Singer, mother and chef Kelis brings ‘Food’ to the 9:30 Club


Kelis has her own Cooking Channel special called “Saucy and Sweet.” (Cooking Channel)

Kelis is famous for her “Milkshake,” but the 34-year-old singer has a wide range of skills in the kitchen. A Le Cordon Bleu-educated saucier, Kelis is launching a line of sauces called Feast later this year and recently starred in her own Cooking Channel special, “Saucy and Sweet.” That’s all in addition to the April release of her sixth album, “Food,” which brings her to the 9:30 Club on Sunday. Produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, the horn-laden, soul-flavored “Food” is Kelis’ catchiest album yet — a fitting soundtrack for a summer barbecue.

It’s hard to talk about “Food” without talking about food. Are there any similarities between how you approach cooking and music?
They’re both creative outlets. I don’t know that it’s the same, though. They take very different parts of the mind.

What do you mean?
With music, you have to be more prepared to self-assess and evaluate, and with food it’s more you’re just putting something out. I don’t have to think about who I am as much. Whereas music, you have to be more aware of yourself, of your past, your present, who you see yourself being in the future — and you have to be able to articulate that in melody and words. With food, you’re kind of like, I went to market today and this is what they had. Now, I can turn this into how I’m feeling right now.

So music is more personal?
No, I think you can taste my food and put it up to someone else’s and, if you know me, you’ll know that I made it. My style is very evident in my cooking. It’s just that it’s less emotional. I don’t have to dig deep into my psyche. With music, if I want to be good, I have to be really honest with myself first.

“Food” isn’t really about food, but there are songs called “Breakfast,” “Jerk Ribs” and “Friday Fish Fry.” Those were placeholder titles based on what you were cooking in the studio.
We’d be writing and then someone would get hungry and I’d be like, “Let’s start something up,” and then we’d play the song while we’re cooking, and then we’d go back to it, lay some vocals and lay some horns.

Food and music really were connected while making the record.
It wasn’t the plan. But we’re humans, we get hungry.

How much did becoming a mother influence your songwriting?
I don’t know that it so much directs change in your writing as it changes who you are. I think you truly understand unconditional love. I speak for myself, but being a mother is extraordinarily validating. I am a woman and I made a person and I did well, thank you.

And you put your son on the record.
I was pregnant when I recorded my last one, so it’s only fitting that he jump-starts the next one.

“Food” opens with him speaking, “Hey guy, are you hungry? My mom made food.” It’s a cute moment.
He thinks so, too.

So you’ve played it for him?
If someone’s listening to my album he’s like, “Play my song. Play my song, Momma.” I’m like, “But we just heard it!” “Play it again!”

You studied to be a saucier at Le Cordon Bleu. Why make sauce your speciality?
It wasn’t the plan initially, but I was there and I just focused so much on it. It’s funny because my sister and my mom are always like, “You love sauce!” I really do. Every time I go out to a restaurant, I’m like, “Do you have sauce?” I just need to dip or pour or smother something. To me, sauce is a defining factor for a meal.

9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Sun., 7 p.m., $25; 202-265-0930. (U Street)

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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