• By: Keith Whittier

The Nine Lives of Kellylee Evans

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Photos by Anne-Marie Brugger

Kellylee Evans should buy lotto tickets. This is the medical advice she received from hospital staff after she was hit by lightning. She was home washing dishes in 2015 during a thunder storm when she got the shock of her life. Who knew one should never interact with water during a storm? No dishes, no showers, no swimming! Well according to Kellylee, everyone’s grandmother knows this! And now you do too.  It’s not an old wives’ tale.

The lightning strike that shook Kellylee that fateful day was followed one year later by a fall from which the rising star and recipient of a JUNO award suffered a serious concussion. It's now 2017 and Ms. Evans is finally ready to take the stage again. She performed on Monday July 3rd as part of the NAC’s Canada Scene Scene@6 series. Ottawa Life Magazine caught up with the energetic R&B soul singer before the show to see how she was doing.

Ottawa Life: Your latest album, Come On, was released in 2015. Are you relaunching it now?

Kellylee Evans: No, not quite yet. What I'm relaunching is my singing career. The album will be released in Canada later this year.  Right now, I feel like I'm just dipping my toe in the pool and let me tell you, the water is cold! I’m really stepping out of my physical comfort zone. I feel it’s important for me to be clear and transparent. Most people have no idea how much effort it takes for an artist to get to the stage. There is so much work to do before getting to that point, like promotion, interviews, getting to and from numerous appointments and of course practicing with my band. Since 2015, my energy levels have been very low and my mobility is not the same as it used to be. If I exhaust myself I may not be able to perform so I need to be mindful of that. It is very humbling. I was like an energizer bunny before. Now I need naps all the time!

Tell me more about what happened when you were struck by lightning.

I was in my home washing dishes, holding a sponge (not too dissimilar to the sponges they use is electric chair executions!) I was barefoot on a concrete floor. Perfect conditions for a hit. The lightning struck the tin roof and traveled through the plumbing pipes.  It’s a fairly common thing to happen during a storm and it is surprising how few people are aware of this danger!  I was in shock and didn't know what to do. So I went to bed hoping I’d feel better the next day but that didn’t happen. I finally went to the hospital two days later. I did not get burned, and thankfully didn't die, but the charge jostled my brain inside my skull like a concussion. All I can think is that lightning took out my stereo system – so what did it do to my brain?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, your new album, Come On was released a day before the attacks at the Bataclan in Paris and one day after you slipped in the tub in that same city and hit your head. This time, you again suffered an even more serious concussion.
Oh I know, my bad luck is absolutely ridiculous. I feel quite embarrassed about it.  But I swear I had nothing to do with the events at the Bataclan! [we both laugh – of course not!]

So here’s a big question for you: How are you?

I'm better but I’m not where I need to be. I worry that, what if this is my new 100%. How can I make this work? I need to understand my new boundaries and levels of energy. I need to learn to say no to opportunities. But in this business you just never say no. You want the opportunities to come. That's how you make it – the constant promo, constant touring, non-stop reaching for the best possible scenario. It’s a feast or famine approach. But now, I have to manage my energy, my availability to my family, and my sleep schedule.  I need naps now; I need that time to reset and recharge my batteries. I’m only just learning to say, no. And it’s not easy.

Well, we are so happy that you are returning to the stage after all this. Tell us more about Come On.
I wrote all the songs with my friend and producer, Eric Legnini. It was after my breakup with my husband.  I was going through new emotions and experiences. It’s about love and longing. But I really wanted it to be joyous. I knew it would be released in the summer and I wanted the music to be colourful and joyful so that everyone could enjoy it. I wanted people to dance to it!  Turns out, I didn't have a copy of the final CD yet when I hit my head. It took a few months to finally get it and then it just sat in a corner of my room for a year. I didn't want to look at it or hear it. I was heartbroken to no longer be able to do my favourite thing. I don't drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs; I do music. That's my thing. And now singing was causing me so much pain. I couldn't hear properly and any bass or sub sounds were painful. I was so afraid that I would never get back to my old self. It was devastating.

And look at you today! You have a performance on July 3rd here in Ottawa.

I know!  I finally listened to the album and I loved it! Wow, I thought it's so good. Now I hear it from an objective place – like I’m listening to someone else’s album.  It was so nice to go back to the old songs. It was like reading my diary and seeing what I was writing about back then.  I’m very excited to be performing these songs again.

Tell us about the City Room at the National Arts Center (NAC). It’s a brand new space.

I went to look at it and there are huge windows that look out on near Parliament Hill on one side and over the canal on the other side. It’s quite open and seems really cool. The Scene@6 series runs from July 2 to 22 with one-hour performances beginning at 6 pm. There’s a great lineup planned and it's free!! First come, first seated.

Will you have a full band with you or is it a solo thing?

Unfortunately, I’m not ready for drums yet. I’m too afraid of how that will affect me. But we’ll have keys, guitar and bass. Following this, we are going to Montreal and then Toronto. Baby steps! I’m starting very easy, keeping it gentle. I don't want to push too much because I want this to work.

On a final note since it’s Canada Day weekend, tell me about why you choose to live in Ottawa.

Originally from Toronto, I moved to Ottawa in 1992 for school and I never left. I love it. It's not too big. You can get from one end of town to the other in about 20 minutes. It’s an easy city to walk. The community is warm and friendly. Just like most Canadians, my neighbours are wonderful.  I will celebrate Canada Day by running around to interviews, preparing for my show and taking my kids to see the sights on July 1st. I know I will have to be careful not to over tire myself.

Kellylee, we wish you all the best and know you will get stronger every day. I hope this is the beginning of a new future for you!

Thank you!

Ottawa Life was at the show on Monday in the new City Room at the NAC.  Wearing a little black fringed cocktail dress, the tall and leggy performer was in full form. Her enthusiasm was contagious and she easily had the whole crowd hand clapping and singing along with her. She selected songs from her body of work admitting that “I know I'm a little young to do a "retrospective" but I've almost died so many times, I think I deserve one!”

She made it clear that this show was to give back and to thank her fans for their support helping her get back on stage. By the end of the one-hour performance, she had everyone on their feet and had them dancing to the left, to the right, moving up and down. Not wanting the show to end, she insisted on an encore. The devoted audience left her with a standing ovation. This was such a special performance. 

Kellylee Evans is where she belongs once again.