Of all of us, Alicia Keys is the only one who's had Bob Dylan write a song about her. She's also (unlike Joan Baez) the only one with four consecutive albums debuting at #1 on the Billboard Charts, a thriving acting career, and, at 27, fills stadiums nationwide without breaking a sweat. We caught up with the R&B siren over the phone in New Orleans, in the middle of her "As I Am" tour (which comes to the TD Banknorth Garden on June 11), where she talked with us about first love, her desire to work with the White Stripes, and what challenges lie ahead for someone who's already on top of the world.
“Teenage Love Affair” is one of the songs on the new album, great song, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little about your first love, or your one of your first teenage loves that you have fond memories of?
Definitely, I mean who doesn’t [have one of those first loves]? That’s really why I love that song so much ’cause I really wanted to write a song about that first time. There’s nothing like it, you know? So, for me, I lived in a building — there were a lot of people living in that one building and so, you know, I definitely remember — I was describing in the song a lot of the memories that were actually my own. We would definitely always meet in the staircase. That was kind of like the place to meet when you wanted to be private. And pass notes that you wouldn’t be able to say, and being on the phone all night and all day, and trying to figure out like a way to go outside so that you could spend time a little bit until someone came downstairs for you like ‘You’re supposed to be upstairs, you know you’re supposed to be upstairs.’ And so it was all those little memories that I definitely placed into the song that gave it my own experience. So actually every word that I sing is something that I went through with my first teenage love.
That song is probably the soundtrack to teenage boys and girls out there who are going through their first crush, you know what I mean?
Definitely! I hope so. And that’s why I definitely wanted to relate it ‘cause one of the things that triggered me to do that was because of one of my, you know, one of my friends’ nieces, I mean nephews was kind of experiencing for the first time — he had his first girlfriend and everything and I would catch ‘em and he’d be on the phone or he’d be on ichat or he’d be on the text message or he’d be on the computer, they’d be IMing each other and I was just like ‘wow.’ You know, I didn’t have all that IMing and the text messaging and all that. You know, it’s still the same sentiment. So for this to be the song that definitely identifies people who’re going through their first crush or going through their first real relationship, I love it. You see, I stopped at third base, so…
One of the highlights of the Live Earth special was your collaboration with Keith Urban on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a really fiery version of that and I think it really picked up the whole thing that day and I was just wondering, are there any other dream collaborations you’d like to do that might startle people or surprise your fans?
I’ve already said for a little bit that I’d like to do something with the White Stripes. And I don’t know if that would startle people, but I’d definitely like to do that. And, you know, just something interesting like even with the Queens of the Stone Age, or do something fly with like a Linkin Park or a Green Day or U2 or something like that. Or Coldplay! I’d love to do that. Just things that are not quite of the same world, but when you put them together, it’d be really interesting.
What is it about the White Stripes that thrills you so, and do you think your fans would follow with a Queens of the Stone Age, White Stripes kind of production?
Well I love the White Stripes ’cause they’re very, very raw. It’s very cut-and-dry. It’s drums, and it’s guitar or it’s a little drums and piano or it’s a little drums and bass and it’s just that simple and I just love that. But it’s still raw and it’s still intense and it’s still fun and it’s still edgy. And I just think that combining that style with mine, which already has got a kind of raw feel to it and my voice is that kind of thing, and I think we could do something really, really interesting that mixes rock and soul together with blues and just emotion in a way that would be really, really touching.