Mario Shows His Truest Form in ‘Dancing Shadows’ LP
Fourteen years ago, Mario made his name with the timeless R&B ballad, “Let Me Love You.” The singer, then 18 years old, was propelled to fame by the Ne-Yo-penned track and a signing under Clive Davis’ J Records. Today, nearly a decade since he released his last studio album, D.N.A., Mario returns with Dancing Shadows, showing his R&B roots have only strengthened with time.
On Dancing Shadows, largely made in London with the help of executive producer Jake Gosling (Adele, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran), Mario fuses classic R&B jams with message-driven records that speak to his personal battles and deep-seated introspection. Equal parts smooth, intimate and soulful, Dancing Shadows presents a matured Mario. “I want people to see me in my truest form,” Mario tells TIDAL. “I’m a grown man … creating a platform that I hopefully can now go build more substance behind.”
In the TIDAL Q&A below, Mario elaborates on the complexity of Dancing Shadows. From working with the aforementioned Gosling in London to teaming up with blues legend Buddy Guy, the singer reflects on how far he’s come and how his vision for Dancing Shadows came to fruition.
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“Let Me Love You” came out in 2004. Reflecting on that time, who were you then?
I was about 18 years ago being introduced to the world in a new way. That was the biggest song of my career at that time. I was traveling. I was on tour with Destiny’s Child when the song came out. I was really a kid from Baltimore who wanted to learn the ways of the music on a new level and trying to find my voice as a creative and enjoying it along the way.
Now, in 2018, what is your relationship to that song?
When I think about when I recorded it, I didn’t really experience love on deep levels yet. I think that, because I always had a soulful voice, I was able to record songs that were beyond my years. I definitely can relate more to it now. Performing that song never gets old because I feel like there’s always a reconnection I make with fans. I don’t think it’s something that will never die. My connection to that song is inevitable because everyone always talks about it when they hear my name.
It’s been almost a decade since you released D.N.A., your last studio album. What have you been up to during that time?
A lot of touring. A lot of reflecting. A lot of living life. I actually worked on a whole album before I left my last label that they still have the rights to. One of the singles came out called “Somebody Else” featuring Nicki Minaj. Honestly, most of my experience in living life and finding myself as a person and an artist. The rest of the crazy stuff I’ll leave out.
Tell me about the process of putting this album together.
There are different phases that I went through in that period of time, creatively figuring out where I wanted to go. I’ve worked with so many different writers, so many different producers. It was all a part of finding that sound. I would say a good year-and-a-half ago, I started really focusing on the heart of this album. I went to an event in London, where I met Jake Gosling, who executive produced the album and has worked with the likes of Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, a bunch of other amazing artists. He had “17” tatted on his hand. 17 is one of my angel numbers, so that’s what opened up the conversation with us. We come from two completely different worlds, but the common denominator was music. We worked in London for a couple months to start the album off and we took the other six to seven months to really put the body of work together. We also added a few other producers from London in the session to really make it a well-rounded body of work.
What does the title Dancing Shadows mean?
The creative process for me is a very surgical process. When I say that, I mean I’m going within myself on different levels to try to find these nuances that relates to what’s going on today but also where I come from. As an artist who’s had multiple records, there are some things that I’ve never talked about and I felt like it was necessary now. I’m not Mario “Let Me Love You” anymore. I’m a grown man making music creating a platform that I hopefully can now go build more substance behind. I want people to see me in my truest form.
You have a song on your album called “What You Started,” which feels very message-driven. What would you want your fans to get out of that track?
I think that our stories are never-ending. I think we can continue to edit our stories and our reality and make them into whatever they want. I just want people to know that they have the power to change their circumstance at any point in time and they are the light that they’re searching.
You were signed to Clive Davis’ J Records at 14. What was that like?
I came in at a time when making records was mechanical and still in a classic fashion. When we would go in for a meeting, we had to have lyric sheets for Clive. He wouldn’t listen to records without a lyric sheet. I learned that level from working with the greats. I’m just applying hat same knowledge.
You worked with Buddy Guy on this album in “Good Times.” How did you guys link up?
One of my managers, Nicole, heard the record. She called me one day, and she’s like, ‘I’ve got a genius idea. You should put Buddy Guy on this record.’ I vaguely knew who he was. She’s very knowledgeable when it comes to music and sent me a bunch of Youtube videos of his songs and we sent him the record and he loved it. He sent us a folder full of multiple takes and we put it in the song. I think it’s cool to merge those generations.
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