Within the music industry today, trying to find a new talented singer-songwriter is like trying to discover a unicorn or the lost city of Atlantis. In other words, it’s nearly impossible to find a new artist who not only has an unbelievable voice, but can write meaningful yet catchy lyrics. Although they are out there, many of these talented musicians are buried beneath the mainstream pop and hip-hop bi-products of the major record labels. Lucky for you however, there’s a new R&B duo that broke away from the music industry’s grasp and went independent. Their names are Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony.
Kelly and Harmony formed Louis York, which named after the cities they grew up in, St. Louis and New York. They are both multitalented musicians who sing, write their own lyrics, and create the melodies for their songs. Also, if you did not think they could get any more talented, you would be wrong. Both Kelly and Harmony have extensive knowledge about writing music because before they were Louis York, they were prolific Grammy Award nominated song writers for some of the industry’s leading artists. Kelly has written songs from “Party in the U.S.A” for Miley Cyrus to “Hold My Hand” sung by the king of pop, Michael Jackson. Harmony, who is equally as impressive, wrote songs such as “I Can Do Bad” for Mary J. Blige, and “Russian Roulette” sung by Rihanna.
Chuck and Claude recently visited Syracuse University to provide some real talk about the music industry to the Bandier students. They also discussed their new company called Weirdo Workshop which promotes creativity among up-and-coming artists who want to remain independent from the major labels. Afterwards, they were nice enough to provide me with a phone interview, a.k.a listen to me ramble and attempt to sound like I was 20 Watts’ very own Diane Sawyer.
20W: What was the driving force behind the creation of Louis York?
Claude Kelly: The driving force was our need to reinvigorate creativity for ourselves and within the music industry in general. We were very frustrated with what was on the radio, what was being put out, and what we were being asked to write for other people. The calls we were getting were boring and uninspired. The worst place a creative person can be is in a box, so Louis York was literally our way of breaking out of the box. We wanted to show people what we were talking about instead of just complaining about it.
20W: What is your experience when working with the record labels?
Chuck Harmony: My experience is they are all the same for the most part. Unfortunately, we expect creativity to be and the forefront of everyone’s mind in the music business, but in actuality and in most cases, creativity takes a backseat to the business aspect. We understand that everyone is trying to be profitable, we just wish they placed more emphasis on creativity.
20W: What was your biggest inspiration for your music?
CH: I don’t even know where my passion came from, it was supernatural. Nobody pushed me into playing or introduced me to it. My musical inspiration though is Michael Jackson, Thriller especially. Other than that, it just kind of fell into my lap. Music chose me.
CK: I started music when I was really young, so it was not as much of a passion but more of an addiction. When I heard Bob Marley for the first time, I knew I wanted to do what he was doing, and I have been trying to chase that feeling ever since. You know when you get that chill down your spine when you’re doing something you love? That’s how I feel when I’m playing music, and that’s the feeling I’m always trying to chase.
20W: What is your take on the messages portrayed through hip-hop and pop music today?
CH: One of the reasons we formed Louis York was in response to the poor messaging and today’s pop culture. We really wanted to portray positive and well thought out messages through our music. I’m personally really frustrated with the messages in today’s music. A lot of artists go in the studio just to stroke their egos, nobody is touched by their music. It shows pop culture in a negative manner, and we want to do our part to change this.
CK: The women we know are not the women that are being described in those songs. Who are they even talking to or about? There are intelligent people out there that are not getting songs they can relate to and we’re trying to change that.
20W: How do you feel about the digitalization and monetization of music? What is your take on digital streaming services such as Spotify or Deezer?
CH: It’s hard because it’s so new and we have to relearn the process of selling music. It’s hard to find out what’s good or bad about it just yet. I think artists should get paid for their work since it is intellectual property, and the streams should count.
CK: To put yourself in our shoes, as veteran song writers we believe that you should get paid for your work and the amazing art you put out. At the same time though, streaming has become this novel new idea to share your music. You want creative and talented artists to break through the mold and out of the box and challenge the system and be heard. You want everyone to share their music so we can learn from each other, but it’s a struggle because you want people to get paid. There isn’t a good system in place yet to protect the artist’s music on streaming, and there needs to be change and demand from the top down.
20W: Since music is readily available for almost everyone, what is your feeling on people’s belief that music should be free?
CH: People don’t regard all the work that is put into the music, and believe that they have a right to free music, but just like any other product someone makes it deserves to be paid for.
CK: I’ll give you a good example of this. The first lady came out recently with her Spotify playlist, and one of the songs I wrote was on there. I thought that was great and I’m glad she included it, but nobody knows how to get paid by Spotify yet so that’s exposure I’m not getting paid for. On the flip side, if the first lady came out in an amazing dress and never said who designed it and told everyone to go get the dress for free, heads would roll.
20W: Okay, last question I promise. I know you both have religious backgrounds, did religion have any impact on the creation of your music?
CH: It really had an effect, not just on my personal life, but on how I do music. I was introduced to music through hymns and gospel music and I can hear that influence still in my music today. It has had a huge impact on my life and how I look at the world.
CK: Same here it was a foundation for me. Hymns, classical, and praise and worship music is tried and true and if all else fails, I know I can always go back to making that music. We had that traditional upbringing and that makes us and our music unique.