Our music editor Lulu caught up with the gorgeous Michelle to chat about all things music…
Hi Michelle, so lovely to meet you! Tell us all about how you got into music…
Hello After Nyne, lovely to meet you! Thanks so much for this interview.
In answer to your question – I wouldn’t refer to music as something I ever “got into”. Obviously, I love music; it’s my heart; and, it’s what I do. But I can’t pin its entry into my life, or the start of my relationship with it to a particular age or point in time. I just remember it always being there. Kinda like breathing. If someone were to ask you how you “got into” it, you couldn’t tell them. None of us can recall the first ever time we inhaled/exhaled – the act of breathing is so intrinsically us, we don’t even think of it as a seperate entity we discovered.. more something we just…are. Does this make sense?
I do know that, growing up, there was always music in the house. Literally no day would pass without some album by some artist being blared out through our living room speakers. We have over 100 albums at home… and those are just the CDs! We have countless vinyls, too, and one of those old record players. We even have the vinyl of Michael Jackson’s Bad album, (my favourite album of all time.. and Michael is – hands-down – my favourite artist of all time.. Just a King.) We have the vinyls of the Thriller and Billie Jean singles, too. (Try getting your hands on those in 2015!)
I do remember being 4 or 5, and my mother buying the VHS that was released in promo of Michael’s HIStory album. It was called Michael Jackson HIStory : The Videos; and was, in essence, a compilation of the music videos for all singles released off the HIStory album. I swear my siblings and I watched that thing upwards of 100 times. When you play it today, it’s ruined – the tape fuzzy from where we’ve rewound so much. There were some miscellaneous bits on there, too – Michael’s most iconic moments. The first being the clip of his legendary Motown 25 showing.. (where he first did the Moonwalk.) I remember being mesmerised by that clip, in particular. Before I had a concept of what it was to be an entertainer, or that such a thing even existed, I was able to recognise that I was witnessing something very special. That’s what made me want to perform. I wanted to feel what Michael was feeling; to give people the feeling he was giving those in the audience that night.
What’s the song writing process like for you? How do you get your creative juices flowing?
I think most songwriters will tell you it varies. No two songs are the same. Sometimes it happens quickly; other times it happens slowly. And you can never force it.. It will come when and how it’s supposed to – and when it does, it’s like it was always there.
The two most important things for me are melody and lyric. To me, those are paramount. Michael Jackson once said, “Melody is King” – and I say, if you can combine a “king” melody with an equally strong lyric, that’s when you get the truly special songs. A large number of my songs came to me in the form of an initial melody. 80% of the time, this melody wound up being the main melody line in the instrumental of the final track. (Because I produce as well – started when I was 12 – and up to 18 months ago, was still producing all my own stuff.) The remaining 20% of the time, this melody wound up as the song’s Chorus.
When it comes to lyrics, I almost work backwards. So, I’ll sit down with a title I already have – and write a song around that. Sometimes, I’ll have come up with this title 3 or 4 months prior.. Always a phrase I find striking, and intriguing; that I feel has potential for a smart and evocative lyric. I am always looking for a phrase that can serve as a metaphor for something else. Take Sleep Through The Fire. I had actually come up with that title close to a year before getting in the studio with Si (Hulbert). The phrase was just so potent, to me – the idea of sleeping through a fire, or natural disaster.. remaining unstirred whilst the world around you falls to destruction. So, originally, the song was gonna be an inspirational lyric about coming through personal struggle – “fire” being a metaphor for hard times. I recall scribbling down a 4-liner – the building block for some kind of chorus, I guess: “We’ll sleep through the fire / We’ll slumber through the burn / Wear our scars with pride / ‘Cause every scar’s a lesson learned.” When I went in for my session with Si, though, the instrumental just spoke to me differently. It felt like a break-up song. It occurred to me that “fire” should be a metaphor for that final fall-out at the end of a destructive relationship. You’re tired, and just want out. You’re inviting the other person to have their last bit of fun, do their absolute worst… just wake you up when the pain is over.
So! All that to say! My number one aim with my writing is to discuss experiences/emotions that are universal, but in a way they have never been discussed before. I adore a metaphorical lyric because it allows me to put an innovative spin on an otherwise age-old topic.
I love the cover art for ‘Sleep Through the Fire’, do you think that visual elements are important when it comes to music?
Thank you! The day the song premiered, I had a flurry of people message saying how much they loved the cover art. I think it’s the grey hair that did it – (though, ‘cause of the lighting, a bunch of people would seem to think it’s blue?!) And the roses as well – like, the rose in the mouth. It’s funny, ‘cause that shot was actually candid. My friend Kat, who took the pictures (on her living room floor!), had a vase of dried roses on her dresser; she thought it might look nice to dot them through my hair. I took one and popped it in my mouth – (‘cause I’m wild and provocative like that) – but, several shots in, I could feel it slipping to the side. I raised my hand to push it back centre; meanwhile Kat is still snapping away. We were going through the film at the end, and the instant we saw the shot, we were like – “That’s the one.” It just looked so dope.
I think visual elements are beyond important when it comes to branding oneself as an artist. If you think of any of the biggest stars – be it MJ, Madonna, Prince, Elvis; even more modern day figures, like, Beyoncé, Rihanna, GaGa, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Lana Del Rey (!) – all of them have a strong, immediately recognisable aesthetic. I always say, a good test is to ask yourself if someone could dress as you for Halloween? If the answer is “probably not”, that isn’t to imply your image isn’t strong/recognisable enough. But for all the total mega stars, it is to that extreme. You see a sparkly white glove, black coat, patent leather shoes – you know that’s Michael. Leotard, with platform heels, and a hair bow – that’s GaGa. Towering beehive, and a tight vest tucked into skinny jeans – that’s Amy, (may she R.I.P).
Image can also impact on the listening experience, in regards to how the listener actually perceives your sound. For instance – myself with flowing, silver tresses in a halo around the face; roses in my hair; eyes closed; a single rose between the lips; the stark contrast of deep brown skin against the grey.. the whole thing has an almost ethereal quality. Reading the early reviews of the song, a lot of comment was made on its “other-worldly” sound; it’s “alternative edge”; my striking use of Operatic vocal. Had the cover art been of me with gelled baby hairs, wearing massive door-knocker earrings, and a 90’s London girl outfit, more people may have picked up on the track’s glaring Trip-Hop influence; or, the stark London accent I sing in. So, as an artist, your image gives you the power to influence how the listener hears you.
What/who is your biggest influence?
My biggest influence in life is my mother – just ‘cause she’s the single strongest, most incredible, hard-working person I’ve ever known. She dares you to believe in your dreams.. to really believe in them, and see what happens. I’ve witnessed her talk to people, and alter the course of their lives, irrevocably. Just a very inspirational woman.
Musically, I’m inspired by the dark side of beautiful things. So love, and how it can destroy people. Sounds odd – but I genuinely believe you can love someone too much. Sex, also, which I feel can be one of the most destructive things. The act itself is beautiful – (or, was designed to be) – but when abused, it destroys marriages, friendships, lives.. people. It’s like that old saying, isn’t it? “Quod me nutrit, destruit me”. Or “What nourishes me also destroys me.” I’m a big believer in that. The darker parts of the human soul fascinate me, too. We all have some darkness within us, I always say. It’s just closer to the surface in certain individuals – and these are the ones society label “troubled” or “effed up” or “tortured”. I’ve come to not like that term. I’ll hear an on-looker refer to someone as a “tortured soul”, and I’ll think, “But aren’t we all?” Aren’t you conflicted about anything?
Artist-wise, I am influenced by a varied selection: Michael Jackson; Mariah Carey; Beyoncé; Kate Bush; Florence And The Machine; Sia; YADi; Lykke Li; Lana Del Rey; Lorde; Taylor Swift; Ed Sheeran; Hans Zimmer; Ludovic Einadi. I could name so many.
If you could do anything differently in terms of your musical career would you?
I would eliminate the people I wasted precious time with in the earlier days. There are a whole host of (what I refer to as) Barry Lee Bullshitters (!) in this business, and I wish I had known how to spot them a couple of years ago… I would have saved myself precious time! But you live and you learn – and I’m wiser, now, for having had those experiences, then.. not to mention better equipped for this industry.
What’s your favourite aspect of being a musician?
Being able to communicate. Angelina Jolie – (whom I love) – once said that, as an artist, it is our desire to throw whatever it is we harbour within us out into the universe, and have someone, somewhere receive that feeling or opinion or information, and throw it back to us. We have an urge to communicate – with people, with the universe.. and it’s this urge that drives us to create.
A lyric can help a day.. a melody can make a memory.. and a song can change a life. As a creator of music, you hold the power to do at least one – if not all – these things for another human being… someone you’ve most likely never met, may never meet, but the two of you share an interaction because of this art you’ve created. If that’s not reason enough to make music, I don’t know what is.
And finally, have you got any musical recommendations for After Nyne?
Oh, God, have I!? I am always listening to so much music, so this question is gonna have to be split into two parts! “Musical recommendations” being artists I know of/am currently obsessing over, but whom the majority would appear to be criminally unaware of! (So blog-y, indie acts.) And then, people I am just always listening to, whom in most cases, are already fixtures in the mainstream.
Recommendations – Nao; YADi; JUNGLE, (though they’re rising in popularity); Xorael; Charlotte OC.
Currently listening to – Lana Del Rey; Lady Leshurr; THE WEEKND (!!!); BANKS; YADi; Sinead Harnett.