Louis York's dynamic duo speak with us about going it alone and what makes music great.
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 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. This is our time, 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. whole other thing from doing it for yourself. It's like being an actor, you now 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. Now so many girls I see are wild and loveable But I'm lookin' for my queen My Clair Huxtable The black American dream It sounds so wonderful The only thing I need's My Clair, Clair, my Clair Huxtable My Clair, Clair, my Clair Huxtable - Louis York is literally the cities we come from, so it's east St. Louis is where Chuck Harmony is from, New York City is where I'm from, and so literally it's 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 have 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 going to 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. I don't wanna waste no time While I have you in my life Can we make a memory Something I can hold on to 'Cause in the blinking of an eye - Anytime you do something, every day for a long period time, you start to get stagnant, you know what I'm saying? Especially when it comes to creativity, because it's so...it has to remain fresh or you start repeating yourself. And me and Claude are smart enough, and wise enough to never...as much as we can prevent repeating ourselves, we do that, so we had to churn out the same kind of scenario over and over again in the studio 6/7 days a week. So after you do that for 10 years, you're like "Yo, we need a break. " And so our break was actually making more music, cooler music. - One hundred percent creating Louis York, and then following that by creating a label we have, where the workshop has definitely made us more creative than even we were before. I think people knew us for a sliver of our creativity, and kind of a sliver of our intelligence, in terms of writing for other people. But this allows us to be our whole selves. We're allowed to write the song, produce the song, arrange the song, see it all the way through, see a visual for it, and really get the entire vision out. And what the people will get to see, and I'm speaking for him, because I don't want to speak for myself on this but, the people will get to see how masterful he is a musician, and how genius his entire thought process is. Not just the 3 minute, 30 second, track that you hear, tucked underneath someone's vocal for another record label. This is the chance for both of us, but especially him, because I'm speaking for my buddy here, a chance for everyone to see how much he can do, we can do, when you're allowed to see out the whole vision. Yeah Louis York actually has a full album that wave broken into two EPs, Masterpiece Theater Act I, which is coming very soon, and Masterpiece Theater Act II, which will come a little later, and we have material pretty much ready for both. But the songs you heard today, you'll get a taste of pretty soon because they're all coming within the next couple weeks, months. But we're excited for the world to hear all that stuff. 'Cause in the blinking of an eye I know all of this could die So baby let me savor Every single day with you - What's up guys this is Claude Kelly. - And this is Chuck Harmony. - And you're watching our session right here at Baeble Music. Baeble Music. Slow, slow motion, slow motion
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.