Fifteen Grammys and six studio albums into her career, Alicia Keys still hasn’t cracked the formula for a hit song.
“I just don’t know how to do that — I just don’t! And I’ve tried!” the singer said ahead of a performance at New York’s Apollo Theater.
“I’ve been like, ‘Okay, I’m going to take those same chords that I did before, but I am going to play them differently, which is going to make me write something different,’ and it just doesn’t arrive because you are trying.”
Instead, every new track is a fresh start. Where she typically writes alone at her piano, for her latest album, “Here,” Keys decided to collaborate with a team, gathering “a hub of interesting, creative people.”
“Put all of us in a room together and give us nothing but space, an opportunity, and all of a sudden boom! When you write a great song, you don’t know how you got there.”
Regardless of who else is involved, Keys stresses that genuine feeling is at the core of any good song. Musically, she strives for a striking tension between the bassline, the melody, and the way the song is sung that ends in a feeling of relief. Lyrically, it’s about channeling emotions.
“Songwriting comes from an emotion. It comes from a feeling. It comes from something you can’t contain, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, something that you can’t describe because it is like a stone in your chest,” she says. “It’s some kind of emotion, and it provokes you to find the words.”
Watch the video above to find out more about Alicia Keys’ creative process.