R&B smooth operator Andwele (Dwele) Gardner has a lot to smile about as 2008 takes shape. His third full-length effort is being readied for a spring release from Koch Records. And the Detroiter, known for his mellow but streetwise blending of R&B and soul, is readying himself for a visit to L.A. for Sunday’s Grammy Awards.
He’s nominated for his laid-back, jazzy take on “That’s the Way of the World” from the tribute album “Interpretations: Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire.”
This spring, fans will finally get to hear your new record. How about some hints?
I just got back in from New York City, and we finished up a couple songs for my record as well as a couple songs for a DVD we’re trying to put together. If everything goes right, we will put out a DVD with the record that features a couple live performances from a show in New York I did a few months ago. I don’t have a new name yet for the album, but it should be out at the end of March or early April - and the first single is called “I’m Cheating,” a track I did with G-One out in L.A. I also did a track called “A Few Reasons” that I did with Knox, a producer from Virginia. I worked with different producers on this album to bring a different vibe. I’m still going to have a mellow vibe. It’s a little bit of “Some Kinda ...,” a little bit of “Subject,” but at the same time, I’m trying to take it to the next level. It’s all about expanding and growing with the music.
It’s been a few years since “Some Kinda ...” came out. You’ve collaborated with many different artists since then, including Kanye West on “Flashing Lights” and Common on “The People.” How have you expanded and grown as an artist?
With every collaboration that I do and with every show that I do, I grow a little more - change a little more. I learn a little bit more about myself and about my craft and how I operate with different musicians and producers. I’ve grown in that aspect. I’ve learned a little more about how crowds react to certain things while creating this album.
It’s been about four years since “Some Kinda ...,” and since that last album, I have gotten into DJ-ing. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of that, and when you pick up the craft of DJ-ing, it kind of gives you another spin on music, on how people react to music. When you’re at the club spinning records and watching people’s reactions, you start to learn what songs and what kinds of music do what to people and the audience.
You sing, rap, produce, write, play almost every instrument and now DJ. What don’t you do?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I try to do it all. My main instrument, the one I’m most comfortable with, is the piano, and my second instrument is the trumpet. Everything else around that is just stuff I picked up hanging around in the studio. If I’m working on a song and I want a live bass sound, I’ll probably just pick it up and play it myself instead of finding somebody to come into the studio and play. I do it more like that. As far as production, I have enough of a grasp of every instrument to pick it up and actually do something with it in a song. As far as beats, the MP (kit), I try to do that all myself. When I start a project, I like to finish it. When you’re operating with other people, it sometimes takes a little while; you’ve got to get in contact with them, wait for schedules to open up. ... I’ve never been that patient of a guy when it comes to music, so I just learned to do everything myself.
What was it like working on the classic Earth, Wind & Fire song “That’s the Way of the World” that earned you a Grammy nomination?
When I found out about the Grammy nomination, it was a shock. I don’t know; I just didn’t see it coming. When I got the call, wow - I had to pull the car over. When I found out, I couldn’t wait to call my mother and let her know that happened. It’s most definitely an honor. And I really like the fact that it was that Earth, Wind & Fire song that got me the nod.
Going into that song, I was really frustrated by it because it was a song that everybody loves. It has so many magical moments in the song already, and them asking me to put my spin on it was challenging and frustrating. I was like: `How am I going to put my spin on it and change the song when there’s nothing in the song that I would change? Period.’ That song is so perfect. So it was kind of frustrating going in and creating the song. But seeing that it got nominated, I must have done something right with it. It’s an honor.
Detroit has such a rich and diverse musical history, but these days, many of our artists are known primarily for rap or rock. How do people react to you when they learn you’re from Detroit, and how has the city influenced you as an artist?
Detroit, I feel like I am Detroit. Everything I am is because of my city - the way that I was raised and my surroundings. I mean I love Detroit for it. I am going to try and stay here as long as I can; this is home for me. Detroit has not only influenced me, but music all over the world ... whether it’s London, Japan, wherever. If I meet people outside of the show they’re like, “Oooh, Detroit, Motown, Slum Village - Dilla.” From soul music to house music to hip-hop, Detroit is not only a big influence on me but a big influence around the world.