LoveThisTrack recently had the pleasure to speak with musical duo Louis York, composed of singer-songwriters/producers Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony.
The two complement each other perfectly, both musically and personality-wise. They attribute their distinct differences to their roots: Claude hails from New York while Chuck is from East St. Louis. Both veterans in the music business, Louis York transitioned from being behind the scenes, working for major artists like Rihanna and Ne-Yo, to being in the “Limelight”, as the cheeky track on their second album suggests.
Louis York released their sophomore EP, Masterpiece Theater Act II, just last month, featuring hit single “Don’t Play”, which they’re currently filming the music video for.
The musical pair is also in the process of making more music and finding new talent through their label Weirdo Workshop.
Check out the interview below!
LoveThisTrack: Tell us a bit about how you got started in the music industry?
Chuck: I grew up loving music as a kid. I started out playing drums at 5 or 6 years old. I just followed my passion all the way through high school to college where I majored in music at Alabama State University. I moved to Albany University and majored in music there. And then I kind of matriculated to Clark Atlanta University where I set up shop to become the musician I wanted to be. So I was around Atlanta for at least 4 or 5 years shopping demos like everybody else trying to break in. I had a chance meeting with Ne-Yo and at that point I started co-writing for him. I was one of the first producers signed to his production team and the rest is history.
Claude: I started playing classical piano when I was 2. There was always music around me. I played piano and performed. I went to Berkeley College for Music in Boston to hone my skills. I graduated and moved back to New York and had no idea how I was going to make it in the music industry. I hung out with one of my friends in the studio and discovered that I could write songs. Thank God! So at that point, I just continued working on making sure I was the best songwriter I could be. I would take any session, any studio, work in New York City, in surrounding cities, Jersey, and Philly. In 2006 I met Akon and Dr. Luke. I got the best of both worlds and that really jump-started my career. It was no cakewalk, but now that I think back on it, it was fun. And now here we are.
LoveThisTrack: Claude, you’re from NY and Chuck you hail from East St. Louis. How has being from those areas influenced your music?
Claude: It’s everything about what we are. Louis York, the name and the sound, is an explosion on everything that made Chuck who he was in East St. Louis and everything that made me who I am in New York. There are some similarities like we both love Bob Marley, Ray Charles, R Kelly, Biggie, Sade. Everything that we took on, teaching ourselves every freaking instrument under the sun, performing, writing, composing, everything—that’s what makes us Louis York. In New York, I grew up with Bad Boy and hip hop was blowing up here. I loved 90s R&B, pop, a lot of rock and also country because of family influences. I bring all that stuff to the table. Now I’ll let him tell you what he brings to the table.
Chuck: If I hear any parts of East St. Louis in my music, for me it’s the Midwest cool. It’s what Miles Davis had. It’s that mixture of gospel and being a learned musician. There’s blues, and you take what you want to do with that particular genre.
Claude: When you’re from New York, you have an image of what musicians from the Midwest are like. It’s cool, it’s not jazzy, not too grown and sexy. It’s like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Prince, L.A. [Reid] and Baby Face. Cutting edge vibes but slow and cool. That’s Chuck’s approach to everything. He’s laid back and cool and I have that New York edge.
LoveThisTrack: You started out producing and songwriting. How was it making the transition from behind the scenes to center stage?
Claude: I love it. This is what we were supposed to be getting to the whole time. There isn’t an artist that we’ve worked with who hasn’t told both of us individually that we should be on stage. We were in denial about it. I had no desire when I was songwriting for artists to take their slot. There was no competition there. I was just dedicated to writing great songs for other artists and Chuck was dedicated to being a great producer. It was kind of against our well that this happened. I realized this is where it was supposed to be the whole time. I was always meant to be in a band with this guy. It was the best decision ever. We have a lot of things to say and we say them differently. We have an opinion that needs to be heard. It’s important for intelligent black men to speak out. For master musicians who have been really working at it for years to have a grounded opinion and be the difference. We felt like we had to do this because there’s not enough leadership. There’s not enough art that’s reflecting the times. It’s definitely not about the charts or being famous.
Chuck: Yup, what he said. He definitely covered it all.
LoveThisTrack: Unlike most artists, your music cannot be categorized as one particular sound. How did you come to be comfortable creating music that spans R&B, soul, gospel, and other genres?
Chuck: I did it out of frustration. I was so tired of being just the R&B guy. It was driving me crazy. I had all these orchestral arrangements, these rock guitars, and all this big band stuff and all of these cool and funky things like you hear on Act II. I had all of that in my head, but I didn’t have the artist to put it on because people would only call me for the R&B s***. For me, Louis York and Weirdo Workshop allowed me to let out my frustrations musically like, “Look guys, I can do all of this s***.”
Claude: I agree. It’s an escape and outlet in the same way. We have a career where people know us for being diverse, but still you’d be surprised of how much of a box people try to put you in. They want you to do what you did last year. They want you duplicating your own art and no one wants to duplicate what they’ve already done. This allows us to have enough creative control as can be and say what we wanna say. We’re much more free as artists.
LoveThisTrack: You guys released your second album Masterpiece Theater Act II. Congrats on that! How was working on this album different from working on your debut?
Claude: Thank you! This is a continuation of Masterpiece Theater Act I, actually. Last year was our introduction to the world as Louis York. So I think we had a lot to explain. We’re here like “No guys, we really can sing. No guys, we really are a band.” So this is about showing people that we exist. Act II is really about leaving a permanent stamp and saying, “We’re here to stay and get used to some wild, crazy, new experiences.” It’s based in the fact that we’re not afraid to be ourselves. So songs like “Hipsters” are telling people we’re gonna be weird. We’re gonna take you on a ride. This is the beginning of a life-long journey of crazy music. We’re prepping everybody because we’re already working on our debut album. Our full length debut album. It’s musically exciting and an adventure and we couldn’t have just jumped into that. We want people to know that we exist and that we’re not afraid to be colorful and talk about some heavy stuff. So we’re gonna drop that. People are gonna be ready for it.
LoveThisTrack: What do you think is most important for fans to know about this record?
Chuck: We really want people to know how much we pay attention to detail. If I can speak for the consumer, I think people are frustrated that artists are just going in the studio and just whatever comes out, comes out. And then it’s mixed and mastered and put on Soundcloud and people have to digest it. So really, people are being cheated. I want the fanbase to know that Louis York is not like that. We really put our heart, soul, mind, energy and money into making sure you get a real quality product. That’s why we got into making music and we appreciate those people who took the time out to make a quality product.
Claude: Yeah, I agree! I’m like, “Yes!” to all that.
LoveThisTrack: Out of all the great music on this record, “Hipsters” seems to be a crowd favorite. What about that song do you think makes it resonate so much with your listeners?
Claude: I think that people are craving raw honesty and real from artists. We don’t get enough of it. I don’t get enough of it. “Hipsters” came from a vulnerable place when we were creating it, recording it in New York…and the help of some marijuana [laughs]. My friend Mary Jane helped me open up a portal, if you will. That song was such an honest expression of ours that we recorded it and didn’t remember recording it and came back the next day like, “Wait, did we even do a song last night?” We left like totally baked and came back the next day. It was all done by the subconscious. It was what we were feeling. So all the lyrics and piano, Chuck produced around it. And it feels like a cry to be yourself. It’s ok to be yourself. And by the way, I listen to “Hipsters” everyday just to remind myself and be like “Hey guys, we’re in the trenches with you, struggling everyday to overcome fear and insecurity.” You don’t get the reality of how vulnerable it is to be an artist and how scary it is to put yourself forward and chase your career. So this is us taking another chance, a deeper chance in music. We’re gonna take you along for an actual ride. Every day it’s awesome and every day it feels like it’s a nightmare. You know what I mean? So “Hipsters” is that. It’s a reminder that if you’re all alone, that’s alright. We made “Hipsters” to remind our fans and hopefully they feel it. You forget that. Like it’s crazy how you kind of know that already but throughout the day, the week, the year, you kind of veer off and you start to forget that you’re good being you. It’s cool.
Chuck: Yeah, that’s what’s up.
LoveThisTrack: You have written music for a number of notable artists including Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Kelly Clarkson. What other artists would you like to work with in the future?
Chuck: I want to work with some new artists. I’m really excited about the future. I feel like the world is in a dark place and that’s prime opportunity for us to make some meaningful art. So I’m looking for those artists that are unafraid to say what they really mean and mean what they really say.
Claude: It’s kind of like a movement for us. So we have a lot of cool friends who we’ve written records for and they support. But piggybacking off of what he said, the new artists are so important because the philosophy behind our album, and even why we did this is to encourage people to fill this dark void with some real art, some positive art, exciting art. That’s what’s missing. In past generations, things were different. In the 60s, there was such rich music coming out. Motown was happening. This was on all fronts, all races, all kinds of people. Nowadays people aren’t really getting together and we see the importance of that. We spend all day looking for new artists. We have a company and we’re signed to our own company, so Louis York is the first act. We also have other acts. We have a female artist named Masha that’s from Russia. We have a band from Trinidad called Kes. They’re phenomenal. And we have a dope all female band called The Shindellas, throwing back to what happened in the 50s and 60s with harmonizing. But the concept that we’re talking about is now. It’s kind of what you see a lot in tv and film but not with music. There’s this dope renaissance of black art. You see it in shows like Insecure and Queen Sugar with all these amazing directors and I’m getting off on how rich the culture is. And I wish music was just a bigger part of it and we’re trying to make a difference. We’re trying to be those guys for new artists.
LoveThisTrack: What can we expect from Louis York in the near future? Any plans to go on tour?
Chuck: Well, we’re gonna drop these visuals. We have “Don’t Play” visuals coming in a couple of weeks. And then we’re gonna drop a visual for “Hipsters”. We’re definitely gonna do shows. We’re putting a show schedule together for the spring of next year.
Claude: We’re gonna be traveling a lot and talking at places too, like colleges. We’ll be giving lectures and meeting new, amazing talent. We’ll also be promoting other acts on the label and producing for other people, working on our debut album and saving the world! We made a challenge for ourselves to be the difference, to be the solution. We all see what’s wrong. So we’re attaching our music and what we’re doing with important causes. We want to speak up, period. Of course in songs, but we want to make our faces and our voices present. There are so many things that are frustrating us all right now: politically, socially, spiritually, in pop culture. There’s a lot of mess right now. And whether you agree or not with one side or the other side, we need some art that will start conversation. We need albums that make you think about what’s happening in the world. We want to spur that kind of storm. So that’s our job. We take on a lot
Chuck: We can do it though!
Louis York has already accomplished a great deal and they’re just getting started. Music with a message is a must and they’re determined to deliver. We’re looking forward to what they have in store!
*In the meantime, be sure to check out their latest EP Masterpiece Theater Act II, available on iTunes and all major streaming platforms.*