Cris Cab Interview: ‘Liar Liar,’ Learning From Pharrell + More [EXCLUSIVE]
There's a soulfulness about Cris Cab that translates seamlessly into his music.
Maybe it's the raspy tone of his voice (he credits his mom for having a similar timbre), maybe it's the calm confidence he radiates while singing, or maybe it's the eloquent way he speaks, complimenting his collaborators and fellow musicians.
No matter the reason, there's no doubt that Cris' 'Liar Liar' is a huge hit! When the singer stopped by the PopCrush office in New York, he chatted with us about the Pharrell collaboration, why he admires John Mayer and the inspiration behind another album track, 'Loves Me Not.'
Cris Cab's upcoming album, 'Where I Belong,' will be out on Sept. 2 and can pre-ordered on iTunes here.
Your music clearly has a ton of different musical elements to it. What’s the most unexpected influence?
The most unexpected influence in my music growing up is definitely like, my dad always played stuff like the Bee Gees and Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind & Fire, and stuff like this. Those kinds of singers and that kind of production really still influences me greatly. I’m still a huge fan of Marvin Gaye and still a huge fan of the way he produces his vocals. I still pull a lot from that. I think that was the most unexpected influence for me.
Your single ‘Liar Liar’ has become huge. Can you talk about how that collaboration with Pharrell came about?
I wrote the song with Pharrell Williams, and Pharrell has been a mentor and a great friend of mine since I was about 15 – I met him when I was 15. We wrote the song almost two years ago and we wanted to make a simple song. Pharrell’s really great about getting into an artist’s headspace and seeing where they want to go with the song and seeing who they are and bringing that out of them. That’s kind of what he did. He brought that out of me. He really enjoyed the style of my voice that he said reminded him of Sting, so we kind of played on this kind of feeling for what we did with ‘Liar Liar.’ Of course, Pharrell brought in a great baseline that kind of runs the whole song, and it’s really the more memorable part of the production.
Watch Cris Cab Perform 'Liar Liar' at the PopCrush Office
Is there a difference in playing songs with a big band behind you or just the stripped-down performances?
Of course they’re both so cool and so different. When you’re playing with a big band, it’s great. You’ve got all the bells and whistles. You can pull from any arsenal of sound and really have so many sounds going on, and that’s what I do live. We even trigger some sounds from the computer and bring in some sounds that you wouldn’t normally hear. I’ve had fans comment, like, “Wow, it sounds like there’s 30 people up there sometimes,” and that’s the great part about that.
The great part about playing acoustic is just, you know, that intimate connection and the honest connection with the fans. There’s no faking that and you’re just kind of up close and personal. I think I’ll always be at my best when I’m by myself, acoustically. It’s easier for me to think, it’s easier for me to create. I think that’s always a comfortable spot for me. Working on the live performance so much, Pharrell taught me so many things.
Is there something you’ve picked up from watching Pharrell perform?
Definitely. The most important thing I’ve learned from Pharrell is that there’s no substitute for hard work. You’ve got to work hard in order to put yourself in the right position, you know? With his recent success, it’s no accident. He’s been working so hard for so long, and that’s what you’ve got to do. You gotta keep on writing and keep on making and keep on creating.
Is there anyone that you really want to collaborate with?
Someone I’ve always wanted to collaborate with is Lenny Kravitz. I really enjoy his music. He’s got a really cool funk rock n’ roll and cool style going on. I really think it would add something different to what I do in a similar way that working with Pharrell or working with Wyclef [Jean] would add a twist.
You’re headed out on tour with Pharrell later this year. What are you most excited for?
I’m just looking forward to the whole experience. It’s a an amazing opportunity. That just shows how cool and how thoughtful Pharrell really is, to still remember me and give me the opportunity to perform before him is amazing. There’s going to be like 6 million people attending the tour, so even if I’m able to perform for half of that, that’s really cool. Looking forward to that.
Later this year, your album 'Where I Belong' drops in the U.S. What inspired the title?
For me, the album and when I created the album – the period of time between 17 and now 21 – that’s a period of time in everyone’s life where they’re discovering themselves and discovering who they want to be. A lot of kids don’t know what they want to do, they’re going to college, they’re trying to figure it out. That’s kind of what I talk about a lot on my album: discovering yourself, discovering what you want to do, discovering the truth, facing reality, heartbreak. It’s a lot of self-discovery, I think. That’s why the title felt so right for me, ‘Where I Belong,’ it being my first album, showing people who I am and what I want to do as well.
A lot of kids don’t know what they want to do, they’re going to college, they’re trying to figure it out. That’s kind of what I talk about a lot on my album: discovering yourself, discovering what you want to do, discovering the truth, facing reality, heartbreak.
Is there one place where you feel like you most “belong”?
For me, it’s anywhere anytime that I have my guitar. I feel really comfortable, I don’t know why. I just feel good. Also, every morning I just wake up and I sit in my room and just place guitar for hours. That’s probably the most comfortable I am, the most relaxed I am all day.
Is there one guitarist in particular you look up to?
More recently is definitely John Mayer. I really enjoy his – not only his ability to play, but his choice of chords and the little things he chooses. He could play like a monster, but he doesn’t choose to do that. He chooses the right things. He could shred all day but he chooses the right little licks, you know?
Can you talk about the inspiration behind ‘Loves Me Not’?
I wrote that song and produced it with Dallas Austin and another great friend of mine, Brent Paschke, and PJ McGinnis as well, so all friends of ours and it was a great time. The song was so smooth and we did it so quickly that I even forgot me made it the song. A month or two later, we were sitting in the studio looking through the songs and forgetting something and we pulled the song. I didn’t remember that.
Watch Cris Cab Perform 'Loves Me Not' at the PopCrush Office
There’s a lot of emotion in ‘Loves Me Not’! Was there one particular thing that inspired it?
No, we were focused on writing a great song and we came up with the guitar lick first. My friend Brent actually came up with the guitar lick and it was such a great and strong riff that we let that dictate where we were going with the song. The guitar lick had a lot of attitude and we started imagining and creating a story from there and we came up with the concept “love me not.”
The style of writing – the thought behind it – is to pick something easy and something that you feel like people have heard their entire life. And that’s what Pharrell does great as well. He picks stuff that you almost were born knowing and that concept, “loves me so, loves me not,” that’s like picking a flower. Picking the rose petals. Everybody knows that from being a little kid.
So that was kind of the idea behind it. Something that people are familiar with in a new way. If you hear the song live, not only the acoustic version, there’s dub step in it. There’s very complex production. There’s three different parts to it.
Are there any writers who took a simplistic idea and made it into something you love?
Definitely. One song very recently that I’m a fan of is a song by a group called Milky Chance. The song is called ‘Stolen Dance.’ I don’t even know much about the group, but the song caught me automatically. The song is called ‘Stolen Dance’ and it’s so simple. It’s coming out of Europe now, so it should be starting over here soon. The way it builds is only guitar, drums and vocals. It’s cool. Cool to see that again.
Is there one lyric from ‘Where We Belong’ that captures the message of the album?
That’s difficult. I haven’t really thought about that. It’s a good question. In ‘Fables,’ something that really hits me well in the album is the bridge section, there’s a lyric that says “Whatever makes you happy now” and that’s kind of my vibe, I think.
Speaking of ‘Fables,’ I notice you reference fairy tales and fables a couple times in the album. Were those things that you were really into when you were younger?
It’s funny. It’s almost like subliminally I did that. For me, I guess the coolest part I enjoy about music is the part of it that’s almost like magic. Anything can happen. The cool part about being an artist is having that blank canvas and creating any kind of world you want and putting yourself in any kind of world. So I think subliminally I’m always taking myself back to being 10 years old, like “Wow.” Just in awe of everything and music in general.