”It’ll Be Like We’re Hanging Out in My Living Room, Just Having a Conversation…”
By Casey Pukl
It’s always exciting when you call an artist to do an interview, and they immediately announce that they have huge news to share. It’s a nerve wracking disaster when they start telling you this great news before your audio recorder is rolling and you worry about missing their exact words. The beginning of my interview with Kenny Lattimore started with me yelling at him, “Wait! Wait! I’m getting my recorder rolling and I don’t want to miss what you have to say!” as he laughed and said, “But I want to tell you!”
And so he shared, and we geeked out, and the result is this lovely raw interview with the man himself about his latest success, writing for his adoring fans, and just why his Anthology performance is so special.
CP: So tell me your exciting news!
KL: I just found out that my single, “Find A Way” moved from #24 to #16 on the R&B charts! It was really emotional for me as an artist, since this was… well, it wasn’t a comeback because I haven’t really gone anywhere, but a return to delivering original music. We’ve got some other albums that are critically acclaimed, but I really wanted to say that I was still relevant in terms of turning out brand new music.
CP: Wow! Well congratulations. I know on top of that, you just started your own label. How did that factor in to this release?
KL: Yeah, all that is a part of this. For the record to be supported we really needed the right partners to come in. And when I say partners, what I mean is supporters. Every artist needs that. When John Legend came out, he had Kanye West saying ,”This is my favorite artist ever, so you need to check him out”, and then people know it’s good from the get-go. But if you don’t have anyone championing your cause, especially with a brand new label, then it’s really tough.
But one of the things I did was to do a joint venture with EMI Record Services and Capitol Records, because I had experience working with majors all these years, I wasn’t comfortable being a completely independent artist. I was used to working a certain way, and that meant having a staff around the country and not just one or two people marketing and promoting. So it’s been the best of both worlds, because creatively I’ve been able to do what I want to do, but when it comes time for distribution, EMI can get it out to as many places as I’ve ever had it go out.
It made a huge difference to have people in a lot of the cities I go to and be able to shake their hand and know that they’re looking out for you in that area.
CP: It sounds like you’ve been working your butt off!
KL: Yeah, it’s grueling pace sometimes. I can’t even glamorize it to you, because I am just always working, but the rewards are great and I’m seeing the payoff. I’m right where I want to be, because I’m able to make that connection and grow an audience, which is what it’s all about. The people with a genuine interest in this music are finding me, and I’m finding them.
CP: Going a little further into that personal journey, I wanted to pick your brain about songwriting. I’m a huge songwriting nerd, and I love getting to talk to songwriters and finding out about their process and what inspires them because everyone has something different. How does it work for you, especially given the personal nature of your songs?
KL: It’s interesting because I feel like my process shifted. I come from an era when a lot of people would bring tracks to me or a lot of other [R&B songwriters] and we would then write to tracks. So I would have little ideas about what I wanted to say or what I wanted to give, so in the early part of my career I had one process and that was I wanted to speak about what love should be. I write better having a theme. So for my second record, I was thinking about the things that we [men] don’t say or don’t know how to say to women about love and sex, so I went at it for about 8 weeks, just writing about all the things around that topic, like how men can be totally in love, but we’ll look for all the things that are wrong, because we’re scared. Or like a song like, “Waiting for Tomorrow” where I was trying to say that sometimes we think we gotta get everything perfect, like the car, the house, the job, and we put too much into that and maybe lose a woman we love because of it.
But now I’m at a different place in life, gained a little more experience, and although I still like writing to themes, it really is more about how I’m feeling and how things are. I try to make sure that whatever I’m trying to say, the connection is clear, that I’m not reaching for straws. For instance, I didn’t write “Find A Way”, but when I listened to it from the standpoint of a singer who also writes, I had to say, “Oh the cadence to this is a little young” like, will this fit for me? I have to think about my audience, which is kinda crazy, but for general songwriter they can say, “I wanna do a pop song today, I wanna do a country song tomorrow,” but I have to think about what fits me as an artist and my audience constantly. So the process is how does this translate? How does this stack up to what I’ve done in the past?
So for this album, it’s really just how I’m feeling. I didn’t use it as this great catharsis. I just had some songs that I really liked and wanted to put together. I did a focus group, which I don’t think anybody does, and literally let people listen to the demos and fill out worksheets saying “Do you think this song is worthy of a recording? Would you want to buy it?” And you find out what you built as a brand. I had one song called “Sabotage” and I put it out to people like that, and I didn’t use it for the record because people that knew my music and my brand didn’t want to hear me singing those lyrics. They didn’t want me saying, “Why did you sabotage our love?” So I learned from that. It may be confining for a songwriter who wants the freedom to be who they are, but I have to consider that for my own work.
CP: Do you write for other artists in order to satisfy that creative urge?
KL: I have written for other artists. I wrote for a few people back in the early 90s. And that was a lot of writing just something that felt great, that I thought was a hit song. And they picked some of those songs to record, and they would keep my vocal interpretation or you know, do it in my style of singing. More recently I’ve been doing some writing for Chaka Khan, so there I would say “What do I want to hear Chaka Khan singing?” I come from a melodic position first, then got back and solidified the lyrics afterwards. The only time I started with the lyrics was when I was doing my solo thing, and I was just riffing on all the things that we don’t talk about, then I went back and found music that matched and did the marriage [words & music] afterwards.
CP: Thanks for indulging my inner writing geek. I’m always really fascinated by how performer songwriters can stay within their established brand as well as satisfy the creative desire to evolve.
KL: Oh, any time. Actually most of the songs I’m known for are not by me [laughs] but a case of me interpreting someone’s idea because I just got it and thought their idea was phenomenal and worked with the theme I was building around.
CP: Sure, I think that makes it interesting, though, when an artist that writes their own material sings something they didn’t write. It gives a completely unique perspective for the writer and the audience. It’s an experience similar to being the listener when you perform something that isn’t yours.
KL:Yes, it is! It’s a really cool experience. And I really look forward to performing all of my material, both the songs I’ve written and the ones I’ve interpreted. They all have personal connection to me. I love sharing them with the audience. I love watching how they connect with people.
That’s what I love about a place like Anthology too. It’s so beautiful and sexy. You know a lot of couples are coming in, so I’m really excited about the show there.
CP: So tell me what you have planned for this show. Listening to your older stuff and the new record, it’s really quite different!
KL: Yeah, well first the show is really about my musical progress, which I believe is all about speaking to the hearts of women and the minds of men, and encouraging them to be in love. I think that’s what the music does; that’s what R&B does. It’s all about love. So it’s gonna be about my musical journey so we’ll touch on many of the songs people might be familiar with, and also introduce the stuff from Back 2 Cool as well, and it’s gonna be a good time. It’ll be like we’re hanging out in my living room, just having a conversation. We’ll talk and laugh, which I think works particularly well at a place like Anthology where everyone’s got food and drinks, so it’s really just like hanging out at my home.
Special thanks to Kenny for his time! Come on out and hang out with him this Saturday while he plays two intimate shows here at Anthology!
Kenny Lattimore on Spotify