Few musicians today who wish to leave a legacy choose to not stay with “what’s hot”. Atlanta’s latest R&B sensation Heston talks about where he got his smooth sound, sticking with live instrumentation and defining what is timeless music.
Soul Train: Who and what are your influences, and how do they play a role in creating your music?
Heston: Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Beres Hammond–a reggae artist from out of Jamaica, the Bee Gees, I mean, the list goes on. A lot of it comes from when I grew up in Dominica because that was what would be on the radio station. All those songs would be playing on that one station, so I kind of subconsciously pulled from those influences and what you hear today is a combination of them.
Soul Train: You have quite a few reggae and live elements in your influences. How much of your new album has live elements in comparison to the electric, non-organic musical elements?
Heston: Oh, it’s 100% organic. I do all-live instrumentation.
Soul Train: Right, because I noticed that in your lead single “Greatest Love.” Is that something you will always go for?
Heston: I definitely think so. It’s just that live instruments move me. I think the perfect imperfections, like delays in timing or feelings, are things you can’t really manufacture, or program on the one or on the two. Those perfect imperfections is what makes music real.
Soul Train: So is that from a technical aspect or does it only play right because of your emotions?
Heston: It’s not deliberate. It’s like if you listen to a track on maybe mainstream radio, you’ll hear a very specific bass line throughout the entire song and doesn’t change. It’s very predictable, and whoever does it and works for them then that’s great. For me, when I’m recording the song, and I suddenly have the desire to break that song down because for a moment in recording that’s where it needs to go, you cannot manufacture that as authentically as if you program it electronically, which you can’t really do. When you have a band that you rehearse with and played with and all of a sudden you’re able to capture that moment where everyone is in the studio playing, allowing all those things to happen is music.
Soul Train: What should folks expect to get from Warm Human, Cold World, content-wise?
Heston: I paid more attention to my audience from the last album and they were really loving “Radio,” “No Way No How” and “Something in the Water,” basically all the groovy songs, so I decided to give this whole album a more sexier, romantic album.
Soul Train: Why that title anyway, Warm Human, Cold World?
Heston: I believe that’s who we are. We’re warm humans and this is a pretty cold place to navigate. When you are in a relationship, especially a successful relationship, you find that it’s easier to navigate, it’s easier to lean on someone when you’re having a bad day and have someone to come home to. It’s about relationships and having someone’s shoulder to lay on.
Soul Train: You mentioned having a groovier, more romantic sound than the last album. How else have you developed since your last project?
Buy Heston Music
Heston: It’s all just learning and growing as a songwriter, and just being amongst great musicians is what helps me to grow. I try to associate myself with some of the best, especially here in Atlanta where I live. I think it helps me be less rigid and less restricted as far as my approach to songwriting, and it takes me outside of my comfort zone so I can create more, create better and create differently. And I’m nowhere close to finishing.
Soul Train: Your bio says “creating timeless music has always been my ultimate goal.” How do you define what is timeless music for you, and how do you know if you’ll ever accomplish that goal?
Heston: I really don’t know. I know thus far that I’m proud of every song that’s written, and I’m proud to represent it and stand behind it. My great grandmother can listen to it, and it means a lot, because to me it’s never about being too obscene. My six-year-old and my 12-year-old can listen to my music. Timeless music to me is like Sade “Smooth Operator” can play anywhere in the world, I want to make music like that. I do not want to go with the sound of the month, or the type of thing where there’s a certain sound in the industry right now for R&B music and has certain synthesizers, I’m not interested. For me, it’s making music that I can be happy with forever.
Soul Train: What about how much R&B has changed over time? Do you feel that with R&B changing that you’ll be able to still create the music that you want to?
Heston: Absolutely. If you look at people like Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, India.Arie and even Alicia Keys, there are such stories as people creating timeless music where those songs will last forever. There’s a certain quality and sustainability to the music that defies the flavor or producer of the month in it. Like, an Alicia Keys song could’ve been dropped in 1970 and still be as relevant as it is now. Sade’s been doing the same quality of music with the same type of production for many years. It’s just a matter of stepping outside of recording, like the marketing, performing, and being available. While I’m interested in all that, I’m not concerned with altering my sound for what’s going on today.
You can find Heston online at www.hestonmusic.com. Check out his single “Greatest Lover.”
– Starletta Watson
* * * *
A recent graduate of Ohio University, Starletta Watson is expanding her career as a journalist in phenomenal ways. She has contributed to many magazines, newspapers, websites, and is constantly working on her own blog, Bubble Gum Pop Rap.