Kelis interview: ‘I'm a lot less precious than people want me to be’

The R&B superstar is back with a soulful new album and a second career in the kitchen. We met her in London to get a taste

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© Olivia Malone

Kelis Rogers’s 2003 mega-hit ‘Milkshake’ still brings boys and girls to the yard, but she has long moved on. After qualifying with Le Cordon Bleu in 2010, she’s now as much a chef as an R&B superstar, with her own cooking show called ‘Saucy & Sweet’ on the Cooking Channel and a recipe book in the pipeline too. But she’s also returned to music with a funky, retro soul-influenced new album – recorded live with indie genius Dave Sitek. Appropriately, it’s called ‘Food’.

I meet Kelis at lunchtime in a Shoreditch hotel, while she’s rehearsing to dish up ‘Food’ around the world. Ferociously intelligent and confident, she’s also enthusiastic and friendly – except for one get-with-the-programme glare when the word ‘milkshake’ comes up. Warning: don’t read this interview on an empty stomach.

‘Jerk Ribs’, ‘Breakfast’, ‘Friday Fish Fry’… The track list for ‘Food’ reads like a menu.
‘Funnily enough, I didn’t even come up with most of the titles: they were just working titles, then I figured those names were as good as any. “Jerk Ribs” in particular: I actually made jerk ribs that day for the whole band. Everyone was silent for a good 20 minutes, just eating these ribs, then we ended up calling the track “Jerk Ribs”.’

What’s the connection between food and music?
‘If you think about every celebration, whether it’s a birthday or a wedding or a graduation, if it’s a good party there’s usually food and music. I’m pleased with myself for having chosen two professions that exemplify celebration. For me, they’re both creative outlets – but they actually take very different parts of the heart and mind. Music is very introspective, and a lot more intellectual, in the sense that you have to be focused. Whereas with food, it’s very much about the present. When you’re in a kitchen, everything else goes away.’

In 2012 you were working on a minimal dance album with Skream. Now you’ve made a soul record. What happened?
‘I kind of lost interest. Well, I don’t know if that’s really the right phrase, but I sort of abandoned it. I no longer felt the need to make that record, and it’s hard for me to go back to things. There are tons of things I’ve written that you’ll never hear: that’s just how it works.’

Was it a different experience recording live with a band?
‘Yeah, I guess so, but my process is always the same. I think I’m a lot less precious than people want me to be. I don’t really care, to be honest. Not to sound crass, but I don’t think that much about stuff, and I don’t think I’m that sensitive. 
I feel like I’m always myself in whatever instance or whatever realm I’m in – all of the other things are really just logistical.’

How’s the live show?
‘I’m still kind of looking at it, but I will bring out the horn section: the horns are really important!’

And finally, what would be your last meal?
‘Puerto Ricans eat a dish called chicharrón de pernil. It’s a sort of roasted pork thing, and it’s got this crispy skin that’s literally the best thing that ever happened to the world, as far as I’m concerned.’

See Kelis live in London

Kopparberg Urban Forest

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

I've never visited the pine forests above the town of Kopparberg in rural Sweden, but I'm not entirely convinced that a pop-up in a Dalston car park is a decent substitute. Take the 'escape the city' claims with a pinch of salt: the Kopparberg Urban Forest, which has taken root for five weekends of music, food and boozing, is way more 'urban' than 'forest'.For one thing it's a lot more cramped and crowded than your average woodland. The population density is much more London nightspot than Swedish countryside. There was a hefty queue during our visit on opening night (arrive early and bring lots of cash), and enough people waiting for the portable loos that security were sending men up five flights of fire escape to the urinals on the roof of the Bootstrap Building: quite a climb, but a chance for some much-needed fresh air.Here's where the KUF trumps your actual rural wooded area, though: unless you're into living off nuts and berries (and, to be fair, plenty of east Londoners are), dining options in a bona fide forest are fairly limited. In this particular sylvan getaway, however, you'll find three food stalls serving Swedish meatballs, fried chicken and spicy Caribbean wraps (all for about £6) and two bars: one for cocktails (in the £5-£7 region) and one for Swedish beer and about six different types of Kopparberg cider (around £4, and tasty enough if you've got a serious sweet tooth).Dalstonites also win out over Kopparbergians when it comes to music. Kelis sang at the la

  1. Dalston Bootstrap Company 18 Ashwin St, E8 3DL
  2. Sat Aug 2 - Sun Aug 3
More info

Watch Kelis's 'Jerk Ribs' video


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See Kelis live in London

Kopparberg Urban Forest

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

I've never visited the pine forests above the town of Kopparberg in rural Sweden, but I'm not entirely convinced that a pop-up in a Dalston car park is a decent substitute. Take the 'escape the city' claims with a pinch of salt: the Kopparberg Urban Forest, which has taken root for five weekends of music, food and boozing, is way more 'urban' than 'forest'.For one thing it's a lot more cramped and crowded than your average woodland. The population density is much more London

  1. Dalston Bootstrap Company 18 Ashwin St, E8 3DL
  2. Sat Aug 2 - Sun Aug 3
More info

Listen to Kelis' 'Food' on Spotify

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