Brit Award winning musician Taio Cruz burst into the public consciousness in 2008 with his debut album, DEPARTURE. The multi-talented songwriter's musical style combines R&B, electro, soul and rock. Citing influences far and wide, Cruz strives for a poppy, accessible sound that's unlike his peers.
His latest album, ROKSTARR, was released in 2010 and the album's first single "Break Your Heart" stayed atop the UK singles chart for three weeks and reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. He collaborated with Kesha on "Dirty Picture" and had his second US hit, and UK number 1, with "Dynamite."
As both a performer and a producer, Cruz has worked with artists as diverse as Kylie Minogue, Tinchy Strider, the Sugababes and Cheryl Cole. He'll soon collaborate with Justin Bieber on the pint-sized pop sensation's new album. A similarly prodigious talent, Cruz won a Brit Award in 2004 aged just 21, for co-writing Will Young's single "Your Game." He began his song-writing career at 19.
Away from music, Cruz has launched a fashion accessories brand also called ROKSTARR. The brand's range of sunglasses has proved popular with celebrities including Kanye West, Kelly Rowland and Justin Timberlake.
His collaboration with 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios to create a title song for animated adventure RIO marks the half-Brazilian Cruz's first venture into the cinema. On the set of the song's music video in downtown Los Angeles, Cruz talked about the collaboration.
How did you become involved in doing a song for RIO?
The guys at Fox were looking for a song to finish off the movie for the soundtrack. They were really looking for a title track and they'd asked me if I could write one. Quite fortunately, I already had a song that I'd written. I went down to watch the movie, and after I'd seen it I walked off the lot thinking about this song I had. I started playing it on my iPod and I decided to tell my manager to just turn around and drive back to the lot.
We went straight back to them and played it to them the same day and the first guy flipped out, loving it. He called in all his colleagues and they loved it, and then they played it to the heads of the film house [Blue Sky Studios] and they loved it too. That was it; it was on the movie!
So now they'd also like us to release the song and shoot a video too, and that's why we're here.
What was it about the song you thought worked for the movie?
I'm inspired by movies anyway. I like a lot of film soundtracks. And I tend to write a lot of songs like those anyway, although I don't often tend to get to release them because I'm releasing my up-tempo dancey stuff more often than not. But this song just had that epic feel. That LION KING-esque, big ballad, big movie type thing, which I write quite a few songs like that. And they loved it!
Do you like to tell stories with your songs?
I do. They're all like little mini-movies and there's always a sense of escapism. I kind of play a bit of a character with songs like "Break Your Heart," "Dirty Picture," and "Dynamite." It's just more fun. It's not always one hundred per cent true to who I am. It's a side of me that's fun to exaggerate. If there's a soft side to me, then it's cool to express that through a big love song ballad, or if I'm feeling like a bit of a bad boy today, why not just go all in and say, "I'm going to break your heart," straight up? It's something that makes it more fun because it's an extreme.
RIO is a big family film - is it important for you that your music be inclusive, to work for the biggest audience possible?
Absolutely, I loved the fact that kids would be listening to the song and would have something they could enjoy. I was just excited too to be part of an animated movie; I love them. I love them all, whether from Blue Sky or Pixar or Dreamworks. It was just an amazing experience to be a part of it.
What do you love about music?
It's difficult to explain. I speak to my manager about the general thing of love, as well, and I think when you love something you can't really explain why - you just do. But there are elements to it that I like. I love the creativity of it; being able to express myself. And I've always loved just playing instruments; the sounds, the feeling that you get from music and how it can change your mood. You can be completely sad and getting over your ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, whatever, and suddenly you hear "Dynamite" come on and you forget about it for three and a half minutes. Or you hear a ballad and it really helps you cry it all out. I just love everything about it.
Did you always feel an instant connection to music?
I hear music in my head all the time, and I always have. I remember on one occasion getting told off by one of my teachers at school, and I literally blocked out what he was saying and all I could hear was this piece of music. [laughs] I've just always had a connection to it.
Were you always keen to make music for a living?
No, I kind of equate it to breathing - no one ever tells you that you're good at breathing, you just don't think about it until someone mentions, "Wow, you're a really good breather!" [laughs]
I've always made music, and then when I got to about 15 or 16 I went to sixth form and a lot of the girls at the school I went to were really into music and dance and all that stuff. They'd all flock to me and we'd hang out and sing along to the songs I'd written and stuff. They'd say, "Why don't you release some?" So it was other people mentioning to me that I should go down that path that put it into my head that it was something I should pursue.
Was there a moment for you when you realised you could make money making music?
Not really. When I was about to go to university I just decided that I didn't want to to anything except for music. So I thought, There's no point going to university and read about other people making music when I can just make music myself. So I decided to go for it at that point.
You're a movie fan, too - if you're going to the cinema, what do you see?
I like escapism, so I like sci-fi and adventure. I like things like STAR TREK and STAR WARS. Anything that's martial arts or British gangster. Anything that's funny as well. And if there's a combination of all of those things in a movie then it's my favourite film ever! Stuff that's like FANTASTIC FOUR, where it's sci-fi but it's also funny. The hero can't really believe that this is really happening, that's always a bit fun. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN. I love all the theme songs too - INDIANA JONES and films like that.
The tie-in title song is a long tradition in the movies, is it exciting to be a part of that legacy?
Definitely. It's the first time I've ever done it so it's really, really exciting. I never really have career goals in mind, I just want to keep doing really great things and doing better. You're always trying to do better than the last position. It's probably a bad thing, but it's good too. Though I always wonder if I'll ever be content because as soon as I achieve something I want to achieve something else! love the challenge and the competition, and I love the ride.
You mentioned the competition - you've worked with names like Kesha, Ludacris and Tinchy Strider to name a few and it seems like there's a world of great talent out there at the moment. Is it an exciting time to be making music?
I think it's great, and I think everyone is open to working with each other. I think the trans-Atlantic divide is not as big. I put that down to the Internet and just people being able to access music easier. Americans will have heard of Tinchy Strider and Chipmunk and you can have those collaborations, like Chipmunk and Chris Brown working together, or myself and Kesha and Ludacris. I think it just all comes together in a great way and you get a lot of interesting sounds. I speak to a lot of my American friends and they're all talking about having Tinie Tempah or Jessie J on their iPod. It's very cool.
Does it elevate the music when you unite with other creative people on a song?
I think it does. It's just really creative people coming together and creating something new and that's always going to be good. It's like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates coming together to create something amazing - it's just going to be dope! Whatever it is, it's going to be amazing.
Who were your musical heroes growing up? Were there people you wanted to be?
I never really wanted to emulate anybody. I never wanted to be famous. And I still don't feel famous. It catches me off guard every now and then - like someone freaking out at a restaurant or something! [laughs] Or today, people taking pictures from the bridge.
But I've always listened to Top 40s music - whoever's popular in the chart. I'm that demographic that most pop musicians are trying to go for, I'd love Britney Spears if I was the right age. I've loved Michael Jackson, Madonna, Culture Club. And then I started loving Boys 2 Men and Mariah Carey, and then hip-hop like Snoop and Dre. Now I think Gaga and Kesha and Kanye are all amazing.
That's a broad range of musical styles - are you always looking to explore with the stuff you're doing as well, into different genres?
Absolutely. I say I'm a songwriter who does music videos sometimes. I'd love to write with everyone who makes amazing songs. I wrote with Linda Perry and we've made some amazing songs. I'd love to get together with Coldplay or Kings of Leon and just create something a bit different. But it would always be a nice pop, catchy record.
We're shooting in the beautiful city of LA - have you thought about moving out here?
I've thought about it! [laughs] I've spent a lot of time here anyway, so I feel like I live here. I'm always here promoting and I try to make this my base when I'm doing heaps and heaps of promo throughout the US. I always try to come back to LA, because it's sunny, and coming from London it's kind of like having a little holiday.
Is there still a sense of America being this frontier that has to be tamed or broken to be successful as an artist?
I think some people really do consider it to be like we have to conquer America. For me, I just want to make great music and I want as many people to have it as possible. That's kind of it.
Click here for Rio, Trailer and Information
Q&A Part 1 (Live on the Honda Stage at the iHeartRadio Theater LA)