I remember writing back in 2006, during season five of American Idol, that I was worried Elliott Yamin would get voted off the show too early. Though he almost always displayed impressive vocal skills, he lacked the stage presence of more seasoned performers like Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks. I needn’t have worried. Though Elliott did not win Idol that year, he became the “Rocky” of that season. He and his fans were determined that he “go the distance.” Ultimately, Elliott lasted one week longer than Chris Daughtry, finishing in third place.
Now, with the Idol experience behind him, Elliott has just released his second album of new material (he has also released two Christmas albums). The album, Fight For Love, was released on May 5th. His first album, Elliott Yamin, peaked at number three on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, spawning a couple of minor hit singles. Recently Elliott took time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about his music.
Do you still watch American Idol, and what do you think about the addition of contestants playing instruments?
Yeah, I do watch. I think it’s cool. It’s good for the show.
Congratulations on your new album!
Thank you. I’m very excited about it.
How do you feel this album differs from your first one?
My approach was different because I actually had a well devised plan of what I wanted the record to sound like this time around. I had more time to do that. This album differs drastically from the first one. First of all, I’ve just really grown as an artist and a writer.
I was a co-writer on a lot of these songs, and I got to arrange a lot of the vocals. I’ve really learned how to use my voice and get the best out of it in the studio. I’ve just grown up as an artist. I think it’s quite evident on this new album, which is a lot more contemporary than the first one.
Had you written songs before you were on Idol?
Not really, no. I had done some minor things here and there, but nothing of this magnitude. Certainly not on a professional level.
What songs on the album are the most personal to you?
There’s a song “Apart From Me,” and another song called “Someday.” Also “Let Love Be.” And let’s see, “Know Better.” I’m personally connected to all of them, you know. I co-wrote most of the songs on there, but even the ones that were pitched to me, I still took an emotional approach to them.
What makes you connected to the songs you listed?
“Know Better” I didn’t write, but I put a lot into the vocal performance. You can really hear the hurt and pain in my voice. It translates well on record. I love the lyrics, I love the song, and I love the dynamics of it.
“Apart From Me” is something I wrote with one of the best up and coming writers of past six or seven years – Steve Russell. He used be lead singer of that R&B group Troop. So he and I wrote that together and he’s been one of the most favorite people I’ve met in the music business so far.
He’s just a great soul, and a great human being. Such a great writer, he’s so much fun and easy to work with. He’s one of those guys that really pushes you to the limit. He brings out the best in me. He challenges me to think when I’m writing, and it helps to bring me up to his level. It’s an honor to work with people who have such a knack for that skill. Having that songwriting formula down.
“Someday” I wrote about my mom.
When you get songs pitched to you, how do pick which ones you want to record?
I look at the lyrics first. Most of the time I look at the melody and the lyrics first, then the tempo of the songs and how the songs flow. A lot of demos you get have really funny vocals on them. So you kind of have to take them for what they’re worth. Sometimes when you get demo songs pitched to you they are very bare. You have see and hear the potential in them. You have to believe you can make it your own and internalize that particular song.
Are the entire song‘s music and lyrics completed?
Not all the time. It just depends. Sometimes you get a song that only has the lead vocals, and there won’t be background vocals at all. Sometimes they are even more bare than that.
What is your approach to songwriting? Do you focus on lyrics or music first?
There’s really no right or wrong way to do it. You can start off with the melody, or you can start off with the lyrics. Sometimes you got a really dope idea for a bridge. You have the bridge first, as opposed to having a hook down first or the verses first.
Everything just depends on what part of your brain is working at that particular time. I’ve actually started off writing songs with other people, where we think we have a hook but it really ends up being the bridge. That’s what’s so awesome about songwriting. You can lose all your inhibitions and be as creative as possible. You can try everything.
We’ve definitely done that. Had our bouts with different songs and they ended up going different ways. And that’s what I’m really proud of. I’ve become a really great co-writer. I’m not really there as a writer yet. I’ve become a great co-writer getting in with other people and bouncing ideas off one another.
How did your collaboration with Taylor Hicks on his new album come about?
Taylor and I are great friends. He said he was doing a re-make of that Bobby Womack song [“Woman’s Gotta Have It”], which I love and he loves. He happened to be in L.A. recording it and I was in town. We just hooked up.
We get together every chance we get. Whenever we’re in the same area. He and I have remained close friends and always will. Anytime he calls me to be on a track and vice-versa, we’re always going to be there for each other. I just loive the guy. Love his music, love his voice, love his talent. That was an easy no-brainer.
Are you going on tour soon?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m doing some one off shows at the end of the month. We’ll be touring Japan the whole month of June. Then we’ll come back and be touring around the whole country between mid-July and early fall hopefully.
Keep up with Elliott at his official website.