For talented R&B singer/songwriter Kevin Ross, having his upcoming debut LP, The Awakening, get released on Motown Records, is a thrill, not least because he grew up idolizing Stevie Wonder, but his real goal is to make a mark in 2016, not merely try to repeat past glories. His entire approach is to blend the old-school soul music of his parents’ generation with the post-hip-hop cutting edge of today, which becomes clear on songs like the finger-snapping street corner doo-wop of the introspective “Pick You Up” or the hybrid R&B/rap of his interpretation of Kanye West’s “Say You Will” (“Don’t Say You Will”), featuring T.I.
“I acknowledge the Motown history and sound, but it our responsibility as a generation to up the ante,” says the DC/Maryland-born artist, who studied voice at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music before landing in Atlanta, where he’s collaborated with such artists as Jamie Foxx, Usher, and Akon. “We’re trying to be just as innovative today as Motown was back then. We want to create a sound that will be remembered 50 years from now. We want to make this Motown very different, a whole new brand. We have a voice with things to say, too. We want to make our own noise.”
Recorded in Atlanta and Los Angeles, The Awakening spotlights a soulful crooner and writer who combines a romantic lover’s touch with a more reflective, autobiographical side. “Pick You Up” is a pep talk to himself in the mirror to keep his eyes on the prize by overcoming all obstacles in his path, while “Dream” is a cinematic set-piece, spotlighting his soaring falsetto and piano skills to tell a story about a long-distance romance that finds him hoping his love is just as miserable without him as he is away from her. Among his collaborators on the album are Grammy winners Ne-Yo and producer/writer David Foster.
“I want the audience to get a feel for who I am,” says Ross about his debut effort. “The songs are truly about what I stand for and believe.”
Ross grew up in a household surrounding by music. His father’s side of the family all either sang or played an instrument. “My love for music was instilled at an early age,” he says, singing in school choirs as a kid.
He started writing, producing and mixing tracks on a 16-track MIDI work station and a Yamaha keyboard, harmonizing with his own overdubs. “It was something that came naturally,” Kevin explains. “I was intrigued by the fact that I could be self-contained. I didn’t need anybody else. And, in fact, the whole process hasn’t changed so much. I still record at home, except the set-up is a lot more elaborate now, and I get to work with the writers and producers at the Bar Music Group, who help me realize my ideas. I now understand it’s all about a team effort. I can’t do everything myself, and that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned in this process.”
“What I began to see was, it takes just as much energy to be a writer as it does an artist,” he reflects. “You need passion in either case, and to be able to give it the proper attention. Working with the people I did was great for picking up, not only what to do as an artist, but also what not to do. I needed that experience to get to the point where I could work on my own as a performer.”
So far, things have turned out nicely for Kevin Ross. He has been on tour with Maxwell and Ne-Yo as the opening act. He’s penned #1 records for Trey Songz (Touching’ Lovin’ feat. Nicki Minaj & What’s Best For You). He was also featured in Glade’s Holiday Commercial, where he went on to sell over 100,000 copies of the single “This Is My Wish”.
“I enjoy going out and touching the people,” says Ross. “I love entertaining and performing. There’s nothing to match standing in front of an audience and being fearless. We’re all here to have a good time. We all go through similar experiences. We all hurt, we all love, we all laugh, we all cry. We all have these kinds of emotions in our lifetime. I want people to listen to my music and make those human connections we all have with one another.”
For Kevin Ross, music is not just a livelihood, but a 24/7 obsession, and that meticulous attention to detail comes through loud and clear.
“The creative process never stops,” he says. “If you’re really passionate about it, it’s always on your mind. Even if the album is finished, I would still be writing new songs, both for myself and other artists. I’m already thinking about the next album, what it will sound like and topics I haven’t touched on yet. Looking ahead is more exciting for me. This is just the starting point. Even I have no idea what I’m capable of, what I’m going to do next. I still have plenty of things to learn and room to grow.”
Photo Courtesy: Capitol Motown/Press Photo