Do you Google these things, because it’s quite amusing.
Yeah. But the thing is, I know who the real Illuminati are, and I know where that word comes from. The real Illuminati were a group of scientists, artists, philosophers, writers, who came about in what is referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, after the Dark Ages, when there was no writing and no art and no creativity and no spirituality, and life was really at a standstill. And right after that, everything flourished. So we had people like Shakespeare and Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo and Isaac Newton, and all these great minds and great thinkers, and they were called Illuminati.
Because they were illuminating consciousness.
Yes, to go to the root of the word, they were illuminating people. It had nothing to do with money and power. Of course they were powerful, because they influenced people. But their goal was to inspire and enlighten. So when people refer to me as a member of the Illuminati, I always want to say thank you. Thank you for putting me in that category. But before I can say thank you, I feel like I had to write a song about what I believe the Illuminati to be, and what it isn’t.
When I played a lot of my songs that were unproduced for Kanye, that song resonated with him. He loved the melody, and he was actually jumping up and down on the soundboard. He literally stood on top of the mixing board — we were worried he was going to hit his head on the ceiling, but he didn’t. He ended up being very excited about that track, and then he added his spin to it, musically, and I love it. To me, he elevated the lyrics with the music. It’s like a siren, alerting people.
When you work with Nicki Minaj on a track like “Bitch I’m Madonna,” do you give her guidance or let her go wherever she desires?
Whenever we work together she always sits with me and listens to the song, and says “tell me what this song is about to you.” She’s very methodical in her thinking. We talk about it, she writes down words that I say describing what the song’s about and the sentiment that I’d like her to get out there, and then she goes away and she works on it. She writes it, she comes back. She does a version of it, we talk about it. It’s a back and forth until she gets it right. It’s a total collaboration.
You said you wanted every song on this album to stand on its own without production, to be able to strip down each track to its acoustic root and still have it work. Was that something you’d thought about on past albums?
No, I didn’t. A lot of times I just thought about sounds. Or I want to make a dance record, or I want to write a ballad. This time I really thought — this is all part of my Armageddon thinking right now — the world is changing and for me, it’s like, OK, what does it all come down to at the end of the day? It comes down to the songs.
If you’re alone at the end of the world, can you just perform the songs?
Yes. If it’s just me and the guitar, can I still do it? All the songs, I needed to be able to break them down on the most simple level and be able to impart what I have to say with my voice and a guitar.
Have you started thinking about reinventing these songs for tour?
I’m thinking about it. Right now, the deadline of getting this music out for iTunes was a 50-yard dash.
The songs went Number One in 41 countries – that’s got to feel good. And demonstrate true fans are still willing to pay for the music.
Yeah. They’re extremely [loyal] and I’m really super grateful for that.
© Rolling Stone