With her debut EP, titled Every Girl, released for free download at the tail end of 2011 building buzz towards the first album, New York singer Bridget Kelly recently got onto the phone with SoulCulture to share her musical inspirations [Mariah Carey – “She’s my all time favourite”] and the influences that drive her work ethic [“Jay Z gives 100% every show,” and re: Beyonce, “she doesn’t demand anything of anybody that she can’t do – and she is a superhero”], also discussing her approach to songwriting as a newbie and the role artist development plays at her label, Roc Nation; “that’s the driving force.”
Bridget began writing songs whilst attending a performing arts high school [“my launch pad”] in New York where she says, “they were really encouraging and put us in a position to be really confident in our own craft and put on our own shows. When you’re in high school adolescence is obviously a really tough time trying to figure out who you are so it was perfect to have that opportunity and that presentation of myself onstage – that was what shaped me into wanting to sing.”
Fast forward a few years and Kelly was performing around the world on Jay Z’s number one hit “Empire State Of Mind” in place of Alicia Keys on tour, including stops in London. “That was my very first trip outside the US, Caribbean and Mexico,” she recalls. “On my first trip [to the UK], we did The Jonathan Ross Show and Wembley with Coldplay.
“It’s weird that I started kinda backwards; because most people spend three or four years working on an album then get to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people and I got to do that first, just right out the gate.”
“Everyone was pretty surprised at the amount of attention the 9/11 show [at Madison Square Garden, New York – above] generated. It was just supposed to be a one time thing and then it catapulted me into another 11-12 months of touring.
“My being signed to them was part of the reason why they looked to me to do it – to test me a little bit and see if I could do it. Needless to say, I passed the test. The continuation of me on tour was definitely the example of me winning.”
She’s now working with with some of music’s best current talents – the likes of Ne-Yo, The Dream, and Odd Future’s R&B star Frank Ocean [who penned “Thinking About Forever” for her, before his own version hit the net and rode its own wave], with an always open ear from Roc Nation label head Jay Z.
“It’s relieving that I can hit him up and say ‘what do you think about this?’ and he’ll give it to me straight,” she says of her musical refining process with Jigga, as she works on material for her debut album. Taking on-board his opinions on hits and misses as Bridget develops her sound, she insists that whilst alert fans may feel they’re kept waiting for releases from her and other artists at the Roc, they’re just taking their time to perfect a craft.
“Absolutely, that’s the driving force,” she responds. “Which is why I think everybody gets to pissed off that none of us are out yet. A lot of the reasons for Jay-Z success is the fact that they took the time out to perfect things and master the craft and really put the time and effort into development as opposed to putting something out that’s only gonna last a week.
“Jay’s managed to maintain his success and longevity the way he has because he really took the time to mastered his business and figure out what it was he wanted to represent. I think this time now that we’ve had to be signed, and working in the studio, taking meetings – it’s all crucial development.
“I’ve gone through the process a little backwards. I got to see the payoff before I got there so I know now what I’m working towards. I know the calibre and the quality of work and the work ethic that’s gotta go into getting the right show.
“Knowing that now, I think I’m a step ahead of the curve and I’m able to put my all into the recording process and development process so the presentation will be perfect. It will be a presentation of me but also a presentation of the Roc and that same level of integrity they put forth.”
Performance is an important part of the presentation, and their extensive European touring in 2010 quickly brought Bridget up-to-speed with Roc Nation’s standards. “One stint was eight shows in 10 days. I was exhausted, that was the hardest week that I ever had to really work,” she recalls.
“Jay gives 100% every show – whether he’s tired, whether he’s sick, whether he’s pissed off, whatever the case is he gives you 100%.
“It’s difficult to do that – if you’re sick, if you’re going through something personally to put all of that aside and be able to just perform and turn it on and turn it all the way up was very inspirational for me. Because I’m very affected when I’m sick – if I’m sick I don’t wanna be around anybody, I don’t wanna talk to anyone, I don’t wanna pick up my phone – but sometimes you just gotta suck it up and do it. I think Jay’s a perfect example of that; he overcomes a lot of adversity to get the job done. And that’s the level I’m trying to get to.”
“Beyonce’s another one,” she enthuses. “Same kind of work ethic. She doesn’t demand anything of anybody that she can’t do – and she is a superhero. It’s inspiring, it’s motivating and I feel confident having that encouragement behind me. To get that kind of experience from early on is priceless.”
“I think the label was strategic in seeking out artists that didn’t resemble each other and I think that made sense,” she says of her Roc Nation labelmates, who include J. Cole, Willow Smith, Melanie Fiona, Jay Electronica, Alexis Jordan and UK rapper K. Koke. “We’re all from all over the place, we come with a different message, we’re all about different things as people and artists – and that works in everybody’s favour because we’re not competing with each other, we’re all supportive and behind each other. It’s like one big family.”
“Now I get to immerse myself in studio work and putting the album together. I’m grateful for it. The recording process is just as demanding as performing, I love both aspects of it. I love being able to see the challenges from both sides. I always loved to sing, so I just figured it would be a continuation of doing something that I love to do; I didn’t anticipate that I would fall even deeper in love with the idea of being onstage and singing and performing. But I did – that’s exactly what happened.”
Since childhood, Bridget’s passion for music has been accompanied by a vivid appreciation for Mariah Carey. “She’s my favourite. She’s my all time favourite,” she gushes. “One of the first music videos I ever saw was Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” video, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I want to do that,’ – and just run in the fields with sneakers and shorts and a little plaid shirt on and just have fun.
“She looked like she was having fun with everything she was doing and she loved it and to me that was euphoric; when you’re a kid your pleasures in life are a lot more simple, and I think she just embodied that as an artist. I think as a woman she was able to take whatever situation she was in and turn it around and have fun with it. And that’s definitely what I strive towards.”
Maybe that golden age of fun entertainment, without seeing the struggle and politics behind the music, is gone?
“A little bit yeah,” she muses, “but I think a lot of it is because the timing is so different – we’re entertained by different things now. Our society and culture is much more media driven than it ever was and I think that kinda takes away from the raw, unbridled emotion that was attached to the music of say the early ‘90s – the Mary J Blige’s and Mariah Carey’s.
“The sense of appeal is different now. A sense of fun is more about being the club than it is about running through wheat fields with your dog.”
With no official release date set Bridget describes the sound of her upcoming album as in a similar vein to her pop/rock-tinged Every Girl EP, “soulful – not too R&B I guess because I’m not even sure what the definition for R&B would be nowadays,” but “sonically it’s definitely very vibey” with “a lot of piano and strings and guitars.” She adds, “I wanted to capture the live element with this so once we start doing live shows it captures the same sound. My uptempos aren’t dance-in-the-club records.”
Working in the studio with some of pop and R&B’s best, Bridget is soaking up their experience as a newbie to songwriting. “I went in with a lot of the top of the top and I didn’t wanna walk into the studio with Ne-Yo and say, ‘Hey I have this idea and I’m gonna write this down.’ I went in being as humble as I possibly could be. I tried to take in as much as possible, taking notes as a writer and how they come up with things,” she says.
“I was able to write a little bit but there was much more creative influence on the writers I got to work with. We would hang out, get to know each other and I would tell them a story. [For example,] Ne-Yo went in the studio, we were talking one night about drunk dialing somebody… An hour later he had this song written that was exactly what we talked about. It’s all a conversation.
“I had a lot of creative influence on what was said and what was written because I wanted it really be for me. Getting to know those writers and producers, it’s like going on a date kind of – you develop a sense of comfort and you just open up.”
On the business side of things, Bridget runs with a close team. “My management team and I have been together for the last five years. My stylist is one of my best friends. It’s great to have everybody around me be very grounded and level headed, everyone’s about their business. I think everyone’s goal is the same so that keeps us really focused.”
That said, the strength of her unit allows the singer to remain somewhat “shielded” from the getting too directly involved in business aspects of her career for now, to focus on the creative side.
“As my career continues to expand and grow the stakes will get a little higher and I’ll have to be a little more more directly involved with all my business transactions,” she acknowledges, “but at the moment I’m in a great situation because I have a team of people that represent me in the right way.”
DOWNLOAD: Bridget Kelly – Every Girl EP