There’s something nostalgic about Eric Benét’s vocals. One listen to his debut single “You’re The Only One” and we’re transported to an era when romancing was more than a bump and grind in a club and chivalry was alive and kicking. His latest melodic opus, “Love & Life,” is a throwback to decades of rhythm and blues from the ‘70s to the present day. ESSENCE.com caught up with “Mr. Romance” to discuss his music, Sen. Barack Obama versus President George Bush, and his recovery from a public divorce.
ESSENCE.COM: You titled your new album “Love & Life.” How do those two things coexist in Mr. Benét’s world?
ERIC BENÉT: I’m finally enjoying life and in a good place. It has everything to do with maturity and learning the lessons along the way in life and love. For me those two things finally translate to happiness. Now I’m able to see things more clearly and figure out how to avoid or resolve things more quickly than I did before. I wanted to reflect that happiness, maturity and love in my music and pay homage to every decade of R&B from the ’70s to the ’90s.
ESSENCE.COM: Which song anchors the album?
BENÉT: Wow, that’s a difficult question. I would say the first single was a great first choice and representation of what you’ll hear on the album. There’s not just one song. There are influences of the ’70s, ’80s disco. Some songs are about feeling sexy, going dancing, optimism, family, and global consciousness.
ESSENCE.COM: Other than music, what else inspires you?
BENÉT: This election and Obama has given me hope and a sense of pride in America that I haven’t felt since I was seven years old watching Captain America. I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve had that sense of pride in my country with all the traveling that I do, but it feels good.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs) Dang, Captain America, O-mighty-mighty Isis and don’t forget Shazam—now’s that’s a long time! Seriously, what’s so embarrassing about America?
BENÉT: I can sum it up in one word—Bush. It’s embarrassing that this country elected this man for two terms and when I’m traveling the response I always get when it turns to politics is: “What the hell were y’all thinking?” So I implore everyone, especially the young people, to register and vote so the voice of the youth can be heard.
ESSENCE.COM: Was there ever a time when your love and personal lives haven’t lived harmoniously?
BENÉT: (Laughs) Yeah, that album was called “Hurricane”! Before I released that album I was very nervous, but people have been overwhelmingly supportive. I was reassured that listeners just wanted to hear the music and get past all the static.
ESSENCE.COM: Yeah, living in the public eye is difficult. Was there ever a time in your career or personal life that you felt like you’d compromised love for life’s pleasures?
BENÉT: Well, yes. I’ve reflected and I now know that it would probably have been better for me to marinate a little longer before jumping the broom in regards to my last relationship. There were a few times I thought, There’s no way that I’m going to make it through this. I was wrong. For me, my belief in God, the power of love and having an incredible family around me has gotten me through it all. Again, that’s all about growth and I’ve used everything from that experience to learn from my mistakes and finally translate that to happiness in my own way.
ESSENCE.COM: Thankfully, trouble doesn’t last always. So the blogosphere reports that you’re dating Prince’s second, ex- wife Manuela Testolini…
BENÉT: (Chuckles) Well, yes, we’ve been spending some nice time together.
ESSENCE.COM: What should your fans know about you that they don’t already?
BENÉT: Anyone who spends any amount of time with me will see I’m goofy and dorky. But more importantly, I’m a good father and a prolific songwriter.