Katrina provides baptism by fire for budding N.O. artist
15th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
While Hurricane Katrina is most often associated with chaos and devastation, for at least one young evacuee from the city it planted the seeds for a promising career in music and an opportunity to discover and hone his considerable talents.
Singer/songwriter Stylez grew up in eastern New Orleans and attended St. Augustine High School before Hurricane Katrina forced him and his family to head west to Austin, Texas.
Although he had no formal training in music, Stylez says he was raised in the church and was influenced by the music he heard there. “Being in church, I always heard different things,” he recalled. “When you look at it, church music is pretty much the hardest to play, Even now, I’m always trying to figure out different things that different church musicians do.”
Stylez says the institution he attended in Austin for the last three years of high school was vastly different from his St. Aug experience. “It was interesting,” Stylez recalled. “Being the only African-American in pretty much all of my classes was a big switch after going to an African-American school. But I think it benefited me in the long run because I was able to see what it was like being around different cultures and ethnicities. The schools were like colleges out there, so I think I learned a lot. It was a really cool experience.”
Stylez, who began singing in church in New Orleans at the age of seven, joined the high school choir in Austin and took advantage of the city’s offerings as “the live music capital of the world.
“I got to experience this thing called the Austin Urban Music Festival every year as a member of a paid band,” he said. “I joined the band with the intention of performing and we got to open up for Jeffrey Osborne, Trey Songz, Boyz II Men and all these different people.
Stylez described the experience of playing before hugh crowds at the Urban Music Festival while still in high school as “nerve-wracking.
“I didn’t have too much experience playing so being part of the band was the ultimate experience,” he explained. “I learned a whole lot, but I’m not skilled in playing the piano so it was definitely a little bit nerve-wracking.
“I got a lot of contacts from it and learned a lot about playing live.”
Stylez didn’t get to perform live at Austin’s legendary SXSW music festival but hopes to do so at some point. He and his bandmates have kept in touch and are shooting for a spot at next year’s SXSW festival.
“When I first got out here, I didn’t even know how to play a keyboard,” Stylez continued. “My mom went out and bought me a keyboard. I had it in my room for about a year and never touched it. Then ‘The Jamie Foxx Show’ came on one day and he was actually playing a song by the Temptations. I really wanted to learn how to play it because I saw how well he did it. I wiped all of the cobwebs off the keyboard and started teaching myself how to play it.”
Stylez says he also had a chance to hone his musical skills by performing music in church in Austin and viewing YouTube videos of Jamie Foxx performing. It was the impact Stylez had at church that convinced someone who heard him to invite him to join a band.
“I joined the band,” he said. “That kind of forced me to learn more about music, being part of a band. That’s how I got my start.
“Ninety percent of it was learning to play by ear,” Stylez explained. “The guy who heard me playing and asked me to join the band was kind of like my mentor. I did get some piano books and learned some basic chords and stuff like that, but most of it was just me looking up Jamie Foxx videos on YouTube and different people playing.”
In addition to Jamie Foxx, Kevin Stylez is inspired by the music of artists like Tank and the late, great Donny Hathaway. “I’ve always tried to pattern myself after Donny Hathaway,” he told The Louisiana Weekly.
Stylez says that when he returned to New Orleans, he meshed the things he learned in Austin with his experience singing in church in his hometown.
Last year, Stylez recorded and put together a video for “Listen,” a song he wrote and recorded that was inspired by the tragic killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. He performed the song at 2 Cent Entertainment’s 2012 Listen Festival.
“Listen” makes it clear that Kevin Stylez has considerable vocal talent and will be a musical force to be reckoned with for years to come. Some have called the song a wake-up call for young people to become more involved in efforts to curb gun violence and have compared the impassioned single to Marvin Gaye’s seminal hit “What’s Going On?”
“The Trayvon Martin case was definitely part of my motivation for doing the song,” Stylez told The Louisiana Weekly. “That, and the issue of gun violence in New Orleans and across America. It just turned out to be the right song at the right time.”
Stylez recently put the finishing touches on his first EP, titled Divided We Fall, which he will release sometime this spring. “The whole EP revolves around the concept of unity,” Stylez explained. “Unity is power. When we come together, we’re hard to break.”
The EP’s themes and title have special meaning for New Orleans, he said.. “With New Orleans being one of the cities with the highest crime rate, I felt like this was a message that New Orleans needs to hear. I hope it resonates with listeners here.”
The singer/songwriter’s first official single, “Poppin’” which was produced by Mike Bass, is scheduled to be released in late May. Mike Bass, the bass player for New Orleans brass band wunderkid Trombone Shorty, handled the lion’s share of production on Divided We Fall.
On Thursday night, Kevin Stylez performed at The Roux Public House in uptown New Orleans. In the coming weeks and months, New Orleans music fans will be able to hear Kevin Stylez’s music at various houses of worship and at some of the city’s music venues.
To check out Kevin Stylez’s “Listen” video, visit YouTube at www.youtube.com. Additional info about his performances can also be found at www.twitter.com/kevinstylez and on Facebook as the artist continues to put the finishing touches on a website he expects to unveil later this spring.
In the meantime, he’s holding down a full-time job while pursuing his music in the evening and on weekends. That leaves little room for rest or a personal life. “I go straight from the 9-to-5 to the studio,” he says matter of factly. “It’s pretty intense. It makes you appreciate things a lot more.”
This article originally published in the April 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.