Welcome Mr Bobien. The beginning…where did you really get started? Was it in R&B?
Kenny Bobien: Yeah, I had an R&B; career. I did. That's just not where I am right now. I'm somewhere else.
Where's that somewhere else?
KB: I'm somewhere else, I can't even tell you. You know, God has just taken me on another plane. I've been through so many phases of this business. I've seen the dance music scene change, a million times. Only to go back to where it originated from and then I say to myself, 'What are you doing?' It really drives me crazy because you know, I tried to change. I've tried to do the R&B; thing. I've tried to do the hip-hop thing and it just wasn't…it was just a bunch of politics. But when you do what you love, you know what I'm saying? You may not get where a Biggie Smalls or a Will Smith gets all at once; it may take you some time to get to a certain status, but if something spiritual happens to you, then you wait. It's something in waiting and I hate to really get Biblical on people, but you understand what I'm saying? I understand what the scripture says; "They that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength…" There is something in waiting because in waiting, you learn.
I've been a background singer forever, so I watched a lot of people out front. I saw a lot of people fall on their face, saw people lose their careers because of their attitude and because of their big head; and they forget where they come from and they forget where it comes from, you know? So I said, 'I know what to do and what not to do,' and so being in the background was, like, really valuable for me.
How do you get out of the background? Is it basically who you know?
KB: You know how it works? Basically, you're only as good as your last gig. My friend Eddie Stockley and I (he's another artist in dance music), started out [together] and we helped Craig Kallman build BIG BEAT RECORDS. Eddie and I would stay up all night - we had made the decision that we were going to become successful in what we were doing. We said that well, nobody wants to give us a deal right now as solo artists, so we said we're going to become the
two best background singers in this business. Right now it's Audrey Wheeler, Cindy Mizelle and Lisa Fischer, but baby wait… Kenny Bobien and Eddie Stockley is gonna do it! And we did a song with Marshall Jefferson for BIG BEAT RECORDS called, "Open Our Eyes" and nobody knew it was us doing those backgrounds.
And from that, people started calling us and calling us. We did that session all night and got $75 a piece. All night we were in the studio but when we got our $75, we were happy with it. We're not getting the Cindy Mizelle money, but we're on our way and we were happy with that. We were proud of it and when we got a call to the do the Ten City project, they were like, "Well we can only pay you such-such-thousand dollars," we were like, 'That's all?' We were all calm about it, but when we got by ourselves, we were like, 'We never got that kind of money to do anything.'
So it was what they heard. They said, "These guys sound like women." You know, that's what they used to say about us. "These guys be chirping! Who [are] those girls singing with y'all?" We would be like, 'that's me and Eddie doing all the background' and they would be like, "Y'all gotta be kidding!" We've made most of our money doing background. Then everyone started using us - Celine Dion, Teddy Pendergrass, Taylor Dane…
Okay stop! Let's get rolling and start this interview…
When did you get started Kenny?
KB: Well, I started when I was about 18 years old, doing background with a friend of mine, Eddie Stockley - we worked together diligently. We started out with a label called BIG BEAT RECORDS that was founded by Craig Kallman who's now like the chairman or something over at Atlantic. "Hi!" We started out doing a lot of stuff for him and from that, you know, our fame kinda went out and then we started doing stuff for Wake Productions, working with people like Celine Dion, Teddy Pendergrass, Jennifer Holiday, and so forth.
What is it like to be singing background for those guys; how does that really help you?
KB: It was an honor, and it helped us because those people had heard about us and liked what we did. A lot of things that we did, we were requested to do. So it was really an honor - it made us feel really good that we were counted among the talented by the people that we held in the highest esteem; to come and do backgrounds for artists that we watched growing up.
Do you go in the studio [to record] and then go on the road for the concerts as well?
KB: We did studio things and sometimes, we did live stuff. But for the most part, we did a lot of studio work for [artists'] albums and records. As a matter of fact, I think the last thing we did together was the background on "Zion" for Lauryn Hill. You know it's just great.
And you're really kinda hot with us, here in the underground. You've got a number of records out. Let's talk a little bit about some of the ones that are most important to you and make you feel the best.
KB: I think the most important one to me now is my album coming out on SOUNDMEN ON WAX entitled BLESSED. It's important because when everybody else was telling me, "Kenny Bobien, we want to do an album," they were just saying it. But Shuji said, "Hey Kenny Bobien, we want to do an album. Here's the money, here's everything you need - let's get it done." And we did a video. He's just been so supportive. We've been touring and he's just really, really been working hard and putting forth the effort to let me know how much I'm appreciated as an artist. Not just from a fan base, but from an industry level. That's why the Grammy is such a high, prestigious award because it's voted by your peers. It's something when your peers can look at you and say, "Hey, this brother's got something going on."
But I thank God too, for all the other records that I have out. You know, I have some wonderful records out there. I thank God for "I Shall Not Be Moved" and the stuff I did on KING STREET. But right now I'm concentrating on the SOUNDMEN ON WAX thing. I have a career with them - we have something that we're building and we're working on. We're trying to do exclusivity. It's time-out for me to be spreading all over the place. That doesn't mean that I'm not going to sing with other artists or I can't be featured with other artists, but Kenny Bobien the artist has FINALLY found a home base. I can just say, 'This is my label and these are the people who work hard to make it happen.'
So how does it feel to come from the background to the foreground now? You're all alone out there!
KB: Very, very nervous - very, very nervous. But there's a saying, "When opportunity knocks, you open the door." Opportunity will knock whether you're ready or not, and I was just ready when they knocked. They knocked and I was ready to go. It still makes me very, very nervous to perform in front of people.
As you said tonight…
KB: But I don't ever want to lose that, because when I lose the nervousness, it's just like saying to God, 'I don't need you anymore, I can do it on my own' and I'll never get to that point.
So the album dropped first in Japan, you've toured there. What was that like?
KB: It was wonderful. When the album was released, we were doing like 10,000 units a week, and so I thought I was like Michael Jackson over in Japan cause I was performing and these folks were hollering and screaming. I didn't know what they were saying, I understood "Kenny Bobien" and the words to my songs, but it was just amazing. I mean we were going to cities whose names I can't even pronounce, that I didn't know had any clue about who I was. And you know who was responsible for that? Shuji Hirose.
Big Props to Shuji! When you're in these foreign lands and you have to go on stage, does it feel any better or worse than if you're in front of people you know?
KB: I makes it better because its much more intense. With people that you know, they know what I can do. But when people that you don't know give you those props, it's more intense - it feels so good. You feel like Sally Fields that year when she won...
"You like me... you really like me!"
KB: It is amazing!
You get all gooey on stage and then you wanna do it again and then you have another night.
KB: It's crazy. Sometimes I get just so lost when I'm up on stage because I've been performing, but I'm not really performing because I'm like really singing and it's like a testimonial like, "Listen! You really need to hear what I'm saying!" I mean this stuff.
You know I have to interject a little bit on that because of your recent performance at Body & Soul in NYC. I was having a really bad time and you got up on that stage and took everybody to church - which you often do with the words in your songs. You were like, "You know when you really can't take it anymore, just hold on because that means that it's gonna change." The next morning that change came at 6:50 and I was like, 'Daggone Kenny Bobien! I didn't want to come out there and hear you last night!' You blew me away and I really want to thank you for that. You really should feel good about what you do because a lot of noise gets made about people bringing the church into the clubs, and you also addressed that at that particular performance. Can you explain a little bit now about how you feel about that?
KB: I've gotten a lot of flack from the people in the church. I was born and raised in the church. There's a lot of people doing other things, and they can be so judgmental about things that are positive. They're doing stuff they ain't got no business doing. They're hiding behind their titles, their Deacon and Trustees and everything. But I tell people all the time, Jesus did not call us to be a light in light. There is no need for light to light the way for light. He told us to be a light in darkness. So if people can take the devil to church, I can bring Jesus to the club scene. You understand what I'm saying? Everybody's not going to receive the message the same way - we all don't register information the same way. And so my thing is I'll give it to you like God gave it to me. He does not deal with everybody the same way. So I don't pay that stuff no mind no more. Please. These people are crazy.
So let's see ... what's next for Kenny Bobien?
KB: Another tour. Thank God, a U.S. tour (yeah!) It starts at the end of April.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell your audience?
KB: I just want to say I thank God for all of you. "To God be the Glory for all the things that he has done." I thank you for being so supportive. Not just of my career but of dance music. We've come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go, so please don't stop supporting, all right?
Are you going back to NY tonight?
KB: No, not till Thursday, got to do the Dance Music Awards.
You nominated? Performing?
KB: No, I'm just gonna go and just hang out and enjoy it; support those who were nominated. You know they ain't giving me nothing!
They still sleeping but that's why we're doing this.
KB: I know how you feel Little Richard, they ain't giving me nothing!
Again, thanks for spending time with us - you better look out for Kenny Bobien.
Interview :: donna ward II Videographer :: Jon Martin II BCAT Producer :: David Alan Poe
Known for his powerful falsetto, inspirational lyrics, and profoundly spiritual nature, Kenny Bobien has made a career out of saving souls on the underground music scene and well beyond. A singer since the age of 3, Kenny's professional career started at eighteen and has earned this successful vocalist, producer and songwriter (he writes nearly everything he sings), a place on the rolodexes of some of the industry's biggest acts. With an appearance on Soul Train, the release of his R&B; classic "You Are My Friend" (1992), and his collaborations with such diverse artists as Barbara Tucker, Celine Dion and Lauryn Hill, Bobien knows that he is truly 'blessed.'
In the new millennium Kenny has plenty to be thankful for: his wife/manager, Stephanie Cook, his album deal with SOUNDMEN ON WAX, and his proudest achievement four-month-old son, Stephen Kenneth Oneal Bobien. He's fresh from a successful tour of Japan and on the eve of the domestic release of his premiere solo album BLESSED, Kenny took time out to share what keeps him centered, humble and grateful for each additional day he can make music. But before we get started with the "official" interview, there was a small warm-up session that contained even more nuggets of Kenny's personality, tenacity, and experience - all very worth sharing so lets start there…