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Songwriting duo Louis York on rediscovering passion for music
Judy Woodruff: Tonight's Brief But Spectacular looks at Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony. The two musicians spent over a decade making hits for blockbuster artists like Mary J. Blige, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna.
But they yearned to be more than just hired guns for big-name acts. So, they started their own group, Louis York.
Chuck Harmony: The most common thing that I, personally, Chuck Harmony, have heard from a music exec -- executive is that I was too musical. Dumb your stuff down so that the masses can digest it. And, as a creative, that's jail to me.
Claude Kelly: Everyone we dreamed of working with as songwriter and producer, we have had the honor of writing very big records for. Michael.
Chuck Harmony: Janet.
Claude Kelly: Whitney.
Chuck Harmony: Bruno.
Claude Kelly: Celine.
Chuck Harmony: Rihanna.
Claude Kelly: You get known for this one big thing you did. It's like, Chuck, give me another "Russian Roulette," or Claude, give me another "Party in the USA."
And if you're always growing and wanting to learn, then that becomes your prison.
Chuck Harmony: It literally drove us crazy, so, to the point we were going to quit our passion because of that.
I was going to go to seminary. He was going to go to...
Claude Kelly: Get a master's degree in world religion.
Chuck Harmony: Yes.
Claude Kelly: We had this conversation about the music business, and what was on the radio and what was missing, big voices, original voices, horn breakdowns, live strings, bridges and modulations, and all these things that make music exciting and passionate.
What can two black men get together and say that is not being said in pop culture? And we discovered there's a lot.
Louis York, which is the name of our band, it was the last thing we came up with. Our original name was Melancholy. It shows you how sad we were at the time. Ran that by a couple people, and they laughed at us.
He's from East Saint Louis, and I'm from New York. Louis York.
As the lyricist and the guy that's thinking about telling the story, I just don't believe that people are stupid. And they want to be told stories. They want to be brought on a journey. And so just saying, repeat this over and over, or say what you said yesterday, or that little story works, so repeat it again, is jail.
Chuck Harmony: For me, collaboration is essential for creativity. I don't think no man is an island, especially when it comes to being their best selves.
You need a person that you can bounce ideas off of. You need a person that you can see yourself in. You need a person that can be your muse.
Claude Kelly: I'm Claude Kelly.
Chuck Harmony: And I'm Chuck Harmony.
Claude Kelly: And we are Louis York.
Chuck Harmony: Louis York.
Claude Kelly: And this is our Brief But Spectacular take on...
Chuck Harmony: ... rediscovering our passion for music.
Judy Woodruff: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.
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