Kellen Abston is a dreamer. The Riverwest-based performer has quickly made a name for himself as Klassik through his energetic showmanship and his intrinsic ability to meld genres. Following a year that found Klassik releasing YRP (his most celebrated album to date), winning some 88Nine hardware and playing out more than ever, Music Notes managed to take Abston away from his ambitious – though increasingly realistic by the day – plans for world domination long enough to talk about Klassik’s growth, his pop and jazz influences and what to expect from him in 2014 and beyond.
If you had to describe your music to people who have never heard you, how would you do so?
I’ve been sticking with symphonic rap and soul. A reviewer of my first album pinned on it, and I heard that, and it does encapsulate everything that I try to get through with my music. It’s rap in its delivery, but it’s this jazz and soul background with a lot of classical influence and a lot of piano and strings.
Is accessibility and delving into a lot of different genres something that you aim for to bring listeners in from a variety of places?
I think my main purpose is always the air of positivity. The mixture of all the genres and sounds is more of a direct reflection of my upbringing and the records I was listening to, the music I was exposed to. That’s just the music I grew up with. I grew up with accessible pop artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye – all the way to Parliament and to Sting and The Police. It was all these really great people who were really great in their own genres, but also great at making really accessible music. By the time I started touching instruments, it was just kind of natural to try and do that. It’s just a continuation of my thoughts put to music.
It seems to be working out well. Your last album, YRP, has become pretty locally known. It got a lot of local attention and you’ve won some awards in town. What has it been like to watch this all grow so fast?
It’s been encouraging and inspiring. It’s this constant battle with inner conflict and personal judgments. I have a song on In The Making called “Enemy/InnerMe” that’s saying my greatest enemy is my inner me. That’s always been my toughest thing. I’m my harshest critic, so I’m always continually striving to push and have it recognized.
Not to expect you to be the sole representative for the city, but in your mind, what is the state of local hip-hop? It seems like it’s unifying, with people like you, WebsterX, Yo Dot and Dana [Coppa] on a lot of the same shows.
The collective mindset of all those artists that you just named – and Speakeasy and even recently connecting Ray Nitti – [is that] different worlds are connecting at this point. The focus is leaving one person breaking out and leaving, and everyone is likeminded in wanting this to be a scene and a force to be reckoned with.
What are some plans you have for this year, beyond the Eastside Music Tour and playing the Milwaukee Home stage at South By Southwest. Are you planning on recording another album? Are you planning to tour more or hit the local festival circuit.
All that. Last year was the first summer I really hit a lot of the major [Milwaukee] festivals, and I don’t see a reason not to do that again. I feel like they’re only getting better and there’s more thing I want to do now as far as the live show. I started recording my last album while I was working on YRP. That’s the big focus, is that project. Me and Xavier Ruffin – who directed the “Anything” video and the “ForeverWhatever” video – we’ve been sitting down for the past year and a half writing out the script for a film. It’s going to be a semi-autobiographical music, but not a musical where people are going to pop out of the background and sing a chorus of anything, but it is going to be musically driven. We’re hoping to start shooting late spring.
The nature of the film is this interactive, “Goosebumps” kind of choose-your-own-adventure thing. There’s going to be that component to it in mind to help facilitate all of these different plots. We’re essentially going to make three movies that follow each of the alternate endings and screen them at different places and it’s a conversation piece.
Man, that sounds ambitious.
I have to be ambitious because this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I love and the gift I feel like I’m sharing – not just with everyone else, but with myself, so I can let it out.
Klassik headlines a show at Riverwest Public House, which also includes Higher Education Records, Fresh Cut Collective, and The Crunchy Kids on Saturday, February 22. He’ll play RWPH again Friday, February 28 with Garald Walker, Wave Chapelle, Pizzle, and Yo Dot. Both shows begin at 9 p.m. and cost $5 at the door.