When songwriting/production team Chuck Harmony & Claude Kelly began working together on projects by Rihanna, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, Ledisi and others, they envisioned writing and recording from their own version of the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.
“We saw the 2013 documentary about Muscle Shoals and were obsessed,” says Harmony, “watching Aretha Franklin figure out how she was going to change the world in a place that took her away from all the city noise and pressure. Out of that came ‘Respect,’ ‘Ain’t No Way’ and other great songs — just from being in a little country town in a studio where everyone all cared about getting it right.”
Well, Harmony and Kelly didn’t move all the way to Alabama. But the formerly Los Angeles-based team did plant its flag in Franklin, Tenn., last April. The pair also moved their creative company, Weirdo Workshop (“We don’t like the word label,” says Kelly), onto their new Southern compound — which includes a full studio and office — that summer.
“The plan now,” adds Kelly, “is to almost be Muscle Shoals — a nonstop machine of creativity.”
Between their own recording projects as the duo Louis York and ongoing outside productions, Harmony and Kelly have stayed busy since their move. On the latter front, the twosome produced what they call a “crazy song” with Ludacris featuring Ty Dolla $ign. Titled “Vitamin D,” the single is out Friday (March 31). The pair is also collaborating with Grammy Award-winning inspirational singer Le’Andria Johnson, of whom Kelly notes, “The goal is to think bigger than just Sunday morning. Le’Andria has this Etta James-y, Tina Turner-y spirit about her that’s fun.”
Also on the Kelly/Harmony slate is work with Mya, K. Michelle and Ledisi, as well as a socially impactful song with Andra Day and Ne-Yo that’s due later this year: “We’re putting something together to let the world know how the artist community feels about what’s happening in the world and where music and art play a part,” says Kelly.
On the Louis York front, the pair recently released the video for new song “Hipsters.” Addressing the themes of individuality, bullying and self-acceptance, the ethereal track is featured on the duo’s late 2016 EP Masterpiece Theater: Act II. It’s the follow-up to 2015’s Masterpiece Theater: Act 1, which includes the tracks “Clair Huxtable” and “Things I Should’ve Said.”
Watch the “Hipsters” video:
“With the songs on the first EP, we were trying to figure out who we were as individual artists,” explains Kelly. “’Hipsters’ is when we knew it was about being original. It’s important to remind ourselves and everyone else that the key to success is being yourself.”
That lesson was part of the advice the Grammy-nominated team shared during their Songwriter Master Class panel last month. The session was part of YouTube’s three-day Nashville Pop-Up Space. More than 180 artists, songwriters, student and industry leaders attended the panel.
View highlights from the YouTube Master Class:
On the eve of their first year as Nashville transplants, Harmony says, “Nashville is known as the Music City. But as far as diversity, it’s the up-and-coming city … kind of reminiscent of what Atlanta was in the ’90s. We just wanted to find a place where we could integrate our belief system, and Nashville is the perfect place for that.”