MICHELLE WILLIAMS: Destiny's offspring
She may be best known up-to-now as “the quiet member of Destiny’s Child who releases solo gospel albums”. Nevertheless, this month finds Michelle Williams literally delivering the ‘Unexpected’ - her first solo pop/R&B LP, currently pioneered by the electro-club grooves of its melodically-soulful offshoot single ‘We Break The Dawn’.
Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Tenitra Michelle Williams started out singing in her local church choir before going on to perform with the gospel groups United Harmony and Chosen Expression. Becoming a back-up singer for chart-topping R&B songstress Monica in 1999, she was invited to join Destiny’s Child (alongside co-founding members Beyonce and Kelly Rowland) in early 2000. Accepting the once-in-a-lifetime offer, Michelle immediately became an integral part of said trio’s rapid ascent to worldwide superstardom, via such global chart-topping anthems as ‘Independent Women’ and ‘Survivor’. Which, by the time the threesome went their separate ways in 2005, had helped make them become officially the world’s top-selling female group of all time, with combined record sales in excess of 50 million.
Having also released two chart-topping solo gospel albums during her time with Destiny’s Child (2002’s Grammy-winning ‘Heart To Yours’; and 2004’s more urban-influenced ‘Do You Know’) , an affable Ms. Williams now holds court with ‘B&S’ in Sony/BMG’s swish new Kensington offices to discuss her aforementioned (and appropriately-titled!) first secular album project, ‘Unexpected’.
“For me to sell the number of units that I did, and to get the amount of love and reception that I got, from doing gospel was great. It’s just that, right now, I’m ready to try something different and to get my name and face out there in a different way”, begins a straight-talking, 28-year-old Michelle: “You know, up to now people have perceived me as this quiet, very serious and religious person who doesn’t really do anything exciting. Whereas actually I’m not religious, I’m more SPIRITUAL. And, while being in touch with my spirituality does keep me grounded, at the same time it also lets me know that I can have FUN! So, while I can’t be out here doing ANY and EVERY thing, I can still go to a club; I can hang out with my girlfriends; I can go out on a date and know how to handle myself... So I wanted my music this time around to REFLECT that.”
Which in turn influenced Michelle’s choice of producers: “Yeah, because I wanted a fresh, new sound, I definitely wanted to find some producers who were ready to sit down and give me their BEST! As opposed to producers who just wanted to collect a cheque and royalties”, she continues: “So StarGate were the first producers I worked with. Then along came Soulshock & Karlin, Adam Frampton, Wayne Wilkins, Jim Jonsin... And what I particularly liked about all of them is that, while they’re all different in their own way, they’re all highly talented and very diverse. Like Jim Jonsin has given me what’ll probably become one of the biggest love ballads of this year with the song ‘The Greatest’. Yet very few people would believe that this is the same guy who produces Danity Kane, and who did ‘Lollipop’ for Lil Wayne!”
Interestingly, many of the album’s synth-heavy uptempo cuts (like the stomping ‘Hello Heartbreak’ and pumping “Private Party’) rely heavily on the kind of Euro-dance-inspired electronica utilised recently by fellow US urbanites like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake: “The reason for the European dance sound being recently introduced into R&B is because a lot of these American artists are world-travelled, and want to introduce something fresh to The States”, explains Michelle: “So they’re like ‘Oh, this sound is hot in London. So let me bring that back to the USA’... And, while I didn’t consciously decide to go in that Euro-club direction, this album does represent the go-getter in me - the person who does what she WANTS, and not what she’s TOLD to do!”
“You know, the first time we all did solo projects (away from Destiny’s Child) they were like ‘We think you guys should do different sounds, so that you don’t COMPETE against each other’”, she adds: “Whereas we always figured that it was just in the nature of the business for us to be compared ANYWAY! I mean, even if I’m doing gospel, they’ll still find a way to put Beyonce in there somewhere - even though she’s nothing to DO with gospel! You know, while we personally aren’t thinking of it as competition - because we’re like sisters - the perception of the media and the world in general is that we ARE competing with one another! So, as that’s something we can’t change, this time around I just figured I’d do exactly what I WANTED to do!”
With her fame as one-third of Destiny’s Child also having helped her attain prestigious onstage acting roles in both the Elton John/Tim Rice-penned Broadway musical ‘Aida’ plus the national touring cast of the hit musical adaptation of ‘The Colour Purple’, former Illinois State University student Michelle recalls her days as a member of said world-conquering trio with nothing but fondness: “I honestly have no complaints whatsoever about joining Destiny’s Child. Because through it I gained two new sisters, plus I was able to travel the world and touch the lives of so many people through music! You know, I think because we watched so many VH1 ‘Behind The Music’ programmes, we were determined not to be one those girl-groups that missed the target because of internal foolishness. So, whatever issues we knew would hit that nerve with one of us, we knew not to GO there!”
“I mean, it’s like if you know that I’m not a morning person, then don’t push my buttons at that time of day!”, continues an animated Michelle, now in full flow: “Plus dress-wise we also took the time to know each other’s style. So then, because the other girls would know my taste, they’d automatically leave a certain style over there to ME! Because we knew in the past a lotta girl-groups had fought about stuff like clothes and shoes, none of us would purposely grab something that they knew someone ELSE in the group loved! So yeah, I do think a lotta the reason for us staying together and becoming so successful was genuinely because we consciously stayed away from a lotta the dumb stuff that girls can do! And, to this day, a reunion has not been ruled out. But, having said that, it’s not been ruled in EITHER! It’s just that we honestly haven’t talked about it amongst ourselves. But, in the future, who knows? Never say never!”
The digital single 'We Break The Dawn' is out now. The album 'Unexpected' follows September 29, both through Sony
Words PETE LEWIS