“Optimism is your only tool to change your reality” – Will.i.am
You’ve probably had this conversation with your friends: “They seem nice, but what are they really like?” The BALANCE team is the same. Forget the spin, PR or public persona: what is a person like deep down?
We spent the day with Will.i.am recently and the first thing the global superstar did upon entering the London hotel suite was personally introduced himself to every person in the room, chatting with them, asking how they were and shaking their hand. And he did the exact same thing when our time together came to an end. This was not an ordeal; to Will.i.am it came as effortlessly and naturally as posing for the camera. We don’t know about you, but sometimes we struggle to do that with a gathering of friends, let alone a room of strangers.
The multifaceted superstar put everyone at ease from the off and his charming nature was alluring. What’s apparent is the positive role played by his mother, Debra Adams. Hailing from a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles, Debra would put her son on a bus to travel two hours to a better school in Brentwood.
Discussing her impact, the Black Eyed Peas frontman is honest and forthright: “There’s no word or sentence, it’s just the way she raised us was with mindfulness. We grew up poor. I don’t know how, but she got me all the GI Joe and Transformer toys when I was growing up, but when it came to the rest of the kids in the neighbourhood, she would say, ‘Don’t you go bragging about it!’ Little things like ‘don’t brag’, ‘stay humble’, ‘stay mindful’ and ‘think about the things you’re going to say before you say them’.”
THE ARTISTRY OF LIFE
He adds: “In entertainment it’s, ‘I’m so this, I’m so that.’ And in the past we’ve made music like that, too. There’s nothing wrong with pick-me-up [music]. Songs like Imma Be are like a pick-me-up. And then we have songs on this project like Get It.” Will.i.am then performs a whole section of the track that drives home the paradox of life itself. Life is just crazy. Life is terrific, it’s also horrific. It’s a magnificent painting…
He adds: “If it’s a gift, well thank you so much, I’ll take that. If it’s a bitch, well, I’m gonna make the best out of this.
“A lot of the reasons why I believe it’s hard for people to change their reality is because optimism is looked at as insanity, especially when you are dealing with all these hellish obstacles. Optimism is your only tool to change your reality, and you can dream your way out of that. You may not change it immediately but one dream at a time turns into an amazing movie; it’s like frames to a film. If you just saw one frame of a film you’d think it’s really nothing. Add them all up and that’s an amazing story.”
He adds: “It’s the perspective of, if you’re thirsty, to worry about if the glass is half-full, or empty – I’m just, like, thank you for the glass! If we can all have the perspective of being gracious, grateful, mindful, the world would be a little bit easier for folks that have it a bit harder. There’s always somebody that’s having it harder and no matter how hard your situation, it all depends on toleration.”
That isn’t to say that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune don’t rain down on Will.i.am. He confides that he’s had a rough time of things with his tech firm, I.am+. “I have my hard moments, like everyone, you know,” he reasons. “Last month was tough and when you’re going through those tough moments you get into your selfish bubble so it’s hard for you to step out of that cloud.”
He adds: “It was something I’d never been through before. I got out of it and now I have a badge of ‘I know that obstacle’.”
Will.i.am compared his recent travails to the mid-nineties, when he wondered if Black Eyed Peas would ever catch a break. “Those worries I had in 1996, we rendered as just panic and pessimistic. Now I’m super-optimistic, like I can do anything – I can start my own tech company, and that’s hard!
“You have, like, 288 employees, something like that, and payroll is hardcore. It was one of those moments of restlessness, tossing and turning in my sleep, and still motivating the team that we are going to get there, that’s [the same] for every start-up. So, it was a tough last month. But like with every tough month you just snap out of it, focus and then the answer is there.
“If I didn’t care, I would sleep like a baby. Because I care so much, any bump and I’m just concerned for everyone else in the plane. Sometimes I wish I didn’t care, but I’m happy I care. That’s life.”
Far be it from BALANCE to offer Will.i.am advice, but we venture that it took Thomas Edison 100 attempts to get the light bulb right and, honest to goodness, we share a moment. His eyes widen: “I always felt that way!” And Will.i.am gets out his phone and shows us the cover for I Gotta Feeling. On the cover? A man with a lightbulb for a head. Edison, it seems, is a figure close to his heart. “Every group has their biggest song and that was ours,” he says. “This is our lightbulb – and that’s the single cover. The idea is that lightbulb over your head. I did it on my laptop – I took a picture of downtown LA from my balcony where I recorded it and I got this dude with a suit on and I took a lightbulb and that’s I Gotta Feeling.”
Ah, yes. The multi-million-selling, six-time Grammy winning Black Eyed Peas. “There’s no regrets, I wouldn’t change anything, even songs like Don’t Lie. I don’t like that song, but I wouldn’t change it. What about putting Fergie in the group? Nope, wouldn’t change it, it’s perfect. What about taking a break for seven years? Yeah, I wouldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t have waited seven years. That’s a piece of me that’s like, collectively, we didn’t honour the gift. That’s a gift, to be able to sell out stadiums, that’s a gift from everyone that showed up to the shows, society as a whole selecting your music to be the soundtrack to their lives, it’s a gift. Seven years? That’s not appreciation.”
If you’re lucky enough to snap up a ticket, you’ll see the original Peas line-up ofWill.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo. And that means no Fergie. Will.i.am explains: “With a lot of the songs we figured out a way to reconstruct them so that it still has the energy.
“The last thing we want is for people to expect the songs to be the way they remember them and feel cheated. So, we designed a way to ensure you’re not missing out on anything. What I don’t want to have is someone mimicking – that’s blasphemy. But to have a complementary energy or a relative key, or vibration is what we’ve accomplished for this new show.”
It’s not just on-stage where Will.i.am’s positive influence is felt. He personally pays around $1.5 million a year to give opportunities to disadvantaged youths via his i.am.angel foundation. “I don’t brag about what I have, but if our culture was to use what we have to help, ghettos wouldn’t be ghettos. But we want to wear our wealth on our neck, our teeth, everywhere. And don’t get me wrong, you could Google that I [once] had a diamond ear!”
I ask who else has stepped up, and it’s apparent there aren’t many that spring to mind: he names basketball stars Kevin Durant and LeBron James, and “all the French [football] players of African descent”.
“This is the beginning of a different type of social assistance, a community guardian league. When governments protect corporations and companies more than people, who do the people have?” The Black Eyed Peas tour the UK in October and November.