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Wil Key on the Making of Globetrotter and RnB Around the World

Los Angeles-based artist  and producer, Wil Key, has set out on a two-part journey traveling the world recording with international RnB artists. Just back in the US from South America, Wil discusses recording Globetrotter: Side B, what’s happening in RnB around the world and traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

I have been keeping up with your social media and you have been everywhere recording Globetrotter Side B—please explain the concept and creating of Side A and Side B and where all have you been?

Oh my God! It has been a real journey. Just a whirlwind! An amazing experience. I actually got the idea to do the first Globetrotter project (Side A) way back in 2010 when I was on tour in Europe for the first time. Whenever I go to a new place, all of these new images, people and sites I have never seen before just start tickling my brain and melodies and rhythms start coming to me. And the thing about songwriting is that when an idea hits you, you need to get it down on paper or record it immediately! So I would perform at night and then write lyrics in my hotel room or neighborhood cafes during the day, recording snips the whole time I was there. And then it hit me how much I like recording and writing on the road and creating music in far away places. So it was like.”I know, let’s record an entire album with each song being done in a new country.” And the idea for Globetrotter was born. The name for the project didn’t come right away, I had to marinate on that for a while. But I knew that I wanted to do something that made me feel like music did back in the day, with real instruments and real musicians and then marry that to my love for the road and traveling. So the name “Globetrotter” stirs up that whole vibe for me. The current project, Globetrotter: Side B, is a continuation of that spirit. We’ve been to 10 different countries on this album alone including Australia, Germany, Belgium, Nigeria, France and Brazil. 

What was your favorite spot—culturally and why?

My favorite spot culturally so far was the very last place that we went to which was Rio, Brazil. It was my first time to South America. We got to see three different countries there and even got to attend the world famous Carnaval Parade in Rio at the Sambadrome! The kindness of the people, the enthusiasm in the native music and attitude, the passion in the samba dance styles and the amazing creativity in the parade floats and costumes was just mind-blowing! So much fire and color and such a warm, sincere, welcoming vibe from the people there. Unforgettable. 

What places did you connect with most musically and why?

I was most impressed by the music and musicians coming out of Australia. There is a rich mix of American Soul, Aboriginal/Tribal and Jazz there that is so dope! Artists like Hiatus Kaiyote, Jordan Rakei and Karen Lee Andrews have embraced the classic soul sounds and added such unique. Aussie twists on them. Some really great music there that I can listen to over and over again. Several up-and-coming bands are there and there’s a great local scene. Was so happy to get a chance to perform and record there. Seriously considering moving to Melbourne! 

You traveled pretty much all over the world and to me, RnB has changed quite a bit over the years in the US —what are RnB artists creating in other areas of the world? Is there any country in particular that is really is producing some great RnB sounds?

Yes! RnB is not the same in America these days. I do hear some really cool hints of RnB in the US like Elle Mai, Jade Novah, Amber Mark and Swedish artist Snoh Aalegra who’s based here in LA now. In addition to the soulful stuff happening in Australia, London also has a rich RnB scene going. Some really great talent in that city and some great places to play. I was impressed with how much they embrace more traditional, older RnB styles there. The culture is very inclusive and has not really embraced the Auto-Tune sound on so many current US records these days. It was nice to hear naturally talented RnB vocalists that could actually sing while I was over there! A great spot to hear up-n-coming, soulful talent is Troy Bar in the Shoreditch area. 

Do you plan to go back touring any of these places?

Absolutely! We are planning a tour for later this year and hope to hit several spots again. Especially in Europe where my music is being played more and more. 

On a crazy note, how was it traveling with a mask on during this coronavirus scare?

Oh man! That was bananas! Just finding a mask was crazy. They were all sold out on Amazon. But as a singer, it is really important to project your voice, so we had to go the extra mile and at least try to be safe. After a while, my lips went numb in the mask and the powder started rubbing off. (Laughs) We had to change masks every few hours on our 16-hour flight! And they even scanned us with fever guns before they would let us on the place in Santiago, Chile! Just crazy! 

What song from this album was the most fun creating and why?

That’s a hard one. Ha ha. But I really liked working with Lebanese-French artist, Ellene Masri in Paris, France. She was such a joy to work with and so helpful to me while I was new in the city. Her whole vibe was super creative and open which is what I love when vibing in the studio. We recorded an RnB ballad called “Burn,” infused with sexy French lyrics!! People are going to trip out when they hear it. (laughs) I was going nuts in the studio hearing it for the first time. Really special, fun song to record and she is an amazing vocalist! The recording studio, by the way, was right around the corner from the Eiffel Tower so I got to see that for the very first time ever while I was there. 

What song carries the most meaning to you and why?

That would definitely be “Worldwide Symphony.” This particular song was recorded in 7 different countries including Australia, Nigeria, England and Brazil. It is the song that is closest to my heart because it deals with the most important issue I think that we are facing today which is a lack of unity and true tolerance and acceptance in the world. As an artist, I feel that my highest purpose is to uplift and unite people. This song is all about that purpose and it has been an epic undertaking with so many countries, musicians and cultures involved on it. It brought me to tears when I heard the horn parts being added in Brazil. That’s when it hit me that this project is so much bigger than me and how much love is needed in the world right now! 

I missed your recent show out here with Sy Smith. I believe you guys went to college together? Were you guys close? Any funny stories to share?

That was such a fun show! Oh my God!! Sy Smith is an absolute sweetheart and a phenomenally gifted vocalist. It was an absolute honor and pleasure to perform on the same show with her at The Miracle Theater here in Inglewood, CA. We did both go to Howard University in Washington, DC but she was a Psychology major and I was a Music major and plus we attended a few years apart. So we never actually met until the night I performed with her, all those years later. (laughs) I did know and work with several musicians in her band before and my keyboard player that night used to be her boss back in the day, so it was all one big musical family reunion that night for sure! Small world. 

Please let us know what you have coming up and where we can keep up with you.

We are working hard on finishing the Globetrotter: SIde B album. Still have a few countries left on the itinerary including Denmark, Philippines and Japan. The first single from the album will be “The Window,” which was recorded in Amsterdam, Netherlands and features Dutch Urban Pop artist Romy Dya. We filmed a music video for that recently here in LA. So excited for everyone to see it. Was a great shoot! That song should be released very soon!

Photos: Stuart Tingini

Interview by Stephanie Michelle for RnB Magazine

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