''Idol'' winner Hicks tells EW about working with John Mayer, keeping the Soul Patrol happy, and becoming a legend -- all, of course, in regard to his still-in-the-works album

By Tanner Stransky
Updated September 07, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Taylor Hicks: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage.com

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you’re on the Idol tour right now, but what’s going on with your new album?
TAYLOR HICKS: I’m collecting and writing music. I’m starting to put ideas together for the record to have a similar thread, and I’m using one producer as opposed to 50. It’s going to be soulful, very old-school-R&B-flavored, but it’s also going to have a new-wave edge to it. I’m trying to fuse both of those sounds.

New-wave sounds, eh?
I’m gonna leave that up to Matt Serleti [the producer]. He was able to incorporate that with [Carlos Santana’s] ”Smooth” [with] his effects and stuff like that. We just really have to get into the laboratory and make it work.

And are you writing some of the songs?
I’ve got a song that I’m writing that’s going to go on the album, and I’m working with a couple of people. You can write with the greatest songwriter in the world, but the formula for writing a hit is different no matter who you’re writing it with.

It’s all about chemistry, right?
Exactly — the chemistry of the song. I could write with famous people until I’m blue in the face ’cause of their track records with hits, but it doesn’t lend itself to being a hit.

How’s your lifelong study of hit songs gonna help you create this album?
[It’s about] having the mentality to write something catchy and simple and understandable and not too intricate. It helps on the screening process for the songs that are being pitched to me by anybody and everybody right now.

Who’s been pitching you songs? Anybody noteworthy?
[Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter] Michael McDonald sent me some music. John Mayer. I have co-written a song with him.

I heard — that’s exciting! How’s that going?
We’re just in the early stages. I’ve got the lyrics and he’s got the music. I’m really trying to make that come together. I’m hoping I can write with [famed blues writer] Delbert McClinton soon, because I believe Delbert’s phrasing in music [is] wonderful and uncommon in popular music.

Is your sound going to be a huge departure from what you did on Idol?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Okay, I get it.
I mean, yeah. I’m not so much selling television anymore as I’m selling my true art form. Hopefully I can put good songs on the record and make it my own.

But on Idol you were pretty soulful. You’re not giving that up, are you?
I’m never gonna stop being soulful. Luckily for me, having 10 years of having to find my own musical direction means the record is going to have a similar thread. And I think that’s really important for me right now, to have that tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision?
Yeah. Just having some common ground. I’m not gonna do a country song and then do something that sounds like Perry Como. Every direction that I’ve gone in with each album is kind of a similar soulful, earthy, organic, kind of hip sound. And I’m just gonna carry that off into hopefully the next couple of records. And then who knows — then I’ll do the ”Chris Gaines” album. [Laughs] Just kidding.

Oh, goodness. Don’t do that. What kind of artists do you admire, or think you share qualities with?
Stage qualities are Van Morrison, Bob Seger, a little bit of Bruce Springsteen — those great performers who’ve worked in clubs and made their way up. James Brown, and obviously a little bit of Elvis. I’ve completely submerged myself in legendary music from legendary performers — that’s what my schooling is and that’s what I aspire to be.

You’re aspiring to be a legend?
Yeah, we all are to a certain degree.

Will the Soul Patrol be on board for the new album?
Yeah, they’re on the soul train. My hope is that the Soul Patrol will be as large and as fun and as vibrant and as cool as [Jimmy Buffett’s] Parrotheads.

Will you be doing many covers on the album? Or is it all new material?
There’s some great, great, great secrets that I can’t release.

Just give me a hint!
There’s a certain room that I’m going to be recording in that nobody’s recorded in in quite some time.

That’s all you’re going to tell me? Come on! But anyway… We’ve been chewing the fat about the album for a long time. When are we going to see something?!
I definitely want to have it out toward Christmas. Even then, the quality of the album and the work has to be really good before I release it.

As for song themes, what do they touch on?
I’m hoping that the backbone is a positive, upbeat, boogie-woogie kind of feel.

No, I’m asking what they’ll be about — the themes, ideas, lyrics.
Just everyday life, because I’m an everyday kind of dude.

Right. But what the heck does that mean?
Real. Some of this stuff that’s been written people can relate to every day, and that’s what I’m about. I don’t want to touch Hollywood. I want to touch America.