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Adelaide-based singer, songwriter Teylah James has just released her new EP, Brothers Keeper. AM’s Greg Phillips chats with Teylah about the recording’s journey.

Like many independent musicians, Adelaide-based, singer-songwriter Teylah James has put in some hard yards in trying to get her music made and then heard. Her artistic struggle has taken her from Adelaide and Melbourne to the precarious streets of Compton, LA and the seedy Hollywood Boulevard (in it’s darker days), and back again to the relative comfort of Australia. All the time Teylah was motivated by the loss of her brother, an aspiring professional athlete who had died suddenly in the late nineties at the age of 29. More recently, Teylah lost her mum too and it dawned on her more than ever that life was indeed short and it was now time to get serious about achieving her musical goals. So she did. Goal one was to complete her debut EP and tribute to her late brother Peter. A few months ago she finally got to release that recording, a fresh slice of bright, modern pop which she has titled Brothers Keeper.

But before we get into what the EP is, it’s important to discuss where it’s come from to put it into context. While growing up in the Adelaide suburb of Goodwood, Teylah developed an affinity with Afro-American music. While her school peers were into  the latest white heart-throb pop, Teylah was enjoying the groove elements of  Earth, Wind & Fire, The Pointer Sisters and Michael Jackson. It was that RnB sound which later led her to Melbourne, where she found work in the RnB nightclub scene. It was here that she not only  began making local music industry connections but also some handy internationals too, which set in motion a long-running relationship with America.

“I used to live in Melbourne singing and dancing,” she tells me. “I worked in the R&B nightclub scene. I got introduced to people and this producer rapper Hen Gee, who worked with Ice T. We connected and he invited me to LA, so I self-funded a trip there. I was getting bored in Melbourne after 8 years anyway. I had a small recording contract which fizzled out in Melbourne. So I ended up writing and recording with him and a French guy, Jeeves Ducornet in LA. We did 3 songs. I even auditioned them on an MTV music pilot. Remember Rodney King, the guy who got beaten up by cops in America, he was a judge. I was standing on stage singing these songs and I look at the judges … it was hilarious. It was an interesting time. I was living in motels on Hollywood Boulevard before the renovation of that area. It was a dirty street with souvenir shops. I was just in my room writing songs or in the studio. I ended up coming back home to Australia broke again, trying to get money together to go back.”

teylah1A couple of years ago, Teylah went back to LA where she began working six songs into shape to form her EP. Before she left, Paul Kastick, a talented drummer and producer and friend of Teylah’s, who works with Maxi Priest  had recommended an LA-based producer to her. She entered the studio for sessions with the producer believing that together,  they would generate the finished product she’d desired. However, she wasn’t completely happy with the result of the sessions and it took the blatant honesty of some Australian strangers she met at an airport to make her fully realise it. “I played it to these guys at the airport in the lounge,” she recalls. “They said it didn’t sound finished and I thought, no, you’re right, it’s not. So I brought Paul Kastick back in because he’s such a great drummer and I knew I wanted the beats to be a big part of it. Basically what I was given in LA were demos.”

Once Teylah had made the decision to dedicate the EP to her brother and use Brothers Keeper as the title track, she knew it had to be something she could be proud of, so it had to be right. “Brothers Keeper was the 3rd or 4th song I did in LA last year,” she explains. “I was very nervous going into the sessions because it meant a lot to me. Mum always said don’t ever forget your brother, so I was trying to live up to the promise. I sung the lyrics and melody and he (the producer) played piano and that was it. It was in and out, you know how it is in LA, he wanted to make quick money, all trying to make a buck. He said he’d tidy up a few things and it was left like that but I wasn’t satisfied.”

Fast forward to September this year and the completed 6 track EP that  Teylah had put her heart, soul and years of toil into became a reality. She’d produced a tribute to her brother Peter that she could be proud of and kept her promise to her mother to keep her brother’s memory alive. The resultant recording is a quality blend of  beat-driven pop with catchy hooks, melodic EDM and heartfelt ballads such as the lush title track Brothers Keeper.

But what now for Teylah? As any indie musician would know, having a recording in the bag is not  a licence to print a career. Phase two now begins with the promotion of the EP and hopefully  taking her music to the stage. “I want to get a band together to represent every instrument I have on the EP and maybe play some clubs, get onto some festivals if I can,” she says. “I am learning guitar. I have a few new songs I have been working on but right now I’m busy with this EP, trying to get it out there.”

Teylah James’ EP, ‘Brothers Keeper’ is available on iTunes, all major digital outlets and shortly will be available on her web-site

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