Johntá Austin’s musical resume is quite impressive. He has penned records for artists like Mariah Carey (“We Belong Together”), Mary J. Blige (“Be Without You”), Aaliyah (“Miss You”) and Beyoncé (“Poison”). His songwriting career began shortly after he was dropped by RCA Records as a teen, due to puberty drastically changing his voice. His label’s decision to remove him from their roster in 1995 certainly shook up his confidence but it didn’t break him.
“I was 13 or 14, so it did [lower my confidence] a little bit but I didn’t let it stick with me for too long,” Austin tells Rated R&B. “I tried to get past the L’s quickly and figure out how to get to the win.”
Austin definitely turned his loss into a win with the help of his mentor Troy Taylor, who took him under his wing as he delved into songwriting. Ironically, Austin ended up co-writing “Sweet Lady” for Tyrese, who had replaced him on the label’s roster.
“I wasn’t overjoyed about the possibility of writing for the guy who had a deal at the same company,” Austin admits. “But he was a young guy just like me who had his own dreams. So, you can’t really hold it against the artist because they get an opportunity and they take it.”
“Sweet Lady” ended up becoming a hit, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Shortly thereafter, Austin went on to write more hits for artists and earned a few other songwriting triumphs. In fact, he was awarded ASCAP’s “Songwriter of the Year” in Pop and R&B in 2007.
Although Austin is an accomplished songwriter, he’s always had the urge to create his own music. In the mid-2000s, he attempted to focus on his solo career. Between 2005 and 2008, he put out a few singles that would be part of his then-titled debut album, Ocean Drive, however, the timing wasn’t right at that moment.
In 2012, he conceptualized an EP series called Love, Sex & Religion. He ended up releasing the first installment (Love) in December 2012. The other two installments were never released.
Over the years, the concept of an EP series has evolved into an album. Austin (who just celebrated his 38th birthday on June 28), is gearing up to release his official debut album, Love, Sex & Religion, on August 2 via Entertainment One. “Love Angel,” the lead single that is out now, was co-written by Austin and Estabon, with production by his mentor Taylor and Jerren Spruill.
In our interview with Austin, he talks about his songwriting process, the inspiration behind “Love Angel,” how his upcoming album Love, Sex & Religion has evolved over the years and much more.
How do you approach writing for other artists? Do you write and shop records to artists you have in mind or is it more of a conversation where you’re writing with the artist in the studio?
“Sweet Lady” with [Tyrese] and “Miss You” with Aaliyah were songs that were pre-done, as well as “Be Without You” with Mary [J. Blige]. But I do like the conversational type of sessions where you can sit and bounce ideas. It’s an opportunity to listen to the artist and hear where they’re coming from. To me, that’s what made the Mariah [Carey] sessions so great because we went in with a clean slate.
You collaborated with your mentor Troy Taylor on your single “Love Angel.” What inspired that record?
We wanted to do something that felt very R&B but still had that kind of a beat and drums that hit a little harder than traditional R&B. So, Troy and [Jerren Spruill] did the track. Me and the co-writer Estevan were in the studio vibing out on it and throwing out ideas. Once we had the “Love Angel” title, we just kind of began to talk about different things that make a woman angelic. The album is titled Love, Sex & Religion, so also trying to figure out how to merge those things. That’s why you hear lines like “I don’t need a confession to hear my religion.”
The concept of Love, Sex and Religion has been in the works for a minute now. Can you talk about the evolution of this project? Are there any songs from your early recording sessions that made it to the album?
It’s probably been about ten years now. The inspiration, as far as the title and the theme, is really fitting those three things into place with each other because you can take one thing out and it will fit. So, love fits with both sex and religion. You can have love and religion but when you throw sex in there, and it’s like, “Ooh, that’s a little weird,” so how do you fit all those pieces together and make it feel right?
I feel like in religion, sex has been such a taboo type of thing. Sex is beautiful to me, so how do you make it feel beautiful and still have your connection to the creator through whatever religious beliefs you hold? I think that’s the thing we wanted to examine because religion kind of teaches people that you have to be this way and if you’re not this way then you’re not spiritual. “Making Love to God” is one of the original songs that’s going to be on the project. There’s another one called “Born Again” that’s also going to be on the project.
Since we will be hearing songs that you recorded early on, does that mean there have been updates to make it more current, in a way?
Yeah, we redid a lot of it. So, “Born Again” and “Making Love to God” went through some iterations to match up with some newer compositions we put on the project. It’s nine songs and we basically added seven songs. Definitely some tweaking, vocal wise and music wise to make it feel 2019 and make it match up with the newer inspirations on the project.
Are there collaborations on the album?
From a producer standpoint, we have the producers I’ve worked with: Bryan-Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri and Troy Taylor. There are a couple of background features that you’ll hear — Dondria on a couple of records and Trey Songz actually co-wrote “Making Love to God.”
You and Bryan-Michael Cox are like musical brothers. He’s working on a project as well. Will you be working with him on that?
Absolutely. I’m definitely going to be very involved with his project as involved he was on my project. Bryan did four of the nine songs on the album.
What do you want people to take away from listening to your debut album?
I think that just love is love. It’s all connected. It all comes from the creator. The three themes in the title all come from the creator and all of them are beautiful in their own way. Everyone has their own feeling of love, their own connection to the creator and their own connection to sex. As long as it is pure, beautiful and you’re not hurting anybody, then this album is for you.
Aside from your album, what else can we expect from you? Are you writing for any artists right now?
We got some with Trey Songz. We got some stuff with Usher. I’m really excited. They’ve really done some great work.
Follow Johnta Austin on Instagram @therealjohntaaustin.