Toni Braxton’s Journey to Artistic Renewal
When times get tough, there is nothing more powerful than the comfort and advice of a best friend. In the creative realm of artistic expression, sometimes it takes a blast of motivational inspiration to set things in perspective. Such is the case with the phenomenal friendship between Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Toni Braxton.
Both of these respected performers have experienced the "sweet and sour" sides of love. As musical artists of the first caliber, the two have taken all the emotional twists and turns of relationships and beautifully showcased them with the release of "Love, Marriage and Divorce," available Tuesday, February 4.
Based on the title of the CD, tell me how it was creating the songs to reflect the tone and balance of the album?
Babyface came to me when I was going through that odd period of my life when I was planing to retire. I was just going through a divorce and he said, "Toni, you have to talk about it. Everyone’s been where you are. I’m here. Put the words to music and melody and use it to help you." That’s how we came up with "Love, Marriage and Divorce."
For me, the whole session was therapeutic and it helped me get through that phase in my life. I’m still getting through it. So while we were deciding the songs, some of them were autobiographical. But everything on the CD is not about my personal life. There’s a song called "I Wish." That’s about my mom dealing with her divorce from my dad. She hated my dad, she hated everything about him. She just wanted him to suffer, like he made her suffer, so that’s not my personal story, but my mom inspired me to write that.
We wanted the album to reflect what both sides feel. We wanted it to be something that everybody could identify with.
Having such a long personal and professional friendship with Babyface, describe some of your thoughts on the creative aspect of working on a whole album together.
We’d been talking about it for a while and finally, we got it to happen. We kind of bumped heads a little bit initially...just creatively. We joke and laugh about it now. He said, "I’m used to you as my artist I helped. Now you’ve found yourself. Now, you’re an artist and you have your own thoughts and ideas; it’s like watching my sister grow up and I have to respect that you’re a grown woman now. You have your own ideas and philosophy on how you want your artistry to be."
It was a little bit challenging, not hard but challenging. We found our way. I think it was the big brother saw his little sister grow up and said, "Okay. I have to let her be a woman now." That’s always good. That even helped us because you could hear the passion in the songs, because we had a little bit of that conflict. You know, he’s my musical husband, I always tell him that anyway.
Is there one song that evokes the essence of when "it’s all so good" in a relationship that is featured on the album?
Probably the song "Sweat." (Laughter) When it’s all good, you argue, you get along, you fuss and fight, "I hate you, I love you." I hate the way you breathe in and out. But in the end, you love each other and sometimes you got to take it to the bed. You gotta fight about that love sometime. Still, it’s sexy and romantic. That’s the song that I think is all about the love part of being in a relationship.
You got to sweat it out sometimes. It’s a little moving we’ll say (laughter) basically. [Toni was fighting a cold, so I tell her to "get better."] I am getting better. I’m talking to you and you’re making me laugh. I love your personality. So, this is good.
I would think this whole album was musical therapy. Specifically on the songs "Hurt You" and "Where Did We Go Wrong?"
I think it is. This is the part of the relationship where you both decide to go to therapy and be honest with yourself. You have to look at the self-reflection of "Where did we go wrong? Is it my fault?" That’s the therapy part of the relationship and that’s how I took that part.
"Where Did We Go Wrong" is beautifully sad.
It is a sad love song. When I heard it, I said, "Kenny, it makes me wanna call my ex up. Maybe we should go out and eat. Maybe... we should talk!" It’s like a beautiful sad love song. Kenny and I sat up in the studio and he brought his guitar out. I said, "Kenny, I want an acoustic song. I want to hear Babyface play the guitar." We just came up with the music and the melody together. It was really lovely how it came along. We were very fortunate with the concept of the album.
You have such a beautiful spirit and strong talent. What did you take away from this and having Babyface as a friend in making the decision not to retire and do this collaboration?
Babyface reminded me. He told me, "You forgot to be an artist. You got caught up in the business of music and once you do that... you forget to be creative."
You try to chase the sound of the music instead of being organically true to who you are as a performer. So, this run-around, I’m not thinking of anything except enjoying it! Having fun with my music and doing what makes me feel good. I’m very lucky to have Babyface who helped form me at the beginning of my career, who could guide me back on the track of what I’d forgotten and why I got into the musical business and why I love it so much.