Rhapsody Radar Interview: Miguel
by Rachel Devitt | June 23, 2011
Welcome back to Rhapsody Radar, our month-long survey of 24 new artists we're thrilled about. Recently we had the pleasure of talking one-on-one with one such honoree: up-and-coming soul singer Miguel, who is apparently not only incredibly talented, but also smart, articulate and oh so charming. (Good thing he's so damn cute, or we might have to hate him a little!) He gave us the lowdown on his rebellious plans to shake up the music industry with his sexy, sexy songs, not to mention his secret fandom of Justin Timberlake and what it's like to work with Usher. For a better idea of what this guy's all about, check out our Miguel and His Influences playlist.
Rhapsody: You have such a unique sound you don't really sound like anyone else on the charts right now. So do you want to stand alone? Or do you want to inspire a movement?
Miguel: I think the goal is in general to broaden my fans' perspectives and their horizons. Not to be cliché. But to introduce them to things that they may not have introduced to themselves. ... The next album isn't going to sound anything like this album. And the album after that won't sound like that album. I think what I'm trying to build is a reputation for evolving and for change. Because of the rate of information that we have access to at this point, it's almost hard not to be ever-growing. I think I'll always make music that sounds different from what is current, but I doubt that it'll sound consistently the same as what I've been doing.
R: Do you have a sense of what direction the next album is gonna head in? What's inspiring you right now?
M: A lot of live instrumentation mixed with, like, electronic hip-hop. I mean, I play with a live band, all my real shows. And I don't know, there's just something really, really timeless about live instruments. There's just something special about them that you can't really duplicate or grasp without including live instruments. I mean, every song has live guitar, but I think I'm going to go into a more live direction on my next album always including my hip-hop and soul and funk influences.
R: So a lot of the writing about you talks about the connections between this musically diverse sound you have and the fact that you come from a biracial background. Is there a relationship between those things for you?
M: Right. I think there's a huge parallel that affects my musical taste, and connections that have to do with my ethnic diversity and my musical tastes and the diversity of that. And it's interesting that, growing up on the circuit, it posed such a challenge, not only to me deciding what my identity was amongst my peers, but then on the music side, it was like trying to explain or convince people especially in the music industry that there was a place for what I was trying to do. But at the same time, I think it has a lot to do with timing and even me, like, understanding it. Because they would ask questions, I would have to define it more for myself. And I guess when you have enough of the picture in focus, it just takes the right person to take a chance and step into the gallery and take a minute to really examine it.
But the whole cultural diversity and musical diversity, I think they almost go hand in hand, you know? It's like a mind space or a it's having an open mind to what else is out there.
R: There's a kind of narrative to your album. Like the song "Hero," and then right after that is "Vixen." They're like characters almost, like each one is like a little story. Is there a story to the album for you?
M: Absolutely. [It's] like a string of thread. It's very, very faint. But for those of you who really get into the album, there's this underlying theme. And at the end of the story, all I want is you. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I start off kind of in love and then I leave love and I'm single. And I realize on "Girls Like You," I'm lonely and I'm still kind of searching for someone I can have a real connection with. So you go to "Vixen," you try to convince a girl that you're worthy, so "Hero." And then you're looking for someone to be "My Piece," and at the end of the day, that's the kind of relationship you want, that you'll fight for, that no one can come in between.
R: Let's talk a little bit about your songwriting. You've done a lot of writing for others. Is there a difference writing for others? Is it hard to hear songs you wrote performed by someone else, like giving up your baby for adoption?
M: No, and the reason why it is different is that I make it a point to be a collaborator on an album when I'm writing for someone else. I'm a big advocate of music being an honest representation of who you are as a person and your perspective. What is missing in a lot of urban music is perspective. You hear a lot of regurgitated perspective. It's a lot of: out at the club. Had drinks. Patrón. Big booties. It's this regurgitated idea of living in this, I don't know, one-night-stand moment that always starts at the club and Patrón. And so perspective, perspective, perspective is what I'm an advocate of. Like, what makes your life different from the next n***a? There is something special about you, so let me help you bring out your individuality. I'm not here to write a song for you, I'm here to help you write a song for yourself.
You know, like, with Usher, it was always collaborative. It was always, what do you want to say? That's why I loved working with Usher, because he always had ideas of what he wanted to talk about, and I was just there to help facilitate making it a record.
It's been different in the past. The song that I co-wrote for Jaheim, I didn't write it with him. But my more recent sessions have always been collaborative even with John Legend, that we just did a week and a half ago. He had an idea for what he wanted to do. I was just there to help facilitate the song. It's not not John Legend, you know? It's him. It's just got a little bit of extra flavor.
R: Oh, I hadn't heard about the John Legend track yet. What's it like?
M: It's actually -- it wasn't even my fault that this song was about sex, by the way. That's just what he was on. He's just like saying, you're gonna have the best sex of your life. Like, I'll be the best that you've ever had. It's a very, very dope song.
M: Absolutely. I mean, underground hip-hop is, like, one of my foundations, I would say a cornerstone of my foundation of my musical tastes. I was introduced to hip-hop about the same time that I was introduced to the industry. So when I was 13 or 14, I was introduced to real hip-hop. I'm talking about like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, Biggie, Pac, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella like, I was introduced to hip-hop. And one of my best friends, Blu, I met him in high school, the first day of high school. I was walking in and I didn't know who this tall-ass dude was, but I could tell that he was dope. And he just happened to be in my first-period class. And I introduced myself, like, "Yo, I can sing." And we just hit it off. And it was from there that I got my hip-hop education.
R: Is there an artist that's on your list, somebody you really want to work with and collaborate with?
M: I did a show with Lupe Fiasco recently. I'd like to work with him, [or] B.O.B. That would be dope. Janelle Monáe, I think us collaborating would be our generation's D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill collaboration. Not to compare myself to the greatness, but I just feel like we could really do something that would live forever. There's a lot of indie bands that I'd like to collaborate with or write with. Cut Copy. Phoenix would be dope to collaborate with. There's some producers I really want to work with that are more on the underground hip-hop, electronic hip-hop tip. Flying Lotus. Crystal Castles would be dope to collaborate with. There's a lot. My mind is in all kinds of places.
R: Yeah, that was quite a list! Tell me about the first song you ever wrote. How old were you?
M: Oh wait, can you put one more? Can you just add, uh, Thundercat?
R: Sure! You're going to still be thinking about it after we hang up, aren't you?
M: Yeah [laughs]. OK, now back to the question. The first song I ever wrote. Hmmm ... there's so many moments that I remember writing songs, but I don't necessarily remember what the songs were about. I can guarantee you they were about girls, though. I remember I stole my uncle's four-track recorder. At least I thought I stole it. He knew I had it, but I just took it from his garage studio. And I remember going to another uncle's house, and I brought it with me and I brought my guitar, and I was trying to figure out how to use it. I just sat in my cousin's room the whole day, just trying to figure it out. And I was playing guitar, recording, and it was a lot of fun. I don't remember what that song was about, but I can guarantee you it was a mess! [laughs]
R: How old were you?
M: I had to be about 13. A lot of music stuff started happening when I was 13. I had been writing songs, like melodies, but nothing was ever recorded prior to that age. ... I might be able to find a couple songs about my parents. All I could think about was girls and ... girls. [laughs]
R: You listen to so much stuff. Is there anything that's like a guilty pleasure for you, that you don't really want to admit you're into?
M: I don't know. There's like a lot of ignorant sh*t that I like. I actually like, what's the name of that song? Racks on racks on racks [sings a bit of YC's "Racks"]. There's a lot of stuff in the club that's like, it's cool there because you're drinking and all you wanna do is do ignorant sh*t. [laughs] What else? I don't know.
R: Are you a secret boy-band fan or anything?
M: No, not at all. Oh, I have the Justified album. That was a good album. I don't know if that's something I would want to broadcast. That sh*t was dope. Beyoncé's first solo was bangin', too. I don't own a single Destiny's Child album, but I do own a Beyoncé album for real.
R: So we're doing this interview as part of our Rhapsody Radar series artists we think should be on everybody's radar. So what do you bring to the table in 2011's musical landscape?
M: I think what I bring to the table overall is a sense of my own individuality, especially in the urban-male spectrum of what is here and now. And I know I'm a very dynamic performer. Once you come to the show, you're gonna want to have the album. I think it's more about showing people that it's OK to share similarities, but it's more important to embrace your individuality. I think in a world where everyone wants to categorize and compartmentalize and rationalize, it's OK to be different. It's OK to question, it's OK to be unapologetic like, what the f*ck ever happened to rebelling, you know? And that's what I am. Subtle, but if you pay enough attention, you'll understand that I'm a rebel.
R: That's great. That's what pop music's supposed to be about, right?
M: All the best times in music were rebellious. I mean, even like Elvis, people didn't want their daughters paying attention to him. He was considered too sexual! [laughs] Elvis! You know what I'm saying? N.W.A. Like every time you pick a period, it was always about people who didn't give a f*ck and they were different, and that's all right! I'm not comparing myself to those people I'm not saying that I'm even a tenth of that kind of stock or whatever. I'm just saying that I embrace that I'm different. That I'm unique.