NEW YORK (AP) — A tabloid-heavy divorce and monstrous lawsuit about his biggest hit was hard enough, but then life hit Robin Thicke beyond the gossip column.
His father, “Growing Pains” actor Alan Thicke, died. The following year, his popular manager Jordan Feldstein — actor Jonah Hill’s brother who also oversaw Maroon 5’s career — died at just 40.
Thicke’s Malibu home burned down a year later because of the Woolsey fire. And last year his champion and mentor Andre Harrell, the record executive who launched the careers of Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige, died.
“I’ve always been a pretty positive person and obviously this five, six years I just went through challenged all of my preconceived notions of faith and positivity,” Thicke said.
While trying to live life and find the light, Thicke also grew distant from music — a hard realization for the Grammy-nominated performer who typically takes one to two-year breaks in between albums.
Then he wrote a song about his father. And another about Harrell.
“I just kind of woke up out of the fog, the creative fog I was in and personal fog I was in. Just started seeing the world a little differently, finally,” he said.
“On Earth, and in Heaven,” Thicke’s eighth album, will be released Friday and the 11-track set is a breezy, acoustic R&B journey about his hard and heavy times, though hope is at the center of it.
“That’s What Love Can Do,” which closes the album, was written after his father passed; “Look Easy,” the new single, is dedicated to “the front line workers and our moms and our teachers”; “Out of My Mind” touches on depression and anxiety as well as finding peace; and “Beautiful” is about finding the light in a sea of darkness.
In an interview with The Associated Press, edited for clarity and brevity, Thicke talks about writing about his loved ones, getting rid of his ego, fatherhood and what he learned from the gift and curse that was “Blurred Lines.”
AP: You’ve been through a lot in the last few years, but the album is positive. Is that the message you wanted to send?
Thicke: That’s what the album really is: when everything hits the wall. And some of these things I could not control — my father, Andre, my manager Jordan Feldstein, my house burning down. But there were other things that happened like getting a divorce, getting sued, getting bad public press. There were things that I did and that I could have done much better, that I could have handled much better that made all of these problems come into play at one time. My vanity. My ego. My arrogance. All the things that needed to be met all were met over this period of time. They all shook hands and they fought it out. Right now, the good angel is winning and is enjoying music and his family. …I’m really just going through a gratitude period for everything I have. I’m happier because of it.
AP: What helped you get out of that dark place?
Thicke: I think we all reach our breaking point in some way. The world is telling you, “You need to make some changes.” The people that love you, the people that don’t, somehow you’re getting a recurring message that change needs to happen. For me I had to strip down my selfishness, my vanity, my self-importance. My sensitivities of being made fun of or being called names.
I think that is one of the great superpowers, to be able to laugh at yourself, to not take yourself too seriously and to enjoy the room, even when they’re teasing you. I didn’t have that before. I held on to my music and my art too tight. I held on to everything I had worked so hard for too tight. Then I couldn’t take any negativity — any apples, oranges and tomatoes being thrown at me. At this point in my life, luckily, I’ve learned to embrace all parts of the culture of fame and entertainment.
AP: Was is difficult writing about your father on this album?
Thicke: It’s cathartic for me. It’s therapeutic. It helps me get through my tough times. It definitely helped me. If it helps me, then maybe it’ll help somebody else. Maybe it’ll comfort them.
AP: Did writing about your father and Andre open the floodgates so you could write the rest of the album?
Thicke: Yeah. I spoke with Andre about a week before he passed. We went over my album and he wasn’t very impressed, to say the least. He was like, “Where’s all the horns and the strings and the vocal production and the background you do? All the bass lines and stuff?” Then he passed away, so I went to work. I realized that he’d already given me so much life and fuel to my fire. He supported me and believed in me and had some new place to take my talents. I wanted to honor him and also honor my father, of course, by finishing it.
AP: What do you remember most about Andre?
Thicke: He was just nonstop positive, fun, generous with his energy, patient with people and inspiring. He really could look around the room and see where everybody was at and give them some little tidbit, some little piece, some little nugget that’ll help push them forward. He was almost like an angel in disguise that way. He even taught me that, he said, “You never know if that guy on the street that just handed you his mixtape is the next Jay-Z.” He saw magic come from the most unlikeliest of places. He went to the projects and signed Mary J. Blige and told her mother right after she sang, “Your daughter is going to sing for kings and queens someday.” She did. He did that for me. He believed in me more than anybody else did.
AP: Andre’s son, Gianni Credle-Harrell, is listed as a co-writer on “Beautiful.” What was it like working with his him?
Thicke: That was actually just a fun evening. I had crafted the song, but I didn’t have the lyrics finished and I didn’t have some of the message finished. I had the chorus, the base of it and the musical structure, but I hadn’t connected to what made that song stand apart. Gianni came and he gave me some ideas for some melody flows (and) I ended up keeping a little part.
It wasn’t until George Floyd happened that I brought the song back. It was actually sitting still for four years. When George Floyd happened, I went back to the song and I rewrote it because there’s a line that says, “I look in your eyes, your smile reminds me what love’s about.” That famous picture of George Floyd, where he’s smiling, the lyric came back to my head when I saw him smiling in the midst of the situation. I wanted to write a song about tearing down the existing system and rebuilding something that’s beautiful, something better.
AP: What’s it like being a father of four?
Thicke: We are all in a situation where we are being dealt the hand and whatever hand we’re given we have got to make the most of those playing cards. My house burned down and I saw that as an opportunity to show my son the value of family and laughter and music and dance and movies over material items. OK, we lost our stuff. Our house burned down but we have each other and we have every day an opportunity to make the most of our days and have a great time together. Laugh and sing and dance and play. It gave me an opportunity to show him how to walk through those things. And with losing the people you love, we all have to learn how to walk through those things on our own. It’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that somebody out there, or your family friends, can help you walk through it.
AP: Years later, how do you look at what happened with “Blurred Lines”?
Thicke: It was a necessary part of my personal growth. I was partying too much that year. I was celebrating 20 years of hard work and the success that had finally come with it. Some bad routines, some bad habits caught up with me. Then I made some bad decisions. People got hurt. It was time to go away for a little while. Get my perspective. Get my head back on straight. Focus on my son. Focus on what was most important in my life. Then out of that, I started to build back my soul. Started to build back my faith and my confidence very slowly by doing the right thing. I just try to wake up every day and give to my family, give to my friendships and give to my music and do the right thing. I built back some strength inside of me.