Chicago native, RAII, along with Champaign, IL native, Whitney Keaton, are solo recording artists who also happen to be husband and wife. The two most recently performed with Alicia Keys on her “Set the World on Fire” world tour. Prior to that tour, Whitney performed on Keys’ “Freedom Tour,” while RAII toured with Estelle. They have performed throughout the world and on several television shows and specials including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and The Late Show with David Letterman, to name a few. The husband and wife team will be debuting original material from their upcoming joint project, “A Time For Everything” that will be released later this year. Alisha Jones, Chicago contributing writer for Heed magazine, was able to catch up with them at their recent Chicago concert at the Double Door.

Alisha Jones (AJ): When I think of couples in the industry, I think of Ashford and Simpson. What couples inspire you?

RAII: We respect a lot of great duos: Ashford and Simpson; Marvin and Tammy; Donnie and Roberta; Bebe and Cece; Ted and Sheri. I feel that God has impressed upon to try to find our own space. I know that we will be naturally compared to those couples and duets but I think God is instilling in us the power to be ourselves.

Whitney Keaton (WK): Our marriage is the first ministry. Our stage presence and everything everyone sees that is similar to Ashford and Simpson is only an extension of our relationship. So, it is beyond being inspired by them. It’s an extension of what we do and who we are behind closed doors. Working together has definitely pushed us to work on our relationship. We want it to come across as authentic as possible. Our communication is about forgiving each other quickly.

RAII: Quicker than quick. (laughs)

WK: (laughs) Quicker than quick. Because we have to work with each other so much all the time. There are gonna be arguments and disagreements -those things come naturally –but you can’t try to spread love and you are holding on to stuff. People really do feel what’s in your heart. They can feel your energy. It’s really pushed us to forgive sooner and to work on this personal aspect. So that we are not trying to act like artists. So that it is truly an extension of who we have been trying to be through out our lives.

AJ: So you can have the harmony throughout. I like that. With the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, you know a lot of people are coming to the realization that background vocalists are the backbone of the music industry. You have to remain consistent. You have to be able to duplicate what you hear. In many ways, you have to carry the show. What have you been able to take from your experiences in supporting other artists?

RAII: Man!

WK: Being flexible is a huge thing. You have to realize that every artist is different. Their vision is different. Just like in any relationship, there are different perceptions of how you want things done or what you think would be great. You have to respect where each other are, whether you agree or not. You have to be flexible and support it. Even if it shifts. Even if it changes.

If you are not flexible and calm in supporting the artists, it reflects in their performance. They feel like you don’t have their back. So you have to be that support and being flexible in the moment. Try to be in that peaceful mindset of support.

RAII: Another thing we have learned is how much it takes to be an artist. The title is thrown around so much these days, that one tends to think that all you have to do is sing well to be an artist. Perhaps, that is the truth for some people but our story has been that we have learned that it takes a lot. More than a great voice, more than a great song, or a good hook. More than being married or background singers for Alicia Keys. It takes so much more than “I wanna sing” or “I can sing.”

We are learning to embrace the business aspect of it, with the music aspect. It has been an eye opening experience. I have never worked so hard in my life, trying to build this independent career with my wife.

WK: The discipline. The discipline! There are so many opportunities right now that are happening that are quick gigs to get quick money. And there are so many people that we are connected to that have these opportunities, who would be gracious and have asked us, “Can you all do this? I mean you could get this quick money… Got this gig. Got this gig…” And right now since we are off of tour and God has given us this time to truly focus on this career, we have to focus on ourselves.

We are not signed to a record label. We don’t have a huge machine that is backing us. We have God, our talent, and our passion. Producing our own show is a lot of work. You have to find the venue, can folks pay at the door, make an Eventbrite page…

RAII: Realizing all that goes into putting together a show before we even get to producing the concert!

AJ: I am glad that you shared that! A lot of Heed readers are indie artists and they want to hear what it takes. They like to know that they are not alone. So, what is next? What is on the horizon for the two of you?

WK: We want to do listening parties and concerts all over. We really want “No Worries (Step Clap)” to come out!

RAII: It is definitely our short-term goal to release the single, so that we can have as many people as we can, hear it and share it. It’s a great song! We love it! It has helped us through so many difficult moments and we also feel like it will be a blessing to people just like it was a blessing to us. We want people to feel encouraged and inspired through our music.

AJ: I just have to say that I appreciate the balance that you both represent on stage when you perform together, allowing each other to emerge and share the spotlight.  It is really great to see.

RAII & WK: Thank you.

AJ: I hear mention God often. What role does God play in your music? How important is God?

WK: Everything.

RAII: God gives us our boundaries. We could sing about anything we want to but there is an honor and respect that we have for God that constrains us to sing songs that will edify people. We are a married couple and we could sing about raunchy stuff if we chose to and some people would think that it is completely fine.

WK: And it is not “constrained” or boundaries in a bad way. I know there are a lot of people who are like do your thing. Have your freedom. Do whatever you want to do. Be who you want to be. No constraints! No boundaries!

It is boundaries and constraints, as far as the discipline in choice. We choose this route that will truly edify people… It is not that raunchy stuff is not good… We feel like there is a sound and lyrics for us.

RAII: There is a lot of the raunchy stuff out there and we could do it too but…We want to make music that our families, nieces, and nephews, godsons can listen to. We want to play our music and not have to skip a track.

WK: Yup, “Y’all can’t hear that!” We realize that we are married. So, we sing songs about love… We dance on the stage. We can dance on the stage – that is fine. We can be close. I can kiss him on the cheek or on the lips. I can hold his hand. I can fix his hair but we wanna do stuff that is with love.

RAII: Getting people to think about relationships. A lot of people look at us and they think we have a great, perfect situation. It is good. It is not without challenges though.

WK:  Like “No Worries (Step Clap)” – that is not about everything is fine. It is “no worries, we will get there.” There are challenges but we will get through it. You have been fighting. Keep on. Don’t just sit there and let it overtake you. Don’t get stuck in the “Why me, Why me?” There are a lot of things that happen in our life that sharpens us, to focus us, to make us think about where we want to go. We want it to be thought provoking in a way that encourages you to be your better self.

AJ: Well, thank you guys for your insight and I look forward to your new project!

WK & RAII: Thank you!

For more information and to stay connected with RAII & Whitney visit their website!

All Photos © 2014 Organix Photography