Keri Hilson has been the writing force behind some of the biggest artists in the industry, working with Mary J Blige, the Pussycat Dolls and Usher. We caught up with her after supporting Ne-Yo at the O2 to find out what it’s like to be writing the hits for herself…
Great to meet you Keri! You put on a great show tonight, how did you find it?
It was cool, the energy wasn’t as good as the first two cities, I’ll be honest. We had some issues with the sound, neither Ne-Yo nor me got to sound check and when you’re performing in front of people you want to make sure that everything is on point. I think maybe that had some effect on what the crowd was hearing and all those vibes went into the show. We’re back on the 14th July though so we’ll give London a second chance!
The album In A Perfect World is your first breakout as a solo artist, but you’ve been on the scene for a while. Tell us about what you‘ve done in the past to get you to this point.
I guess I should start from when I was 14. From 14 to 18 I was the lead in two different girl groups and we were signed to Electro Records. I had been writing since I was 12 but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I got my first placement. It was the only English song on a Japanese R’n’B album!
Japanese R’n’B – what’s that like?
It’s a lot like regular R’n’B just not English! It’s really nice, really dope. It was the only English song and it was the first time I saw my name in credits. After that it was Ciara, Mary J, Chris Brown, Usher, Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears Timbaland and Diddy. That’s the meat of my career – living and working as a songwriter.
Your single Energy is re-released in September, why did you decide to release that particular song?
It’s not really a re-release as it was never an official single over here; there was just a lot of hype about it. It was a single in the States and the video was really popular so we figured it would do better in the Pop 40 format in Europe than a straight up urban release as it was in the States.
What was it like working with Timbaland, Kanye West and Ne-Yo?
Timbaland has become like a brother to me, I’ve been working with him for five years, and he’s like the brother I never had. Kanye is really sweet; he’s probably one of the most misunderstood stars that I’ve gotten to know. He’s not arrogant, he is just very confident. To me it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t afraid to speak his or her mind. It’s almost like we have to wait for the world to justify how we feel about our own music, but shouldn’t it be like, hey, if I love one of my songs can’t I just scream it at the top of my lungs while I have a platform and people are listening? He’s like ‘this is how I feel about my music’ and I think it’s refreshing. It’s like we have to be closed-lipped and wait for people to justify our music.
If he doesn’t love his own music then how can he expect other people to?
Exactly, exactly – why can’t he just say that?
Are there any British artists you’d like to work with?
Estelle, Amy Winehouse – if she starts working again, I’d love to do something with her and I really like Lily Allen actually too.
Where do you get your inspiration for your writing?
It comes from anywhere, usually a conversation with my girls about our relationships and situations over a glass (or a bottle!). Or it could be a movie, I watch a lot of movies and sometimes I see things that inspire me to write. Colours, paintings and architecture inspire me too.
How do you decide what songs you get to keep and what you give to others?
I usually just know, I mean it’s a business, sometimes I get attached but it is my livelihood to sell songs to other people. I did a safe sex song for Danity Kane called ‘Right Now’ and I feel very strongly about that subject so I gave it to them knowing that there would be young people listening to that music. They didn’t make it a single but I would have, but as long as they evoke the same emotion with the song that I feel should be there then it’s all good.
You’re on tour with Ne-Yo at the moment, any tour hi-jinks, practical jokes or gossip to tell us?
It’s just the first three days so far and we’ve had some kinks to smooth out and everything been a little haywire so the jokes haven’t started yet. We do have a little ritual before the show where Ne-Yo and his dancers and me and my dancers all do crunches and push-ups together. No antics yet though.
What’s it like being on tour, do you miss home?
Oh yeah, I do, I go home every two months maybe. I really miss it when I know I’m paying bills for things I’m not using! I really miss driving; I’m always being driven around so I really miss that. I’ve been on tour for about a year so I when I get home I can’t wait to just get in my car and go anywhere. I’m like – freedom! I really miss my family a lot. I just did the Essence Festival in States and my family had to drive all the way to New Orleans just to see me because I’m so busy I only get to see them at shows – I can never go home. It’s kind of sad but they’re happy for me so it’s cool.
What’s on your iPod right now?
I was just listening to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, that is my favourite dressing room album, Q-Tip – The Renaissance, Ryan Leslie, Jasmine Sullivan and lately a lot of Michael Jackson.
Is it true you love Shepherd’s Pie?
Yes I do! I think it was the Ivy I went to and had some it – was really good. I want to try the one with the cheese on top.
That’s Cottage Pie, go to Marks and Spencer for that…
Marks and Spencer? I’m there!
Tell us something about you we never knew….
I have a thing about my feet being dirty, I cannot stand walking on any surface including the beach, I do it but I hate it. I wash my feet like three or four times a day to keep them clean!
Keri Hilson’s next single Energy is out in September.
Words by Afua Acheampong