Q&A with Soul/R&B singer Kelly Z - weaves a variety of styles and speaks to the audience about her feelings

"Sad but true. I think the blues genre is a world of opportunity for women. Even older artists. It’s about Soul, you know. Just wear your heart on your sleeve and don’t worry so much about the wrinkles."

Kelly Z: The Soundtrack of Rescue

Growing up listening to her mother sing was the inspiration Kelly Zirbes found to become a songwriter. Her first memory of music was her mother's voice as she sang along with records late at night. A single mother of five living with hardship and pain, music was her mother's salvation. In her teens Kelly dealt with what she felt and saw in others by writing songs about it. She wrote songs of disappointment, pain, loss, loneliness and so much more but always of survival which was something her mom taught her to do no matter what. In 1995, performing her original songs on stage with a band sparked a passion and soon thereafter created a strong songwriting team of Kelly Z and her guitar player, Perry Robertson. Writing alone or with Perry, Kelly uses music to help ease the sorrows of the life she sees around her, to stay strong and to find a way to understand a life that sometimes makes no sense.

Kelly’s songs always make her listeners smile as they find a way to understand their own struggles through her lyrics and music. Kelly Z released her first solo project, 'Rescue' on October 6, 2017. Stepping away from songwriting and covering a collection of 60's Soul, Rhythm and Blues. Kelly Z’s “Rescue,” is a collection of 60’s Funk, Rock and R&B produced, mixed and recorded by the acclaimed Chuck Kavooras. The whole album was recorded on analog at Slide Away Studios, recreating that big vintage sound, and featuring a full horn section, special guests – Teresa James, Shari Puorto & Lisa Orloff Staley – and the core studio band of Rick Reed, Bryan Head, John Marx, and Mo Beeks.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What characterize your music philosophy, sound and songbook? What does the blues mean to you?

Music and blues for me is a release of your inner demons and pain. I really don’t care about the genre as much as the feeling. But the blues is the music I heard late at night growing up. My mother would sing along with records and cry herself to sleep many a night. She was a single mother of 5.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I am proud to be a part of that counterculture these days. It’s a happier and more of a family type feeling compared to the solitude I felt in the folk rock and singer songwriter world. I think it’s because of the jamming. The ability to just sit in with another blues artist. I need the solitude to keep writing songs but I have really needed to learn to play and sing with others which I am trying to do everyday. There are so many personality types in that counterculture as well and I really enjoy that journey.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Perry Robertson, Alex Rylance, Ernie Payne and Teresa James. Perry and Alex pushed me hard and sacrificed their time and energy to keep me going. Ernie and Teresa inspired me with their voices and their music. They gave me their love and respect and told me to be myself. Be yourself in the music. All of this gave me strength to battle the constant doubts that plague an artist. All of this gave me the platform to sing my songs.

"Music and blues for me is a release of your inner demons and pain. I really don’t care about the genre as much as the feeling. But the blues is the music I heard late at night growing up. My mother would sing along with records and cry herself to sleep many a night. She was a single mother of 5."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

At gigs stick out me at this moment. My first time playing a gig with a band was at The Roxy. I thought I was going to die but I didn’t. I really had no idea what I was doing but I knew I could do it from that moment on. And just recently I played for over 18,000 people at a fireworks festival in French. It was their final festival and the first time they had a band before the fireworks. It was an honor and a privilege to celebrate 15 years of hard work and community with folks from another country. So, through all this, I learned to just say yes and dive in. If you feel the music you will survive.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss my mother’s voice more than anything. I hope and dream of the younger generation being able to understand the blues. That’s it not just old folks music. To be able to be silent and listen. For me I want to keep learning and keep being inspired by old traditional blues. It’s so simple sometimes that if you are not careful you could get bored and stop listening. But Blues is only as boring as your own imagination.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That it’s really okay to play music as a hobby. That it doesn’t have to be a career. That a young girl can sing like Etta and not have the pressure that she has to make a living doing it. That we can enjoy and create music just for the feeling it brings to our heart and souls.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from 60s Funk and Rock to R&B, Soul and beyond?

I think it was and is a passion thing. Traditional blues really was more laid back in a way even though it came from a very deep place. As they sang the blues more I think musicians and singers needed to let loose and feel everything they had. Some felt funky, some wanted more rhythm and some wanted to rock the blues so hard until it hurt.   And it is blues if you feel it, if it hurts.

"Like all music it’s what you say and how you say it. You can really touch folks with the blues and you can also bring folks together with all the danceable rhythms of contemporary blues. We all know that the old stuff is being mixed in with a lot of the newer stuff to create the different types of blues. So really, it’s a melting pot just like people. Bringing music lovers together. And bringing people together is the key to understanding."

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

It’s hard to answer that because I don’t see myself as a woman in this. I’m a soul just like the boys are. But I believe there is always a need for a woman’s voice. Sometimes it takes a night or a day at a festival of only male voices to realize that. Absence always makes the heart grow fonder. Sad but true. I think the blues genre is a world of opportunity for women. Even older artists. It’s about Soul, you know. Just wear your heart on your sleeve and don’t worry so much about the wrinkles.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Like all music it’s what you say and how you say it. You can really touch folks with the blues and you can also bring folks together with all the danceable rhythms of contemporary blues. We all know that the old stuff is being mixed in with a lot of the newer stuff to create the different types of blues. So really, it’s a melting pot just like people. Bringing music lovers together. And bringing people together is the key to understanding.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Back to the 50’s to see Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline sing! If I can do that maybe I can also see them sing together?

Kelly Z & The Lot - Home

Photo by Jay Billings Photography

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