If you decide to name a song after Clair Huxtable -- the matriarch of The Cosby Show's Huxtable clan -- you're telling your audience a couple things about your sound. You're enmeshed in the vast depths of American culture. You've got a clever side. And you're willing to pay homage to those elements of art that helped birth you. And it takes one listen to Louis York to grasp the rich legacy of American songwriting that helped shape them.
Louis York is Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony -- two songwriters responsible for some of the biggest radio hits of the last decade. But these two performers are ready to let their music shine for them, and we're happy to be on the ground floor of helping to introduce them to the world. They recently stopped by Baeble HQ to perform a gorgeous, stripped down session. And their soulful melodies and rich emotion left our jaws on the floor.
- Do you wanna play it? For all the songs? - No, just for... writes, both for ourselves and the other acts that are part of our label starts like this. kind of setting, when you strip it down. I think more people should do stripped down versions of their songs and they'll find out how bad or how good they really are, because you don't have the beat or you don't have the bells and whistles of production to hide behind. - Either you got it or you ain't go it. - You either got it, a good song, or you don't got it. I haven't been myself, haven't been myself For 11 days, 21 hours I could really use some advice now I'm pouring myself in the Word Thinking about going to church Anything not to give more power To the voice in my head saying I messed up I know the good book says Hell is a place you might get sent to Once you're dead, but I know My eyes are closed but my heart's wide open My heart's wide open for the first time Watching you go, yeah was like a dive in the ocean A dive in ocean the way I cried And I realize Hell ain't no place under the ground, no It's the feeling not having you around I haven't seen my smile, haven't seen my smile Not sure if my face still does it All there is is emptyness inside, yeah 'Cause you were my North Star I shoulda followed But my eyes wandered away from it Now the best I can do Is waste time, yeah So I know the good book says Heaven is meant for those who cherish the gifts they get, but I know My eyes are closed, yeah But my heart's wide open, my heart's wide open for the first time Watchin' you go, yeah was like a dive in the ocean A dive in the ocean the way I cried Now I realize Hell ain't no place under the ground, no It's the feelin' not havin' you around Hell ain't no place under the ground, no It's the feelin' I'm feelin' right now is that the radio lacks excellence. Excellence goes far beyond just getting something done. When I listen to the radio, I feel like people go in the studio and they just get a song done. Whether it's good, whether it's bad, whether it start out, whether they edited themselves or whether they recorded the first thing that they thought of, you know what I'm saying? And so because of that of lack of editing yourself in the studio, people are not being excellent, and so we really wanna re-introduce excellence into the marketplace. - Chuck and I are not newbies to this, we've been actually in the music industry for quite some time as producer and songwriter for almost 10 years, working with pretty much everybody you guys know. Lots of household names. So we come into this as professional musicians that have been working the in the business for a while, and this is our turn to say it our way. We've written a lot of hits for other artists and given them a voice and a sound and this is our turn to say things the way we think they should be said, and how they should sound. She likes to read books on philosophy She only eats at small cafes She questions every single part of me She makes me better every day It's not the way she styles her hair Or the designer clothes she wears Her silhouette's one of a kind But most of all, she's got a beautiful mind She's up to date on foreign politics Knows every Beatles song by name She speaks at least two or three languages She makes me better every day It's not the way she styles her hair Or the designer clothes she wears Her silhouette's one of a kind But most of all, she's got a beautiful mind She's got a beautiful mind She's got a beautiful mind So many girls I see are wild and lovable But I'm looking for my queen My Clair Huxtable The black American dream, it sounds so wonderful But only thing I need's My Clair, Clair, my Clair Huxtable My Clair, Clair, my Clair Huxtable We'll be in a brownstone in BK Listening to Stevie and Coltrane I know that she's out there for me Have us a few kids one day A couple Lisa Bonets I know that she's out there for me So many girls I see are wild and lovable, y'all But I'm looking for my queen, my Clair Huxtable The black American dream, it sounds so wonderful, doesn't it The only thing I need's My Clair... - Louis York is literally the cities we come from. So east St. Louis is where Chuck Harmony's from, New York City's where I'm from, and so it literally is a combination of east St. Louis and New York, which makes Louis York. And it's reflective of the kind of explosion that happens when you all his influences from where he came from and all my influences from where I came from at one time, and so the music sounds like a big wall of sound, you never know where it's gonna go, and that's kind of what you get when you put two kind of very, very ambitious creative people in a room. You get that kind of electricity, so Louis York is a reflection of the music that we create. - Writing for other people, it's a whole 'nother thing from doing it for yourself. I love writing for other people, you know, we have so much fun just being able, it's like being an actor, you know what I'm saying, you get to play different personalities as songwriter and producer. So it's fun in itself, but it's not quite as fun as doing it for yourself, we have a blast. To me, the spotlight is very scary, you know? It's like, you on Front Street for the first and so there's no hiding behind a record label, there's no hiding behind an artist. There's no hiding behind anything, it's just naked... - For the world to see. - ...for the whole world to see, and so, it's scary, actually, because both of us, and I can definitely speak for him, because we pretty much together every day, both of us are very private people, and so the spotlight is like...we embrace it because we have to get our thought and our music out, we embrace that part, but it's really a scary thought. I don't wanna waste my time while I have you in my life Can we make a memory Something I can hold onto 'Cause in the blinking of an eye I know all of this could die So baby let me savor every single day with you I wanna move in slow Slow motion, slow motion Slow, slow motion slow motion Slow motion, yeah I know you're gonna leave me one day I know you're gonna say you can't stay I don't have luck when it comes to love I can't even believe you're here now And even though my arms wrap around I know that my best won't be enough, no Because the day will come It's inevitable But if you love someone You've got to let them go 'Til then I want Slow motion, slow motion Slow mo, slow motion Slow motion I don't wanna waste no time While I have you in my life So can we make a memory Something I can hold onto 'Cause in the blinking an eye I know all of this could die So baby let me savor every single day with you I wanna move in slow Slow motion, slow motion Slow, slow motion, slow motion, yeah
Individually and as a duo, Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony have penned hits for a veritable whos who of the Billboard charts, including Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Jennifer Hudson and Christina Aguilera, to name but a few. Their songs have sold more than 25 million copies to date, blanketed radio airwaves around the world, garnered multiple Grammy and Billboard nominations and dominated international song charts.
Though this songwriter/producer team would be the last to bite the Hot 100 hand that's fed them, last fall they found themselves burnt out on what Kelly calls "the regular runaround of what the music industry can sometimes be for us: a last-minute call for a first single. So on a creative whim during days off between star assignments, Kelly and Harmony booked some studio time to work on a project of their own.
Let's put it this way: remember that moment when The Wizard of Oz graduates from sepia to Technicolor? Thats what happened when Kelly and Harmony emerged from the studio with an album's worth of songs that sound light years ahead of the prevailing pop orthodoxy.
At first, neither knew they were making an album or forming a group. They just knew they had a creative itch to collectively scratch and a day off with a studio available. That one day produced one amazing song, so they booked the next day they had mutually available, with the same fertile results. In all, they recorded 15 songs in 15 days, stretched over a period of four months.
They dubbed the project Louis York, named after their mutual cities of origin (Harmony's from east St. Louis and Kelly hails from New York) and their eclectic-but-hook-ridden sound is a genre-bending blend of modern pop, old school R&B, thick-grooved rock and tribal African sounds. Harmony played every instrument on the record, while Kelly wrote the melodies and sang vocals.
No one else attended the sessions except their engineer. They didnt tell anyone they were making an album until it was nearly finished. At the end of each day, they left their work on a studio hard drive, without even taking personal copies home to listen to, let alone leaking it to anyone else. People hear everything we create right away, because the sessions are always hire-for-profit, Kelly explains. Its like a restaurant: As soon as you take the food off the griddle, its going on someones plate. This, as far as they were concerned, would be the opposite. We didnt want to play it for anyone before we really knew what it was, even though we were really excited for people to hear it.
Louis York introduces itself via first track Clair Huxtable, an ode to the popular TV character. Chuck and I both grew up watching The Cosby Show, crushing on Mrs. Huxtable, says Kelly. She was smart, sophisticated, beautifulthe ideal woman. All these years later, she still sets the bar, he laughs. Not every black man is looking for 'the video ho.
As for the timing of the tracks release and the recent controversy surrounding the star of the famed show, Kelly says, Chuck and I wrote this song about a year ago. We didnt write it based on current headlines. We wrote it because that show was important not just an important part of pop culture, but a vital part of black culture. It defied racial and demographic boundaries and showed the world a proud African-American family without the shuck-and-jive stereotypes so common on other shows. The Cosby Show was my encouragement to fight for greatness without apology."
Clair Huxtable will appear on Louis York - Masterpiece Theatre Act I, a self-produced six-song EP scheduled for a spring release through the duos own label, Weirdo Workshop Records (Act II will hit in the fall).
The discs many highlights include the lush and crushingly heartfelt Things I Shouldve Said, the silky smooth Tylenol and the Queen-meets-Kanye rollercoaster ride of Nerds, which Kelly says was partly inspired by being the only black kid in an all-white school (youre the weirdo in the cafeteria/eating by yourself day after day/sitting there and staring at those pretty girls/but they never seem to look your way/patience baby just you wait and see/one day youll own the company/ And they'll be on your nuts/I tell you boys and girls/Because nerds rule the world).
You quickly learn that its ok if youre not popular, says Kelly. It taught me to be an individual, which is much more important. And theres a deeper part to the song that asks, 'as a young black male living in 2015, how can I best represent those who sacrificed for us? Are we wasting the opportunities that people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X fought hard for us to get? There are a few things we wanted to say with these songs, but its not so heavy-handed that you feel like youre listening to a lecture. But, he muses, if all you want out of your music is a hook and beat, thats okay - weve got plenty of both.
Kelly and Harmony met while working on a handful of songs for Chrisette Micheles highly acclaimed 2009 album Epiphany. They quickly became best friends while working together on records by Jessie J, Faith Evans, Olly Murs, Ledisi and Fantasia. But career-wise, they were hardly locked at the hip. Individually, Kelly has co-written songs with or for the likes of Bruno, Miley, Britney, J-Lo, Whitney Houston, Adam Lambert and more, while Harmony has hooked up as a producer and/or writer with Toni Braxton, Kelly Rowland, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, and Keri Hilson, among others.
Harmonys discography in particular looks diva-heavy, which has put him in an enviable positionand also a box. Its like being in a company where they bring you into the IT department, but you have all these marketing ideas that they wont ever hear because youre the IT guy. I think thats what it is for me: I came in as the R&B guy. So if I played a rock instrumental, theyd be like, 'Why is the R&B guy trying to play a rock track? People think its cool to work with pretty much every female in R&B and it is but theres some frustration that comes with that if youve got rock music in your head or a pop element to your production. And though Claude and I have been good friends, it wasnt until we started the process of making this album that I knew he was experiencing the same frustrations.
Kelly explains it this way: If youre a creative person with desires and potential that are not being met, you either shut up and take the check or you push yourselves beyond the boundaries of what people think you can do, or even what you think you can do. You take a leap.
Hence, Louis York.
Whats missing in a lot of music that I did and that a lot of other people are still doing is that it sounds cool but its fast food, says Kelly. It sounds and smells and looks like a good idea, but its actually not nourishing at all. We collect it on our iPhones, but its not part of our lives. It doesnt feel like the music we grew up on the music that was the soundtrack to our lives. A lot of what were hearing now feels like the soundtrack to a dayat best. Were trying to change that a couple of songs at a time.