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Thomas Callaway (aka Cee-Lo Green) will perform at Fluxx on Thursday night. But it’s three days later, at the 53rd Grammy awards, when he has the chance to add to a string of recent career highlights that seem like they're never going to end.
Callaway is no stranger to the Grammys, winning two in 2007 with collaborator Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) as half of the duo Gnarls Barkley. The nominations for this year's awards show are not only bigger (Best Record of the Year, Best Song of the Year), if he happens to take home any statues, he'll win them alone.
The child of two ordained ministers, Callaway first started singing in church. In his late teens, he found success with the rap outfit the Goodie Mob, who, with along with Outkast, helped to both put Atlanta on the hip-hop map and make the phrase Dirty South known west of the Mississippi and north of the Bible Belt.
After three albums with the Goodie Mob, Callaway left to pursue a solo career. Despite collaborations with the likes of Ludacris, Timbaland and Pharrell, his two solo efforts received lukewarm commercial receptions, and he was dropped from Arista Records.
Then came his partnership with Burton in Gnarls Barkley, and everything changed. The single "Crazy" bucked major trends by hitting No. 1 while still only a digital release and went on to reach that peak all over the globe.
These days, Callaway is still making a habit of bucking trends. He's again hit the top spot and garnered Grammy nods, but this time it’s with the ironically titled single, "F--- You."
I recently spoke with the singer/rapper/producer about having a No. 1 single that can't be played on the radio without editing, the future of Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob, and keeping up with multiple projects.
Scott McDonald: How are you? Wait, what am I saying? You're good, right?
Cee-Lo Green: Well, you know what they say: Somebody's doing better, and somebody's doing worse. So you can't complain about being in the middle somewhere.
SM: I know you just played with Prince. How did that go?
CL: The show was a success. And it was successful in just the way that the word success sounds. And by that, I mean it’s really an understatement. It was incredible.
SM: Your schedule is crazy these days. How do you find time to write? Do you do it on the road or wait until you have some time off?
CL: All of the above. Sometimes I’m plotting bits and pieces to complete a thought of something bigger that’s already in place, and sometimes it’s all at once. But it’s a bit of a jigsaw. There’s no formula to it, but there’s a method to the madness. It just depends on how it comes. But someone like Lil’ Wayne has mastered that multitasking far better than I have. I really respect his hustle and how hard he goes about it. But there is always a difference between quantity and quality product, so sometimes, it’s better to take a little longer -- usually it’s worth it.
SM: You just appeared on Saturday Night Live, and I know you’ve done voices for things like Robot Chicken. Any plans to take on acting more seriously?
CL: To me, they’re kind of one in the same. They’re like, what is it, maternal twins? One comes a little later than the other, but they’re still identical. It’s kinda like that. When you experience something and you write it down, and then go to the booth to re-enact or reanimate that experience, you are acting a bit. It’s a reenactment. So they’re very closely related. I have no plans, but I’m always open to good projects.
SM: Do you find it strange that the Grammys nominated a song titled “F--- You?”
CL: I think so. It’s pretty unique and peculiar. But then again, I’ve seen a lot of stranger things happen. I mean, I’ve seen a monkey riding a bicycle.
SM: How do you feel about having to change the lyrics all the time?
CL: It is what it is. But you know what’s cool? “F--- You” and “Forget You” were in the Top 10 at the same time. As a matter of fact, you know what’s cooler than that? Let’s get ice cold: “F--- You,” “Forget You” and the Glee version of “Forget You” were all in the Top 10 at the same time. So what can I say?
SM: I heard the Goodies were getting back together. True?
CL: The Goodie Mob is reunited. But we were really never severed. We were just stretched out. Over time, it’s just been a testament to our elasticity. We’re working on a new record right now. It’s the next thing you’ll hear from me.
SM: Gnarls Barkley?
CL: I just talked to Brian recently. We’re definitely going to get together to do another Gnarls Barkley album. We’d really like to get back together to do it and, I think, so would the people, and that’s what’s most important. Just gotta find something to write about. Maybe my heart needs to get broken again. I don’t know.
SM: With all of these projects, when will you take some time off?
CL: Why should I? There’s nothing else to do. What I love is music, of course, and doing what you love is a special thing. There’s just nothing more enjoyable to me. It’s not work. I preach the lesson of music so that the appreciation factor is being heightened and the conditioning from monotony and mediocrity -- and those molds -- are being broken one great song at a time. And it’s a process. I’m an agent of it, and on a serious note, that’s what it’s really all about – pushing forward and revitalizing an industry that’s on its ear.
SM: What’s next? I assume it’s not going to be just more of the same.
CL: More stuff keeps coming to mind every day. Each day is a song. And I prefer it this way, man. Predictability is a precursor to death.