MICHELLE, New Yorkers bewitch modern music


I meet MICHELLE on a prematurely sweltering Friday in mid-May. Outside, the streets are buzzing with revelers eager to soak up the pale evening rays. But in Third Men Records’ Blue Room, Carnaby Street, things are a little less hectic. Sliding down the stairs, the six-piece look remarkably energetic, especially as they’ve just had their first full English breakfast. “I love beans on toast,” confesses singer and songwriter Sofia D’Angelo. “Although I think because we shared it, it wasn’t as destructive as it could have been.” After spending a good ten minutes of my allotted time with the New York outfit discussing breakfasts from around the world, we move on to more pressing matters.

Formed in the summer of 2018, MICHELLE is made up of Sofia D’Angelo, Julian Kaufman, Charlie Kilgore, Layla Ku, Emma Lee and Jamee Lockard. Their first album Heat wave – dripping in the heat of a scorching New York summer – earned them a reputation as one of the city’s most promising young artists. Now, after the release of their 2022 follow-up After dinner we talk about dreams, the sextet is determined to leave its mark on the darker side of the pond. The new album sees the collective weave an undulating jazz modality with rich harmonies and tight pop structures. A quick look at early musical experiences points to artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Weather Report and The Beatles, the latter seeming to be the only group for which all six MICHELLE members share a reverence. And with their highly collaborative attitude towards songwriting and producing, it’s easy to see why.

The collective formed after Charlie began recruiting friends and acquaintances to make Heat wave. After recording their debut album in relative isolation from each other, the band reunited for their first gig in November 2018. Although they worked together to create one of the freshest records of 2018, c It was the first time they had all met in person. . MICHELLE seems to view creativity in fluid terms, allowing herself the space and freedom to experiment and redefine their role within the group. “Anyone in the band can do anything,” says producer Charlie. “Singing, writing songs, doing our album covers, writing: whatever. As long as they can cut the mustard and meet a certain standard, they can do it. You know what I mean? If somebody ‘one asks to do something, we give them a chance. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And if it does, they can keep doing it.

I am flabbergasted by the pragmatism with which MICHELLE approaches their profession. They seem entirely indifferent to egos or the destructive power dynamics those egos can produce. The only thing that seems to matter is the music. That is, after all, why these six young musicians came together in the first place. “We trust each other,” Charlie says. “Everyone has enough free, innate creative talent that they can probably master it.” Although that doesn’t mean everyone in the group is doing everything at the same time; MICHELLE members are also very good at recognizing the areas in which they are weakest. “Me and Julian both love to sing,” adds Charlie, “And yet we decide not to for the greater good of humanity. MICHELLE is not just a musical space but a larger creative space which gives you permission to experiment. And then there are times when it can be very beneficial to be restrained.

(Credit: Press)

With so much musical talent in one band, it’s amazing that the members of MICHELLE managed to produce their second album without killing each other. According to singer and songwriter Emma Lee, starting small is key: “When we do sessions, we do them in trios, or in fours, or in pairs. We might have an idea. Or maybe someone will say, like, Hey, I wrote this thing, or it’ll just be an instrument that Julian or Charlie have, and they’re going to build it. And then once something is there, we record it. And then we do a rewrite. And we could say, ‘those lyrics didn’t work on that melody’, etc. So I’m thinking about melodies and lyrics: sometimes they come from one person, but they tend to have a lot of hands on them before they’re done. »

“Usually,” adds Layla Ku, “we’ll go on as a circle and sing different melodies that we’ve come up with and sing different lyrics to the melody that we’ve agreed on. Sometimes it’ll take a while; the first thing you hear is “oh, that’s it”.

MICHELLE’s slow kneading of their lyrics is why singles like ‘Mess U Made’, ‘Pose’ and ‘Syncopate’ stick to the wall of your head like hot jam. “I think at the end of the day, if you want to do something that people are going to sing along to, you have to sing it,” says Julian. The group hums in tune. “There’s this old saying in jazz that ‘composing is improvising in slow motion,'” Charlie continues. “And I think MICHELLE is staying true to that process.”

During our discussion, it becomes apparent that MICHELLE is not only musically literate, but in possession of an extensive emotional vocabulary. They seem as comfortable with enduring blame as they do with their glories, which Julian says has served them well in the past. “I like to dive headfirst into conflict. Not for the sake of conflict, nor for anger, nor for attacking someone. But I feel like if you know how to disagree with someone, you know how to build something beautiful with them. For Charlie, conflict can be an essential component of what he calls the “emotional vibe” of a song. Just as the joyous atmosphere of ‘Syncopate’ is a product of the ease with which it was created, some songs bear the ‘scars’ of band conflict. And from what you hear, it doesn’t matter: “It’s as if you were a sculptor and you made something out of clay,” says Julian. “And you get really angry when you make it up. You could press a little harder. You know what I mean? So the details might be a little sharper, and maybe you pay less attention, and it’s a little rougher around the edges because of your emotional state. In the end, the final product is going to look a bit jagged, you know, whereas if you’re feeling very soft and calm, you’re going to be very affectionate and it’s going to look smoother.

Sofia has been quiet for a while now, but with that, her eyes light up. “I was just thinking about the songs and what they are and how the songs make people feel and how they are really special and really powerful,” she says, tossing out words in a chatter. rhythm. “And I’m not talking about performance; I’m talking about the song itself and the fact that it’s really just an arrangement of notes and words which, when performed very effectively, can cause intense emotional reactions in people. And I understood: a song is like a spell. It’s like a magic spell. And then, as if by magic, a man carrying a stack of pizzas trots down the stairs. Hungry eyes turn and I realize my time with MICHELLE is over.

Michelle’s new album After dinner we talk about dreams is available to stream now. If you want to see the collective in action, be sure to check out their upcoming tour dates on their website. Thanks to Sofia D’Angelo, Julian Kaufman, Charlie Kilgore, Layla Ku and Emma Lee for their time. You can check out “Mess U Made” below.

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