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Sensual Healing

Odds are, whether you wanted to or not, you’ve encountered Ne-Yo’s music at some point in your life. In addition to numerous R&B hits of his own, he’s left his mark on pop music with chart-topping songwriting collaborations with Rihanna, Beyonce and others. He performs at Oakland’s Paramount Theater on February 6th before heading to the Grammys in L.A. on February 8th, where he is nominated in six categories, including Album of the Year for Year of the Gentleman. He spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from a tour stop Nottingham, England.

SF Station (SFS): How is your tour going?

Ne-Yo: Fan-damn-tastic. I’m on tour right now with the Pussycat Dolls and Lady Gaga. I know what you are thinking. You envy me right now, and you should.

SFS: That’s a lot of estrogen surrounding you.

Ne-Yo: Oh yeah, that’s alright. I’ve got enough testosterone for all of them, so we’re straight.

SFS: Were you surprised when your album charted higher in England?

Ne-Yo: Not at all. The first single, “Closer", was me stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit and away from my traditional sound. I expected a little bit of confusion from my American fans. I knew it was going to do well in the UK because it was inspired by the UK. The sound of the record came from my experiences here and the music that they do over here.

In the states, I had to put some faith in my fans that they would understand that I am an artist and I can’t do the same thing over and over. I would get bored as hell, other people would get bored and nobody would be happy.

SFS: What led you to go with a dance beat?

Ne-Yo: Just the desire to try something new and something that wasn’t my norm. I wasn’t really digging where urban music was at that moment. There was a lot of copycatting going on so I decided to step away from the typical R&B sound just for a second. A lot of people were worried that I was trying to leave R&B all together, but that will never happen. R&B is where I come from and it’s running through my veins, but I will always try to push the envelope to keep it interesting for everybody involved.

SFS: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a songwriter?

Ne-Yo: I knew what I wanted to do when I was really young. By the time I was nine, I knew that whatever I was going to do with my life was going to involve music. I’ve never looked back and I never wanted to do anything else.

SFS: Did growing up in Las Vegas have any influence on you and what you were doing with music?

Ne-Yo: My mom was the picture of a blue-collar woman. She worked in and out of all the casinos, from a keno runner to a cocktail waitress to a dealer -- you name it, she did it. Being in and out of the casinos all of the time, she started getting into the big band sound with Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra and Sammie Davis Jr., and the whole Rat Pack. My mom was my personal hero, so anything she was into, I was into.

SFS: You aimed to include those Rat Pack influences with your latest album.

Ne-Yo: Absolutely. I have to credit that to growing up in Las Vegas. I don’t think it would have happened had I grown up somewhere else.

SFS: A lot of R&B singers have grown more explicit and edgy over the last few years. Why haven’t you followed that path?

Ne-Yo: What for? Anybody can talk about sex. That takes no real skill and anybody can do it. It takes finesse to say something sexual without it sounding sexual. Sensuality will get you further than straight sexuality. You are absolutely going to understand what I’m saying; I just don’t need to say it outright. I like to leave something to the imagination, like a woman that is not completely naked, but wearing just enough for you to want to see more.

SFS: And now here you are with six Grammy nominations…

Ne-Yo: Yeah, I’m proud of that, especially the Album of the Year nomination. I caught a lot of flack with this record for trying different things. There were a lot of naysayers telling me that I might be shooting myself in the foot. For me to be nominated for Album of the Year, shows that my head was in the right place the whole time.

Ne-Yo performs at the Paramount Theater on February 6th. Tickets are $39-$85 and the show starts at 8pm.