Mic Check: Kem uses quarantine time to finish his first album in six years

Kem's new album, "Love Always Wins," is his first since 2014.
Kem's new album, "Love Always Wins," is his first since 2014.

Credit: Udo Spreitzenbarth

Credit: Udo Spreitzenbarth

‘Love Always Wins’ has spawned the hit, ’Lie to Me’ and a duet with Toni Braxton.

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

In the six years since Kem’s last album, “Promise to Love,” the R&B-soul singer married longtime girlfriend — and Georgia native — Erica, added two children to their blended family of five and moved to Fayetteville.

The silky-voiced crooner born Kim Owens is most associated with Detroit, but he’s settled in comfortably outside of Atlanta, where his home studio came in handy during the pandemic.

On Aug. 28, Kem’s latest, “Love Always Wins,” arrived. The album already spawned the R&B hit, “Lie to Me” (complete with a priceless video spotlighting the Brooklyn Groovers soul line dancers) and a classy duet with Toni Braxton (“Live Out Your Love”). But the album is truly a testament to Kem’s contentment as a family man.

In a recent chat from his Georgia home, the congenial Kem talked about finishing his album during quarantine, his rekindled affection for the music of Janet and Michael Jackson, and his hopes for touring next year.

Q: I usually ask artists how they’ve been spending downtime during the pandemic, but it sounds as if you used yours to finish an album. Were you always planning to release something this year?

A: My last release was 2014, so it was time for new music. Most of the music was done by the time we went into full pandemic mode, so since March until June, I was doing vocals at home. When I’m not on the road, I’m home with the wife and kids and being a family man and downstairs writing and recording. It’s been different, but I’m not complaining. We’re all in the house together 24/7, five of us. My son Christopher (3) gets up at 6:30 a.m., so I spend hours with him and make breakfast. That’s the upside. There are a lot of people who hurting and so much tragedy associated with these times. This whole thing has got us all reflecting on what’s most important, what we value. I’m saddened by the negative impact it’s had, but grateful for the positive impact it’s had on our lives.

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Q: What were the benefits of working on “Love Always Wins” in quarantine? Were there any issues given the number of people around?

A: We respect the boundaries that we have in the house. Because I have the luxury of being able to work at home, I don’t complain. Even though a lot of the music was done before we were in the pandemic, there were a lot of virtual sessions. My producer Derek (Allen) is on the West Coast, in Sacramento, and there was a lot of file sharing. My bassist is in Delaware and guitarist in Philly. It was really different. We went to Detroit a few times and got the bones of the music and took it back. For these songs, for this body of work, at this time, it was the perfect scenario. I could not have planned it that way.

Q: What was it like recording your vocals on your own?

A: I’ve never recorded my vocals in my studio before. It was an enlightening experience. I’m pretty hands-on anyway, but even with my experience, I really appreciate having someone else in the room. Even just to push the button! You don’t think about all of those things. Also, not knowing when to stop, like, having that person to say, “Dude, you got it!”

Q: You have a duet with Toni Braxton on the album (“Live Out Your Love”), but I’m going to assume you weren’t able to be together to record it?

A: That was another virtual experience. My wife, Erica, is a big Toni fan, and we went to see her in Detroit on Valentine’s Day in 2019. She called me up to the stage, and we had a musical moment, and the seed was planted to seek out a collaboration with her, and this song was perfect. To have her on the record, I can’t even tell you. Toni is a pro. We sent her the music, and she took a couple of days (to record her vocals) and checked in that we were cool with everything. I’m grateful that she was part of the process.

Q: What other music have you been listening to during quarantine?

A: My wife is a DJ, so I’m listening to everything from the Mary Jane Girls to Janet (Jackson) to Michael (Jackson) to Prince. It’s a musical family. I just got off the treadmill Janet’s “Rock With U” off the “Discipline” album. Erica turned to me on to it. The older kids are surprisingly musically astute. They vibe with everything from Bobby McFerrin to H.E.R. to Khalid.

Q: What do you miss about life?

A: I miss being on the road and on stage; getting that fix, the performance fix. I like traveling around and being on planes and in airports, and I miss that and look forward to returning to some semblance to that. We don’t think we’ll be back on the road until sometime next year. But the good thing is that we have time to put together a great show. If your show is not great when you come out of the pandemic, man... (laughs).

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