Kelis is back. Back with a new sound, new album, and new Australian tour. But she ain’t the Kelis you remember. No longer is she the rage-fuelled, pink ‘fro toting twentysomething screaming “I hate you so much right now!” at a cheating ex. Neither is she the suggestive minx, bringing all the boys to the yard with her milkshakes. Considering it’s been 15 years since her debut, it’s not surprising things have changed. In fact, it would be weird if they hadn’t. And now, never one to stay still long enough to let anyone define her style, her latest album Food takes things in an entirely new, funk-laden direction – one that’s well worth a listen.
Although her earlier hits, like ‘Trick Me’ and ‘Bossy’, will never lose their potent girl-power appeal, it’s clear that Kelis has a whole lot more to give. Like all the best things in life, she has improved with time, returning to her musical roots to create this deep and honest collection of tracks. Ahead of bringing her soulful rasp to Byron’s Splendour in the Grass, and sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney, Kelis took some time out to fill us in on the last 15 years.
If you’re not lucky enough to be seeing Kelis at Splendour In The Grass, you can catch her at her Melbourne and Sydney sideshows at the end of July, co-presented by ACCLAIM.
Tell me a bit about the thoughts and inspirations behind Food.
Well I wanted to do something that had the essence of nostalgia. I remember listening to music growing up and thinking how honest it seemed and how good it felt. So although I didn’t want to capture the sound of old music, I wanted to feel the essence of it. That music history is really organic and really truthful, so I wanted to do something that resembled that. When I started writing and recording I didn’t know what that would sound like but it started to take on its own identity and so I just went with that.
This album has really reached a whole new level: it’s mature, full of soul, and it feels very glamorous. It’s clear your style has evolved a lot since you first came onto the scene. Do you feel like a different person?
From when I first started working I’ve grown up a lot. I don’t know that I feel like a different person but I just feel like it’s layers on layers on layers, you know? It does build every time you do something else and create something new.
Do you still feel defined by your earlier work? How do you feel now about tracks like ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Caught Out There’?
I don’t feel defined by any of my work really. I feel like they’re all segmented pieces of who I am. You kind of spoon-feed people what you want them to know and see about you at that moment. I think if people were to look at all of the work collectively, they start to get a clearer view of who you are.
Just like me, you love food – making it, eating it, sharing it. You’re even a graduate of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. So how come you took the path of musician, rather than chef or restaurateur?
Well I started off with music really early on – it was just something that I always did and so it sort of led me down that path. I didn’t really choose; I think it sort of chose me. Then, as I got older, and I put out four albums or so, I just felt like I could do something else, and why not?
You’ve put out six albums now and you’ve got your own cooking show, Saucy & Sweet. So you’ve conquered music and now food. Do you have any other career plans down the track?
I have a sauce company called Feast that I’ve started and I’ll be launching officially this summer. That’s pretty much the gist of it… sauces! I’ve also got some clothing stuff that I’ve started working on. I really just think these are, again like we were talking about, more branches of who I am. So I wouldn’t say that they’re necessarily other career paths, but they’re just things that I’ve been doing, that I like doing – and I’ll end up sharing just so that people can see that side of me too.
It seems you’ve accomplished a lot in your life and a lot of people see you as a very successful person. But how do you measure success?
I mean it’s definitely just about peace of mind and being content with who you are and where you are at that point in your life. I don’t compare myself to anybody else and I guess I don’t measure my success based on my music. It’s more about me just being true to who I am, being a good mother, being a good daughter. You know? Just doing what I feel like is the right thing to do for who I want to be at that moment. But, yeah, not as much based on my career as people probably think.
Let’s talk about the tour. You first toured in Australia 10 years ago. Are you excited to be coming back down under?
Yeah! I’ve been there a bunch of times since then. I love Australia actually. I love Sydney. I love Melbourne. I’m actually going to Byron Bay, which I’ve never been to. But I love the Gold Coast, so yeah it’ll be awesome. Yeah I’m excited.
For fans heading to your gigs here in Australia, what can they look forward to?
I’ve got the band out and really it’s just a good time. It feels great to be performing this record live. It really is a lot of fun. I think there’s nothing like seeing live music. Especially with this album, I wrote it with the intentions of performing it live, so it definitely comes off really well.
I understand that you’ll be in Australia during your son’s birthday. I imagine it’s incredibly hard to balance things like touring with spending time with your family.
I mean I’ve been doing this for so long that you just make it work. It’s not a new thing anymore, so you just sort of figure it out, and enjoy it while you can, you know?
Absolutely. You’ve been in the music game for a long time now. What gives you the ambition to keep producing? Is it something you just couldn’t live without?
No, not at all. I do it because it’s so enjoyable, but I don’t feel pressure to rush to do it. So that’s why it generally takes me three or four years between each record, because I don’t feel I need to come through and I don’t think about it until I do. I just record at leisure and when it feels right – and when it doesn’t, I don’t push it. I do it because it’s still fun and I still have something to say. But that’s not something that I feel, at this point, because I can make music whether I put it out or not. That’s not really a defining factor for me. I do think it’s still fun. The moment it’s not fun anymore then I won’t do it.
What are the biggest challenges you face in making music?
I don’t know that there are challenges. It’s still something that you work at to try to be genuine and to do something that you love, first and foremost. But I don’t know if challenge is the word that I would use.