Photo Credit: Simone Smalls PR
When you’re born and bred in New York City, it’s difficult not to be inspired to make your own mark in the world. So Claude Kelly got his start early, as he began singing and playing the piano by the age of two. But that was just the beginning for the Lower East Side resident, as he has been one of the most called-upon and consistent songwriters since his break in 2006. Although his name might not be as identifiable as Ne-Yo, The Dream, Keri Hilson and Sean Garrett in the realm of songwriters, Kelly’s credentials are just as impressive. His writing talents have attracted the likes of Akon, Leona Lewis, Chrisette Michelle and two of music’s biggest stars–Whitney Houston and the late Michael Jackson.
But Kelly also has the gift of crafting material for several genres, as evidenced in his work for Miley Cyrus, when he penned the smash hit, “Party In The U.S.A.” The talented musician is taking his success all in stride, even reaching out to offer advice and support through his online blogs to aspiring composers and everyday people alike. Looking toward the plentiful workload that awaits him in 2010, which includes penning potential hits for Christina Aguilera, Fantasia, R. Kelly, Kelly Rowland and newcomer Ke$ha, Claude Kelly continues to write songs with the intent of creating timeless music. I guess he’s absolutely earning the nickname that has stuck to him since his entry into the music industry: Studio Beast.
CM: Growing up, who were some of the artists who inspired your musical taste? As you have gotten older, have those artists changed?
CK: I grew up listening to a little of everything, so my taste is very eclectic. Michael Jackson is my all time favorite. When he died, it felt like I lost a piece of my musical self. Billy Joel is my other favorite. I love traditional church hymns…Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Babyface, TLC, Green Day, R. Kelly and all things Motown. As I’ve grown, nothing has changed. These are icons; you can’t outgrow them.
Speaking of your eclectic taste, you grew up in New York City –a melting pot of assorted genres and sounds. How did the Big Apple feed your musical appetite?
If you grow up in New York City and it doesn’t shape you as a musician, then something is super wrong. The city itself has a rhythm like nowhere else in the world. Every street corner has its own flavor; every noise is music to me. You hear Latin music coming out of shops; hip-hop blasting from cars passing by. There are street and subway performers that act and sound like rock stars. Your neighbor is rehearsing arias in the apartment below you, while your upstairs neighbor is singing along to Mary J. Blige. I just soaked it all up. It’s what makes me the musical freak I am now.
As a relatively new name in the world of songwriters, you’ve worked with an array of renowned talent. Do you get awestruck when working with some of these artists?
Never; I respect all of the great talents I’ve worked with, but I also know I’m there for a reason– to add my unique approach. It’s my job to create a musical moment that will stand the test of time. You can’t bring out the best of Whitney [ Houston ], Britney [Spears], Christina Aguilera and R. Kelly if you’re focused on their fame. I get excited and awestruck when I hear the final product and feel we accomplished something amazing.
How do you adapt to each style of the artist when you are composing. What’s the difference when you’re writing for Whitney and writing for Miley Cyrus?
Songs have been the same for over a hundred years. They are all about love, pain, sex, partying, or political views. Imagination is the key. If I know who I’m writing for, I can literally become that person–male or female. A Whitney Houston love song is no different than a Miley Cyrus love song. How they say “I love you” is what makes them unique. People call me “The Studio Beast” because I am good at tapping into how each artist expresses themselves.
You gained a huge crossover hit with the Miley Cyrus song, “Party In The U.S.A. ” She even said in an interview she wasn’t that familiar with Jay-Z’s music until you mentioned his name in that song. How was it working with her?
Miley is no less than amazing. She has the musical depth and emotion of a woman twice her age. To top it off, she’s a triple threat. She sings, she acts, and she dances. She came in and recorded “Party In The USA ” while filming a movie in Savannah , GA. For lack of a better word, she kicked the song’s ass. She sounds great on it and she sold it from beginning to end; it blew me away. Miley will be around for a very long time…you’ll see.
In your opinion, what’s the greatest song that has ever been written?
It has to be “Silent Night.” It’s the only song that moves me to tears every time I hear it. Whether you buy into its religious message or not, you cannot deny that it is one of the most gorgeous songs on this planet.