“The best advice I can give to anyone is to go through every door that opens. It might not be what you really want, but it could lead to something great. That’s how I got to where I am today. Also, be nice to everyone you meet. Enemies are forever, especially in this business. If I hadn’t been nice to that boy from high school, he wouldn’t have offered me a record deal”.
American jazz and blues artist Robin McKelle will be playing at the Grand Place during the Brussels Jazz Marathon. Her latest album Heart of Memphis is getting great reviews all over the world and might become a turning point in her career. We speak with Robin herself about how it all came to be.
"I might have broken some hearts with my music, but at least no permanent damage was done."
So you decided to go into music yourself?
Robin McKelle: "I used to play soccer in school and was not that bad at it either. I actually broke some girl’s leg once, trying to slide the ball out of her feet. Luckily what I do now is a lot less harmful. I might have broken some hearts with my music but at least no permanent damage was done (laughs). So I studied music in high school and in the weekend I got into this pop rock band where I became a singer/dancer girl. It gained me a lot of experience, but soon realised that I wanted to be the frontwoman, not the background singer."
So how did your breakthrough come about?
Robin: "At one point after graduating I was singing at weddings, which isn’t a bad thing, but after a while you get so tired of it. So I went in the studio on a small budget recording a 40’s nostalgia album hoping it would get me some gigs. For some reason, the album that was supposed to give me more jobs, suddenly sold more copies than anticpated. The record company didn’t even make enough copies."
You recorded your latest album in Memphis. Why Memphis?
Robin: "I wanted this record to have the genuine Memphis soul sound. For that to work I had to actually go there. Not for the city itself per se, but for the people. I wanted to work with the people that are responsible for that particular sound."
With every album you seem to change your sound a little bit. How come?
Robin: "Because of the succes of the first album, people started comparing me with Ella Fitzgerald and all these amazing jazz singers. We couldn’t just do something completely different after that, so I made an agreement with my record company that with every record I make, I would come a little bit closer to who I really am musically."
Jazz versus blues
Is it hard that you are still put in the jazz box even though you seem to expose yourself as a blues artist?
Robin: "I feel a lot of respect from the jazz community, more than I would get from the blues community, but it is kind of frustrating that I try to change my sound but still get called a jazz artist. It’s pretty obvious when you listen to my current album that that’s not who I am right now. I love getting invited to these Jazz festival, because they are always great fun to play, but it also contributes to this jazz image that people have of me."
You’re playing a pretty iconic place here in Brussels: the Grand Place. Nervous?
Robin: "It’s pretty special isn’t it? I’m not really nervous, I just really look forward to it. I like to play for as many people as possible, so If you’re reading this, please come down!"