New Year’s resolutions are all well and good. But a lifelong conscience-guiding tenet is a more fulfilling path to follow, says nine-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys. And why stop at only one?
“I have a lot of philosophies,” the keyboardist and singer admits while in San Francisco recently. “And my main one is the Golden Rule: I try my best to do for others what I would want done for myself, or to not do to them what I wouldn’t want done to me.
“And my most recent philosophy that I’ve discovered and developed is to follow my heart, and that is a big deal for me. There’s a certain pureness that’s in our hearts that’s kind of like a gut feeling, and we try to talk ourselves out of it so much that we talk ourselves out of our best ideas.”
Hence the liberation this R&B diva felt when recording “As I Am,” her already-platinum latest release for MBK/J.
After moving more than a million copies of her 2001 debut “Songs in A Minor,” New York-bred Keys went on to conquer other genres including acting (roles in “Smokin’ Aces” and “The Nanny Diaries”), writing (the New York Times best-seller “Tears for Water”), and even journalism (as travel correspondent for her hometown’s Daily News).
She grew so busy, in fact, that she barely noticed the depression creeping into her life. After tending to a dying elderly relative for several months, Keys had a stark realization — she’d never taken any time off from work before.
That death taught her to live again. Afterward, she promptly flew to Cairo for a lone, leisurely vacation on the Nile. Amid the majestic pyramids, a humbled Keys found her artistic voice again.
“It got to a point where I’d been so good at always keeping everything in a nice, neat little box, tucked away in the perfect place where it belongs, that it was strangling me,” recalls the 26-year-old of Irish/Jamaican descent, who is in person a tall, svelte, unusually exotic beauty.
“I was getting suffocated,” she says. “So I found that there has to be a certain openness that you live your life with, that one has to have with themselves to truly live in their fullest light.”
These days, if Keys isn’t interested in a certain show biz function, she won’t participate. Should she need some alone time, she takes it, sans apology.
Keys also won’t hesitate to tweak her retro-soul sound — as she did on “As I Am” — with unexpected guest stars Timbaland, John Mayer, John Legend, or in-demand co-writer Linda Perry. The initial single “No One” (which just earned her two more Grammy nominations) is a honey-toned R&B tour de force, and an affirmation of the artist’s new motto — no one will stand in the way of her happiness again, least of all herself.
Which brings Keys to her final creed. She’s signed on with humanitarian causes Live Earth, From Tha Ground Up, and Keep a Child Alive and even started her own Web site-based book club.
“So that’s the other philosophy that I live by now — have the freedom to fall,” she says. “Like, ‘Do it, damn it!’ So what if it ends up being the worst — or the best — thing that you’ve ever done for yourself? Just try it.”