Music legends are dying at an unfair, unrelenting pace. Today’s artists are failing to live up to the heroes of yesteryear. With that in mind, Louis York, the Nashville tandem of Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly, took some time in the studio to release their full-length debut American Griots with the goal of making the next best record, and to fill a void that’s been wide open for way too long. Out today, this celebration of – as Kelly calls it “musicality”- channels all genres and decades with rich, fully realized songs that will have you moving, grooving, thinking, and feeling.
In a recent phone interview, Harmony and Kelly echoed each others’ sentiments throughout. They almost seemed like one of those old married couples in When Harry Met Sally. While they didn’t exactly finish each other’s sentences, they did elaborate on them and almost give a proverbial shoulder pat. And, I’ll be honest they seemed so on-point and in-sync that I may have even attributed their comments to the wrong person. If I did, I apologize but the sentiment was so similar and on-point it tripped this writer up (I also have a baby at home – my apologies if it happened.)
If they sound in sync and determined, it’s because they have been around for quite a bit, working together to enrich our ears with songs that are sung, autotune free, and devoid of pop cliches that many artists fall into. Kelly’s hands are all over such hits as Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You,” Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” and Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” Harmony has worked on Mary J. Blige’s Grammy-winning Growing Pains, Ne-Yo’s Grammy-nominated Year of the Gentleman, and Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette” single to name a few. These namedrop rarely scratch the surface.
So, yes, the two are already established in the music world as go to producers and songwriters but with Louis York, which busted out over three years ago with the first of a three part Masterpiece Theatre Act EP on their don’t-call-it-a-label Weirdo Workshop, they take centerstage. But enough about the past for these two who are very much living in the present.
American Griots features 15-new tracks of awesome with such collaborators as Workshop wonderlands The Shindellas, Nashville poet Caroline Randall Williams, and singer/songwriter Jimmie Allen. Let’s get to that interview with these genre-bending, decade-mixing, hit-making, groundbreaking, industry-breaking Griots.
Q. Some songs, “No Regrets” for example, sounds like it could be in the original Beverly Hills Cop. Other songs sound like they’re right out of Motown. Others sound from other decades. How does the music start so to speak? Lyrics or music first?
CH: It’s kind of a combo. We usually start at the piano and figure out what to do. It’s definitely conscious to jump decade to decade and influence to influence. We’re pretty much emptying ourselves creatively.
CK: It ties into our DNA. All of those periods. It’s not done because it’s trendy.
CH: We kind od let it lead where we go rather than it just being a throwback. We knew we were on the heels of the ‘20s again and there’s a lot of conversation of where music is going.
Q. Well, where do you see music right now. I mean I like that Billie Eilish is mainstream – just because she’s not typical pop. I like seeing Tool and The Raconteurs top the charts. Rock is not dead, and it hasn’t been.
CH: It’s definitely changing but not as fast as it should be. For me, true composition is not there. I hear good songs. The technology is easier to sound good. The hip hop influence is taking a back seat. But, I’m still feeling like it’s not there. You could play a Stevie Wonder song and put it right next to a Beethoven composition and go, ‘ok, it’s the same thing.” Q. Do you guys inspire each other? It seems you’d have to.
CK: Musicality to me, it’s still catching up. People are getting rewarded because they can carry a tune. They’re getting an A-plus because they can carry a tune.
CH: We’re rewarding good enough.
Q. Legends seem to be dying left and right which only emblazon that notion.
CK: Every time we lose someone, and it’s been many, the number one thing is we’re living in a world where we have none to replace it with. Chuck and I feel we are part of the solution.
CH: Like you said, a lot of our heroes are dying. But, they laid a crazy foundation for us. Not a lot of people are doing it so we’re doing it. We’re disappointed that there’s not bold thinkers taking risks. That’s why we started doing this.
Q. Is that why you guys opted to do a full-length album? It’d be so easy to just release a single here or there.
CH: We wanted to set the blue print. We knew we had got to make a statement. People are discovering who we are in totality. Louis York is more than a band.
CK: We know what we’re capable of. We know the bandwidth we can accomplish.
Q. Let’s talk about Weirdo Workshop a bit. That’s a perfect lead in right there. It’s such an amalgam of stuff.
CH: Absolutely. It’s not Claude Harmony. It’s not Claude Kelly. It’s not a record label. It’s strange but the idea was to put ourselves our first then find other talent as dope as we are like The Shindella’s. But, we’re capable of doing more.
CK: We can score films, do soundtracks, Broadway shows…
CH: We’re literally composing for the National Ballet to prove that point. The idea is never to be known as a record label. It is a hub.
Q. Focusing on the record now. You guys seem to be perfectionists. Now that your baby is out in the world. How do you feel about it?
CH: We’ve been at this a long time. I can honestly say this is the best body of work I’ve ever attached my work to.
CF: We’re not chumps. We’re very picky. We’re happy with the vocals and how it sounds sonically. We wouldn’t have put it out otherwise.