Interview: Kelly Price – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: May 25, 2010 in interview, music
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Kelly Price

Date of Interview: 05/25/2010

Long before Kelly Price became a fixture on R&B radio, she slowly developed a reputation behind-the-scenes as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Hooks.” Although her professional resume includes backing vocals for R&B staples, like Faith Evans (Keep the Faith), Whitney Houston (My Love is Your Love) and Mariah Carey (Dreamlover, Music Box, Merry Christmas, Daydream, Butterfly and Charmbracelet), she could also be found on tracks from Puff Daddy (No Way Out and Forever), Jay-Z (In My Lifetime) and the Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death). In the wake of Christopher Wallace’s phenomenal posthumous success, with the blockbuster “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” Kelly found herself poised to move from the background into the spotlight – once and for all.

Since the release of her 1998 debut, Soul of a Woman, Kelly Price has maintained a sizable – and faithful – fan base within the secular and Gospel arenas. After a four-year break, Price is finally ready to unveil her sixth solo project, Kelly, which is set for release on My Block Records.

During a promotional campaign for “Tired,” her emotional truth-telling lead single, Kelly Price managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on shifts in the contemporary music landscape, her two bouts of homelessness, and important lessons she has learned on the publishing side of the music business.

Clayton Perry: Prior to your emergence on the music scene with your landmark debut, Soul of a Woman, you spent several years working as a background singer. Since a great deal of your early history has never been documented, please take a few moments to detail a few of the life events that prepared you for life as a solo artist.

Kelly Price: Sure. Before starting, though, I just have to say that I don’t really believe that things happen by chance. I personally believe that things are divinely orchestrated and they have a lot to do with us being where we’re supposed to be in order for them to happen.  I started singing background professionally in 1992. My first professional background engagement was a gig with George Michael at Madison Square Garden. I spent six-and-a-half, close to seven years singing with Mariah Carey. I’ve gone between live shows and in-studio work for Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans, And of course, Brian McKnight, R. Kelly, and Ronald Isley. And on the hip-hop side, I’ve done work with pretty much every Bad Boy artist that came through the ‘90s. Rakim. Good Lord, I worked with some people that some people might not even remember. Literally, I have run the gamut. Yo-Yo and MC Lyte. For a while, I had the nickname “the hip-hop hook queen.” I was literally singing with everybody. Jay-Z. Cam’Ron. You name it. I know I’m missing a gang of people. But chances are, whoever you name, nine times out ten, I’ve burned something with them. And I enjoyed it. It was different for me because I was the church girl. I grew up singing in the church. And coming into the world of R&B and pop music, it was a brand new world.

Clayton Perry: As you entered this brand new world, what memories really shine bright?

Kelly Price: Well, the biggest record that I ever did on the hip-hop side, of course, was “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.” But there was a lot of stuff, too. I recorded a song with Jay-Z called “You Must Love Me” for his first movie, The Streets is Watching. So my background has been very diverse. I had a good time, and I got a chance to see the world before I was an artist. On top of all that, I was able to do it on somebody else’s dime! [laughing] When you are a solo artist, you have so much more responsibility. When I was out there with Puffy, when I was out there with Mariah, I got a chance to go sightseeing when we were in Europe. They were up doing radio at five in the morning. While she was talking to some reporter, I got a chance to go see the Changing of the Guard in England. I would say for anybody that has that opportunity, seize it, enjoy it, but respect it like a real job, because it is a real job. You’re getting paid – even on the lowest end of the spectrum – way more than you would if you were pushing a pencil at somebody’s desk. So if you’re doing what you love, embrace it and work your way up the ranks.

Clayton Perry: Taking all of that into consideration, why do you think that you have managed to maintain such longevity in this fickle music industry?

Kelly Price: I think what worked for me is that the path that I’ve taken has enabled me and afforded me the opportunity to learn just about every job in-between. Having started at the bottom of the totem pole, I’ve worked literally every job in-between. I’ve been a background singer. I’ve been an arranger. I’ve been a producer. I’ve done the road thing. I’ve done the studio thing. I’ve written music for people. I’ve done vocal coaching for people. So no matter what, there’s not a lot in this business on the creative side that I can’t do. I’ve pretty much done it all. And I had a good time with it. And it’s helped me because in the times when the business takes a shift, and it’s not necessarily doing what I prefer to do, I still can live and live very well because I have alternatives. So that would be my advice to anybody that’s coming up in it, and if you’re serious about it, then be serious enough about it to educate yourself. I think that sometimes we – as artists – believe that because we’re talented, and our talent allows us the privilege to forego the traditional education process, there is nothing else to learn. But it’s still an education process. There’s a lot that I learned, and if I didn’t take the time to learn it, and read, and learn about the business, and learn what the unions were there for, and how they benefitted me and why I needed to be a part of them, I would have faded out in this business a long time ago. I didn’t go to college, because right out of high school, things started popping for me, even though I never expected them to. But I still have to get an “education,” because everything has a process. Everything! [laughing] And the difference between those that make it and those that don’t are the ones that actually take the time to learn something about what it is they’re doing.

Clayton Perry: On the professional side, what is the biggest lesson that you have learned along the way?

Kelly Price: Two things. My writing. Knowing the ins and outs of publishing. Understanding the importance of copyright law. Knowing how, that even when I’m gone, when I’m dead and gone, that my songs will live on. So I take that into consideration with every deal that I cut, whether it’s a co-publishing deal or an administration deal. I started off being co-published by a major music publishing company in the business and it was good for me then. I was new. I had a lot of money to do it back then. But today you couldn’t pay me—I don’t care how much money you have—you couldn’t pay me to do a co-publishing situation, because I really, really understand the importance of owning all of my own copyrights. And then, of course, I’ve seen the check without the publishing company, too. And that’s very important. That’s very important. So what I tell people is, if you can as a writer do it, and not do a co-pub situation.  Back then, I was trying to get out of where I was. I was trying to get out of the neighborhood that I was in. It wasn’t even about getting a Rolex or this or that. I wanted to get out of the neighborhood that I was in, so I took the deal. But I worked the deal. I got out of the deal. And when the deal was done, I was done with co-publishing situations, and I won’t do that anymore. The other thing that I would say, and a lot of people won’t admit it or don’t like to talk about it is, I’m telling everybody that asks me now, get somebody to handle your money, but then get somebody to watch the person who you have handling your money, and then get somebody to watch the person that you’ve got watching the person who’s handling your money. Because at the end of the day, everybody’s got to hustle everybody that has a gain. And sometimes we get so busy with being creative, and riding the charts, and being on the road, that we don’t pay close attention to our personal affairs. I’m one where I like to be in the middle of everything, and you’ve got to mail me reports at the end of the month. I want to read this, and I want to read that, but I’m not going to be as thorough as I need to be if I’m doing five, six nights a week and I’m on the stage and I’m not getting out of the venue until twelve, one o’clock in the morning. Then I’m greeting the fans and I’m literally not laying my head down until three or four in the morning and I’m getting up to do radio at six. I’m not going to be on point like I need to be to maybe catch a mistake, or to be able to see what it is that I need to see. And so, I’ve learned that lesson, and I’ve learned it somewhat the hard way. And a lot of us have, even though a lot of us won’t talk about it. But I would advise anybody you need somebody to handle your stuff, but you need somebody to watch the handler and you need a watcher for the watcher of the handler and somebody that’s watching the one that’s watching the one that’s watching handle it. And that’s just real. And what I’m basically saying is, our government runs by checks and balances. You’ve got to run your career with checks and balances.

Clayton Perry: That is really great advice – no matter what profession you may be in.  Since the bulk of your musical catalog revolves around the good, bad and ugly sides of love, do you have any relationship advice? [laughing]

Kelly Price: Oh, yes! [laughing] What I believe about love is that we all want it, even the ones of us that say I don’t need anybody. I mean really: do we really want to be all by ourselves? [laughing] I believe that we sincerely all want it. It is inhuman to deny that you need the reciprocation of affection. You’ve got to be able to give it and you need to have it returned. I believe that it hurts the most when you’re giving it away, that you’re not having it returned to you. I believe we’re still all really trying to figure it out, even the ones that are in good relationships, no relationship is perfect. So as long as we’re alive, we’re still trying to figure it out. There’s some area of it where we don’t have it quite right. Sometimes it’s in our romantic relationships. Sometimes it’s in our parent/child relationships. Sometimes it’s in our relationships with other family members. As long as we’re here, we’re still trying to perfect them. I think I’m still trying to perfect every single relationship in my life. And that is the reason why I still have so much material to write about, because I don’t get it right. I try hard to get it right. I try not to make the mistakes that I’ve seen family members and the generations before me make. And those are probably the hardest ones not to make, even though you’ve seen them happen, it’s almost as if you’re not extra careful, you’re almost destined to do the exact same thing, if you don’t go overboard to make sure that you don’t do that thing that you’ve seen that you detest. For me, it’s been a job, somewhat of a chore, even, to work at trying to have a good marriage because in my families, I haven’t really seen the best marriages. It’s been my joy, but it’s still been an effort to have a really good relationship with my children and loving them and really loving them not to be an overbearing parent. Not to want them to have such a good life that I deny them the opportunity to understand the responsibility of life, because I give my children a lot. But then they frustrate me when they don’t have certain understandings. Like I was a street-smart kid. I grew up in New York. My kids are very intelligent, but I would not drop them off in the middle of the hood. I would worry about their survival. I could do it. They couldn’t. I work at trying to make my relationships better with my siblings, my other family members. And then there are some relationships where I tell myself it’s just not even worth it to try anymore. And it all reflects in my material.

Clayton Perry: What can listeners expect on your sixth album, which has been eponymously titled Kelly?

Kelly Price: This particular album is more in your face than any of my previous work. Over these past twelve years, there’s just been a growth process there, and it all hasn’t been happy. I appreciate the fact that I can write music and get it out that way. There are some people who, when they don’t have a creative outlet, they resort to doing self-destructive things or violent acts towards other people. For me, my way to get it out is through my music, and so even though it’s quite revealing and it does leave me somewhat vulnerable, I’d rather do that than take a needle in the arm, which I’ve had family members who have done that and died from it. I’d rather do that than resort to alcoholism, which that runs very heavily in my family as well. Or some kind of other self-destructive act, whether it’s just crazy, unprotected sex or whatever. So, we all have an outlet. This is mine.

Clayton Perry: At what point did you realize that you had a gift for songwriting?

Kelly Price: I wrote my first song on purpose at seven years old. So I consider my songwriting to have begun at seven years old. As a kid, I always would just write things down, because I grew up in the age of children were to be seen and not heard. So a lot of times, there were things that I wanted to say about things that were going on in my environment. I’ve been homeless twice. And the first time I was homeless was at four years old. I was very expressive as a kid. A lot of times I just couldn’t say anything. It was very traditional. Again, back then—these were the ’70s—kids didn’t get in adults’ faces. You didn’t stand around when adults were talking. You didn’t participate in their conversations. But to be three and four years old and to see violence in my home, to be homeless, to sleep in a car, to sleep outside, to bounce from house to house. I’d done all of that at four years old. And so, there was a lot that I was taking in, a lot that I saw. And I was already very creatively expressive by that age. So when I was able to write, I would just write little things on pieces of paper and then I would crumble them up, I would hide them, because I was afraid for people to see what I was writing. The first time I made an effort to write a song was at seven years old. And I used the opportunity that I had for a school project to write about a slave girl, to express really some of what I was feeling, but the slave girl being the subject of what it is I wanted to talk about. That was when I realized that I could really do it. I had been doing it before seven, but when I, on purpose, decided to write a song, and put something together that made sense and had rhythm and had a pattern, that was at seven. That’s when I knew I could write.

Clayton Perry: Well, you definitely have a talent for expressing yourself with words. In fact, “Tired” – [the lead single for Kelly] – may wind up becoming the universal anthem for men and women who are experiencing hardship during these tumultuous times. What was this inspiration behind this particular song?

Kelly Price: “Tired” was kind of planted in me. They’re all experiences that I’ve lived and stuff that I’ve probably run over and over again in my head. I’ve probably said every single one of those sentences at some point in my life. I’m tired. I’m sick and tired of going to church. Church people make me sick. I’m tired of this. Just everything in that song I’m sure I’ve said it out of my mouth. I was on a trip to Chicago a couple of years ago, and I had an engagement. It was a fundraiser for a children’s organization there. And when I was done with the show, I went to go hang out at R. Kelly’s house. We started talking and he asked me: “What are you doing? What are you going to do with your next project? What’s going on with you? What are you doing?” He just kept saying, “What are you doing? What are you doing? You need to be working. You need to be recording music.” And so, he said, “I have an idea for a song for you.” He said, “You need to write a song called ‘I’m Tired'”. And I looked at him, and he said: “It’s time for another anthem! There has not been an anthem like ‘Friend of Mine’ since ‘Friend of Mine,’ and you need to write another anthem.” So, I asked him: ” What should I do?” He said, “Well, think about it. What are you tired of?” And we know each other really well, so he just starts naming all of this stuff. “You know you tired of these phony church people. You know you tired of this. You know you tired of baby mama drama. You know you tired of this, that and the other. God forgive you, but you know you tired of your kids. You know you want to put them out of the house sometimes. You know you tired! [laughing]” So he just goes down this list, and I’m looking at him going, “That’s kind of brilliant. You’re right. Because I am tired of all of that stuff, and everybody has those moments.” So he says: “That’s right. Everybody does have those moments. So if you write it and you sing about it, they’ll sing along with you because everybody’s tired of the same thing.” I said: “Okay, that’s cool. Let’s get to work on it. You write it.” And he said to me: “I can’t write this song, Kelly. You have to write it, because it’s your story.” I agreed. Then, he said: “The only way it will work is if you tell the truth. So if you’re going to do it, you have to promise me that you won’t hold back. Don’t BS.  If you’re going to tell it, tell it!” And that’s what I did [laughing].

Clayton Perry: One of things that I really, really love about the song is how raw it is – lyrically and vocally. I can actually feel the pain and stress in your voice. Lord, I could tell that you were tired! [laughing]

Kelly Price: Yeah. I meant every word I said! [laughing]

Clayton Perry: I doubt that there is anyone on this planet who would deny the power and soul of your voice. But this song definitely takes your singing to a brand new level. As you look back over the years, in what ways do you think you have grown the most as a vocalist? And do you experiment with your voice now, perhaps in ways that you have not done so in the past?

Kelly Price: You know, I think as I grow as a vocalist, of course, the more I sing, the more I realize what I can do. I don’t necessarily know if it’s stuff that’s new. I actually believe that when God gives us an ability, the ability is all there. We just don’t tap into it unless we really, really practice at it. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say this, but I sing every single day. And to me that is practice, because I listen to something. If there’s something that I hear, or if there’s a singer that I hear and they do something that I listen to and I go, Oh, wow, that’s phenomenal, I run it back over and over and over again and sing it until I sing it just like them. And then I’ll sing it until I sing it better than them. And then I’ll sing it until I can work it into something that I do. Give it my own twist, and now it was just as hot as what they did but it’s even hotter because I’ve been throwing my own thing on it, and can’t nobody do that until they practice it a hundred times. So I do. I practice. And that was put in me as a kid. We didn’t have a lot back then, and so, I would have to clean the house, and my mother would say, “Clean up and sing. Sing while you’re cleaning.” So singing every single day was something that was a part of my life. It’s still something that I do every single day, even if I’m just riding down the street, I’ll pop in something. And who I’m listening to might not even be someone that’s on the national radar. Like who I’m listening to, on a regular basis right now, is very interesting. Even though I go back and listen to Mary, Carl Thomas, Lalah Hathaway, Joe and stuff like that, I also listen to some off the radar stuff that everybody doesn’t know – like Earnest Pugh out of the D.C. area. He’s a gospel singer, but he’s incredible. He’s probably one of the most incredible voices that you’ll ever hear. There’s a guy named Shawn McLemore who is originally from Los Angeles who lives in Houston, Texas now, him and his wife. Her name is Rhonda McLemore. She was in a gospel group, her and her friend. Like two of the most amazing voices that anybody could ever hear in life. That’s the kind of stuff I listen to, because you realize when you’re listening to the radio that everybody sounds like the same person, because they’re all listening to the same person. I listen to people that are grass roots, that are deep in the cut somewhere, that are singing and doing stuff that ain’t nobody ever heard before. And maybe they just haven’t come into their time, yet. Or maybe somebody will never hear from them. Now these people I’m listening to, I absolutely believe that they will come into their day of true prominence that they have bubbling under. And they have music CDs that they’ve put out that haven’t gone all the way yet. But I believe they’ll come into their time. But that’s what I Iisten to. Because they’re still at the core of what moves them to sing, and sing so hard, that when you hear it, it makes your heart skip a beat. And so, that’s how I stay inspired. If you’re going to move me, you still gotta sing like you hustling. I need to feel like when you finish singing this song, after you’ve done laid everybody out, that you mad because you know while everybody out there’s done heard you, you’ve still got to go stand in the cheese line to make something to eat.

Clayton Perry: Gotcha! [laughing] When I listen to your catalogue, there is one song that always stands out: “All I Want Is You” off of Mirror Mirror, because you and Gerald [Levert] and [Cedric] “K-Ci” [Hailey] just go at it! [laughing] To be perfectly honest, there are very few men that can go toe-to-toe with you vocally. But these guys give it their best shot! What special memories do you recall with the late, great Gerald Levert?

Kelly Price: I have to tell you that Gerald and I were very good friends. Again, I am not somebody who you can look down through the last twelve or so years, and remember just seeing me on the scene just hanging out with a bunch of people. That’s not me. Like when I’m not working, I’m at home and I’m living a very normal life. I’m doing PTA class, going to my kid’s game, going to church on Sunday. Bible study in the middle of the week. I’m just a very normal person when I’m not being Kelly Price on a stage somewhere. But Gerald is one of those people who was a part of my life, and we spent time together outside of the industry. When I was in Cleveland, I hung out at his house. His mom would come cook for me. When he was in Atlanta, he would come to my house, and lay out and eat and then he would like do the dang thing and fall asleep and snore after he’s had a big plate of food. Like that. And so, I do have the most incredible memories because we’ve done a couple of recordings together, but many people don’t know that Gerald and I shared the stage together and show for show, we’ve done more shows together than he’s done with anybody else other than his dad and his brother. And we have a lot of memories. We’ve got a lot of footage, actually. And that song, in particular, has come up, “All I Want is You” so much in the last month or so. People keep asking about it. I’m really, really sorry that we never put a video out. But it’s not an impossibility, because we had cameras rolling when we recorded the song. But I would have to have a conversation with Dad and Mom about that, which I’m sure they wouldn’t object to it. And I still may, because we had a lot of fun together. We just had a way with each other. He was really a brother to me. He gave me priceless advice. There were times when I was just really frustrated and aggravated. And there’s a true story. When we did the Walk of Fame for BET, where Stevie Wonder was honored, and we sang together that night, there was so much going on in the backstage area. I was having some issues with some of the people from the label, and there was a lot of bickering going back and forth, and it was just not a good day for me. I was really angry. I was very upset. I was emotional. I was crying. I was all kinds of stuff. And he talked to me in a way that only he could. He came in my trailer. He sat down. He looked me in my face. He cursed me out, and made up some curse words, and told me that he got that I was upset, I was angry, I had a right to be. I was being mishandled. I was being mistreated. But he literally looked me in my face and he told me, “When these so and so and so and so’s are looking for another job, because their jobs turn over every five years in this business, you will still be Kelly Price. You will still have a fan base. People will still want to hear what you have to say, and you’re still going to need a relationship with BET, so get your feet together, and get out there, and get this performance done. To hell with these folks from the label.” That’s basically what he said. And I got myself together, and we got out there and gave what is arguably the most memorable performance from that BET airing of the Stevie Wonder Walk of Fame that night. People were bowled over by our performance. But to know that less than hour before I actually hit the stage, I was an emotional wreck backstage. And he was not about to let it go down like that. He came back there, and he came in my trailer and he snapped me up and he told me, “Get yourself together and get out there and sing this song like you’ve got some sense.” That’s the kind of relationship we had, and I miss him because that’s who he was to me. But I still have the memories of that, so even though he can’t walk in a trailer today and say, “Get your behind together,” I can hear him still saying, “I don’t care what happens. You are still Kelly Price, and the people are looking to you to do what you’re supposed to do. They don’t know about all of this BS going on backstage. Get out there and give them what they came for, and deal with this craziness on the flip side.” That was my friend. For real.

Clayton Perry: A couple of months ago, I saw you perform in the Bronx with Deborah Cox and Tamia as one-third of the Queen Project. During the end of your solo set, you gave a stirring mini-sermon to the crowd. For those who were not in attendance, would you mind giving a brief recap on your thoughts about the lyrics to “As We Lay”?

Kelly Price: There are two things that I generally try to relate to the audience when I talk about “As We Lay.” One thing I know, people a lot of times have a problem, because I do identify very strongly with my Christian and church background. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to give that up because I’m an R&B singer. I mean, a lot of people feel differently about that. I don’t allow what their opinions of who I’m supposed to be affect what I feel I am. So people have a problem with it. I explain, basically what I do know about the song is that they don’t listen to the lyrics. The lyrics actually lend themselves to a person that’s committed this act, and not glorifying the act, but actually thinking about what they’ve done and realize this was so wrong. I let myself get caught up in something that I knew better, but I did it anyway. Had I bounced back from this? And the resolve of that is, it’s morning. Basically, it’s a new day. So now that it’s a new day, I can start again. But people don’t really pay attention to it. They pull out certain parts of it. That’s what they hear and they run with that. But if you’re going to listen, you’ve got to listen all the way through. I was told a long time ago that when you’re reading something, you can’t just pull out the stanza that applies to you, but to get the full understanding of it, you’ve got to read what happened before it and what happened after it if you’re going to understand it thoroughly. So that’s my suggestion to people that like to give snap judgments on the lyrics of the songs when they say, “How can you sing a song that would glorify an extramarital affair, and at the same time, you publicly call yourself a Christian woman?” That’s how I can do it, because I’ve actually read the lyrics of the entire song, and I know what they mean. So I would tell someone else do the same, and get that understanding. And then the other thing that I do try to relay to people is that no one lives life without mistakes. That’s a mistake. People make it every single day, and though we don’t like it, whether you’ve been a part of that kind of a triangle because you made the mistake and hurt somebody else or you were on the receiving end of the hurt of it, it’s a mistake just like there are other mistakes. Just try not to make it a habit. I mean, don’t make it a pattern. It’s no longer a mistake when that becomes your lifestyle and that’s what you do all the time, but if you find that you’ve been in that situation, you’ll have to live your life with the condemnation of that situation for the rest of your life. Pick yourself up from it, and move on. And anybody that feels like they can’t give you an opportunity to be something other than what you were, they don’t need to be a part of your life, anyway. You need to have people around you that are going to help you move away from the things and the person that you no longer want to be. It sounds preachy, but at the end of the day, it’s really just kind of like exhorting or encouraging people. I think that that’s a part of what I’m supposed to do. My music has always been that, and I think it will always be that. I’ll always intend for it to be that way. We’ve had music like that around for a long time, you know. When I go back and listen to, particularly in the ’70s and the early ’80s, when you’re talking about people like Marvin Gaye and music of that era, it was preachy, but not. It spoke to the times. They said what was on their mind, and you know, whatever the back end of it is was, they dealt with it. Ronald Isley saying “Fight the power.” That wasn’t necessarily the most politically accepted song. Our generation might not know that, but I guess because of the time I’ve spent with him, and because I do like to delve into the history of music, I know that song was a hot button politically. So it didn’t just start when NWA wrote a song about the police. This was going on a long time. My music has always been provocative and been a hot button issue because when we sing about what affects our communities and our culture the most, it’s going to be a problem for somebody, because we’ve been wronged, and that’s how we get it out.

Clayton Perry: When you approach a classic song, like “As We Lay” how do you go about making it your own? What kind of process do you go through when you look at it and tease it apart for a cover version?

Kelly Price: It is definitely a process, and I say that because when you have a song that’s a classic and a song that everybody remembers because they absolutely love it. First of all, to attempt to do it over again is just ballsy. I don’t care who you are.  But then once you resolve that it’s what you’re going to do, you have to approach it with a sense of reverence, in order to make sure that the original version is honored. So I’m always very careful when approaching a cover to not do so much to it that it then becomes memorable for all the wrong reasons. So when I did “As We Lay” with Shep Crawford, who produced the track, we stayed as close to the original as possible, the way Roger Troutman had the song laid out, the way Shirley Murdock sang the song, and literally we waited until the end of the song before we vamped it out a couple of extra times, because she had signature lines in there that everybody remembers. The one thing I know is that when people hear “As We Lay,” there are certain lines that they’re looking for. “It’s morning, and now it’s time for us to say goodbye. We should have counted up the costs, and instead we got lost.” That song is about the words, so I wanted to come up with something memorable that would stick out in people’s heads. So rather than going and trying to reinvent what she did, I repeated what she did, and when we got to the end of the song, the way to make it my own was to find something to say that complemented everything that she said, but kept in line with what I know the true meaning of the song was, and for me that was to add an additional out chorus, and my lyric was, “My love, why can’t you see, that loving you…”

Clayton Perry: …is killing me! [singing]

Kelly Price: Yeah! [laughing] “It’s killing me. It’s killing me. I can’t be in your life. You’ve got to go home to your wife.” And to me, that was my way to make it Kelly’s while still keeping it true to Roger and Shirley.

Clayton Perry: As a fellow Christian, I always found it very interesting that you, as well as many of the singers that you surrounded yourself with, always included a Gospel song towards the end (or at the very end) of each album. Along with Brian McKnight and Mariah Carey, you made it a point to record a Christmas album as well. How do you go about balancing your personal beliefs in a professional setting, and why has it been important for you to incorporate Gospel music into your secular albums?

Kelly Price: Well, my justification for who I am and what I do is that wherever you see me, I’m going to be Kelly. So if you see me at church, I’m going to be Kelly. If you see me on the red carpet, I’m going to be Kelly. If you see me at the club, or wherever you see Kelly, I’m going to be the same. If I can be who I am every place that I am, then there really doesn’t have to be any justification for what I’m doing, because I’m not being phony. I’m not getting in the church and acting one way, getting on a stage and acting another way. If you see me in the street, I’m going to be acting a different way. On the red carpet, I’m going to be another way. The fluidity, the consistency. I’m going to be the same way every single time you see me. What I say standing on the stage in my R&B concert, I could have very well said if I was addressing a bunch of women in a conference at a church. So for me, I hadn’t really known it to happen a whole lot. I think the first time I really noticed that it had happened, was on Shirley Murdock’s record. She had a song called “Instrument Of Praise.” And it wasn’t even a long song. I think maybe it might have been about two minutes long. But she put it there. I wasn’t sure how the record company was going to receive it, but it’s what I wanted to do. It is who I am, and although I have chosen to professionally be identified with music, from the R&B side, I still am very much so that church girl that grew up singing in church. And that comes through in my sound. When “Friend of Mine” came out, what hit people so hard was the sound of it, because people had gotten away… It’s not that it had never been done before. Aretha Franklin sang like that decades before me. But people had gotten way from that sound being a part of the mainstream. Everything was a lot lighter, a lot more airy, a lot more whatever. But that was all I knew to do. That’s what I grew up doing. In the background, I was able to morph into whomever. I could mirror Mariah Carey all day long. I could mirror anybody that I was singing with in the background. But when it came time for me to come out as an artist, I wanted to be able to be me. And being me meant giving that sound that came naturally from me and then giving all sides of who Kelly was. So from album one, with putting “Lord of All” on the track-list, that was something that I thought to do, and I’ve done it every single time. Now interestingly enough, this album will be the first album that does not have a gospel song, per se, on it, even though I’ve done it on every single album, but there are songs on this album that are so inspirational, that you won’t miss it. There’s a song on this project called “I’m Sorry”. But it’s not necessarily a gospel song, but it hits that vein. It’s always going to be there. I break out in a hymn at a concert, and the interesting thing is that the people that want to hear me sing “Tired” or “Friend of Mine,” they know that hymn, and they want to hear that hymn as well. My last album – [This Is Who I Am] – was entirely Gospel, and that’s where I got my start. But it really is where my heart is to me. The heart of everything that I do starts right there, because it taps into the very essence, I believe, of who we are as a people. Our culture goes back to, even if you’re not necessarily considered a church person, or somebody that grew up in church, our roots go back to our ancestors singing spirituals while they were picking cotton. So there’s an element to us, as a people, that is very deeply rooted in spiritual music, in some way, shape or form, and so it connects itself to what we do, even in other genres of music.

Clayton Perry: In your case, I guess you could even say that it is a natural part of the spiritual healing process. Many of your songs express so much pain that is seems fitting to close the album on a spiritual note.

Kelly Price: Very true!

Clayton Perry: In 2003, Rob Theakston (of called Priceless, your last full-fledged R&B album, “a much needed return of a quality R&B vocalist in the genre oversaturated with mediocrity.” Seven years later, with the release of “Tired,” I feel that I can echo his statement, because vocally you can still run circles around the “best” singers that are currently on the charts. Where, oh where, have all the SANGers gone? [laughing]

Kelly Price: When I look around at who is out today, I don’t really see a lot of singers, like myself. And I guess I have to be careful, in how I say that, because I mean no disrespect. But I do look at other things. Beyoncé, for example, I love her work ethic. She works like she’s got to go stand in line and wait for a block of cheese.

Clayton Perry: Right! [laughing]

Kelly Price: But I so respect that, because what I see around her, I see a lot of artists who are grabbing at where she is, but they don’t work nearly as hard as she does. And so she’ll always be “Bey,” because she always works like that. So I respect that. In terms of a sound, there’s a shift that is happening in music. But I have the inside scoop on a lot of great records that are going to be released by the end of the year. Faith Evans. Ronald Isley. Lil’ Mo. To me, that’s exciting because I feel like I have something that I can listen to. And again, there’s no disrespect for what’s out there right now. What’s been happening in music for the last few years is nothing different than what has happened in music in decades and genres before. It goes through cycles. So I always look to try and see what I can find about it that’s positive, whether it’s the work ethic of someone, whether it’s the diversity in how they present themselves. I am not personally a Lady Gaga fan in terms of her music, but I am a Lady Gaga fan, if that makes sense.

Clayton Perry: Yeah, it definitely makes sense.

Kelly Price: Because to me, she was smart enough that even though she could have came out, and did what Britney Spears did. She could have come out and did what Christina Aguilera does. And I’m not saying that she sings with the same vocal intensity like Christina does, but it would have been very easy for her to come out and be any of those things. She decided I need to make sure that when somebody looks at Lady Gaga, and they see me, and they hear me, that they will never forget who I am and I will never be lumped in a category with a bunch of other singers. She found something, she found a place for herself, she carved it out and she gets my respect for that because she’s compared to no one. She is who she is. And so, for me, I was almost kind of forced to do that, before anybody ever heard me sing. I think that my voice did that kind of on its own, but I was forced into that category before that, just by the people that knew what I looked like. So, you know, we had to ride that horse all the way out. And as far as weight is concerned, and health is concerned, for me, right now, I’ve lost family members over the last few years to breast cancer and other diseases that are very much so related to obesity and just whatever. So for me, I’m still considered the big girl. I’m not as big as I was. I thank God for that because, even though I didn’t have any major health problems, I was at a very unhealthy weight, and my doctor would always tell me, “Well, they’re coming eventually. You’ve been dodging a bullet. Maybe it’s your youth that’s working for you. But the way you are, you only have but so long before diabetes shows up. Or hypertension. Or high blood pressure, particularly with the schedule that you keep.” My encouragement to women, who have the battle that I have: do what they need to do to be healthy. I’m not trying to be skinny. I don’t want to be skinny. I actually like my curves. My body contours work fine for me. I like the way they look. I like having an apple bottom and a small waist. I’m not mad at that. I’m not mad at wearing a size 12 or 13 top and having my jeans be a size 16. That’s a problem for some people. For me, it’s not a problem. And actually for a lot, that’s not a problem either. You know, it’s proportioned. I’m five feet eight. It settles where it needs to. My comfort level rests in knowing that I’m healthy. I have an allowance that I give myself. If I get ridiculous, I go over that fifteen pounds. But when the jeans get too tight and I can’t pull up the zipper, then I know I’ve got to cut back on what I’m doing and gear up on what I’m doing, which means I’ve gotten too lax with what I’m eating and I need to go harder on my exercise routine. But it’s more so what I’ve tried to develop as a lifestyle that works to keep me within a box of my own comfort. And my own comfort means I can run up a flight of stairs, and not feel like I’m going to have a heart attack when I get to the top of the landing. When I feel like I’m panting too hard, after running up a flight of stairs, then I’ve not been doing what I need to do, and I need to get on my hustle. So for me, it’s still not about that, even when people look at me and they say, “Well, you have lost weight.” Yeah, I did that because I want to live. But it’s not about being skinny. It’s never going to be about being skinny for me. I have no desire to be a size 6. None. I go on record saying that. I have no desire to be a size 6. I want to look good in the clothes that I wear. I want to be able to look at myself on television when it adds that extra ten, fifteen pounds and not go “Ugh.” And I want to be able to run and not feel like I’m having a heart attack. And if I can do those things, then I’m okay.

Clayton Perry: As you talk about issues of health and weight, I am reminded about your dramatic weight loss over the years. I still remember the shock and awe of seeing the newer, slimmer you on Queen Latifah’s film, Bringing Down the House. How did you initially become attached to that project?

Kelly Price: Queen Latifah is the reason why I was in that movie, and so, I say thank you again, Ms. Queen Latifah. We had a very, very cordial and friendly relationship from back when. She grew up in New Jersey, of course. I grew up in New York. And again, I was a very big part of the hip-hop scene. Even before I was an artist, I was working with all of these different artists. For a while, Flavor Unit Management, which is Queen Latifah’s company, was representing a lot of the artists that I was working with, writing for during that time. They managed Faith for a short period of time. She and Shakur managed SWV for a short period of time. These are all artists that at some point, I was doing some writing for, some vocal production for during that time. So we got connected during that season of my career. And she always remembered me. The most interesting thing was that whenever we saw each other, she was just very, very nice. Very kind. Again, I go back to, I was not necessarily somebody that anybody needed to be friendly or go out of their way to be nice to, because in the lineup of people who were somebody, I was nobody. I was somebody that got hired to come in and make the music sound better. And I went in and did my job and that was it. But she was always very nice. When the first record came out, Queen Latifah had a talk show during that time, and I was on her show a couple of times.  When I would appear on the show, she would tell me: “I’ve always loved your voice. I’ve always wanted to sing with you. We’ve got to do something together.” And she literally was a fan. And I was blown away by the fact that she really was a Kelly Price fan. So when this movie came up and she was doing this movie with Adam Shenkman and Steve Martin, they needed somebody to fill in that role. She went to Adam and said, “I’ve got the perfect person.” So I got a call. And they said: “Well, we want to fly you in to do this part in Bringing Down the House and Dana said that she didn’t want anybody else other than you.” I believe she was one of the film’s producers, too. “They said Dana said she wants Kelly Price, so if there’s any way we can make this happen, please, because she said there’s nobody else that she wants to do this other than you.” So literally, she used her authority with her producers and told them, “You don’t need to go look for anybody else. This is who it’s going to be. Call her and just get her here.” And that’s how I ended up being in the film.

Clayton Perry: Wow, that is a really interesting story, too, and just to also hear about the camaraderie just behind the scenes. How did you go about determining the song you performed at the supper club: Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”?

Kelly Price: It was in the script. I guess they had already gone through what kind of music they wanted to have there. And then, of course, if you remember in the movie, she was trying to teach him how to have some rhythm, and she was trying to get him to dance. So a Chaka Khan song is a good song to do that to, because there’s definitely going to be some soul in it. Steve Martin is quite funny, actually. And just to do that scene and to watch that going on, even in the surroundings, it was funny. I was very honored to be on the set and to see it happen. I was very humbled, as well, because of all the people, really, that she could have called or asked for, to know that I was the one and only person that she considered to do it, to come in and do it. So definitely, again, I say this to people a lot of times. I’m a very at home person when I’m not on the road, and so I don’t do a lot of hanging out. You won’t necessarily see me in a lot of places unless it’s work-related or it’s just somebody that I know, or some place that I want to be for somebody. But I have a great camaraderie with a lot of people in this business, and I’m fortunate to be able to say that down through the years I’ve been able to work with them. It can be years that I don’t see them, but it’s like no time has passed when we see each other because I’ve maintained an ability to have just good relationships with people and keep it there. And I didn’t forget the second part of your question. This industry is so funny. It’s still funny that way, when you’re talking about imaging and weight and so forth. I am probably now more comfortable in my skin than I was back then. I was more so putting on the face. I can say that freely now, back then, but it’s almost like I had to. Because I wanted to just be me, but after being in the industry for as many years—and I think I started off okay—but the closer we got to the release of the album, I actually started hearing what people were saying. I heard what some of the executives were saying. There were a couple that were in my corner, but then they had people that sat higher up than them, people that sat in positions at other companies, that they dealt with. I heard the things that they were saying to them. Yes, she’s talented. Nobody’s going to deny you that, but you’re going to catch a brick with this one, because nobody wants to look at this big girl on television. How are you going to make somebody like what they see, even though they love what they hear? And so, I started to hear all of this stuff, right when it was time for the record to come out, and it shook me. It literally, literally shook me to the point of where I took a meeting with the president of the label and said, “Listen, what do you want me to do?” Because I just didn’t want to fail. I had these people believing in me. I asked them everything. “What do you want me to do. Should we get a trainer?” I asked them should I go get surgery. And I had tears in my eyes, because I was so afraid of failure. And Hiram Hicks looked at me, and in a separate meeting, Ronald Isley looked at me, and they both said, “All we want you to do is sing. We got this.” And so, we came up with this campaign, and whereas everybody thought that they were hiding me because they were afraid of what people were going to say, we kept what I looked like back on purpose. And our reason for that we decided that we were going to show everybody that a song with some real words and some real singing, that talked about real life situations would win every, single time. So we sent songs of mine to radio. No images. No photos. No footage. All we used were those glasses with the diamonds on them. My initials. And my name. Nobody knew what I looked like until the magic hour. Which was two months after the song went to radio. And by that time, we were already No. 1, and everybody had already declared that they loved Kelly Price. It was too late for somebody to go back on it.

Clayton Perry: Oh, wow! What an incredible rollercoaster ride your career has been on this past decade! How does it feel to start off this new decade with a new album?

Kelly Price: There is a song on the album called ”I’m Sorry,” and basically that’s a song that I resolved within myself that for everything that I’ve done, that I don’t like, for everything that I haven’t done that maybe I should have done, for allowing people to mistreat me, for maybe mistreating somebody else, I’m sorry. But not only am I sorry, but now I’m at a point where I forgive myself, so that I can move on. So there’s a lot of great music on this record. That’s the reason why it’s named Kelly. Because it’s so personal, but it’s very powerful, from song to song to song. At this point in the business, I do feel like I’m blessed because I’ve been around long enough that pretty much if my fans know that it’s out there, that they’ll go get it. For me, the importance of having a record out is just making sure that every avenue that is available to me has been used so that my fans know to go get the record. So that doesn’t necessarily require being signed to Sony Music. If I’ve got the right press people working my stuff, the people will know that the record is out there, and I’m okay with that. Warryn Campbell [of My Block Records] and I are equal partners on this Kelly album and I’m really, really excited, because it’s great when you can be in business with somebody that you are friends with, and that has the same vision as you do.

Clayton Perry: Describe the chemistry that you and Warryn share.

Kelly Price: Warryn and I have known each other for about almost eleven years. We were introduced by Jaha Johnson when I was signed to Def Jam. He told me about this producer in L.A. that he wanted me to work with. Jaha knew that I loved musical people, and Warryn is very musical. When we met, we met up at a studio in Los Angeles, and from the very first day, there was a spark. And so, from that time on, with the exception of the gospel records, Warryn worked with me on everything. There are things that we have done together outside of my own projects. Sometimes we just got together and wrote. We developed a friendship. When I renewed my vows eight years ago, Warryn was in my wedding. Things like that. I knew that he was going to propose to his wife before she knew. I actually saw the ring before she saw it. So we developed a friendship. And when it came time to start working on this project, and I moved to Los Angeles, I was at his house one day. I was at his house cooking, because when I came to L.A., he was like, “Oh, you’ve got to come to my house and cook. Let’s not even play.” So I’m at Warryn’s house, I’m cooking dinner at Warryn’s house, and we got to talking. What are you doing? What are you trying to work on? And I told him that I’m working on music, not real heavy at this point. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I want to do with the shift in the music industry and really trying to decide if it made any sense for me to entertain any of the offers that were out there from some of the labels, if they were offering what it was I was looking for. So we got to talking about it, and he said to me, “Well, would you consider coming and doing the record for me? Would you consider being a part of My Block Records?” And I thought about it, and I said: “Hm. Why wouldn’t I?” So right then and there, a partnership was born. Our friendship was already there. But we decided to partner our abilities.

Clayton Perry: So I guess it is safe to say that your forthcoming album means a great deal to you on a variety of levels?

Kelly Price: Yes! I believe that anyone that has ever loved what I do is going to agree with me: it’s the best album I’ve ever done.

For more information on Kelly Price, visit her official website and “follow” her via Twitter.  Kelly’s latest single – “Tired” – can be purchased on iTunes as well.


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