NEW YORK – For his sophomore album, Anthony Ramos wanted to go “sexy and dark” while adding an R&B vibe in honor of the artists who inspired him growing up.
“Love and Lies,” released on Friday, follows 2019's “The Good & The Bad,” a “more autobiographical” effort, according to the “In the Heights” star. It features 12 songs, including “Échale” and “Right Now.”
Ramos, who got his break in Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash musical “Hamilton,” is having a breakthrough year as an actor, also appearing opposite Uzo Aduba in the HBO reboot of “In Treatment.” His next projects include a sci-fi epic, “Distant,” as well as the next “Transformers” installment.
But “music was my first love”, he told The Associated Press in an interview this week from Montreal. And being a recording artist is a “sueñito” (little dream) that only grew bigger with time.
Ramos also spoke about the colorism debate around “In the Heights” — “This is a good opportunity for us to hear people” — and the film’s lackluster theatrical box office after being praised by critics and hailed as the movie of the summer. The film was released simultaneously in theaters and for streaming on HBO Max.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
AP: There’s a strong R&B sound in “Love and Lies.” Would you call it an R&B album?
RAMOS: There’s definitely a heavy R&B vibe in this album, for sure. I wanted to add that element because R&B music is the music I grew up listening to. It influenced the way I sing, the way I write, and I think I didn’t have enough of that on my first album.
AP: Who did you listen to growing up?
RAMOS: I listened to Usher and Donell Jones, even now I’m listening to H.E.R., I love Kehlani. There’s one song that I wrote called “Satisfy You” that was influenced by “Just in Case” by Jaheim. (He sings a bit of both to show the similar vibe.) It was that feeling that I wanted to capture when listening to that song.
AP: Why “Love and Lies”?
RAMOS: I think this album started to shape itself into that. We wrote that one song (“Love and Lies”) and then that title started to linger. I was trying to find a title for this album but I couldn’t, and this one just kept poking itself out. It’s like, sometimes what feels like love is a lie, and sometimes what we sabotage ourselves out of, what we think is a lie is actually love, because we think oh no, it’s too good to be true. This album started to feel like that story. That was the title of the story that was being told.
AP: This is your second album in two years and I'm sure every song comes to you in different ways but, have you found any patterns in your creative process?
RAMOS: I love to tell stories. You know, even if the beat is about, “We’re going out and we’re gonna have a party,” it’s still like, “We’re gonna have a party AND we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna have a party AND I’m feeling this.” And I started to learn that I’m really enjoying writing songs with my friends too. Sometimes you write the best music with the people you’re close to, who know you the best. The pattern is that the more I write, the more I’m starting to get to know myself not only as an artist but as a person. That’s one of my favorite things about writing songs, you keep finding out things about yourself every time you go to the studio.
AP: Back to “In the Heights,” what do you think about the colorism debate and the box-office results? Many expected it to be the biggest release of the summer.
RAMOS: I think this is a good opportunity for us to hear people and for us as creatives — I can only speak on behalf of myself — for me as a creative to say OK, when I make my stuff and when I keep going as a creative, how do I see, what did we do good and how can I make sure that I learn from the times that we might have missed the mark. That’s how I feel about the debate, and I feel like there is no debate, right? The people have spoken and there’s no debate about it. There’s nothing to debate.
As far as the box office concerns, you know, nobody is ever gonna talk about how many streams it had on HBO Max. If the movie had come out in the theaters only, then who knows what the box office would have been. But at the same time I’m not disappointed at the box office, I’m not, because people are watching the movie. I don’t care how you watch it, as long as you see it. The most important thing to me is the message in the movie and that people see it and they feel it. It will live with them forever.