Alicia Keys has a picture-perfect life — beauty, talent, a doting husband and an adorable son — but things weren’t always so rosy for the songstress. After a breakthrough year, during which she scored her first-ever feature film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, which is on DVD now, we caught up with a reflective Miss Alicia to talk about her humble beginnings and more.
Last time we interviewed you about this film, we asked you to share something in your life that you felt was inevitable. This time, lets talk about defeat. When did you feel defeated and how did you overcome it?
When I was very young, I had all these big dreams about the music industry and how it was going to be and nothing worked out the way I dreamed that it would. The idea of working really hard and putting together music and the album, and for it to not come out, and people to not like it, it was crushing. The people that had the power to put my first album out to the public to hear, did not like it. At that time, I thought in so many ways things were never going to work out for me in the way I hoped. That feeling was ever-present.
It’s so interesting to hear you say that, because I think for a lot of us, when you broke out on the scene, it seemed you were a wunderkind. Success seemed inevitable for you.
Oh, no, it didn’t feel inevitable at all. I remember all the executives [I was working with] told me the album wasn’t good. They said, “it just isn’t going to work.” The few executives that did believe in what I had to offer had been replaced, so I was surrounded by people that totally didn’t know me at all and probably didn’t really care. I worked really hard to get out of that place. I’m glad I stuck with it, too. Who would have ever known?
Scoring a film is a very different skill set from writing songs. How did you make that transition and what about Mister & Pete resonates with your musical style?
It’s something that really struck me from the very beginning. The characters, the people, the story lines, the realness, the honesty, the genuine-ness, the heartbreak, the empowerment, the triumph, the mystery, the discovery, the hurt — all of it really resonated with me. All those are themes I write about, and even though [the film score] is not lyrical, its still an expression of all that. It was definitely a new experience for me. It wasn’t necessarily easy, it was difficult to figure how to bring it all together. But, for me, music is really about capturing a feeling, and it’s the same with movies, so that’s what made it synergistic.
Mister & Pete is a quintessentially New York film, and you’re a New York girl. The passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman was a huge loss for the NYC film community and movies at large. In an industry that loses so much talent to drugs and alcohol, how did you manage to stay above all that?
I don’t know, to be honest, I don’t. And I actually…I think about that a lot. The only thing that comes to mind is, “by the grace of God, I go.” I think a lot about the fact that anyone could be with the wrong people in the wrong moment, myself included. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened to me. I attribute it back to having a really, really powerful relationship with my mother. I was alone so much as a young girl, so I had to have good sense. So I think, in a lot of ways, my instincts had been cultivated by how I grew up, to sense danger and to sense when things were wrong. And so I like to say that’s maybe what saved me.
Interview By Evelyn Diaz