Anthony David is half bluesman, half soul singer, but he was actually raised on hip-hop. After serving with the 82nd Airborne, the Desert Storm veteran picked up the guitar for the first time at age twenty-one, when he landed in Atlanta following his Army stint. At the same time, he met India.Arie, who has become a friend and a musical cohort. After her Acoustic Soul album — which includes “A Part of My Life,” written by David — went double platinum and garnered seven Grammy nominations, he followed her on tour, released two independent albums of his own, and then became the first artist signed to Arie’s new label, Soulbird (under Universal Republic). Acey Duecy, his first album for that label, is scheduled to be released on June 24.
What went behind the recording of Acey Duecy?
It’s sort of a compilation of my two previous independent records. I really love these songs I did, so I wanted to give everybody a chance to hear them. One of the albums was bluesy acoustic, and the other was more soulful R&B. Acey Duecy is a combination of both: two different sides of the same artist. I wanted to bring those different aspects of my music together.
How did the guitar become your instrument of choice?
Well, when India and I started hitting up live music spots together back in Atlanta, we realized that if we were gonna do music, we gotta do it for real. So playing the guitar helped me create the music I wanted. And I can carry it around everywhere I go.
Do you mostly record electric or acoustic?
I have a Les Paul right now that I don’t really like, so I’m not really playing electric at the moment. I occasionally still play electric because I do like it, but none of the songs I played electric on are featured on the record. I gotta break it out a little more in the future.
Can you take us through some of the songs on the album?
We got “Stop Playing,” which is like my anti-pimp song, the grown-man thing. “Words” with India is the first single. That song says one thing but it can mean a million different things. That’s what good songs should do, I think, leave things to interpretation. Even if it’s just one line, it’s great to be able to take it wherever your mind wants to take it. “Cheating Man” is also on a bunch of different levels. It’s about judgment, growing up, and looking at yourself. It’s a blues thing, you know. “Kinfolk” is about family reunions. “Smoke One” is kind of a sex thing, seeing somebody you haven’t seen in a while.
Do you usually start a song by writing the music or the lyrics?
It depends. I wrote “Kinfolk” in the air, tried it on a sample of another song, and realized that I had a song of my own right there. Sometimes I’ll just start with a guitar riff, which is the equivalent of a beat really, and work around that. I like writing the music around the words, also. When the words dictate what is supposed to happen, then I know I have a message driving the music. But either way is fine.
When did you start playing music?
I’m from Savannah, Georgia, but I’m a military brat so I grew up in different places. When I moved to Atlanta, I got into the poetry scene. I would go to black poetry readings, and it really sparked something in me. I’m from a hip-hop background — Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, stuff like that. I loved the samples, but I never realized that you could play them. I started seeing people do that, bands like the Roots and such, and I was amazed. Poetry was sometimes stifling, especially when I went to places where everything had to be political and stuff, so I moved toward live music because it was easier to do whatever you want. Now I can’t write a poem to save my life. I always start adding melody to it.
How did you link up with India.Arie?
I was actually in the Army when I arrived to Atlanta. I came there to find a place and see what I could do. When I got out of the car, she was the first person I saw. She was real cool and we just vibed right away. We made a special connection and started hitting up spots, being exposed to great music and soon we started writing music together.
You also went on tour with her. What was your most memorable experience abroad?
Bahia, Brazil. Culturally, it was a really deep experience. It’s very black down there. I reminded me of Atlanta except they were speaking Portuguese. The vibe was incredible. It’s home to bossa nova, which is a music I love. And samba also. Musically, it was incredible.
Who are your favorite guitarists?
Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix — but only when he played blues.