The leader of the Black Eyed Peas has some helpful suggestions about when exactly to crank up the group's latest CD.
"In the club. Getting ready for the club. After the club," says will.i.am, smiling. "At a party. Before the party. After the party. When stressed out — to escape."
Got it. Any other times?
"After you've escaped and you want to party," he says with a laugh.
If you haven't guessed by now — and the massively successful first single "Boom Boom Pow" is a major tip off — the Peas' sound has taken a booty-shaking turn.
The band's club-driven fifth studio album — "The E.N.D," which stands for the Energy Never Dies — is something of a departure for the foursome, known more for their pop-inspired hip-hop tunes like "Let's Get It Started" and "My Humps."
The 15-song, Interscope-released CD is a beat-heavy party soundtrack, filled with tempo changes and distorted voices, careening from synth soul to electro funk.
"This record is our most focused," will.i.am says after the group performed recently on NBC's "Today" show. "It commands people to the dance floor, rather than suggesting that dancing would be cool idea."
The command is being heard: The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts this month and its first single has been downloaded more than 2,800,000 times, spending 11 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 — the first time the band has cracked the chart's No. 1 spot. A second single, "I Gotta Feeling," debuted at No. 2.
Rolling Stone called the album "the best thing the Black Eyed Peas have ever recorded" and Entertainment Weekly raved, "pure Top 40 nirvana." The Associated Press said it is "sure to be the soundtrack to many a summer party."
"It just takes me back to going to raves in high school," says Fergie, 34. "I used to be the girl on the stage with the glow stick, twirling it. And now I'm STILL the girl on stage with the glow stick."
Steve Berman, the president of marketing and sales at Interscope Geffen A&M, credits will.i.am for savvily tapping into the worldwide explosion of DJ culture.
"He really saw that there was a lane here that artistically had been explored for a long time but commercially was just starting to be tapped into," he says.
Will.i.am was inspired to yank the band in a new musical direction while in Australia, filming his role as a teleporting mutant in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
The 34-year-old sonic guru naturally wanted to check out the hip-hop clubs Down Under. Locals told him he was out of luck: Hip-hop, he was told, was dead. To prove it, he was taken to a massive club in Sydney and was greeted by a blast of hard-core electronic music.
"I was like 'Whoa. What is this?' It felt like hip-hop but there was no vocals," he says. "It reminded me of when hip-hop was dance-oriented."
Will.i.am soon pulled out his DJ gear and began experimenting with his own monstrous beats. Other DJs were consulted, other clubs were visited and the rest of the band soon followed his Pied Piper shuffle.
"Hip-hop is forever changing and growing, borrowing, reinterpreting, expanding," says will.i.am. "This sound that we have now is paying homage to where hip-hop came from."
The three-time Grammy Award winners are touring Europe and plan to hook up with U2 on the road before hitting Japan this summer. Fergie is pumped, saying she's as exited as when she first joined the band in 2003.
"I have the same enthusiasm for this album as I feel when we went into 'Elephunk.' It's like, 'Let's pack the bags! Let's go!' We're hungry, we're ready. And it's fresh: It's a fresh new sound and the visuals are fresh."
There had been fears the band would never get to this point: In the four years since their last album "Monkey Business," the individual Peas had set out on their own.
Fergie released the triple-platinum solo CD "The Dutchess" in 2006, launched two shoe lines and filmed a movie adaptation of the Broadway show "Nine."
Will.i.am, besides producing for acts ranging from Nas to U2, released his solo album "Songs About Girls" in 2007 and campaigned for Barack Obama, making the enormously popular "Yes We Can" viral video and "It's a New Day" single.
The band's two other members — Taboo and apl.de.ap — have their own solo albums in the works and have embraced community activism, with 34-year-old apl.de.ap helping fellow Filipino performers and 33-year-old Taboo reaching out to kids in East L.A.
Despite all that, the band insists there was nevertalk of an end before "The E.N.D."
"We all appreciate and realize how strong the unit is and that unit is what allows us to go and do those separate things. You still need a base," will.i.am says. "You still need to come back and refuel."
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