My first impression interviewing multi-talented Kellindo Parker is that he is so exotic looking he should be on the pages of a European fashion magazine or walking down the runway at Fashion Week. Throughout the interview I began to realize that Kellindo is one of those rare individuals you instantly like, he is totally down to earth and exudes energy and a vibe that makes you feel he has a “good soul”.
This amazing talent is the son of a jazz trombonist and professor at Columbia, University, Keller Parker. Kellindo started his career as an opera singer in The Children’s Choir at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center from 8-11 years old. He studied jazz guitar, classical, and jazz music history at the Manhattan School of Music. As a teenager he started performing as a guitarist with his uncles Maceo Parker (saxophonist for James Brown and Funkadelic Parliament) and Melvin Parker drummer for James Brown. He also toured with Amy Winehouse in Brazil just beforeshe died and has shared the stage with some of the greatest musicians of our generation, including Prince, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Award winner Nile Rodgers. In 2006, when he came back from touring he met Janelle Monae, and he has been performing and collaborating with her ever since. Kellindo is a versatile guitarist who has written, produced, and arranged music across a wide range of genres including: funk, rock, psychedelic and R&B.
This year (2020) he released his solo debut “Games,” disrupted by a global pandemic with a virtual release party and no option of touring. Music Player had a chance to talk to this incredible session player, guitar virtuoso and songwriter about his past, present and even brighter future.
Kellindo – Interview
Music Player Magazine (MPM) You started as an opera singer, what made you choose guitar and what was the defining moment that made you want to be a professional musician?
Kellindo Parker (KP) I have been a fan of music from a very young age, the first band I loved was the Jackson 5 and then I discovered the Beatles. I started out singing because it was easier and didn’t need any equipment. Then I saw Ace Frehley from Kiss on TV
playing the guitar I thought Oh My God! – I have to be like that guy.
MPM How important has a formal music education been to your development and career?
KP If I hadn’t gone to a conservatory to study jazz and classical music, I probably would be another good rock guitar player – the fact that I learned jazz really opened the door to be more creative in a non-predictable fashion. For example, the song “Smile” by
“Charlie Chaplin” that Janelle Monae performed live and recorded on the album is a very jazzy chord progression. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with that arrangement if I didn’t learn jazz guitar.
MPM Nature vs. Nurture – Do you attribute your talent to innate ability or do you feel you developed your talent?
KP I feel that playing instruments like the guitar or my uncles playing saxophone or drums is totally working your ass off. Guitar did not come naturally to me or feel comfortable. I am left-handed but my father made me learn to play right-handed because there were more guitars available. This wasn’t much of a first obstacle because left-handed didn’t feel any more comfortable than right at the time. Singing was a lot more natural as well as playing the piano because you know what you want to sound like. In singing, you start by trying to emulate the way a song is being sung but with guitar, you hear the notes and you have to figure out what they are doing to get that sound.
MPM You served as the music director for the first few years with Janelle Monae How are you able to serve that dual role as a guitarist and music director?
KP I was the music director when it was more a rock set up which was easy and fun. I would try to look at the show the way outsiders would see it. When the band became more of an orchestra, T Brown, an amazing keyboardist joined us as director and I was able to step back and rock out.
MPM What does a typical month look like for you when you are not touring?
KP This year every day I’m on the computer taking courses on production and really utilizing my time to become a more self-sufficient artist, also collaborating with other artists – there are some really some outstanding younger artists male and female that I’m glad I have a chance to be able to work with. Being forced to stay inside during the pandemic; I am trying to focus on being a better artist, musician, writer and producer – It is a nice break after 15 years of touring but it’s also depressing.
MPM What is your go-to-gear and tell us about your signature guitar?
KP My Amp is Orange AD 30 two-channel hand-wired, often l like to play on the dirty channel with just a little bit of dirt so I can roll back on the volume. I’ve used my Cry Baby Wah pedal most of my career and distortion pedals, modulation pedal and an analog delay. My Signature Guitar is from RS Customs out of Nashville Tennessee. It’s designed to my specs and is an over-wound pickup version of the Brian May guitar with the neck shaped like a 1959 Les Paul. It’s a killer guitar, black with my logo and my face
on the back and my name on the front – I couldn’t handle my face on the front. I play a lot of different guitars Fenders, Stratocasters Telecaster all modified to my specs by my awesome guitar tech, Neil at Atlanta custom repairs. I love the freedom of playing all different guitars to get the different sounds you need and to diversify yourself. It’s better than being locked into one brand because really, you are the brand.
MPM What are your guitar training routines and tips you have for a guitarist to improve their chops?
KP Practice more consistently every day – scales and exercises are important. Practice with a metronome, it helps strengthens your muscles, dexterity and it also helps you to play in time. That way when you jam, you don’t run out of space and time. You won’t end up in a rush and out of whack if you practice with a metronome.
MPM What are your pre-performance warm-ups or training routines?
KP I usually play Chromatic scale, which means picking every note on my guitar to get my picking hand and my fingers warmed up. Then I do some bending exercises that I learned from Joe Bonamassa’s video where he’s bending some of the darker heavier notes to strengthen his fingers. Any kind of playing you can do before you go on the stage helps, the last thing you want to do is get up there when you’re not warmed up – it takes me at least 10 min of playing to warm up – you want to be as ready as possible for those first 10 minutes on stage. For vocals a quick breathing exercise and a short vocal warm-up –but it usually takes at least one verse and one chorus to get warmed up and when it’s one of my solo shows I have to extend my warm-up.
MPM You release singles and albums, which is the best option?
KP I prefer albums. With album your whole story is right there and people can pick and choose their favorite. I grew up with albums so a single can be released first but knowing that there’s a full album to follow – well that’s everything to me.
MPM You have a publishing deal as a songwriter, are you still independent as an artist or are you signed to a label?
KP My Publisher is Sony ATV and it’s great because it gives me the flexibility to sign a record deal with a label as well. I have a record deal with Quick fix for one song and exclusive distribution. They are in charge of release and the promotion and they have
been doing a great job getting me interviews and promoting me. I’m really blessed and thankful and I’m hoping the song can get on play-lists.
MPM As the pandemic interrupted your plans for both Janelle Monae’s European Tour and your solo “Games” tour – do you spend more time writing. I see you are working on a rock opera “Shattered Rhapsody”
KP It’s almost done – as a Virgo I’m a perfectionist so I’m making sure everything is good to go and I plan on releasing it through a record company. I have guest musician on the album, it’s mostly solos with a lot of harmonies as would be expected with an opera – but it’s not a typical opera. With my operatic upbringing you will hear a little bit of dramatic operatic background vocals and maybe even some lead vocals I’m pretty excited.
MPM Today artists cross over genres – You are multi-talented with a wide range of music Rhythm & Blues, Rap, Rock, Psychedelic and Opera. Do you see yourself narrowing or broadening your repertoire?
KP I would say that all depends on where the money is, whatever pays the bills. This pandemic taught me a whole new lesson about saving money, I love everything that is on the album, all the genres. There is a balance there are some ballads and there is
some rock. If I could do any genre I would do kind of what Led Zeppelin did – jazzing up rock, bluesing up rock, or rocking up blues.
MPM What advice do you have for young aspiring performers, songwriters and guitarists?
KP Besides getting your chops up through practice, go to concerts. I know we can’t physically right now, but go to concerts mentally. Get on the internet and research, just type in the names of legendary performers and study their energy, their song lists, and their approach to performing. I learned a lot because I have spent my whole life going to concerts. When I was eight, I saw KISS live at Madison Square Garden’s, Parliament-Funkadelic, Simon & Garfunkel and James Brown several times because my
uncle played in his band. I’ve seen so many different shows and it teaches you how to put on a show. Listening to music is very important to improve your techniques.
Guitar solos, rhythm guitar and songwriting have changed over the years. It’s not the same and the song formula is different with not the same and shorter, it’s 2:30 instead of 3:30. It’s challenging to fit guitar solos in shorter songs, so you have to force the issue and get short solos in. Jimi Hendrix had very short solos on his pop songs in the studio. “Fire” is a good example, it is a riff that comes at the end of the chorus so there are creative ways of incorporating your guitar playing without playing a minute solo. If that doesn’t work then stretch the song out so you can get the guitar work in. The most important thing I tell young artists is to be themselves and stay within the confines of a reasonable song length, three minutes is not going to kill you.
MPM You had the opportunity to play with Prince did you get a chance to collaborate on songs with him?
KP I was lucky to work with Janelle and Prince and be a part of the collaboration for the opening song “Give Them What They Love” on Janelle Monae’s Electric Lady album. Prince wrote his part of the lyrics and melody. After hearing my guitar solo from
the demo I was honored that he decided to use mine and felt no need to record his own. I was very proud to be a part of that and Prince was genuine and great to work and jam with.
MPM Who are your guitar heroes and who would be in your dream band –dead or alive?
KP I would want to play with Hendrix, Alex Lifeson, Brian May, Ace Frehley and Prince, on vocals I’d pick Freddie Mercury, James Brown, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and David Bowie. As far as which one I’d pick for a band I would want them all up there at
once that would be crazy!
MPM What’s next for Kellindo
KP First I want to get the album out. Other than that I would love to just spread love and peace to everybody. The world needs it right now and I feel we have been exhausted by all the opposites of love and peace. It’s time to just be the way we were back in the ’60s. I’m praying for everyone; a lot of the older artists thrive on touring to keep them young and healthy. I’m concerned about them having to stay home during COVID, but hopefully they are working out and staying healthy. What’s next for me personally -acting cause – you gotta-do-it-all! Be sure to follow Kellindo on Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube to see his live performances and what he’s up to. Check out Games with its searing guitar riffs, Funkadelic influences and falsetto vocals – also watch for him on the big screen. My prediction; he will star as Prince in his first movie, rocketing his music and acting career just like Bohemian Rhapsody did forAdam Lambert and Rami Malek. Kellindo has such a varied, star-studded longevity to his music career already and he is just getting started. The best is yet to come as he enjoys La Dolce Vita – the sweet life!