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Playing in the deep end

Kelly and the Kellygirls face the world with vodka and cynicism

Singer, songwriter, playwright, costume designer, hairstylist, photographer… R. Kelly Clipperton (pictured third from right) is a flurry of creative activity all on his lonesome. Luckily, he seems to have a near superhuman amount of energy to help him complete all his various projects, as well as the confidence and drive to get them produced and into the public eye.

But that doesn’t mean everything’s smooth sailing. “I’m pretty tightly wound, I know that about myself,” he admits. “And I’m a bit of a perfectionist. But I have a pretty solid work ethic, and I am my boss in every part of my life—I’ve always been an entrepreneur.”

While he also has a show of photographs of backup singers in the works, at the moment Clipperton is focusing his energy on the upcoming release of The Deep Ending, the latest album from his seven-piece band, the Kellygirls. It’s a collection of songs that initially seem to have little in common other than his rich voice, with ska and Latin rhythms surfacing unexpectedly amid the pop and bluesy rock — plus the inimitable voice of Carole Pope on the standout song “Vodka and Cynicism.” But there is something else that ties everything together: water.

“I’m a water baby,” he explains. “I wasn’t good at sports as a kid, but the one thing I could do was swimming. I love anything to do with the water. I was going through a rough time a couple of years ago, when this album started to happen. I was at a friend’s cottage, and I took one of those air mattresses out into the lake, and it sounds fatalistic, but I was lying there and the water was warm and I thought, I could just… go under. It wasn’t a suicide wish, not in the slightest. It was one of those moments when you think, I hit the same walls every time, with relationships, with working professionals, with friendships, with myself, and maybe I need another place. That was the image I was working with, the idea of relocating. And I’ve always been good with water. Maybe I could hold my breath for 20 years and it would be great.

“That’s where the images came from, and I just started writing. I thought, why don’t I try to create the arc of a story where there’s appreciation of the water, and then the question—Could I do this? Could I go under?—and then being down there and facing life’s challenges and coming back up? And it made it easy to deal with the challenges in my life, having to use my head instead of just my intuition to write these songs.”

Kelly and the Kellygirls launch The Deep Ending on Oct. 24 with a performance at the Revival. (For event details, turn to page 27) “It’s going to be big,” he promises. “I’ve got an aerialist, because the Revival already has the rigging in the ceiling, plus four dancers, projections and the full band. And then we’ll see. I’ve managed to achieve a certain level of success in this country, which I’m very proud of. But I want to reach further, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”