Singer Kelis

Originally aired on June 18, 2010
Guest interviews are usually available online within 24 hours of broadcast.

Two-time Grammy nominee talks about her culinary skills and her new CD.

Kelis may be best known for her catchy hit single "Milkshake" and the million-selling ringtone "Bossy," but over the past 10 years, she's worked with a wide variety of artists, including The Neptunes, Enrique Iglesias and Raphael Saadiq. Her '99 debut CD, "Kaleidoscope," won her a prestigious Brit Award for Best International Newcomer, and she's earned two Grammy nods. Hailing from Harlem, Kelis played violin, piano and saxophone as a child and, at age 20, landed a record deal. "Flesh Tone" is her first CD in nearly four years.


Tavis: Kelis is a Grammy-nominated singer whose much-anticipated new CD will be available on July 6. In the meantime, you can already get her new single called “4th of July.” Here now some of the video for “4th of July.”
Tavis: Very club-friendly.
Kelis: (Laughter) Yeah.
Tavis: Was that the plan?
Kelis: Yeah, just to kind of get people on the dance floor again.
Tavis: I’ll come back to the music in just a second. We just got through talking to Anthony Bourdain and, surprise, surprise. Who knew that Kelis went to culinary school?
Kelis: Yeah, I did.
Tavis: So you’re a bona fide chef?
Kelis: (Laughter) Yes, I am.
Tavis: Wow. So it ain’t enough that you’re gorgeous and you can sing. Why go to school to learn how to cook too?
Kelis: Well, you know what? I have three sisters and my mom had a kid in prison and that was kind of what she was doing. I have two sisters who are older and one’s younger. They’re all in some sort of like field of medicine or social workers or something, so I was the only one left (laughter).
I mean, I learned so much and I fell in love with it. I don’t know. You get to really kind of put yourself into it, so I had some time and I figured why not do it the right way?
Tavis: So you got specialties now?
Kelis: I’m a saucier.
Tavis: Wow. That’s cool. The thing about – and Bourdain was talking about this – the thing about being a chef is that I think most chefs would agree that they love the opportunity to be creative. As an artist, I guess that must really turn you on.
Kelis: Oh, it’s fantastic. I mean, it’s funny. I think, especially because it’s still new for me, I really feel like, first of all, it’s instant gratification. It’s not like, you know, when you record and it takes years, months, whatever for people to actually hear it when you’re on to the next thing. This is like today, right now, and everything you are at that moment, you get to put into your food. I just love that.
I feel like – especially, you know, the family I grew up in, breaking bread is such an important thing. So the fact that I’m able to put myself into something that people can enjoy right now and that I can laugh and talk and listen to music and eat, that’s the perfect night.
Tavis: Speaking of music – great segue to the CD – there are two things about this that really – we’ll come to the music in a second. But there are two things about the making of this CD that I found interesting.
In no particular order, one, you were pregnant during most of this process. That does what for you? I mean, it does what to the creative process when you’re about to birth not just a CD, but a baby?
Kelis: You know, it’s funny. I mean, in my life, looking at other women who have been pregnant while writing, I always feel like it’s kind of their most musical or the closest to themselves. I think for me it’s such a validating moment, you know. I always knew I wanted to have kids and I’ve been making music all my life.
The two together, it was so – like I was writing and, as a writer, I generally question myself. You know, I have second thoughts like I don’t know if that’s gonna work. This is very like this is what it is. I think for me, you know, just being a creative person, it’s really kind of freeing. Just to be like this is how I feel and this is what I want to say and, you know, here it is. So it’s amazing.
Tavis: The other thing I thought fascinating about the process of getting this one done is that, when you were doing this project, you did not have a record deal.
Kelis: Right.
Tavis: I could read that one of two ways. You must be scared out of your mind that you’re in the studio doing something and you ain’t got a distribution channel as yet, or there’s a wonderful freedom that comes along with being able to go through the creative process without the pressure of having to do this to get a record deal. Which one is right and which one is wrong?
Kelis: Well, it’s really more the latter. For me, you know, I was on one label and it took like four years to get off of my label. I mean, it was a constant battle. But I had no plans and I really didn’t make any provisions for when I actually got off. I got off and I was just like, okay, well, what do I do now?
Tavis: Off to culinary school (laughter).
Kelis: That’s exactly what happened. I mean, having signed to a label –
Tavis: – guess I’ll go cook.
Kelis: Yeah. I’ve been signed since I was 17, you know. So my entire adult life, I’d been signed to a label. It’s business and there’s an ugliness to it, but there’s a security in it as well. So finally I got off and I was just like, God, well, what do it do? That’s when I went to culinary school.
I was really to the point where I felt like I didn’t want to do this to this capacity any more. It really had just sucked the life and my kind of desire and love for this out of it. I think going to school and kind of separating myself from it really is what got me to record again. I wasn’t recording to make an album. I was just recording. This is what I do. I write all the time, you know. I’ve recorded in my house.
Tavis: When you say it sucked the life out of you, you’re talking specifically about the process of doing the music thing or the business and getting out of that contract?
Kelis: The business of music. You know, it’s an oxymoron in a sense. It’s like the two things. Although we both need each other, they really don’t go together. I think for me, you know, just being at that point and feeling like you belong to someone and like your music belongs to someone and just not having an actual way out, I mean, was just really frustrating. I was just like I don’t want to do this anymore.
You forget, I think, too why you started this. Again, I said I signed when I was 17 or 18 years old. Ten years pass and it’s kind of just you go through the motions. You wake up and you’re like it’s not even fun anymore. Why am I still doing this? Yeah, I took some time for myself. I went to culinary school and I started writing and, you know –
Tavis: – going through the process of separating yourself from the industry for a while, getting some distance, some perspective, to your earlier point about people losing sight of why they do things originally, so that separation allowed you to see what? Introspectively, you could see what?
Kelis: Yeah. I think for me, the most obvious thing was I fell so in love with – it’s funny. I came home one day and had cooked some stuff for some friends. I was like, “You know, I’m really competitive. I didn’t realize it.” They were like, “Are you serious? You didn’t realize that you were competitive?” (Laughter)
I was like I didn’t because, in music, it’s kind of just like my general attitude is take it or leave it. I can’t please everybody, so I don’t ever try. In food, it’s really like either you’re right or you’re wrong. You know, people’s taste buds kind of vary, but there’s a technique. Either you do it right or you don’t. I like the fact that I can do it right and that I can be better than someone else (laughter). I like that. That’s fun.
So I think for me, falling in love with something else and realizing that I can actually do something else that I love, that I’m good at, not having to make a record and not having that to be my only source of income was such a relief. I felt like, okay, all right, I don’t have to do this, so I can.
Tavis: So now that I don’t have to, it frees me up to do it anyway because I choose to do it.
Kelis: Exactly, because I choose to. I wasn’t signed, so I was really just recording. There were no guidelines. There was no A&R, there was no manager, there was no budget. There was nothing. It was me in my garage.
Tavis: So you’re feeding folk as compensation (laughter).
Kelis: Oh, literally. I’ll make lunch –
Tavis: – I got no money, but I got some macaroni and cheese for you or something, yeah.
Kelis: I have no budget (laughter), but I bake like pies. You know, come over, eat, we’ll see if we make something. Plus, I was pregnant too, so I really didn’t care. I was just like I’m gonna be cooking anyway (laughter). If you want to come over and enjoy part of this –
Tavis: – and sing a little bit while you’re here.
Kelis: Yeah. You know, we could play a tune, fine. That’s really how everything came together.
Tavis: So how does that process impact the sound of what this CD is then?
Kelis: I think it’s so honest. It’s funny. I brought a finished album to my label, you know, and the only reason why I signed to such a – I mean, it’s funny, because I was like I’ll never do this again as far as signing to a major label, was the fact that like they took me as I am.
That was a stipulation for me. I was like, honestly, I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I don’t really care like that anymore. I want to do what I want. My last experience was so ugly that I just feel like, if this can’t be, if I can’t really put my heart and leave it as it is, then I don’t really need any parts in it. You know, between and Jimmy [unintelligible], they were both just like, okay, you know. I like okay, fine (laughter). I’ll do it.
For me, the record sounds like that, though. It sounds like there was no one hovering over. When I played them the record, everyone was like, well, what’s your first single gonna be? Because it wasn’t your obvious like radio-friendly, especially coming from people categorizing it as R&B or whatever to doing something else.
As a Black artist in America, you know, it is so segregated as far as the radio goes and how they position music on the radio. We were like, oh, we don’t know what we’re going to do.
Tavis: It ain’t “Milkshake.”
Kelis: It’s not, you know. But I’ve always had that conversation. It’s always been a conversation for me. So I’m just like, well, this is what I have (laughter) and this is what I made, so either we’re gonna ride with it or I don’t know what else to tell you because this is the album (laughter).
Tavis: Well, thankfully, they rode with it.
Kelis: Yeah, they did.
Tavis: And you can bounce to it. It’s all danceable stuff. It’s the new project from Kelis. It’s called “Flesh Tone.” Kelis, congratulations and good to have you on the program.
Kelis: Thank you.
Tavis: All right. When you cooking again?
Kelis: Oh, anytime (laughter). I’m in the neighborhood.
Tavis: All right. Let’s go, guys, to Kelis’s house.

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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm