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INTERVIEWS KELLYLEE EVANS
YOU GET THE LIFE THAT YOU GET
KELLYLEE EVANS TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT
CHANGING HER FOCUS
A BRUSH WITH DEATH
AND TAKING HER NEW CD 'FIGHT OR FLIGHT'
TO THE PEOPLE
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSHDid you have a show last night?
Fight or flight? Do or die? It's one of those moments where one is faced with either surrendering to a bad situation or taking a stand and doing something about it. With the release of her debut CD FIGHT OR FLIGHT, it is clear that Canadian jazz-soul artist KELLYLEE EVANS has made her decision. She has eschewed major label acceptance in favor of keeping the contract simple; Between the listener and the artist. She has taken her fresh soulful jazz pop sound to the streets and to the people with the help of ace session players and a line of credit that she hopes to pay back someday.
But enough about business plans and demographics. FIGHT OR FLIGHT is a winner! It is a debut recording that lacks the awkwardness of your average debut. one listen and you would think that this was EVANS' tenth album. It's not often that a new artist takes charge of the material with such verve and confidence as EVANS does on the tracks WHAT ABOUT ME?, LET'S CALL A TRUCE TONIGHT and HOW CAN YOU GET ALONG WITHOUT ME? Aside from the delivery, it's worth noting that all of the songs on FIGHT OR FLIGHT were written by Ms. EVANS herself.
EVANS is the hottest new talent in the jazz scene with a self-assured alto and songwriting chops that could put her side by side with some of other "intelligent" tunesmiths such as AIMEE MANN, ELVIS COSTELLO or RON SEXSMITH.
ROCKWIRED had the chance to speak with KELLYLEE EVANS over the phone. it was 10PM her time, and hectic week was behind her. Here is how it went.
No. I had a show on Sunday and what it was was this kinda hippie festival called BLUE SKIES. It's been around for 33 years and most of the people that go there have gone there since then. It's one of those things where if you go there on Friday, you don't come home until Monday and you perform once and have workshops. It's really intense and we were the last show before the finale on Sunday. Our original time was at 11:30 but it got pushed back because the show started late, so we didn't get on until 12:30. We finished at 1:30 and then after that was the big finale. Fortunately, it was a great show so we were on a high. We didn't go to sleep until 3 then we woke up at 6 and packed up our tents so we were exhausted. We got home safely and the next day was as equally busy so when you didn't call it was like " Good, I can keep going to sleep!"
This new CD FIGHT OR FLIGHT is a great CD. Is it everything that you hoped it would be?
When I made that CD, it was early 2004. At the time, what was so shocking to me was hearing the music outside of my head for the first time. I had always sung standards. I had written these songs and called up LONNIE PLAXICO and I asked if he would help me do them. Then he got a group of folks together and they created this sound around my compositions with my voice and a friend on guitar. It was so neat to hear my music outside of my head. Even if things weren't exactly as I had wanted them, at least the music was out. Some of the songs have changed in the playing over the last year. We play the songs a lot differently live then we did in the recording. It would have been different if we had played the music live for a year and then gone into the studio to record it. A lot of artists don't record that way anymore. They make the music first and then take it on the road and decide what they can add to it. That didn't happen here. The CD is a brilliant snapshot of where I was then but it's different from where I am now.
I think your songwriting is exceptional! Explain, if it's explainable, the creative process. What goes into writing a song? Is it different all of the time or do you have a set way of doing things?
A lot of it is just opening up my brain and taking away my judgement of ideas that are coming in. I'll hear a rhythm and that rhythm will inspire words. I usually tend to write the music and the words at the same time. But somethimes, I'll see a turn of phrase or I'll flip through the TV GUIDE and I'll be like "That interesting!" and I'll try to work that. If you're writing and you start to edit as you are writing, you stop yourself. Sometimes you've got to say "Look, I'm not trying to be overly intelligent, I'm just trying to get the ideas out." Sometimes you've just got to surrender yourself to what's out there. When I write, I try not to worry about the quality of my writing anymore. I just try to get the ideas out. Does that make any sense?
It makes a lot of sense.
There's one song on the CD called HOOKED. I remember writing it as I was reading all of these books on songwriting that say things like "...stay away from cliches". In the song HOOKED there's this part that goes "...Softly, slowly, I'm dipping into you/can't eat, can't sleep, you're a wicked brew/ like a river that's washing over me/ twisiting turning like a ship at sea" After I wrote that,. I was like "this is a complete cliche" so I wanted to stop writing the song because I thought that it was just idiotic. Instead of stopping, I added the line, "...These old cliches keep emerging from the state I'm in." I thought that acknowledging the cliche was a neat way to continue to write my cliched song and revel in it, as opposed to editing myself all of the time.
What brought you to this point? What made you decide to go into music?
It was a lot of crazy stuff and a near death experience. I guess I needed something big to happen to me to give me a wake up call. I had always been an honor roll student and very good at scholastic pursuits. Education was always important to my family. They'd be like "...Yeah, your good at music, but stick with school. That's rational." The idea was for me to be a Doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer or all three. So I went on to school and l got a bachelors degree in English Literature and from there, I started working towards my Masters. Around that time,my mother got sick with cancer. She had Multiple Myeloma, which is cancer of the plasma cells. This disease effected her kidneys and she lost her kidney functions. Eventually she passed away in 1999. Watching her go made me think of what was important in life. Even when she was sick, I was getting my masters in legal studies and studying about human rights and minority rights and I would find myself spending the days taking her to radiation and chemotherapy treatments and then I'd get back to school and at this point things at school didn't matter anymore. Not as much as they had before. Going through all of this made me think about what makes a person happy in life. As much as she pushed me in the direction of scholastic achievement, I got to thinking that if there was a God and there was a heaven, she'd know that it was better to be happy then to be grumpy all of the time. I had also had my first child around this time and while trying to get my Masters done, I had developed these stomach ulcers. Finally, I decided to drop out of the Masters program and my ulcers pains went away. It was all psychosomatic. I thought I needed surgery. That was how bad it was! There were these life and death issues like the death of my mother and the birth of my first child that helped me keep a perspective on things. Since I was out of school, I was like "Wow,I don't have to do anything anymore. I can do whatever I want so I decided that I was going to take tennis. Crazy me! I was playing every other day it seemed. I took lessons and read books on tennis. It was nuts! At this time, I was too scared to pursue music because I was afraid that if it didn't work out, the failure would be too much.
Of course Tennis isn't exactly a one shot deal, is it? (sarcastically)
I don't know what I was thinking. I look back now and I realize how crazy it was. I thought I could do it. Three months into it, I got an ankle rollover. I don't know if you've had one of those but they're not nice. I went to the hospital and they gave me this medication. I had an allergic reaction the medication, went back to the hospital and I almost passed away.
Good Lord Kelly!!!
When I got back home I took out my books on tennis and started reading them trying perfect my serve and then my husband says "Are you crazy? That ball could've hit you in your throat. In all the years I've known you, you said you always wanted to be a singer. Why don't you write a song? You've got all these books on songwriting. "I was like "Fine then." So I wrote a song and it's one of the first songs on the CD. That's when it started. Up to that point, I didn't think that I could write anything. I didn't think that you could be in your twenties and just write a song. I felt that maybe you would've had to have written songs before, but who knew? I've been learning that there are so many things out there for us that if we just put our minds to it and try you can accomplish it. Sounds corny!
There's truth to them.
That's why they're cliches. So you've written your first couple of songs. Where did you go from there?
At that point I didn't know how to read music; at least not in a very skilled way. I had this CASIO keyboard and I knew the basic three notes in any given chord. That's how I wrote the chords for my songs. When I had the songs all mapped out and wrtitten I went to my friends house and asked "Can you play these chords? I'll sing over them." He was a guitar player. As we were doing that his (the guitar player's) cousin was over at the same time. I was singing that I DON'T WANT YOU TO LOVE ME song and she just looked ayt me and said "Who told you that?", and I said "What are you talking about?" She said "Who told you that?", and I said "That's how I feel.", and she said "That's how I feel" and that was my first indication that my songs could be for other people. It was really a revelatory kinda thing for me. There are so many people out there that are like you but you don't know anything until you say something. In 2002, I kept writing and I had another child. As soon as I had her, I knew that I wanted to get all of this done and recorded. I met LONNIE PlAXICO around this time at a jazz session and we said we'd keep in touch. I called him up in November of 2003 and said that I really wanted to do this CD.
He asked me to send him something, so I sent him a demo of 13 songs with me and the guitarist. He said he liked it and asked who I wanted to work with. I gave him this wish list and he put it together. In January 2004 we went down to New York and recorded the songs. We reheased for two days and recorded it in two days.
Most of the tracks were recorded in one take. We recorded it in an open loft so there was a lot of bleeding off of the instruments into my mic so I re-recorded my vocals again once we got home.
The CD is very atmospheric. it's like something was captured.
It was done in an in and out kind of way...very loose.There's so much that I love about that feeling.It was such an amazing experience. It was amazing to know that you can get that level of sound in two days.
You're married and you're a mother of two. What are the challenges? where there any challenges financially or otherwise?
Well, I like to say that the bank is the investor of my project because I recorded FIGHT OR FLIGHT on my line of credit. A lot of people do it that way. Sure it's going to be pain having to pay it off but, that's my label.
from a parental perspective I could've waited until I was old and grey but I would just be a cranky mother. I wanted my kids to see me enjoying myself. I felt that this was the way to go.They travel with us to the festivals and run around backstage. I was raised by a single parent. If someone looked at my life growing up with a single parent and if they had come from a two parent household they would probably think that the way I grew up was strange. My mother was a nurse and worked nights so there were times when I wasn't sleeping at my own house
but that was life.You lived it. I couldn't compare it with anybody elses but I understood.You get the life that you get . I do my best to make sure that things are going well with my kids andI want to make sure that they grow up with parents that love life and that are doing what they want.
How do you feel about the reaction that this CD is getting? All of the press is great! Are you unnerved by that or pleased by that?
Both. You don't ever know if you feel that you've done your best job so I'm not sure.
I've asked other artists they'd say that you're never really happy with it. You wanna fix this and you wanna fix that. Right now, im kind of detached from my own response. But the reaction that i'm gettingis really exciting. Despite the response, the industry doesn't feel that what I do is marketable. We did that BLUE SKIES FESTIVAL on Sunday. There were 3000 festival goers and a lot of them were not there to see a soul jazz artist. I didn't know know what they expected but we had them dancing until 2:30 in the morning. 15 year olds! These young people were so enthused by the music that they actually jumped on stage with us and danced for the whole concert. When we came off stage,I was like "Did you think that peopel would dance to ENOUGH? It was crazy! We're still laughing about it. The older folks complained because they couldn't see us behind all of the kids dancing. Someone in the industry will ask what my demographic is and I say 18 - 65 and they'll say that's impossible
but I see it. I know what I see. A 12 year old bought my CD. My CD sales are great and we're the top sellers at most of the festivals that we've done. It's still one of those things where everybody is like "Oh, that can't be."
Around January of 2006, I stopped focusing on the industry. As soon as I took out of their hands and into the hands of the average person, that's when I started selling CDs and booking shows. The concerts have been great
I've changed my focus
And for the better.
Going to the people that actually buy CDs and go to shows
And you get more of a cut anayway
You'd only get 20 cents a CD if you went through a major label.
Now I can finally pay my bills.
In your press, there a lot of metion a baout contest that you a part of at the KENNEDY CENTER
THELONIUS MONK JAZZ VOCAL COMPETITION.
DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER was one of the judges. I've interviewed her.
Yes, along with QUINCY JONES, AL JERREAU and some others. DEE DEE's amazing! I saw her perform at MONTREAL JAZZ FESTIVAL this year.
Have you ever performed there?
Not yet. Next year I find that if you really want something to work out than you can figure out a way for it to work out.I only live an hour away from montreal and it's great venue, so I've got no excuse for not trying. Anybody who is anybody has played there.
What do you want a listener to walk away with after hearing your music.
Its really weird. People who have listened to the CD or who have gone to the live shows usually walk away saying that they are calm yet energized by the experience. I love the idea that something I made could give people energy but also make them feel good about things in a calm way. The name of my company is called ENLIVEN so the whole idea of bringing light to things is bringing life to me.