Over the weekend, Usher (real name Usher Raymond IV) returned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to perform for the F1 After-Race Concert in Sepang International Circuit (SIC). The multiple-Grammy award-winning artiste, who last performed in Malaysia back in 2010 for his Usher Live In Kuala Lumpur concert, brought his A-town A game and swept his fans off their feet as he crooned and moved along to some of his biggest hits.
But before he took the stage at SIC, we met the R&B superstar for a quick chat.
Here’s what went down:
Hi Usher. What’s up? How are you feeling?
I’m pretty tired. A little bit jet-lagged, I’m nursing a neck injury, so I’m just tired. I’ve been promoting my album, promoting my movie, travelling around world, travelling from coast to coast in America, and then I had this long 16-hour flight to get here, so I’m just really trying to recuperate and get back body back up to the standard so that I can do the show tonight.
Oh no. Did you get any sleep last night?
You know what, I got a little sleep. I went over to the soundcheck..it went a little bit longer than I thought it would’ve because we had some slight difficulties with our equipment getting in but it’s all situated now. But I did stay up until about 3 this morning just rehearsing and getting everything together for the show. When I finally got back to the hotel..it was about a 45-minute drive..my neck was once again cramped because of that long drive. But I’m trying to get prepared, I’m trying..(whine)
(laughs) Are you trying to get pumped up for tonight?
You know, one thing that happens when I’m on stage, is that I don’t really feel pain. So I have to be very careful not to re-injure or hurt myself because my adrenaline is going so fast that I won’t feel something until the end of the show. And then..all of a sudden there’s an ache in my chest, or an ache in my neck, or leg, or toe, or knee, or something and I’m like, “Uh oh!”. So I have to go through this whole process of..you know..kind of this regimented thing that I do in terms of icing and working with physical therapists or a masseuse to try to get me reset before I have to do the next show.
Your shows are usually so high energy, right? How would you usually come down from a show like that?
Sometimes going to a party and being social..it helps because you make use of the energy. And although you’re in a loud and also too energetic environment, you’d just start kinda calm yourself down. You may enjoy the music a little bit, but then you’ll rest, you have some water or have a drink, whatever that may be, to just kind of..inebriate yourself to just kind of balance out.
Does it feel good to be back in Malaysia?
It does! It feels really good. I had a great time the last time I was here and I really enjoyed myself. Happy to be back once again. And you know what? I come back this time and now having had success with a very popular, well-known Malaysian artiste..I mean, I don’t know if it was kinda planned or destined to happen that way, but I just happen to be a fan of Yuna’s. And you know, in terms of what your affinity is with her and your celebration of her, I celebrate her and all women here in that way. I really wanted America to understand what we did together as a collaboration.
Tell us about your new album, “Hard II Love”. Is there anything that we don’t know about it that you’d like to share?
Here’s the beautiful part about what has happened: I can tell you what I think each and every song is, but it’s a raw emotion that happened and I put it on wax or I put it on the album, and it’s left now to your interpretation. It’s not different than a piece of art on the wall – you look at it and it may simply look like what it is or it could fuel your imagination to go different places. And maybe assist you in some things that you’re feeling or experiencing with your significant other or whatever. So, it’s there, and I hope that people enjoy it. It’s been a very successful album here and I’m really excited to be here to perform some of those songs. But I’m going to give you guys a collective of all the songs that I felt kinda led us up to this moment tonight.
What’s the theme of “Hard II Love”? Were you trying to send out a message?
I don’t know if I was aiming for a message, I was just aiming for honesty. It was kinda my transition…every album somehow has this bit of tension and this dichotomy, where there’s a good and a bad. Every album. I think the one that I was most focused on was “Raymond v. Raymond” (2010), just in the name. Like, what does that mean? The dichotomy of who we are as people. And then, you know, that balance – the good, bad; that love, hate; that up, down; that left, right; that left right brain conversation – all of those things happened on this album so the if messaging is perceived that way then that’s exactly what it is. It’s a piece of who I am, in hopes that what I’m talking about – dealing with relationship, love, sex, and personal reflection – helps you. I hope that it will help you in your relationships, I hope that it will help you kind of deal with yourself.
Let’s talk about your upcoming movie, “Hands of Stone”. Tell us how you got the role and your experience in playing the character.
I think part of me getting the role has something to do with the fact that there was a common ground between me and Sugar Ray Leonard. One, we both started very young. Two, we use movement as a great tool so it’d be easy for me to pick up the box and because of how choreographed I am as a performer. But Jonathan Jakubowicz, an independent Venezuelan director, he reached out to me directly and wanted a meeting with me. We sat down and I wasn’t 100% certain exactly what he wanted me to do and how big or major or small a role I was would play in the story of Roberto Durán’s life because the story is not about Sugar Ray Leonard, it’s 100% about Roberto Durán, who was a Panamanian boxer. When he began to tell me about the story and kind of opened up to different chapters, I felt like it would be something that would not only be a challenge for me because I had to lose weight, I had to learn how to box, and I had to really get to know Sugar Ray Leonard’s character. But it became an incredible journey for me. I think it put me in the best shape that I’ve ever been in my life. I mean judging from the nude pictures – take a look at the movie and you’ll get it. I really did enjoy getting to know his character and getting to know him. I trained with Sugar Ray Leonard in the process, I read his book. Up until that moment, I don’t think..I mean..I would consider myself an exhibitionist in some way because I’ve never been afraid to just be naked. But I think I was more comfortable than ever.