And learn which recent novel inspired a new song
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Since Kelly Clarkson announced her forthcoming soul album with her new label, Atlantic (the singer left RCA, where she’d been contracted since her 2002 American Idol win, last year after releasing Piece by Piece), we’ve been drinking up the gorgeous Rihanna and Radiohead covers she’s released.

Fortunately, EW got a chance to chat with Clarkson about the new record, due in 2017, and the unlikely places she’s found inspiration — like Liane Moriarty’s novel, Big Little Lies. “I actually wrote a song that might go on this next record about one of the characters, Celeste,” Clarkson says. “I know this is going to sound horrible, but I’ve just never understood domestic violence. And Liane did such a great job at depicting the emotional state, what exactly is going through peoples’ heads, why they make the decisions they do, what traps them, what they’re holding on to. So I wrote the song from the character’s perspective. I have more empathy for that situation [now].”

Read on to see what else Clarkson has to say about working on the new record.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was soul the style you wanted to do with your first big post-RCA album?

KELLY CLARKSON: Well, I’ve actually always wanted to make this album and I just haven’t been able to. While it is still pop, it’s way more soulful. Even the producers that have worked with with me before, Greg Kurstin and Jesse Shatkin, [are amazed]. I literally just got a long email from Jesse going, “Oh my gosh! Why have you not made this record yet?” Because the sound is so innate in me. It’s just so natural. It’s like, “God! You should have been making records like this the whole time.” And I love making all different kinds of records, so it’s not like I’m mad about it or anything. I’ve just wanted to make this particular record since I was in junior high.

Is that why you signed with Atlantic?

Yeah! They just had this stellar, soulful, more urban vibe, and that’s really what I was looking for. And they’re down with me making a country record one day. Because basically country and R&B are cousins. [Atlantic] is just really into me being an artist and doing different things. We don’t need to hear “Stronger” again, or “Since You’ve Been Gone.” It’s time for something else. We’re about to go to L.A. to do a big recording-writing session. It’s so much fun, because it’s like I’m a brand new artist again.

And you’re going back to your roots a little.

Exactly! Almost like what everyone heard me sing on Idol. That’s what’s so funny. Whenever I was talking to Atlantic, we were talking about maybe working together, I was like, “Look, this isn’t different. This is what people voted for.” And Craig Kallman at Atlantic is dying to make this record with me. We were both definitely on the same page. That’s where he wanted me to go anyway. He just loves soulful stuff. So it just happened to work out. It was a universe thing. Everybody kind of had the same vision. I just feel like this is the record that I’ve been really wanting to make for so long now. My mom is so happy! My mom is like, “I like your music, but I love this!”

What’s been the best day in the studio so far?

Girlfriend, coming back from being pregnant (Clarkson’s son, Remington Alexander, arrived in April) is a weird thing for your diaphragm — even how you breathe normally. Apply that to singing, which you need a ton of breath for. It’s just a different thing to build back up. Two weeks ago, I was doing lead vocal on this song that I am just in love with in this studio in my house, and the producer was here, and I flipped out. It’s funny because it’s on camera. We’re filming all of it. It’s the day my voice came full-on back, like exactly what I wanted. I sounded amazing. I was so excited. My producer was laughing so hard because I was freaking out.