We spoke to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey about his new album and politics in music. We also premiered the video for his latest single “We’re a Winner.”
Even after all of these years, Earth, Wind & Fire is still one of the most consistent forces in music, doing hundreds of live shows a year. With a rigorous schedule like that, it might be demanding to still work on new music.
And yet, over the last two years, Philip Bailey — the voice most closely associated with Earth, Wind & Fire — had been working on his own solo album: Love Will Find a Way. It is the first solo album from Bailey in 17 years (since he released Soul on Jazz.)
Released in June, The album is a response to the turbulent times in the country. The album consists mostly of covers of songs that talk about the struggle or overcoming adversity, with Bailey reimagining classics from Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and more. On this album, he collaborated with some of the jazz elite: working with keyboardist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and drummer Kendrick Scott.
Okayplayer is proud to premiere the video for Bailey’s latest single from Love Will Find a Way, “We’re a Winner,” which is a reimagination of a Curtis Mayfield song, (The first single from the album was “Billy Jack,” another Mayfield cover.)
The song and the Tishaun Dawson-directed video, which both feature Bilal, is about pushing through the tough times — even when you don’t think you have any more in the tank.
Watch the video for “We’re a Winner.” And read our short chat with Philip Bailey below that.
Love Will Find a Way was your first album in more than a decade. What made you want to record this project?
The social and political tensions of the day and the songs that we chose [to cover] resonated with the turbulent ’60s. A lot of those issues we’re still dealing with. So we chose songs from Curtis Mayfield and Abbey Lincoln and Marvin Gaye. The project took over two years to do in between touring with Earth, Wind & Fire. It was self-funded all the way to the end because I knew that there wasn’t … a chance of getting someone to finance a project such as this.
Is two years about what it usually takes you to record an album?
This was taken out of the page of the iconic records that we’ve done back in the day with Earth, Wind & Fire where you actually did have the time and you did have the resources to do a record such as this. Get away from the music for months, and whatever, go back to it, cut things over, do the whole process. Let the music lead you into the direction that the project is going in. That can be an expensive process.
But I know how do it because we’ve done it before, and I wanted to do a project like this especially because my musical chops are intact, thank God, and I can perform at a high level.
What’s different from how you would record a solo album compared to the group dynamics of working with Earth, Wind & Fire?
Well, a lot of things have changed. Technology has changed. That’s changed so much. Everything is digital nowadays so you can take something and just transport it onto another digital reel and digital platform and continue the process of creating the masterpiece. It’s almost like in today’s world, nothing is actually lost in the process if you use the tools that are available.
Can you tell me a little bit about working with Bilal on “We’re A Winner?”
Bilal was one of those singers who uses his [voice] like an instrument. And he’s very explorative with his vocal [range.] He’s played and he sang on things with more jazzy guys, too. I thought that our voices — obviously having those falsettos — would complement one another. And with that one, we actually sent him the files. I wasn’t even in the studio with Bilal when he did his stuff.
That song obviously samples or it’s a remake of a Curtis Mayfield song. What kind of relationship did you have with him?
I didn’t have a relationship with Curtis Mayfield. I met him in our lifetime, and I was a huge fan of his. Obviously the vocal registers are similar. But I also was a fan of his as a writer, producer, and an arranger. He’s one of our heroes in our community.
You worked with will.i.am on this album. What were you looking for him to bring?
will plays the computer. I needed him to make the rhythm consistent and I needed him to add some parts to it and help me put it together because it was just a jam and we did it in the studio. will was able to do that quite successfully, to make it slam and give it that consistent rhythm that it had.
What elements do you think Kamasi Washington added?
Well, Kamasi reminds me of a Pharoah Sanders. That’s too old for you. You would not understand that. Look it up. Google Pharoah Sanders. But, yeah, I just wanted everybody to be who they are. Just listen to their work and you choose people like you cast a movie. You have a vision in your head and you don’t go cast someone and you haven’t thought about anything that you want. I asked these people to come alongside of me because I like what they do, I respect what they do.
Is making this album your way of saying you wish music nowadays was more political?
No, I don’t have any wish for music. Music is just what it is. It’s like a hurricane or a storm or a sunset or a sunny day. There’s no need of wishing for it to be something that it’s not.
Earth, Wind & Fire Day has its own day in LA now. How do you react to that?
It’s of course very humbling. I never would’ve thought that there would be an Earth, Wind & Fire Day proclaimed by the city council of Los Angeles for life. Yes, it’s an extreme honor. The Kennedy honors that we’re receiving this year is a extreme honor. The American Portrait honor that we’re getting this year — it’s all very surreal.
We’ve been doing this now for going on 50 years and we still play to sold-out crowds. And the audiences are still growing so we’re very humbled and very appreciative to the longevity that we’ve had in the music industry.
You worked on Travis Scott’s “Stop Trying to Be God.” Can you talk about how that came about and how do you feel about that song just in general?
We have the same manager, and I was asked to do it along with Stevie Wonder. And so it was a fun experience. He’s a talented young man and has a bright future ahead of him.
How do you feel about collaborating with younger artists? Is that something you really enjoy or are you picky or skeptical?
I’m not skeptical or picky or … I guess I am picky because I could’ve said no if I had a listen to it and didn’t like it, but I enjoy collaborations with young artists, with talented artists. It’s part of the perks of being able to do what we do.