Stevenage’s new pop prince Kelvin Jones talks about stratospheric videos, sleeping with his guitar and the new chorus/chorus/chorus pop formula.
There are many different ways that an artist can find their big break and secure the backing of powerful opinion shapers. One way is to write a killer tune, get the video on Good Morning America and convince your mum to let you quit your civil engineering degree. It’s a stretch to say this route is standard, but it’s worked well so far for rising star Kelvin Jones.
“I’d done two or three songs before that, but I thought this one might be special,” says Kelvin of his breakthrough hit ‘Call You Home’. “It got maybe a thousand views after a month. The rest of my videos had a few hundred, so I was really quite happy.”
The rest is history: the subsequent Twitter explosion, the front page of Reddit, the segment on Good Morning America. “I got a tweet from a lady saying ‘Hey, can we use your song on Good Morning America?’ and because of how crazy everything else had been, I was like ‘this isn’t for real; this is bullshit.’ I didn’t believe it at all. So I just said ‘Cool, thanks. Go for it.’
“Sure enough, next morning she sends me a message with a link: ‘Here’s the segment. We used it on Good Morning America. Have a nice day.’ “Even after Good Morning it still took some arguing, but that was the moment where I saw the look in my mum’s eyes change. TV was a media form she understood.”
Stop The Moment
Free to pursue pop, Kelvin recorded the upbeat and soulful Stop The Moment last year after signing with Sony. “I remember when we went to meet labels, and management were marketing me as a male Tracy Chapman.”
While acknowledging a similarity in vocal style, Jones wears his true influences on his sleeve. at least, he wears one on his forearm in the shape of a ‘BB’ inscribed in a circle (cleverly reminiscent of the way Egyptian kings’ names were always written within rounded cartouches). this pop man is a blues boy.
“The way I discovered blues was through John Mayer. I thought ‘I like this guy - kind of pop’ and then I saw Where The Light Is which is my favourite album. I traced that back to his heroes: who did he listen to? That was Stevie Ray Vaughn, BB King, Albert King… it goes on and on and all the way back to Robert Johnson.”
Sure enough, the shuffly, dusty feel of Call You Home is reminiscent of some of the old delta tunes. However, Kelvin’s music, by his own admission, is pop through and through. since everybody knows what the blues formula is, we ask him about ‘the pop formula’.
“I’ve been doing a lot of writing in the last two months ,which has made me sick of pop,” Jones says. “I love pop. I can be sick of pop and love pop. I can’t do anything else. That’s all I write. It’s the same with blues. For a while I was sick because I couldn’t listen to I-IV-V again. There is something about the blues formula. The idea is ‘what else can you do that’s new over this?’ These are the chords, what can you do over this that’s gonna make me think of something else?
“Interestingly enough, pop is exactly the same,” he adds. “Pop gives us a big chorus that’s going to catch my heart before I even realise it. It’s very simple, but it’s about what else you can do over the same old formula.
“Typically in pop you go verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, quiet chorus, big chorus. But it’s playing around with that that excites me. Dylan would do just verses - all verse and no chorus - and it’s still pop.”
Satisfied with this answer, we listen to Jones go on to capture the essence of what seems like an arms race in pop at the moment while musing over the audacious two chorus structure of Zara Larsson’s Lush Life:
“When amazing writers come together, they go ‘Instead of giving me a verse section, pre chorus and a chorus, just give me a chorus, a chorus and a chorus and let’s make that work.’ It’s so catchy, you’re already there.
“You hear it and you think ‘That’s such a catchy start to a song’. It’s because it’s a chorus. Then the pre-chorus: that’s a chorus as well. The middle eight? That’s a chorus too. That’s what pop music has become now. Every section has to be some kind of a chorus. It’s insane!”
Creating catchy tunes is only part of Jones’ idiom; his other main interest is videography. His accompanying videos are of the catchy, high-concept variety: the first for Call You Home and the newest for the single Closer both illustrate brilliant concepts that everyone else wishes they’d thought of - the latter video being Kelvin’s own idea.
For Call You Home, Kelvin worked with director Joe Connor. “He said ‘I want to put a box in space.’ He wanted six iPads as a box to send into space and I was like ‘He’s insane. Let’s do that!’ Then we worked with the idea and thought a TV would be more relatable, because people know what that is.
“Then we actually sent it into space, which is the most ridiculous thing. We talked to some very smart people who figured out the exact physics behind it. Sure enough, we shot it into space.”
Destined to play
For the current single Closer, Connor directs Kelvin’s idea of a date spanning the ages, from hipster Edwardian times through Hitchcock film noir, swinging 60s, kaleidoscopic 70s to the MTV years, taking in the Calvin Klein aesthetic, and then all the way up to the Ikea age of today.
In the age of quantum computers, squelchy bass synths and TVs in space, what is the appeal of the acoustic guitar?
“It’s so strange. It should be dead by now. It so should be dead by now. I’ve tried to understand it. In a mix you can’t really hear it but you can feel it. I think it’s the simplicity. You know exactly what it is and it’s not challenging. You listen to it and you just feel at home.”
Jones has only been playing guitar for five years, but clearly his obsession with making music started at an early age.
“I knew I was a guitarist before I learned one plus one. I remember being in Zimbabwe and making a guitar out of some rubber bands and stuff. You’ve got your bands, you’ve got your bottle thing. You’re a little kid and you’re messing around, you can whack it and make a sound. it’s so primitive!”
He would later play his first ‘proper’ guitar, albeit a “really crappy old Hudson” that his brother bought then gave up on.
“I encourage anyone who’s learning guitar to learn on a crappy acoustic guitar. When you have to figure out how to get the guitar into tune every ten seconds, you get pretty good at it.
“When you’re trying to play on a guitar that’s way too big and you’re trying to play an F chord that doesn’t want to be an F chord, your fingers get pretty strong pretty quickly.
“Every time I got home I was straight on to the guitar until I was falling asleep while playing, sometimes sleeping with it.”
Two upgrades followed: first, a Martin 000X1AE allowing him to make his mark in his popular solo performance videos, and then the other once he was signed, a Martin OM28: “a beautiful sounding guitar. Beautiful guitar. that’s what i’m currently on.”
Kelvin will be touring his first string of headline shows in October, featuring songs from his album Stop The Moment. What kind of moments would he pause if he had a button?
“I look back and really wish I’d just appreciated just sitting and talking to my buddies about nothing - not just the ‘I’m in front of 25,000 people’ moments. Playing Xbox for hours and just losing yourself in nothingness.
“When you look back, everyone’s got the collage of ‘my greatest hits’, but what life is made up of is the other 90 per cent. That’s the stuff that I really want to just learn to appreciate more, because then you don’t let life pass you by.”