When Woman's Day meets will.i.am in his Los Angeles office, he immediately starts to talk about how much he loves New Zealand. "When the world falls apart, that's where everyone's going to move," laughs the Black Eyed Peas frontman.
It was on his last visit to Aotearoa that the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist donated $100,000 for new computers and iPads to a network of low-decile schools. Growing up in the ghetto in LA taught Will – whose real name is William James Adams Jr – the importance of giving back, he explains.
"It's about seeing the divide and doing something. When there's an earthquake or a tsunami, those are once-in-a-while things, but crime, no education, poverty ... that's tsunamis every day in people's lives."
The 43-year-old vividly remembers when he was nine and the teacher tasked his class with bringing in cans of food as a homework assignment.
To his surprise, the tins were later delivered to his own neighbourhood.
"I went to an all-white school and I got on the bus for two hours to get there, but I never realised I was poor," Will recalls.
"My classmates ended up pulling up to my neighbourhood with boxes of food and then I realised we were the poor kids they were collecting food for. That was a point in time where I was like, 'Charity is incredible!'"
Since shooting to fame with the Black Eyed Peas, Will has gone on to make more hits as a producer and solo artist, as well as launching his own tech empire, with a range of headphones, plus his own company exploring artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
While we tour his offices, he excitedly shows us a new comic book he's created that comes with its own app, which transforms the mag into a 3D story with sound effects and characters jumping off the page.
But perhaps his proudest recent accomplishment is his new eyewear collection with Specsavers. It's almost impossible to find a picture of Will without glasses and he agrees they've always been part of his style.
"On the first Black Eyed Peas album cover, I wore glasses, but I got them from a gas station!" laughs Will as he shows us a picture on his phone. "I call them Gastays."
Those days of wearing petrol-station sunnies are now over, however, with Will already having designed his own line of luxury Italian-made sunglasses. And now there's the more affordable Specsavers range, inspired by his family.
The singer explains, "My mum needs prescription glasses, but she doesn't have options for the frames that are cooler and more expensive – the idea is to bridge that divide. The level of quality didn't deteriorate – it's just more affordable. I couldn't be happier with this collection."
After an in-depth discussion of every detail of each frame, which makes it clear he's been heavily involved with the design, our tour of his headquarters continues and we're shown a hallway featuring a wall of a dozen sneakers.
His publicist explains, "He was on the plane one day and decided he wanted to see what it would look like if he designed some shoes. He drew them up on that flight and then had someone in Italy make them."
In another room, we discover a model of an actual working car he made using a 3D printer, then upstairs there's a pattern maker busily cutting out designs for his upcoming activewear line.
Throughout the building, there's the distant sound of a band rehearsing for the impending Black Eyed Peas reunion tour.
How does Will manage all these ongoing projects? "What I'm going through now is the hardest moment in my career," he admits.
"Having a start-up company with 280 employees in six different offices around the country is hard. I have sleepless nights and cynics looking at me sideways, like, 'Why should we invest in you when there's Google?' But I need that concern, that hard question and that challenge."
It's at this point he pulls out his phone to show us a very normal-looking group chat with his best buddies, which is full of funny comments, memes and plans to hang out. These are the people who get him through the tough times.
"I don't get caught up in how people perceive me – the opinions of my 10 closest friends are all that matters," Will insists. Cheekily pointing to his Specsavers frames, he adds, "But I'm never a person who panics because I look at the world with optimistic lenses."
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The Australian Women's WeeklyFeb 17, 2019