I know I've been away for ages on the Timberlake project, let me make it up to you by sharing with you the most massive interview I've put up here yet! I would summarize it but frankly, we'll be here all night already! You all better get a drink, this is gonna take a while...
Justin Timberlake: Forgive me, man, I’m sick, jet-legged I got the flu around Grammy weekend, and then we had to go on a promo trip and I’ve just been fighting off exhaustion for like, ever.
Ah, man. That sounds super rough.
It’s a little tough. I’m a little older than I used to be. I don’t bounce back as easily.
None of us do. Busy week. How has the run been so far?
It’s been cool. For the most part, I’ve just been head down, burrowing through, because I’ve just been fighting being sick. It’s fun again. I can tell you that. Like for sure it’s fun again. I can’t remember the last time I got to play a venue this small. [So] that’s exciting. I like doing stuff like that. So, yeah, I’m really having fun with it again. I think that’s probably why I wait [between albums] because the actual schedule can beat you down so much you really do have to take a break from it.
It seems incredibly demanding, physically.
It’s not really the actual shows, it’s just the travel in between. Ask any pro athlete, too. It’s not the games, it’s having to get on the bus, the plane—that’s the stuff that kills you.
I actually saw you play in L.A., after the Grammys.
Oh, cool. At the Palladium. That was our first live gig as a band.
You had done the party in New Orleans during Super Bowl weekend.
To me, that doesn’t count. That’s like a party. That’s a function.
Although Paul McCartney was at that show so that did make me nervous and excited at the same time. But I heard he was standing on a table dancing the whole time.
That’s one of the takeaways I had from the L.A. show. People were asking me how it was, and I told them it makes you want to dance.
Oh, good. You know, honestly, that’s what hit me when I started listening to the songs that I put together for this record. I said [to myself], you know, these are going to be a lot of songs that are going to be fun to play live. It’s a soulful set. It’s reminiscent of all the music I loved when I was a kid.
I really just want to keep it simple. I don’t want a lot of hullabaloo around the music. I just want to go and, like, rip everybody’s face off with some great musicians. And so we just started scouting the best musicians we could find and we found a lot of ’em that grew up in the church, which was so appropriate for the stuff that I wrote for this album. They’re killer. And they make me sound way better than I am. [Laughs] And they’re a great group of people, too, so we have a lot of fun together on stage. I guess that’s where the idea came from—JT and the Tennessee Kids. It felt like a band, and it’s been fun.
I was struck by how tight you guys were at the show. It’s a big band.
You don’t see a lot of sets played like that. Well you do, [and] they’re called the Roots. [Laughs] And that’s what I really wanted to do this time around—I wanted the music to really translate live. You play a song like “SexyBack” or “My Love” or songs from even the first record, there’s certain elements that have those synth elements that have to be put into it, and for me, I just wanted to kind of get away from that a little bit on this record and so it really does translate live. It’s a lot of fun to play.
Watching the show, I was wondering how long you had even been putting it together.
We probably rehearsed as a unit for a couple of weeks?
Well, kudos to you guys. They’re obviously pros.
Yeah, that’s why they’re there. Couple of them had to help me relearn songs from my first record. You know, you write all of these songs… And I had been finishing the mixing of the album when they went in to start rehearsing, so then when I showed up, I was going back and forth from the mastering of the album and everything. So I’m listening to all this new stuff and I’m going back and going, wait, what are the lyrics to “Señorita?” So it was a lot to kind of put together at the same time.
How have you felt about the response of the album so far?
Honestly, I don’t read reviews all that much, but you hear through your team and everything, Oh, this person liked the record, this person didn’t care for the record, but for the most part, I’m hearing that people appreciate that I did something different. That there was a different approach, and I think that if you have the platform, and you actually do come up with something different, then it’d be a shame not to put it out. But it’s not like that was the effort. I didn’t write these songs like, We need to make this sound different from the first album or the second album. These are just the songs that we did. There wasn’t that much thought put into it.
[Saturday Night Live creator] Lorne Michaels said something to me that was very valuable, like the second or third time I hosted SNL. Something happened, I can’t remember what it was, but something didn’t work in the dress rehearsal and so I adlibbed something else [on-air] and the joke went over to thunderous applause, not just laughter. So I was talking to him at the after party and he’s like, “Look, we don’t go live every Saturday night because we have a great show. We go live because 11:30 rolls around and we have to put something on the air.” And so for this [album], I waited long enough, obviously. That’s an understatement, but I feel like I would have taken the break regardless of any other involvement with Myspace or any roles I may have been lucky enough to have in movies, or I probably would have waited this long again, just because you want to be this excited about it. If you’re going to get sick over it, you know touring, doing the promo for it and having to talk about it, make sure you’re excited about it.
But I guess the point I was making was I wasn’t trying to do something different. These songs just started lengthening themselves and I just thought, when vinyl was the only way you could get music, the songs faded out because there wasn’t enough available space. You know? They wrote songs [and] arrangements were six, seven minutes. They just cut them off. Vinyl was the only way you could get music and there was only so much available data, there was only so much available space on a vinyl so they would fade songs out, but when you don’t have to do that, I just felt like these songs would transform themselves into something else. And I thought this is something really special. And then when I started sequencing the album, I still said, You know what? Maybe I’ll cut some of these songs down. Maybe some of these interludes don’t make sense. But each piece of the song didn’t even feel like an interlude, you know? As I went in to start mixing it—you arrange while you mix—I’m pulling pieces out and putting pieces back in as the chorus for the second part of the song is coming in, and I’m going, Why would I cut this? This is the right half to the left half, or the left half to the right half, you know? And so as it started to lengthen itself, it just felt appropriate to me. I just loved the way it sounded and the way sonically, each song crept into the next, but I guess what I’m hearing is people are digging that it’s different.
Yeah, it’s awesome.
Cool. Thanks, dude. It’s ambitious, for sure, but I guess you wait six or seven years, you do something, you know? I think for instance, “Suit & Tie” makes a lot more sense to people now when they listen to it in succession [on] the album. Actually people have said that to me. Friends of mine have said that to me, they’re like, I like the song, but hearing it after ‘Pusher Love Girl’ and before ‘Don’t Hold the Wall,’ I get what you’re doing.
When you think about the legacy of FutureSex/LoveSounds, what do you think? Do you think about that at all?
I don’t know, man. Artists tend to dwell on everything negative, and I become a victim of that all the time. And you have to understand, to me, I find it hilarious that people would even associate the word “legacy” with FutureSex/LoveSounds because when I put it out, everybody was laughing at me—critics, radio programmers and to their credit, I understand why. But I wanted to do something different at that time. I wanted to do something that was like, This is like nothing I hear on the radio. That was my effort with that one. I got like terrible reviews on that record, and so to talk about it now… I just think that Tim and I were onto something different and I just think that anytime you put out something different, it’s polarizing. And polarizing is good, I think, because polarizing starts a conversation. I don’t think we appoint ourselves those roles, by any means. We just kind of go into the studio and we don’t even really talk about it. We start messing around with stuff and like, sometimes he’ll come in the studio and he’ll leave his keyboard on and I’m banging out a beat on his keyboard, and he’s like, “Oh, I like what you just did with that, but what if you flip it here?” And then I’ll go over to the keys, and I’ll say, Oh, I like the way you were hitting that beat. It makes me want to play the progression on this rhythm, and then the next thing you know, you start writing a song. I feel like if we actually had rhyme or reason to what we were doing, it would fuck it all up. [Laughs] You know what I mean?
We’re so free in the studio. Timbaland and I have consistently worked together for so long and we keep coming back to each other every time I do a record and every time he does a record, you know? I A&R a lot of his records. He’ll send ’em to me and go, what do you think of this? We just have that relationship. We just go in with a blind eye to the whole thing, which is funny because the album is called The 20/20 Experience.
I want people to close their eyes and listen to this album. I really do think my effort with the last album was to make people dance, and I think with this album, I wrote a lot of songs that make me want to sing.
“SexyBack” is a song that you don’t sing—you just shout it. You know what I mean? But that’s what it’s for. I wrote that song because I wanted everyone to feel the same way I did when I was just shouting it in the studio. But these songs, I feel like the melodies are a lot more thoughtful and I took my time with it. And the more I find that I take my time with things, the quicker they come. So…
Can you talk a bit about the Jay-Z relationship and the tour and everything?
Yeah, Jay-Z and I have known each other for a while. Always had a great relationship. And Tim and I were in the studio working on some stuff—some potential stuff—for Beyoncé, and Jay came in and we started messing around with stuff, and we worked on a handful of songs together. It would be fun to find a way to put them out.
But, we just kind of have that… what’s the word I’m looking for? I think we’re just kinda the same type of guy. He’s very relaxed. Easy-going. “Suit & Tie” came out of that—we were just having fun. We had an extra room in the studio in New York, and I said, I want to do a dance record, but not like a 120 bpm dance record. I want to do like a Marvin Gaye “Gotta Give It Up,” Curtis Mayfield, “Move On Up.”
And I was talking to Tim about it, and we started messing around with the track and it turned into that, and then Jay came in and was like, What is this? And then we found the little trap thing where Tim took the beat and played it halftime and found the trap to it and Jay was like, “If you don’t use that on the song, I’d like to take that and make a whole song out of it.”
So I was like, Well, do a verse! And then it just was like, 20 minutes later, he’s got the whole thing done.
And then the tour.
Yeah, well, Jay approached me about it because I think the opportunity was coming up for him. I think he likes to do things for his fanbase that are special, as do I, and we just thought, we share the same producers [in] Pharrell and Chad [Hugo] and Tim. We share a lot of the same style, actually. I bet we share a lot of the same fans, you know what I mean? So it just became this idea, and we just started pitching the idea around and I just said, Yeah, man, I like that. I like that. That could be fun. And I remembered artists like Billy [Joel] and Elton [John] went on tour together and you just see them mash up their songs together, and I said, That’s what it has to be. We have to just go out on stage for two hours and just nonstop, kill it and then go have a beer or whatever.
Sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
We still haven’t put the show together, but it’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a musical show. We’re both on this thing where we’re not into a lot of tricks. We just want to come play and like I said, fry everybody’s face off with the songs and everybody have a great time. Almost festival style, you know?
Sounds great. The new album’s super trippy, I think.
Oh, thanks, man.
Was that something you were shooting for? Like there are spots of it that just get, like…
Well, I’m a big Nigel Godrich fan and I’m a big Radiohead fan and I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to fully go where those guys [go]. I don’t think I’m capable of it. [Laughs] But there’s some sounds on “Strawberry Bubblegum” and there’s some sounds on “Blue Ocean Floor” and things like that, where they remind me not of them, because I think it would be sacrilegious to compare anybody to them, but remind me of the same feeling I get sometimes when I listen to In Rainbows or Kid A or OK Computer or even The Bends sometimes—just the ambient guitar that Jonny Greenwood does so well. I don’t know. I think it does go trippy. It’s definitely appropriate for many different occasions [laughs].
It’s also a nice headphone record. We really worked hard mixing it and went back and listened to it on headphones. All those records that I wanted to be able to play and lay down or just sit and play all the way through on headphones, and like you said, just like trip out a bit, you know? So I don’t know that there was a specific influence that made that happen other than our own substance abuse while we were making it [laughs], but yeah, there’s some trippy moments on there, for sure.
First South By show.
First South By show! I’m very excited.
Does it mean anything different to you?
I have not been able to do the festival circuit yet. So for me, it’s my first big festival show, and I’m kind of excited that it’s such an intimate thing because I think it will be a special evening for me and the fans [and] everybody who’s in the room. At least I hope so. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I played to 1,000 people, so I’m really excited to do it.
I saw Radiohead play a benefit at a theater for Haiti relief in a theater in L.A. and there were probably only like, 1,800 people there and it was like, one of the coolest shows, I mean, they just came out on stage and it was unbelievable. Thom sounded amazing, and there was just this thing that you felt. It’s very inviting. You don’t get, like, agoraphobia from the whole thing because that will be the battle with the stadium gigs. But I love stuff like this, and I’m really excited to be at SXSW. I can’t believe I haven’t made it here sooner, but I’m excited to be here now.
Have you ever come to check out bands or is this your first time ever here?
This is my first time here. I’ve been to Coachella many times, on many different, um, substances. I’ve been to Coachella many times but not remembered a lot of it, I’ll leave it at that. But I remember I used to go to Coachella a long time ago. I remember Coachella when there wasn’t like, paparazzi and stuff there. Like, I stood in an open field and one year I saw Nine Inch Nails and the next year I saw Weezer and I was standing in the middle of the field, you know, like tripping my mind out.