Hitmakers Louis York On ‘Hipsters,’ Weirdos and Breaking Fashion Barriers [INTERVIEW]
Louis York are music loving weirdos. The duo, which is comprised of Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly, started off as songwriters for some of the biggest names in music including Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Bruno Mars and Britney Spears. Most recently they tag-teamed for Ludacris' latest hit "Vitamin D" featuring Ty Dolla $ign.
But when they're not churning out hits for our faves, the duo works on their own music and plot what fashion norms they intend to break next. Last year, they released a follow-up to their debut album, Masterpiece Theatre Act Two, where the duo showed what comes out of their Nashville-based mad scientist haven dubbed the "Weirdo Workshop."
The Boombox talked to the dynamic duo about moving from songwriters to the spotlight, their Weirdo Workshop, love for polka dots and what we can expect next. Get into it below.
The Boombox: So I know you released Act One last year, I'm wondering how did you approach Masterpiece Theatre Act Two differently than your previous project?
Chuck Harmony: Well I think we learned a lot just in the process. We are definitely in this business for a long time but we also started a company to release the stuff...so our company, we did a workshop about putting music out independently. So it's been empowering doing out ourselves and to being in control of what we created...all of the creative art that's coming out of it. So we started to reach people and share the music and connect with fans and talk about music 'cause there's so much going on in each song that almost could be a debatable issue itself but we're looking forward to this time to connecting more and getting out there and talking and making all these conversation basis.
How about like musically or sonically, did you have a different approach this time around?
C.H.: No, I mean from the first EP we were taking chances just kind of like experimenting with different sounds and so we didn't put ourself in the box for the first EP and the second EP is just a continuation of that. We really experimenting and really trying to find cool unique ways to our approach the actual sonic of music.
I love the cover art, the eye, what's the inspiration behind that? What's that about?
C.H.: Well...we kind of invited people to see things, feel it [music] the way we feel it. So the first act we had kind of a hazel eye and so on Masterpiece was almost new and improved, it's like it's almost like Louis York on steroids. So, we wanted to continue the eyeball theme like this is how we see things and how we visualize music. Kind of step into our world. That's what the eyeball represents, and this one is a little more bold in color because we want people to really hone in and listen to what we're saying and get a feeling to how things go.
Cool. So it's been about two years since you moved centerstage after being songwriters. What's been the most surprising thing for you since going from behind the scenes to front and center? Has it been an adjustment at all?
C.H.: Yes it's definitely been an adjustment, I, meaning Chuck, am kind of like I'm a quiet person and I don't get to socialize much so somewhat behind the scenes and interacting with bands it was obviously an awesome experience. But it's a different lifestyle.
Claude Kelly: I didn't realize how sheltered...like we are a studio rats so we're really in a dark room for a lot of the days out of the week. So, having this skill that we've had for years and haven't had to really showcase...like we're checking out really big stage performer and love theatre. It's really being able to get in front of people and to see their immediate reaction to music has been really challenging because you know putting on a show is not...it ain't easy and I don't think anyone who does it will say it's easy but it's so rewarding to watch people like feel, cry, dance, laugh, sing along.
That sounds awesome.
C.K.: I'm not complaining. To do what we love every day is a blessing.
Definitely, definitely. I read a statement where you guys spoke about like being fearless in music and putting out music. What does that mean for you to be fearless while you're creating?
C.H.: It's just taking chances you know cause we've been doing it for a while you can gather from your wisdom, a formulate way of making music that people will enjoy it, that you know people will accept as good. But we wanted to challenge ourselves to go beyond that place and take chances musically that we wouldn't normally do, and that is our way of challenging our creativeness.
Cool. I know with Weirdo Workshop and even with the song "Hipsters" you speak about being unique and being your own person. Does that kind of play in it too or is that something different?
C.H.: No, "Hipsters" is actually the best way of describing what Weirdo Workshop is and what it's about. It's kind of our mantra. The company, Weirdo Workshop, and the song "Hipsters" is first of all, reminding ourselves to be unafraid to be yourself and to kind of remind yourself that the quirkiness about what you are and what makes you kind of kind of unique and different and weird, those are the things that actually are your most brandable traits. They're things that people are actually looking for in you. So "Hipsters" is a reminder to us first and then we had kind of a had a cool theory about life and about creating that made us start Weirdo Workshop. So, everything we do comes that freedom. So kind of when you do all those crazy boxes you put yourself in that, everyone else tries to put you in there, keep you limited, especially as an artist and embracing that it's okay to not be what everyone says you should be. That's really how we define ourselves as Louis York.
That's beautiful. And then I saw in another interview, you mentioned that you kind of started because there was kind of a lack of music with substance but do you think that's changed over the last year? Like I feel like we've gotten quite a few good projects lately with Solange, Usher, Beyonce, Rihanna...
C.H.: I think it's definitely starting to change. I think that the time is requiring people to speak out, which is a relief because our frustration was that we kind of...we're avid news watchers and we're up on current events and for too long I felt like things were happening but it's in the news with politics was police brutality, was sexism and all those things, racism, obviously. And pop culture, especially black artists aren't really singing or rapping about what's actually happening. It was frustrating. So when we did Act One a lot of what we talked about in those songs were about those issues. And since then, we've seen a lot of artists jump on board mainly because how could you not change direction with all that's happening with crime, and with racism, sexism, how could you not? But I still wish there was so much more, and even though there's a lot of people getting the courage to speak out, I still wish there was more. So, we also want to encourage musicians to showcase themselves because even through their art, it's like a show of either defiance or making a bold statement. So we try to put all that stuff in our stuff with the hope that it will spark people to speak more.
Yeah I noticed that you have a lot of posts about Flint, Michigan and Standing Rock, and then you mention a lot of political stuff in your music. Do you feel like artists have a responsibility to use their platform for activism or to shed light on these issues that we're having?
C.H.: Yeah we definitely feel like artists should do that, I mean if the artists don't do it where will it really come from? You know what I'm saying? We have a big platform where we can not just speak to people but speak to people in a place where they're feeling free or feeling like themselves or feeling in a comfortable setting environment i.e. concerts or whatever, so we can really drive home the importance of whatever issues are going on in this world and how we can fix it or how we can manipulate it to our advantage.
C.K.: People right now, I believe more than ever, cause I'm a fan of music and I'm looking for things to make me feel better, comfort me and make me feel like I'm not crazy. Like if "Hipsters" gets out there and people hear "Hipsters" and feel like in all this confusion and all this isolation that you're being reminded it's totally okay to be who you are no matter what gender you are, sexual orientation or race you are...and that's we do. It's about giving people a sense of comfort with being exactly who they are.
Going back to the music for a bit, how does the songwriting process go? How do you like compromise? How do you collaborate? How do you come up with ideas and work through those ideas together?
C.H.: Well usually we sit at an instrument, i.e. piano, guitar, and kind of talk about what we're going to talk about for the day and go from there, and it's kind of interchangeable but it's no hierarchy and kind of leave the ego at the side...I mean ego at the door. So, whoever jump on an instrument or whoever sparked the idea, it don't really matter. We have our points where from that conversation and from that initial meeting of the minds, I guess, we go separate ways where I go to start doing the production and he goes behind the mic to really flesh out the lyrical ideas and the concept ideas and that's how it comes together.
I saw on Twitter that you have a vision board which I've read it can be very helpful.
C.K.: Oh I love vision board, it work.
How does it work for you?
C.K.: Vision boards are scary because literally everything that we put on vision board in terms of like a look or a place you want to be has happened. Because if we don't have a vision then we're running on blind and we like to have an idea of where we're headed. So, they work like we put things up on that board, look, or scenarios or even feeling or a thing and you wake up one day and you're like "Holy crap like we knocked off 10 things on the vision board just by living a life and putting it out there in the universe." So we believe in them, big time.
Right. What was the last thing that like kind of surprised you that was on the vision board and then you're like "Wait I'm here!"?
C.K.: Let me see, we actually just shot a video for "Hipsters" and a lot of the staging of the video which tend to be really stark and kind of futuristic, we put some of that on the vision board like a lot of bright color, futuristic kind of like vibrant colors that's on our vision board. And there's a lot of stuff that we're wearing that we put up on the vision board in terms of style and we do a lot of styling stuff because it's really important to us to also challenge people fashion wise. Fashion for guys suck. It's like black and navy blue for everything, and we're young, very very opinionated, very funky, smart guys who live colorfully on the outside and the inside, so we go polka dots and stripes and patterns and high fashion and mix and matching with cool patterns and textures. So a big part of the vision board for us is putting things on the wall where we want to see ourselves in and how we want to be portrayed to the world. So you see a lot of photos of us in a lot of different clothing cause we want to make sure that our image is matching the colorfulness of the music.
That's true, you don't see many guys like wearing polka dots and stuff like that, that's cool, guys should get more options.
C.K.: Yes, we should get our options. I really walk the stores, I'm like "How come there's no red?" There's no yellow, it's literally black, gray and blue.
And so both of you are from kind of fashiony places like St. Louis and New York. Do you think that kind of influenced your viewpoint?
C.K. : Definitely.
What do you miss most about your hometowns?
C.K.: Well we're in New York so I'm in my hometown. But when I'm not here, cause we actually lives in Nashville -- the whole workshop is in Nashville. But when I'm not here what I miss is the energy of the city. It's the overdose of culture that kind of like gets me going, and it's a city that never sleeps, but it's inspiring to see that like there's so much electricity in one place and so much energy. And then, of course, the fashion here is crazy. Everywhere you look there's people with different things on from different parts of the world. New York will put a hole in your wallet for sure.
C.H.: Well I'm from East St. Louis...there's not much to say about East St. Louis other than it's a great place to grow up and really I miss my family when I'm not in East St. Louis, that's about it.
So I mean you work with so many artists too. Rihanna, Bruno Mars, who do you hope to work with next for your next project or even like a remix?
C.K.: It's funny you ask that cause we spend a lot of our day just listening to music and talking about what we could give artists, and what's the next thing, and we've done a lot. We've worked with so many veteran artists that we're actually more excited to be breaking new artists because we're really in legacy mode where you want to put people on the map, you can be remembered for a sound or a movement. But with that said, we still have a lot of cool friends. We just had a cool session with Andra Day and we want to work some more with her. She's incredible. She's getting a lot of love. We did the craziest record with K. Michelle. I think it's going to surprise people what we do with her. It's a new style for her and it's a big sound for her too, so had a cool kind of crazy collaboration. And we're in Nashville now so we're eager to work with a couple country artists out here to see what happens out of that. But just keeping people guessing, and a gospel stuff`, we have some real gospel stuff coming. So keeping people guessing every step of the way.
Who are you listening to now?
C.K.: I love the Solange album. I love what she's representing even visually.
C.H.: I love Bruno Mars album. I think he brought back the concept of a concept album. So I think he did a really really good job in capturing what he's trying to capture.
C.K.: And I like some songs from Lady Gaga's album too. You can always count on Lady Gaga to have some amazing songwriting and some amazing pop moments and she's a great performer. And then besides that we've really been digging the craziness of old stuff, some kind of underground stuff cause you know we try to keep our sound fresh and to keep people guessing so it's a lot of it is doing our homework and studying everything whether we love it or hate it just to see what's it's going on just to see if we can learn some stuff and hopefully people can learn some stuff from us.
What's next for you guys? You're in Nashville now, are you planning on touring?
C.H.: Yeah we plan on dropping the "Don't Play" video in a few weeks and then we're going to drop the "Hipsters" video at the top of the year. We plan on doing some college touring in the spring and also we're working on a debut album called Deep Fried Veggies, and we're going to drop that [this year.]
What's the reason for calling it Deep Fried Veggies, are you guys vegetarians?
C.K.: We are.
C.K.: It has nothing to do with vegetarianism, it has to do with giving people something fun but heart-felt to live with. Like deep fried, we love it, but veggies make people feel good. That's what our music is going to be.
That's cool, that's really really cool.
C.K.: Yeah, it's coming together crazy.