Twin brothers Kendall and Kelvis Duffie (aka Kloud 9) flew somewhat under the American radar before the introduction of their smooth and hot release, Enjoy the Ride, but they have been seducing audiences in the U.K. for some time now. Finally, American R&B and smooth jazz fans are starting to “get it,” and the duo has just signed with Shanachie Records and has re-released Enjoy the Ride, a pearl of an album, under that label. The sweet vocals and tight arrangements surely indicate that these guys will be around for years to come. I spoke with both Duffie brothers on September 11. Here’s what they shared with me.
RONALD JACKSON: First of all, congratulations on both releases of your latest project, Enjoy the Ride, as well as signing with Shanachie Records. I’ll bet the signing had to be a thrill and a milestone for you.
KENDALL & KELVIS: Definitely.
RONALD JACKSON: You originally started out as members of a contemporary gospel outfit. Is that right?
KENDALL: Yes, Well, we’re originally from Chicago but we grew up in Denver, CO. It was there that we met our first producer by the name of Jerry Weaver. He’d moved to Denver from L.A. where he’d spent a majority of his career. He was a guitarist for Aretha Franklin, produced Janet Jackson’s first album, and had worked with various other artists. He moved to Denver because he wanted to do more Christian and inspirational music and that’s where he stumbled upon us. He worked with us for several years, giving us our name, Meekness. He gave us our first professional taste of music.
RONALD JACKSON: Are you from a musical family?
KENDALL: Our mother was a church musician and a singer, and we grew up like many artists in any genre, getting our chops in church. We’d get around the piano and sing with her. Often, we didn’t even want to sing but she would call us up to sing, telling us that we had to give God the honor. Our mom was the musical genius behind what perpetuated us to do what we’re doing. In fact, when she was pregnant with us, she said that, every day during the nine months she carried us, she would play and sing to us. Hearing that hit me extremely hard and really served as a motivator for me.
RONALD JACKSON: You’re pretty close to Maysa and Incognito. How did you come to meet them, and how did that meeting lead to your current relationship with them?
KENDALL: That relationship was born out of a trip that became an extended stay in London back in 1999. To get the whole picture, I’ll have to give you a bit of detail about us.
The Kloud 9 thing started after Meekness disbanded in the early 90s, we moved to Nashville to further our careers. At the time, we were continuing in the gospel industry as artists. After moving to Nashville, we lost our mother to cancer and, so, we took a bit of a layoff. During that layoff, we ended up doing other things, individually, though still musically. All the while, it was just killing me not to be really creating music the way I wanted to create music. So, Kelvis and I got together and decided to try something together. We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to just gospel. We have always been Christians, but we also enjoyed smooth R&B and always listened to artists like the Jackson Five, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and the like. So, we wanted to do material like that. We chose the name, Kloud 9, because it was representative of the type of sensation we wanted to create in people. Of course, the “K” in Kloud names represents the first letter of our names.
We put a few tunes together and started shopping around for labels. In the 90s, most labels were looking for the “rugged sound,” which wasn’t us, because we had a clean and smooth sound. So, there was disappointment. But I’m a firm believer that disappointment and failure don’t define you; they refine you.
We had been to the U.K. in the late ‘80s when we had the gospel group, and I knew that there was a great appreciation for great music overseas. I decided to head there and was determined not to return to the States until I found an outlet for my music. I packed my suitcase, took my keyboard, $800, and headed out alone. I spent many nights for 2 years sleeping on floors. I didn’t have the money to even pursue my plan to visit every major and independent label in London, so I eventually bought a map, and I would literally walk 5 – 6 hours one way, for 15-20 minute appointments until I had literally worn out the bottoms of my shoes.
I eventually met a guy who took me to a studio owned by a guy named Ray Hayden who produced Maysa’s first solo album. So, it was through Ray that I met Maysa. The funny thing is that she and I had met as part of a blind date arrangement but, when we met, we found that our love for music was so kindred that we just focused there and clicked automatically. One day, I was walking to an address she had given me for a rehearsal, and as I approached it, I heard these incredible familiar horns in the distance, and in this warehouse were Bluey and Incognito. So, it was there that I met Bluey, and it was amazing how quickly we clicked.
RONALD JACKSON: So, tell me about Enjoy the Ride. You released one version in 2008, originally in the U.K., and that became available in the States under the Expansion record label. Then, Shanachie signed you and re-released the CD with new material. Is that right? What new material appears on the latest version?
KELVIS: Right. Once we got the deal with Expansion, which is a U.K. label, we wanted to offer that sound to the States on the heels of our U.K. popularity. After initially releasing the album in the U.K. in 2008, then releasing it in the States, we added a couple of new tracks for the U.S. version, including the single with Incognito called “Everything Is Good Tonight,” and Shanachie re-released the album once we signed with them.
We just celebrated our 10th anniversary, so we’ve also released a “best of” album that captures a lot of our earlier material and remixes. It includes the new single with Incognito and a remake of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. The album’s out on the internet now and is a commercial release under Expansion Records.
RONALD JACKSON: I understand that you’ve toured with the Isley Brothers and the Whispers. Your style is often compared to theirs-- and some have even mentioned Phil Perry whose vocals do seem to belong in that style group. Is that just coincidental, or did you consciously set out to capture that style?
KENDALL: Every artist is inspired by another great artist. Certain music, like that of the Isleys and Michael Jackson, just seeps into your subconscious and, in our case, while we may have our own style, we just can’t help letting that Isley Brothers or Michael Jackson style influence us a little.
RONALD JACKSON: You produce most—if not all--of your own material as well as material for other artists. I understand that you’ve even produced gospel material for others. Anyone we know or for whom we should keep an eye open?
KENDALL: I just produced Vicki Yohe’s latest album, Reveal Your Glory...Live From the Cathedral, which is doing very well on the Billboard gospel charts. She’s best known for her single “Because of Who You Are.” I’ve also produced pieces for jazz flutist Althea Rene and a fantastic new R&B vocalist named Gianna. We really feel that we’ve been greatly blessed to do what we’ve always aspired to do.
RONALD JACKSON: On a much more personal note, is either of you married? Any kids?
KELVIS: I have been wonderfully married for 16 tears, and I have 2 kids: Kelvis, who’s 9, and Niko, who’s 4. Kendall, on the other hand, is available and looking, ladies! (laughs)
KENDALL: I’m single, but I’ve also been quite married to my music, and my “kids” are my songs. Not that I’m not open to marriage, mind you. I believe that time will come. But, for now, I’m quite content with my music.
RONALD JACKSON: Kelvis, are your kids musically inclined?
KELVIS: Yes, especially Niko. We’re watching him very closely. There’s a lot of potential there.
RONALD JACKSON: So, what lies on the immediate horizon for Kloud 9 now that you’re with Shanachie? Is there an Enjoy the Ride tour under way or lined up? If so, where will it take you?
KELVIS: Well, there have been several spot dates with Maysa during her Metamorphosis tour and a couple of other appearances, as well, like in DC and CA. Of course, I guess you could say that each date has its own “Enjoy the Ride” tour incorporated.
RONALD JACKSON: Any advice to the aspiring artists out there who still struggle to get to where you are now?
KELVIS: Just remember that music is a business. While you may be a great singer, there are many, many great singers who never get discovered because they don’t have the proper representation. Surround yourself with great people and learn the business. It’s all 90% business and 10% talent.
KENDALL: Just adding to that, if you’re serious, just stay focused on that dream. Let your desire be the driving force that keeps that fire going.
RONALD JACKSON: Where can one get further information on Kloud 9?
KENDALL: People can reach us on MySpace (www.myspace.com/kloud9twin), on Twitter, on Facebook (“soultwins”), and on almost all of the other social network sites. Of course, Enjoy the Ride is practically everywhere music is sold, including on Amazon.
RONALD JACKSON: Thanks so much to both of you. All the best to Kloud 9 for your continued success. You certainly deserve it.
KENDALL: Thank you, and thank you so much for doing this and giving us your great support.
Here’s one gracious, charismatic, and focused duo quite deserving of the recognition it has garnered and will garner moving forward. America, do as the U.K. has done: Sit back and Enjoy the Ride.