Curiosity has always been and still is a human trait that has spanned centuries. Even now in an age where being a “Creative” is now defined as writing short scripts for Cameron Diaz and a rude white cat for less than 60 Instagram seconds of fame. Yet, many of us still crave a good story or body of work that has the visuals that capture our attention, and if we’re lucky, a beautiful musical score would accompany and elevate the experience to another level. It’s why we love our Superhero Epics, rappers with good (doesn’t have to be true) backstories, that make us begrudgingly sing their lyrics, and documentaries speaking of the unknown, lined with a dope soundtrack.
Authenticity is the name of the game, and many musical duos have succeeded, failed, and skate below the radar of living up to the attribute. We only remember the success stories of Outkast, Missy Elliot and Timbaland, Gnarls Barkley, and dare I say newcomers to that list, Louis York.
Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly separately and collectively have all the attributes that veterans in the music industry dream of. With a resume that contains production and written works of art for artists such as Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, and “Damita Jo” herself, Janet Jackson, just to name a few.
The duo, in homage to their respective hometowns of New York City and St. Louis, decided to join forces to become “Louis York”. Now based out of Nashville, Tennessee, the group’s latest effort “American Griots” through their imprint Weirdo Workshop, has every element of a classic in this current realm of the R&B genre.
We sat down with the supergroup to discuss their creative process and vision behind the project, and how their eclectic but bold approach to music, sets the stage for a shift through the delivery of true substance over powerful production.
H. Sylver: First and foremost, thank you guys for sitting down with me today. I must say that after listening to this album, you guys have a classic on your hands. It was a great listen from top to bottom.
Louis York: That is the ultimate compliment! That was our goal, we wanted our debut album to feel like a classic album. No SKIPS!
H. Sylver: The first track on the album immediately caught my attention. I felt that it was stripped down to the barebones and core of the music. From the hard-hitting drums to the horns, and rhymes of a poet. In that same spirit, who is Louis York at its core?
Louis York: That’s a great question. Louis York at its core are storytellers, and we use instruments, our voices, rhythm and sometimes silence to tell stories that need to be told, are missing, or we feel are close to our hearts. The reason we named our album “American Griots”, was because “Griots” were traditional West African storytellers. We both play multiple instruments, but we’re storytellers that use our gifts to get the story out, and sometimes it gets broken down like that first song.
H. Sylver: The song, “How Do I Feel”, is such a powerful piece of art. What inspired that track?
Louis York: For us, the song has been written for a while. That’s a story within itself. We were debating if we were going to this music industry event, and somewhere along the line, we made a list of pros and cons of how we would feel if we didn’t go. That sparked Claude’s brain, as far as lyrics and storytelling were concerned, and I just hopped on the piano. It didn’t take us long to process the writing of the song. After it was written, we were having conversations about how it should be produced. We concluded when listening to the body of work, that there was not a moment that got back to the true authenticity of what Chuck and Claude are as songwriters and producers, as creators. We met and sat down at a piano and came up with crazy songs. That was our first meeting and that’s how we start every song. We wanted “How Do I Feel” to represent that, not just the sentiment, but our creativity and our process, and give people a sneak peek into what it takes. We are going to go to radio with this song, and we have never played the radio game. It’s a scary game, but we feel strongly that the record is a true representation of us. If people get nothing else from “American Griots”, we hope that people understand that we are creatives behind that mic and with that piano.
H. Sylver: There is another immaculate track called “I Wonder”, where you guys pull out all the stops. I must commend you guys on such a beautiful series of strings, and vocals that featured a surprising operatic break. The lyrics were hard-hitting. When Louis York listens to music, what makes a great song in your opinion?
Louis York: We are very picky. That’s only because we have studied and created music for so long, that we can look past all the tricks that they use, to see if there is the true meaning. What it comes down to is honesty for us. There is no wrong genre, no wrong artist, place, or country that it comes from. Its why we love Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Dolly Parton, to Megan the Stallion, Kanye West, and Hillsong. We get where they’re coming from, their journey, they give their truth. I can listen to “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, because it’s one of the most honest representations of heartbreak I have ever heard, then I can listen to “Hypnotize” by Biggie because it is the best honest shit-talk from Brooklyn I have ever heard! Music should transport you somewhere. If I’m in the same place as I was at the beginning of the song, it’s not good enough. The singer, the producer, the horn section, the engineer, should all aid in making this journey possible.
H. Sylver: What would you like a new fan that discovers “American Griots”, to take away from this project?
Louis York: We want them to get to know us musically and personally. A new decade is about to begin, and we hope that when they discover us, they can discover the possibilities of their gift. We are two black men, and we hope that we are understood as empathetic, intelligent, creative, fearless and free. We want to be the relief in this busy body world, an escape, and healing from everything going on right now. We purposely make our music light, positive without being preachy, and I think it’s missing and needed. We party, and we’re angry, and the question is, “What’s the solution?” What is going to challenge and make us better, we hope that our music is the answer.
H. Sylver: So, what is next on the agenda of Louis York? Are any new offerings coming our way?
Louis York: We toured the whole top of this year and are currently doing spot dates. We are going to London, Nashville, and St. Louis. We hope to pick up a full schedule back up in Spring, but we are working on our all-girl group, The Shindellas. We are looking to drop a full body project within the first quarter. We are working with the Nashville Ballet which we are very excited about, providing music for a project with them. Also, working with Kathy Lee Gifford on a Christian Contemporary project. We are doing our Grand Ole Opry debut, which is a big deal for two black men to be on that stage. It’s a lot! We are always working on the next great musical offering.
*End of Interview*
After listening to the album from top to bottom, it is true to declare that Louis York is truly the “Griots” that are desperately needed. A message needs to be heard and it’s why we rely on our religious leaders, our politicians, and our elders to make sense of the world we live in. That list once contained musicians and creative visionaries. Many today chose just the avenue of entertainment alone, as opposed to feeding the minds and souls of the awaiting and seeking listener with truth, love, and thought-provoking lyrics. Louis York has delivered a project that we feel is a sledgehammer to the broken record that is music’s current state.
Born and raised on the island streets of New Providence, Bahamas; H. Sylver grew up in a Haitian household that nurtured his love for music and theatrical performances, spoken word poetry, and writing. This passion gained him a spot on Island/Def Jam's Street Team, where he became an ambassador for hip hop, promoting artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Jeezy, Nas, Rick Ross, and many more. He has great insight and analysis of the current music scene, providing written reports on trending news, and original think pieces. He currently resides in Baltimore Maryland with his family, and is currently writing his first novel.