Matthew Williams for Donda

Despite his vintage sound, JOHN LEGEND is only looking forward on Love in the Future.

It’s been barely nine years since the artist born John Stephens lived up to his stage name by releasing Get Lifted, a stellar debut that established him at the vanguard of new R&B artists drenched in old-soul sounds. Yet at the tender age of 34, John Legend is already regarded as one of the greats — a church-bred descendant of the Stevie Wonder/Marvin Gaye school. Now, Legend is back with his fourth solo album, Love In the Future (Columbia, $15), and he visited with American Way about the project.

American Way: You worked with Alicia Keys and Kanye West years before you got your time in the spotlight. What did you learn from them?
John Legend: I learned the techniques of making records and how to keep pushing yourself to do better. I still learn from Kanye: We worked together a lot on Love In the Future. I’ve always tried to surround myself with good people with good ears who could help me be a better composer, producer and recording artist.

AW: On shows like American Idol, young singers seem to idolize you as a classic soul artist, even though you’re just 34. Does that feel odd?
JL:
It makes me feel old! When I talk to guys like Frank Ocean and Miguel, who are a decade younger, they’re talking like I’m the guy whose music they grew up on. I’m too young for that! [Laughs]

AW: How do you feel your songwriting has evolved?
JL:
I don’t think my songwriting has changed dramatically from year to year. What does change is the sound. Each album has its own vibe as far as production and arrangement [to give it] a little different flavor.

AW: So how would you compare the flavor of this one to your previous records?
JL:
My favorite album I’ve done is Once Again — I loved the romantic quality and the lush beauty of the arrangements — so I wanted to get some of the flavor from that. I also wanted to take some of the grittiness from Get Lifted and put that in a modern context. But I think the biggest difference is in the lyrics. I’m about to get married [to model Chrissy Teigen], and that’s where the title comes from. So I think a lot of the songs are very optimistic, whereas Once Again had a lot of songs about pain and struggle and the first album had a few cheating songs. I’m writing about different things, be­cause I’m at a different place in life — a much better place.