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A Conversation with Kaelin; Q&A ft. Music Producer Kaelin Ellis

"Hey, I could just do this for myself now."

Upon my journey searching for some new music, I discovered Kaelin Ellis. Born and raised in the small town of Lakeland, Florida, Ellis has always had a passion for music. Although considered to focus on Dance/Electronic and Hip-Hop, Ellis defies the odds of working with whatever ideas he is inspired by. His recent album, The Funk Will Prevail, contains amazingly versatile instrumentals and seemingly advanced beats. Ellis skillfully has over ten years of experience in music production and continues to create a discography that holds mass amounts of influence. Funk music is one of the biggest inspirations for other genres, but I would consider it a challenge to find versatile funk-centered musicians in popular music. The rising star in the music industry is quickly making a name for himself with his unique sound and style. Ellis’ brand and life motto, “Don’t Force the Funk!” is without a doubt playing in my head 24/7, soon to be stuck in your head too!

I was able to have a conversation with Kaelin the other day; Together we discussed the real skill music producers obtain, growing up in a Christian household, and his newest album; Which was nominated for an NAACP award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album:


Since you’re from such a small town in Florida, how did your hometown have an effect on your push toward pursuing a career in music?

I think most of it came from my upbringing. I played drums in church for my whole life since I was about roughly 2-years-old. I was actually one when my dad bought me this little CB drum kit that was like $100 and my mom thought my dad was wild for it... There were a lot of people and friends of mine who had goals and ideas but there wasn’t a very large push to pursue those things in Lakeland. So, most people who grew up here moved away in order to pursue their dreams; I love my hometown, but I think my hometown is great for showing the push towards what you need in order to achieve a good work ethic.

You grew up in a very Christian household right?

Yeah; My mom and my dad had me in Church playing drums, but on top of that my grandparents on my father's side were pastors... While my dad was playing keys and instruments, I was the one in the rhythm section in Church.

I heard that when you were in middle school you really tried to debut your music and establish your first band. Please elaborate.

Oh, dude! I wanted to. There were a bunch of friends that I was around that used to be into music; I had this one friend Eugene that was always saying ‘I want to do something, I want to make music’ and I was like ‘Well then pull up to the crib! Let’s do something!’ So he came over a couple times... but we didn’t get around to doing much... But yeah, the main reason I got into music was because I wanted to be in a band. I could never find people around me that were like ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’

Has the concept of forming a band, or you performing with a band ever been established?

I could never get anything established, the only thing I was able to experience regarding playing with someone was when I was growing up with my dad. He held down a 2-piece, with a bass on one side and the piano on the other, and would interchange them; That’s how I learned to play with another musician.

How did you then realize you just wanted to pursue things as a solo artist?

The first time I discovered YouTube was probably like ‘08 or ‘09. I would play around with sounds on Sony Acid Music Studio... There was this master chain that allowed you to add effects to it, and one thing I always did would throw hella reverb on it; I wanted to make it sound like it was in a big room! So, I did that a lot and realize like ‘Hey, I could just do this for myself now’.

That’s awesome. What do you think makes a producer? Like, what essential qualities do you think the producer element of music making should have?

Hm… Someone who is able to cohesively look at an entire project or vision and see elements like what is a distraction, and what aids to the purpose.

So do you think it's an ability that someone just naturally obtains? Like, they’re lucky and just have it?

There are definitely people born with that type of ability. I personally didn’t have that ability when I first started; It took years for me just to listen to a lot of music. I went through this stage of listening to so many different genres of sounds, so I think it can also come from experience through just listening to music for years.

What do you think is one quality a song has to have in order to bring it together? Do you think there’s a root to a song or does it just depend on whatever someone’s making?

I think it depends on whatever someone’s making... but I will say that some of the best music (that I have been inspired by and have used as a reference) has a cohesive element to them; You can hear whatever the main idea is or sound is, and the supporting elements around it; So, whatever is inside of it doesn’t distract from the main point of the song. All those songs that have hit the top charts have that one element where it isn’t distracting. It’s like ear candy!

I feel like there’s so much influence behind songs that have been released and have done well. Do you think that music sampling can evolve? There’s such a debate around sounds that have already been done, and you’ve mentioned before how musicians try to rebrand or emulate the sounds they already enjoy... Do you think new producers can find new sounds and stand out without having that aspect of repetition?

Yeah! Right now we’re in an age where technology is at an all-time high... There is artificial intelligence that can recreate your favorite artist's record and make it sound somewhat identical... On the song "GET RIGHT!" I sampled this C.S. Armstrong vocal chop that comes from the cut of this Stevie Wonder A.I. render... but is not actually Stevie Wonder, or a real person! As a producer I am just trying to blend what doesn’t make sense with something really cool, to have them hold hands; I think that’s my essential goal and the middle ground where producers figure out how everything works.

"As a producer I am just trying to blend what doesn’t make sense with something really cool, to have them hold hands"

Do you have a moment in time when you know a song is finished? How do you know?

I went through a rigorous process with The Funk Will Prevail because it was originally finished in June 2021. The only thing that was making me prolong the release was that when I played the album at a birthday party, there were certain songs that flowed perfectly... but the feeling I wanted to feel while listening to the project wasn’t coming through. I had these great beats, but as a project, it wasn’t done. So, I went to find small and slight features I could add to finish it. I think I made about 12 different mixes of the song "CATS GROOVE"! It took for me to realize I did everything I possibly could to each song, to the point where there was absolutely nothing left to say. When I felt good about it, I just knew it was done.

You released "LIL BIT" as a single prior to the whole project. Why was that?

Yep. It was one of those moments where I wanted to introduce what I am doing in a very “in your face” way! There’s no better way to introduce yourself as a person who can write, rap, and sing, than by releasing a single like that. Before I dropped it I played the song for a friend… she basically had told me my verse could go harder. So, I'm listening to the beat going back home just hearing this new flow in my head, so I cut the vocals for it and my friend was like, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’. It was scary because of the fine line between what I have been doing, and what I want to do. I want to do experimental music! My heart truly lies there, and my specialty is manipulating music to where it sounds real.

That's a good point. Your music seems to effortlessly blend multiple genres simultaneously. If you had to label it, what genre do you think the music you have already released falls under?

I think anything after 2020 is on this jazzy, funky, disco-ish wave. I’ve always dabbled with that kind of music but wasn’t sure how to execute it. Now that I understand all the parts of how instruments work, I kind of want to go back and see how I can blend the weird element of what got me into music in the first place with my new elements.

That originality has definitely been appreciated. Congrats on the NAACP nomination for best jazz album- instrumental as well! Do you think that The Funk Will Prevail is a good representation of an instrumental jazz album?

Thank you, I was kind of shocked when it was announced! Looking at the project, it embodies the music I’ve wanted to make mixed with that I’ve grown up on. This is a weird story; Tampa used to have this radio station called WSJT94.1... because I grew up in a household where there was a lot of music I couldn’t listen to, I mainly listened to instrumental music, or no vocals… the only way I could get around that was the NBA2K soundtrack or WSJT94.1 where they would play some of the biggest 80s to 2000s instrumental beats... there was a ton of saxophone. I learned about Kenny G at that time! That was a huge part of me being immersed in jazz to some degree. I listened to a lot of J Dilla in high school as well.

King of mixing jazz with hip-hop! As a fan of genre-bending music, it has been a blessing and the greatest gift to see you excel at that.

Yeah! In all honesty, that radio station is one of the major reasons the album sounds the way it does. So, looking at The Funk Will Prevail as a jazz album, it makes sense! I get it!

Kaelin has not slowed down one bit, most recently performing at Austin's must-go festival SXSW. We are very excited to see what the future holds for Kaelin and his insistent commitment to the funk.

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