Music Legend Stevie Wonder Discusses His Album, A Time To Love, And Writing His Songs

Stevie Wonder 2005
Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder has been one of the greatest and most influential artists in the pop and R&B fields for over four decades. Starting with his 1963 breakthrough hit ‘Fingerprints ‘ Pt. 2’ when he was just 12, Wonder has gone on to record many pioneering, classic albums such as Songs In The Key Of Life and Innervisions, and such memorable hits as ‘Living In The City,’ ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,’ ‘Higher Ground,’ ‘Superstition’ and ‘I Wish.’ And now after a 10-year hiatus, he has returned strongly with A Time To Love (on Motown Records), which is probably his best and most ambitious album since the early ’80s.

In his career to date, Wonder has released 35 U.S. albums (28 full studio albums) which have sold a total of 72 million units. The singer/songwriter & producer has scored 32 Top 10 pop or R&B hit singles, including 11 #1 Billboard pop hits. In addition, he has won 19 Grammy awards, which is the record for a solo artist. Three of the Grammy awards (Songs In The Key Of Life, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale) were for the prestigious Album Of The Year. Wonder has also been the recipient of the Grammy and BET Lifetime Achievement Awards, as well as being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame (in 1989) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (in 2002).

On his new A Time To Love, Wonder sounds fresh and rejuvenated, writing and performing his new songs with a renewed sense of purpose. The album’s songs provide the full range of Wonder’s musical styles, from uptempo funk (‘So What The Fuss,’ ‘Please Don’t Hurt My Baby’) to sparkling midtempos (‘From The Bottom Of My Heart,’ ‘Passionate Raindrops’), romantic ballads (‘Can’t Imagine Love Without You,’ ‘How Will I Know’) and gospel (‘Shelter In The Rain’). In addition, the album features guest contributions from many top artists, including vocal duets sung by India.Arie, Kim Burrell and Aisha Morris (Wonder’s daughter), and musical appearances by Prince, Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, Kirk Franklin, Doug E. Fresh, En Vogue, Narada Michael Walden and Hubert Laws.

In a new interview, Wonder discussed the message and theme of A Time To Love, and about the lengthy period it took to write and record this album. Wonder also recalled how he wrote the title song ‘A Time To Love’ with India.Arie (which is a duet featuring the duo). Lastly, he gives advice to new, young artists who are trying to make it in the music industry.

Stevie Wonder's album cover, A Time To Love.
Stevie Wonder’s album cover, A Time To Love.

‘The title A Time To Love is a statement within itself meaning that, that is what we need,’ explained Wonder. ‘We need a time to love. There’s been a time for war, a time for strife, a time set aside for everything under the sun. We now must set aside a time for love. [The album’s theme] is saying that there is need, now more than ever, to bring love back into the forefront.’

‘There are different levels of love,’ he added. ‘I mean you have the love relationship between [you] and your significant other, between spouses. You have the love for your children, for your siblings, brothers and sisters, your mother and father. [In addition] you have love for the things you do. You have love for your faith. You have love for your passion, whether it’s about something you like doing, or the passion that you show for someone. You have a love for your being compassionate. So there are all kinds of levels of love that we’re talking about for this project.’

Wonder collaborated with Motown artist India.Arie on the title song. ‘I gave her the concept and the idea that I wanted in the song, and as she has masterfully done [writing lyrics for her own albums], she has done a great statement again in her lyric presentation with ‘A Time To Love’.’ This title cut also notably features Paul McCartney, who played acoustic and electric guitar on this recording.

Wonder also discussed his lengthy creative process, in writing and recording these songs, and deciding when the album would be ready. ‘[For me] there’s never an issue of why an album might be taking a long time. During the time that was spent between albums, I was doing life and living life. Sharing life is something that we have to do in the creative process, particularly when we’re working on music and song. So the issue is not why did it take so long or so little time or whatever. The issue is how much life have you done to experience the things that will encourage and inspire you to write about those things, or that you had a chance to share indirect experiences with other people that you have come in contact with.’

A Time To Love is being released October 18, and it contains 15 songs. The first single ‘So What The Fuss’ (a funk track featuring Prince on guitar) has already been an R&B hit, and the new single is the romantic midtempo cut, ‘From The Bottom Of My Heart.’ Wonder’s label Motown Records is also releasing the gospel anthem ‘Shelter From The Rain’ (which features a choir directed by Kirk Franklin), and the net proceeds will be donated to the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Lastly, when asked what advice and wisdom he would give to a new generation of artists, he said: ‘The only thing I would say, for all generations of different kinds of people in music, or in a form of rap, poetry, spoken word, or lyricist or melody writers, is to give and to do the very best that you can. You have to experience life and tell life’s experiences. You can’t not experience life and talk about something as if you were experienced in it if you can’t do it. Or you have to have some kind of reference, someone who has had that experience that you can trust that what they’re saying is real and true. But you can’t act like you’ve done something and you really haven’t — you can’t front.’

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima