Alicia Keys is one remarkable lady. She’s been on the music scene for about a decade now, has won more Grammy’s than she has fingers and has recently become a mom at the age of 31. It’s safe to say I have a major girl crush on her.
Lately, Alicia’s been working on her next album, “Girl on Fire” due out on November 27th. The debut single, “Girl on Fire” was first performed at the MTV Video Music Awards last month and the music video just came out last week. It’s beautiful and incredibly powerful – makes me proud to be a woman. Check it out.
That’s not all, though. Alicia has just broken into the tech scene (!) with a new animated interactive storytelling app called “The Journals of Mama Mae and LeeLee” available for the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone starting today for $3.99. Underscored by Alicia Keys’ original music and inspired by Keys’ own relationship with her Nana, the app tells the story of a relationship between a young girl (LeeLee) in New York City and her wise and mystical grandmother (Mama Mae).
I was lucky enough to sit down with Alicia Keys for a 1-on-1 conversation to chat about her life, her music and the app. A full transcript is below. Enjoy!
Thanks for taking the time to chat! First off, I know you have a new album “Girl on Fire” coming out. What can you tell me about it?
It’s everything. I can’t wait for you to hear it. It’s incredible. The music is very powerful, it varies from being very triumphant to being very vulnerable and intimate. I could tell you everything about it, it’s my favorite record and I can’t wait for you to hear it.
What is your favorite track?
It’s not easy to pick one. It’s a whole concept, a feeling, an emotion. The whole album is about the journey to becoming a girl on fire. There’s a song called ‘Listen to Your Heart’ which is definitely a favorite. Another one called ‘Brand New Me’ really signifies the way that you’re able to grow and find your own place with nothing holding you back. The album is really just a journey of all the exciting things going on with me.
What was the inspiration behind Girl on Fire?
Life and the experiences that I have had, like becoming a wife and a mother, and really taking control of my life. I really want to create a life that fills me up and makes me happy. And I’ve had to make some necessary changes like taking a more powerful seat in my business…. you know, it’s really just about growing and stepping into my own. All of those things are what has inspired the sound of the album.
I have to ask…does ‘Girl on Fire’ have anything to do with the Hunger Games? ;)
That was just by chance! She was called ‘Girl on Fire’ and I really am a girl on fire.
How has marriage and motherhood changed your career?
It’s made my life a lot more concise – it’s made my choices better and stronger. It’s really given me a lot more clarity about what is important for me and what maybe needs to take the backseat. It’s definitely made me a better decision maker, and it’s also made me more focused and clear about what I need to accomplish. It’s also made me more relaxed and has brought me so much happiness that it’s calmed me down so I don’t necessarily feel like I need to be running to every single thing at every single moment. Like, it’s okay to just be home and enjoy my son. I think it’s given me a greater appreciation for life.
Do you write your own songs and if so, where does the inspiration come from?
My songs reflect my own state of mind and the point I am at in my life. They’re about the things that have happened to me or close friends and so I’m definitely reflecting on what’s around me.
Who was your inspiration growing up?
I’d surely have to say that my mother inspired me a lot because she was the sole person that raised me. There’s a certain piece of her that I definitely am inspired by. I think that, artist-wise, I was really inspired by Mary J Blige and Lauren Hill – I felt like they were really great examples of a girl like myself in terms of how they wanted to do music and loved music. I was also inspired by many, many artists like Stevie Wonder. These types of artists made me want to become a more interesting and diverse musician.
I hear you’re launching an app! It’s great to see entertainers embracing the world of tech. What can you tell me about it? How did it happen?
I wanted to get into the children’s space after my son was born. After seeing what types of things were in his life like TV shows I realized how musical everything is and how music really affects a child’s life (and all of our lives). So a good friend, colleague, and partner of mine named DJ Walton and his wife were organically creating stories for their kids. He knew that I wanted to get into the children’s space and told me how he would write these things because their kids loved them. They were all multi-cultural and were about traveling to different worlds and different places. That’s what I wanted to be a part of — introducing people to new sounds, cultures, places and people. So that’s when we began to brainstorm about how to bring it to life. The glue that tied it together was this little girl named LeeLee (who is loosely based on my life) and her grandmother, Mama Mae (who is loosely based on my Grandmother’s life). Through Mama Mae’s journal, she took LeeLee to different cultures and places around the world and LeeLee got to see other kids and their own journeys and how they were learning from them. It helped her realize how to get through whatever difficult times she was going through. It’s a beautiful story that really has great storytelling elements and incredible visuals becase it’s a digital book and interactive app. I would almost call it an “interactive movie” because when you get transferred into these books it’s almost like you’re inside of a movie, going through this new place and hearing instruments and seeing new sights.
How did you develop the app?
We partnered with these great guys at Bento Box Interactive who had so much experience in this space and they loved what we were trying to do. All of us together allowed it to be its own universe without limits. It’s really exciting to launch it and have this place where you can do so many things in one app.
How has technology changed the career of a music artist?
I think technology has really changed the career of a music artist. It’s become a lot more instant and everything is very “available.” But I also think there’s a really interesting part that allows you to stay very connected with people who love your music and love who you are in a personal way. That’s a really cool thing to have that kind of access and connection. I think it’s given artists more of a say-so on who they are and how they want to interact with people that love them.
To me, apps like this are a remarkable new way to tell an interactive story and I can’t wait to see more from Keys and other musicians. These will become even more powerful once the connected TV space grows and they are all available as interactive movies for you and your kids to watch and interact with on the biggest screen in your house. My bet is that other musicians and entertainers start releasing similar products very soon.
A warm thank you to Alicia Keys for the conversation and I hope you all will check out “The Journals of Mama Mae and LeeLee.” Please let us know what you think!