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Q&A: Aaron Neville talks genre-mixing soul music career ahead of Royce Hall performance

(Courtesy of Sarah A. Friedman)

"Aaron Neville"

Saturday, 8pm

Royce Hall

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By Noor Ghatala

Nov. 1, 2019 5:57 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 5 at 11:14 p.m.

Aaron Neville has been in the soul music industry touring venues across the United States for over 50 years.

Neville, who also plays the keyboard, is most famously known for tracks such as “Close Your Eyes” and “Everybody Plays The Fool.” However, he started his music career in 1960 recording his very first song, “Over You.” Neville also played with his brothers under the name The Neville Brothers, and his work with them jumpstarted a career that led to multiple Grammy awards. Throughout his career, many of Neville’s songs have topped the Billboard 100. Now, at 75 years old, Neville will be performing his most successful songs at Royce Hall on Saturday.

Neville talked with Daily Bruin’s Noor Ghatala about his life’s work, his upcoming show and his journey to world-renowned fame.

Daily Bruin: What initially led you to pursue music professionally?

Aaron Neville: It was in my blood since I can remember as a little boy. As a kid, that’s all I wanted to do, and music was in my family.

[Related: Q&A: Kim Petras discusses influence of horror movies on music, upcoming spooky concert]

DB: What has been the main influence on your musical style?

AN: I had to work on getting my style together. You just hear other people do different (things). You try it out. Like I would get some stuff from Sam Cooke or Nat King Cole, some of the doo-wop-ers. I play the keyboard, but I’d rather just sing.

DB: How would you say your musical career has changed since it began?

AN: Big time … We ran up and down the highway for like 40 years, with the Neville Brothers. And I met Linda Ronstadt and that made a big spike into my career. We had the two Grammys together. My career started, I guess, in 1960 when I recorded my first song. I went on the road with Larry Williams and Jackie Wilson and a bunch of other people.

DB: What’s your favorite song to perform live and why?

AN: Probably “Tell It Like It Is” because it was my biggest back in 1966, and I have been singing ever since.

DB: What is one unforgettable moment in your career?

AN: One unforgettable moment in my career would be winning the Grammy with Linda Ronstadt in 1990. It was great. I can’t explain it, it was dope. I remember being nervous and I had a speech planned out and I got up and I felt like Jackie Gleason and I couldn’t get it out. But it was fun.

DB: What can audiences expect to see at your performance at Royce Hall?

AN: Me and Michael Goods, my keyboard player, we have a plethora of songs and styles that I’ve sang throughout my years, and I’m going to let the audience enjoy it with us. Anything you can think of we do all kinds of genres of music, from pop, rock, doo-wop, gospel, classical, whatever.

[Related: Performance to use cellist, dancer to explore themes of life and death]

DB: How would you define your own genre?

AN: Everything. I’ve recorded everything – country, pop, gospel or R&B. We have some of all of that.

DB: Why have you chosen to play the songs you have planned in your set list for Royce Hall?

AN: The thing about that is I haven’t chosen anything yet until I see the crowd. I have a set list that I write out, but I work from my memory too. And I look at the crowd and read the crowd like a quarterback in case I want to change something.

DB: After being in the industry for so long and watching it shift and change, how have you managed to maintain popularity throughout your career and as an artist?

AN: I thank God for the longevity I’ve had throughout the years; I wouldn’t want to be starting today. So much competition out there today, I already have (my career) established, so I don’t have to go through that.

DB: What do you love about music?

AN: Everything, it is good for the soul. You know it goes through your bloodstream. It is the healer. It can sing out every emotion.

DB: Do you have any advice for young artists?

AN: Have a backup because the music business can be fickle. You never know what you can expect. It’s so different from when I started out, like night and day. Everybody is sampling everything, it’s all online. I don’t know if people buy records anymore, or CDs or whatever. And live by the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule takes care of everything: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

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