When we first met her, Kelly Clarkson was new at her job. But what a difference two years can make. Her new-found confidence is more than evident on her second RCA Records Label release, "Breakaway," named after the mega radio hit (No. 1 on all Top 40 radio outlets) Billboard Magazine acknowledged Clarkson's development with a review of her new single, "Since U Been Gone." It read in part, "This is an utterly ideal showcase for Clarkson. There's glorious tempo, enough edge to rattle the speakers, a relentless, big-game hook -- and it's a huge leap forward for the entertainer as a more confident, ever-maturing vocalist."
"Breakaway" follows Clarkson's first album, "Thankful," which is certified double-platinum by the RIAA. That No. 1 album included her single "A Moment Like This," which set the record for the biggest leap to the top in the history of the Hot 100 when it rocketed 52-1. "Thankful" also includes the top 10 hit "Miss Independent" which made her a 2004 Grammy nominee for Best Female Pop Vocal, and the radio hits "Low" and "The Trouble With Love Is," from the soundtrack to "Love Actually."
"I had a lot of time to work on this album, and I had the past two years to write stuff. A lot of the songs on the album I wrote way before we went into the studio." Kelly Clarkson is discussing her latest album, Breakaway, a record that is the next step in the singer's artistic evolution. The album has more of a "rock" sound than her debut, an influence that had been creeping into Kelly's music ever since her first major tour: "Even the songs from my first album that weren't so 'rock,' I sang them in that style live, because it made them more fun to sing. So, this time, we ended up making more of a rock-pop album."
The album got its start on Kelly's one-month break after the tour for her debut album, Thankful, came to a close. Most people in any walk of life would love to take a month off from their careers. But Kelly Clarkson isn't "most people," and it wasn't long before she was looking ahead to her next record.
Clarkson has writing credit on six songs on the new album, including "Because of You" and "Addicted," which she collaborated on with Ben Moody and David Hodges, formerly of Evanescence. "The songs with David and Ben were the most fun to record," she says, "because I was involved in every little thing, like sitting in on the string section. Ben and David are very opposite from each other, so each of us brought something different to the songs.
On her latest album, Breakaway, what she wanted was to follow her artistic impulses. More than simply a great singer, Kelly Clarkson is also a writer and an artist with a vision for her work... all of which comes through on Breakaway. What follows is her thoughts on each track on the album.
"Breakaway": written by M. Gerrerd, B. Benante, A. Lavigne. "I've done country music, I've done pop, I've done gospel... all of my singles have sounded different. But this song was different from everything I've done; people didn't even know it was me!" "'Breakaway' is a simple song, and I think that it's simplicity is what's beautiful about it. Whenever writers or producers come to work with me, they take advantage of the fact that I can really belt it out. What's cool about 'Breakaway' is that it doesn't take advantage of that. The song just uses the simplicity of my voice."
"It was co-written by Avril Lavigne. She's very talented. I don't think you have to write everything that you sing. I could relate to the song, it describes how I got into the business, verbatim. I did grow up in a small town, I wanted to get out, I felt like there was something... not better for me, but something different for me. I didn't feel like I fit in at school. Whether you are a DJ, or if you work with computers, or if you're a teacher, everyone has that point where they feel, 'I'm bored and this isn't what I wanted to do with my life.'"
"Since U Been Gone": Writen by Max Martin and the co-writer of the song, Lukasz Gottwald "Rock music can be very 'in your face' like Janis Joplin or Aerosmith, it's not as 'smooth' as pop or R&B. It's very emotional. Vocally, it can be a lot more challenging. 'Since U Been Gone' is very fun to play live."
"This song was produced by Max Martin, who is known for stuff he's done with the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, he's done a lot of great music with them. But the sad thing about the music industry is that people get pigeonholed. He got boxed into that 'pop' thing, because he is so great at it. But he wanted to spread his wings, and do something more in the rock direction. He wasn't sure he wanted to work with me, because he didn't want to do pop. It turns out that I said the same thing about him. Then we realized that we both wanted to rock! So, it worked out really well."
"Behind These Hazel Eyes": written by Clarkson with Max Martin and Lukas "Dr. Luke" Gottwald. "I wrote 'Behind The Hazel Eyes' about my last boyfriend. It's the last song I wrote for the album, I almost didn't make the deadline. I'm not too worried about people knowing whom these songs are about. I'm a normal 22 year old girl, and if someone breaks my heart, I'm gonna write about it. I'm putting out my diary basically. It's a very personal thing. Putting out this record was a bit nerve racking at first. I feel like I'm saying to the world, 'Please don't reject me, please like my songs! (laughs)' It was therapeutic for me, I love the record, but I hope people like the songs! There is a lot of stuff on the album that's related to breakups. Although there's a lot of songs that people think are about breakups, but they're not."
"Because Of You": written by Clarkson, Ben Moody, & David Hodges. "'Because Of You' isn't about breakups, it's about my family. It is about growing up in a broken home. My parents were together for 17 years or so, and then all of the sudden, something went wrong. But I've talked to lots of friends who have seen domestic violence in their homes; I didn't. But if you see those things as a child, you see a family member cheating or people not trusting each other or people not communicating with each other, that effects you. You end up afraid to trust people, because you think you're going to get screwed over. Me and a friend of mine were up late one night talking about our lives, and it led to this song. I wrote it when I was 16, my friend was having a really hard time with her family. It was a different situation than mine, but I could relate to what she was going through. My parents were together for a long time, and suddenly one thing happens, and it's over. That could happen to me. It made me feel like, why would I want to open up and trust someone? I know that it's a childish way to look at it; life is a risk, and anything worth having is worth taking a risk for, but I wrote it when I was 16. I have learned a lot since then. At the same time, it doesn't matter how old you are, you can still relate. I was 6 when my parents got divorced. I used to be the most closed off person. I didn't want to get hurt. I had been messed over by friends, and I had been through a lot with my family. I didn't pity myself, but I did put a wall up. I'm smarter now, but I have a good relationship with God, and that's gotten better over the years. That's why I've gotten smarter about situations. I'm a very trusting person now. I'm not going to let people screw me over left and right, but at the same time I'm not going to close myself off. That's a big step for me."
"The whole record isn't about breakups, but you can relate lots of it to breakups. I don't mind if people do think it's all about breakups. That's what I think is great about art. You can interpret it any way you want to. Some people will take that and think that a song reaches out to them. With 'Low' on my last record, I get a lot of fan mail about that song, and everyone has different interpretations of what they think it's about. And I think that's phenomenal."
"Gone": written by Kara Dioguardi & John Shanks. "It is a very feisty song. (Producer) John Shanks wrote that with Kara DioGuardi, Kara co-wrote a lot of the songs on the album, she wrote some songs with me. I believe that she co-wrote a lot of Ashlee Simpson's songs too. She's an emotional writer."
"If someone writes a great song, and I haven't experienced what the lyrics are describing, it's like acting; you just put yourself in those shoes. I'm only 22, there's a lot for me to experience in my life. If I think a song will touch people and it needs to be heard, I'll sing the song. 'Some Kind Of Miracle' from my last record was written by Diane Warren, and I just think it's a beautiful song. Even though I cannot relate to what the song is about, I've never been in love like that. I've loved people, but not like that. But I thought that song should be heard. And I felt the same way about this song."
"Addicted": written by Clarkson, Ben Moody, & David Hodges. "I had been holding on to 'Because Of You' and 'Addicted' for a while. I am in love with those two songs, the lyrics and the melodies, they are two of my favorite songs that I've ever written. I wanted to work on them with someone as passionate about music as I am. And then I heard that Evanescence record... I loved their record because of the passion behind it. I asked my management, 'Who made that record? I want to work with them on these two songs that I've written.' It ended up being Ben Moody and David Hodges. I met with Ben first, I didn't even know that he had left Evanescence. But he fell in love with 'Because Of You.' That's what matters, I wanted him to love the music. I was like, 'Dude, if you don't like the songs, just let me know, we can write some new stuff, or you don't have to work with me at all.' It worked out really, really well."
"Where Is Your Heart": written by Clarkson, Chantal Kreviazuk, & Kara Dioguardi ... my A&R guy said, 'I have this writer named Chantal, I think you would write really well with her.' We connected right away. A lot of women writers, I think, are very emotional. This song is not a schmaltzy ballad, it's more like Bonnie Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me.'"
"The guy I wrote 'Behind These Hazel Eyes' about, I wrote 'Where Is Your Heart' about. He was wanting me to get really into our relationship, and I just thought, 'Where are you in our relationship?' If I date someone, I would have to date a guy who isn't intimated by my job and how busy I am, and who isn't 'needy.' I can't handle someone who is insecure about our relationship. If I tell you 'I like you,' I mean it, I'm not lying. If I didn't like you, I would walk away, that's just how I am. I can't deal with someone who constantly needs reassurance."
"Chantal's husband, Raine Maida, from a Canadian rock band called Our Lady Peace plays guitar on the song. We recorded the song at her house, we were playing ping-pong, and she just asked him to play on the record. They are both really passionate about music. They also worked with Avril Lavigne on her record. And they like working with me - and Avril - because we can sing. As a writer, if I was going to give someone a song I didn't use on this record... I didn't write for people who can't sing."
"Walk Away": written by Clarkson, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida & Kara Dioguardi "It's very blunt and to the point. 'I'm done with you, you're upsetting me.' It's very in your face, and very raw. You want to sing it right to someone's face. It's a fun song to sing live. I really want it to be a single so I can make a video. It's my 'Annie Lennox'-type song. I adore Annie Lennox, that's what I aspire to be. I met her at a benefit, she was so sweet. Luckily, all the people I grew up admiring, when I've met them, they've been really great people."
"You Found Me": writen by Kara Dioguardi & John Shanks "Actually, the album is a very great representation of the past six months of my life. That song and 'Breakaway' and 'Gone' I recorded in the same day. I recorded it actually before I even went to LA to do the album. I took time off from my vacation to record these songs. I got bored! When I recorded this one, I was actually in a good place with a guy! It was very fitting at the time that I recorded it. I was like 'Yay!' at the time. Each song on the album I could totally relate to at the time."
"I Hate Myself For Losing You": written by Dioguardi with Jimmy Harry and Shep Solomon "That's a song that's really supposed to be about 'the one guy that got away.' I don't actually have that 'one guy that got away,' but I did have one guy that kind of didn't work, and you never know if something could have happened. That's kind of what the song is about. It was really hard recording that song."
"It was written for me by Kara, and I wasn't really in that headspace right then; I hadn't 'lost' someone right then. But, it was kind of like foreshadowing. I read something that Sting said in an interview, he talked about how the great thing about writing is that it is an emotional and therapeutic thing and you can get it out. But the bad thing is, you literally have to go back to that place and re-live it while you're working on the song. It's depressing. After doing that song I was depressed for a week! It was depressing recording that song. By the last line, I was crying. But it's great for the record."
"Hear Me": written by Clarkson, Kara Dioguardi and Cliff Magness. "The past few years have been a whirlwind for me, and my life has been crazy, but now I know about where I want to go, and who I am. The song is almost like a prayer to God. I haven't met the person who I will spend the rest of my life with, but the song is a prayer to God about that. That's what the song is. 'God, I'm ready for 'the one!' ' But I don't even know what I was thinking when I wrote that song, I'm totally not ready for that kind of relationship now anyway! I don't even know how I'd even fit a relationship into my life. I know that's horrible to say. But I'm young. I have the most exciting year ahead of me, I'm going to be touring all over the world, Japan, Australia, I should enjoy it, instead of worrying about hurrying up and getting married. But I come from a small town, I have friends who have kids. I go back there, and I feel like I'm 'behind.' Like there's something wrong with me. At the same time, I don't live there, and that's not my life."
"Beautiful Disaster": writer Matthew Wilder & Rehekah Jordan "'Beautiful Disaster' is one of the most beautiful songs that I have ever, ever come in contact with. Rebekah Jordan wrote that song for my last record. When I heard it, I called her and I wanted to meet her, I wanted to know why she wrote that song. I just fell in love with the lyrics."
"There are certain loved ones in your life, it could be a father, a mother, a brother, a boyfriend, a friend, and you want to keep them in your life because you love them, but at the same time they're dragging you down. It's easier for someone to drag you down than for you to lift them up. Rebekah told me that she had a boyfriend with a lot of drug issues, and she was really trying to help him get out of it, and she couldn't. That's why she wrote the song."
"As for the recording of the song, I think that, when it was released on my first record, the label wanted all the production that was on it, and I just hated it. I thought it took away from the song, and so did the producer, Matthew Wilder. We wanted to do it the way I did it on tour, with just a piano and my voice. The label thought it didn't sound 'big' enough. But I thought the production was distracting from the lyrics. So, on tour I did the stripped down version. I would get fanmail about that version. I sang it that way on The View. And people wanted that piano and voice version. So I decided to add the live version to this record."
With a record she's proud of in stores, Kelly is now looking forward to the next few months: "I'm doing a small theater tour, then I'm going to do a bigger tour that I'm going to co-headline with someone, we haven't figured out who." In recent months, there has been some controversy about which singers actually sing, and which ones pretend to. Kelly doesn't have to worry about proving her singing abilities: her fans know that you don't win American Idol by faking it.
"When I tour, I sing live. And people like that I sing live. I'm not even criticizing anyone that doesn't. But there are singers and there are entertainers, it's very entertaining to go to a show with dancers and a big production, but my show isn't that. When I'm sitting in an award show... there was a certain award show, I won't say which one, but there were at least three performers, who didn't sing live. I was like, I can understand how they sell records - I own some of their records! - I don't think you have to be the best singer in the world. But for an awards show? When you're celebrating music, and this was a show that should have had no lip synching. It was almost a slap in the face."
But Kelly doesn't spend much time mulling over what other people do; she's always trying to improve her own skills... not just her singing, but her guitar playing. "There's a difference between someone who could play guitar and a guitarist. I could play five or six of my songs on guitar .But there's a difference between me and a guitarist, who can play around with a song and make it sound different. I'm really trying to work to be that. I really want to be good at it, and I think it will make me a better writer." Judging by the songs she's penned so far, she's already a songwriter of note... but it's typical of someone of her ambition to want to raise her game. As the interview winds down, she scrolls through some unreleased songs on her iPod, which she may offer to other singers or she may release on her own at some point. For now, she's busy preparing for her tour, and it will be a while before she gets to work on another album. On the other hand, she may not be able to wait to start her next project, so you never know when her new songs will surface.
Clarkson and her boyfriend Brandon Blackstock were engaged for a year before their marriage in a secret wedding ceremony in 2013, which was quite unlike the celebrity nuptials of her peers.