honestly a little challenging at first, but when I made my way through it, it was actually a lot easier than I thought. It was great to work with Lucas who did a few songs on the album. I worked with one vocal producer [Harvey Mason] so that the songs would mash well together.
We spoke about 8 years ago when you released "More Than A Woman" after you just had your first child. Lots of happened to you personally and professionally since then. Looking back, what does the last decade represent to you?
There's a few things I wish I would have done differently but I don't have any regrets. My career has had its ups and down, but I've learned to deal with those. I feel pretty happy with my life. I'm not as happy with my separation and the personal part of my life, but as a mother I've been able to balance my life with my career and I feel really good about that. I'm really happy about this record, because music fuels me so even in the midst of being separated work keeps me busy and that's a good thing.
Did you turn some of these personal experiences into songs on this record?
I think this album is probably the most personal album I've ever done. Every single song is narrating my life how it is right now. When I recorded "Un-break My Heart" back in the nineties I was so young - I sang the words, but I really wasn't living that song, if you know what I mean. I had my heart broken then, but it is so different now. I can sing "Un-break My Heart" now and really, really feel it, not just narrate a story. This record is a lot more vulnerable than my other records have been.
What was it like to record these personal stories? Was it painful, frustrating?
It was both. But it was also therapeutic. A song like "Woman" was hard to record at first for example. I did not feel like being that emotional that day. It came out great but they had to push me to do that song.
You have an autistic child and you have given a lot of support to parents of autistic children through a nationwide PSA. How important is it for you to support this cause?
For me it a personal thing, but I feel I'm also a pioneer and I want to help out other parents who are dealing with the same situation. People helped me through it when I found out that my son is autistic. It was the same thing when I supported the American Heart Association. I did it because it was personal, but if my celebrity can help someone else, then I want to do it, and pay it forward.
Talking about matters of the heart, or you in good health right?
It is so much better at the moment. I have to be honest - two years ago it was touch and go for a moment, but now it is so much better. I just have to take medication for the rest of my life. The challenge will come when I have to go back on tour. I can do an hour and half show, but what I haven't applied is doing it long-term so I have to get my body ready for that. I work out a lot - whether I want it or not.
You have received a lot of love from the gay community over the years...
I love my boys!
... What does this support mean to you?
It is important to receive the love from all of my fans, but I have to be honest that my boys and girl are one of my favorite groups. They pretty much put me on the map when I first came out. They said 'we love this, we love her' and for that I'm so grateful. And in addition to that my boys help me to be a better girl. I know that sounds weird, but you know, they show me how to stand a little better, dress a little better, and they push me a little more. I love it, they're always honest with me. They keep me fabulous.
During the course of your career, the world of publicity has changed so much. What do you make of gossip blogs and paparazzi scrutiny?
I think I have changed with the business, but I've never been a person that there has been that type of interest in. Tommy Mottola and Benny Medina told me once, 'Toni, you're like a clean canvas, there's not a lot of controversy around you.' So for me that's a good thing because I don't have people jumping out of bushes trying to videotape me. I am not a person who has a lot of info if that makes sense. There's not a lot to speculate about me.
What do you make of the new generation of female superstars like Lady Gaga and Rihanna who are still so fresh in the business?
I love Gaga and Rihanna, they are my favorite girls of the new girls. I love the tone and texture of Rihanna's voice, but what I think made her a big, big superstar was her unfortunate situation with Chris Brown. That tragic situation took things to a whole new level. Unfortunately, bad things can make you a superstar sometimes.
Gaga is a star because she was born a star. I met her before she was Lady Gaga, she was just Gaga then. She was exactly the same way then as she is now. She had just signed to my brother-in-law's label and so I've known her for a long time. We had a birthday party for him once at a bowling alley and she came wearing an 80's style jacket, some leotard thing, stockings and high-heel shoes. It was so cold outside, but she didn't care. She was just being herself, being fabulous. She's a pretty good bowler too! What I respect so much about Lady Gaga ever since I met her is that she has a vision for herself. I love girls who are not afraid to be who they are. sometimes the entertainment business wants to put you in a box and that's what I love most about her, she doesn't let anyone put her in a box. I love her for that.
Have people tried to put you in a box with you?
Oh yes, and I hated it and it showed in my music.
So this new record reflects you a 100%?
I think so, yes. There have been been a few albums I recorded that I feel differently about now looking back. But making those album is part of my growth process as an artist and human being. You live and learn.
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