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Issue 1084

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Feature

Miguel: True Colours

Miguel @bluesandsoul.com
Miguel @bluesandsoul.com

With the subtly-enveloping, sensual groove of its lead-track âAdornâ currently topping the US R&B Singles chart, âKaleidoscope Dreamâ - the intriguingly-titled sophomore album from critically-acclaimed California singer/songwriter Miguel - will unquestionably mark one of October 2012âs most eagerly-anticipated releases.

Indeed, featuring production input from the likes of Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse/ Nas), Pop & Oak (Kanye West) and Jerry Wonda (The Fugees) plus a guest vocal appearance from superstar songstress Alicia Keys (on the song âWhereâs The Fun In Forever?â), the groundbreaking and genre-bending melange of moods displayed on âKaleidoscope Dreamâ range from the rock-meets-Motown vibe of âDonât Look Backâ and kinky sexuality of âUse Meâ to the reggae-guitar-chug-cum-dreamy-vocals of âDo Youâ and bass-prodded funk of the hypnotic title-track.

Born Miguel Jontel Pimentel in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California in October 1986 to a Mexican father and African/American mother, Miguelâs early musical influences ranged from the funk, electro and classic rock heâd borrow from his crate-digging dad to the rich harmonies of his momâs traditional soul collection. All of which resulted in him singing and dancing by the age of five, songwriting by the age of eight, and producing by the age of 11 - before eventually signing his first production deal (working with local studio duo Drop Squad) at the tender age of 13! A move which would in 2004 lead to him signing with independent record-label Black Ice - a liaison that would ultimately prove fruitless, due to constant pressure on him at the time to dress and dance âmore urbanâ while simultaneously being told that as âa half-Mexican guy who sounds black but looks Filipinoâ he was âa hard sellâ!

After which an understandably-disillusioned Miguel would wisely make a conscious decision to change his style and sound - ultimately resulting in him, in 2007, signing a new deal with the Sony-affiliated Jive Records (now RCA). A move which would in turn immediately prompt Black Ice Records to sue him for breach of contract!

Meanwhile, with the lawsuit not being settled until 2010, Miguel would next go on to spend three years writing successfully for the likes of global R&B/pop superstar Usher, upcoming rapper Asher Roth and neo-soul don Musiq Soulchild - before finally, in late 2010, releasing his Jive Records debut album âAll I Want Is Youâ. Which in turn impressively spawned three US R&B Top 10 singles - the J.Cole-featuring title-track, the chart-topping âSure Thingâ, and the sexually-driven âQuickieâ.

Following which 2011 meanwhile found Miguel (who considers himself âa mash-up of Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Pharrell Williamsâ) receiving his first Grammy nomination as Songwriter for contemporary soul man Jaheimâs âFinding My Way Backâ, while also featuring on rapper Waleâs award-winning US R&B Number One single âLotus Flower Bombâ. While early 2012 meanwhile saw him release the experimental and entirely-self-produced three-part mini-EP series âArt Dealer Chicâ. Whose dark and powerfully-emotional tracks garnered the 25-year-old unanimous praise from fans and critics alike.

⦠Which in turn brings us back to today As a beshaded and black-leather-biker-jacketed Miguel (who prestigiously won Best New Artist at 2011âs Soul Train Awards) warmly welcomes âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis into his plush interview-room at Sony Music UKâs Kensington HQ, to discuss the aforementioned âKaleidoscope Dreamâ; his bi-racial upbringing in California; plus his thoughts on being widely viewed one of US R&Bâs most inventive and game-changing breakthrough artists of the day.

PETE: Letâs start on obvious ground - the meaning behind titling your new album âKaleidoscope Dreamâ

MIGUEL: âTo me âKaleidoscope Dreamâ is a metaphor for LIFE. You know, Iâm a firm believer that everyone has their own kaleidoscope dream and that weâre constantly painting it with our own individual THOUGHTS, in the sense that your thought-process and the choices you make are all based on what youâve personally EXPERIENCED in life. And so, because I feel it represents a soundtrack to my OWN kaleidoscope dream, I decided to title my new ALBUM that.â

PETE: So in what ways would you say âKaleidoscope Dreamâ represents a difference, or a progression, from your first album?

MIGUEL: âWhereas the first album âAll I Want Is Youâ was very much a direct reflection of my experiences with the last three major relationships Iâd been in, âKaleidoscope Dreamâ is very much the soundtrack to my lifestyle in GENERAL. Which is why I think my approach from a lyrical standpoint has been more ABSTRACT. In that, as opposed to pulling from direct experiences, this time I was very much trying to capture an EMOTION, a FEELING, a VIBE... And I think weâve been really successful at DOING that. Because to me âKaleidoscope Dreamâ is a great projection of a day in the life of MIGUEL! To where, if you had a conversation with me or had a drink with me, youâd basically walk away with the same feeling you get from listening to this ALBUM! Which is why Iâm also healthily NERVOUS about it! Because it IS different, and you never know how we as creatures of habit are gonna TAKE something different... So yeah, Iâm anxious for all the right REASONS! Because to me music is SUPPOSED to be that way! Itâs SUPPOSED to be different - and so Iâm very excited to see what the RESPONSE is gonna be!â

PETE: You were born in 1986 to a Mexican father and African/American mother. Can you fill me in on your early background?

MIGUEL: âI grew up in the âhood - right on the border of the projects. And, because at the time there was a lot of racial tension between blacks and Mexicans, my mom wasnât really keen on me spending too much time OUTSIDE. You know, she was really, really keen on keeping me safe, and sheltering me from a lotta the BS that was going on AROUND me. So I guess growing up I was kinda caught in the middle of a lotta THINGS. Like my mother being religious and my father not; my father being Mexican and my mom being black; my father letting me listen to any kind of music and my mom being very, very careful about me not listening to anything that would be a bad influence⦠And I do think that all did kind of lend itself to me being very comfortable being an INDIVIDUAL. Because growing up I had to make a lot of strong choices EARLY... Plus at school in The States thereâs like these standardised tests, where at the beginning you fill out what your ethnicity is - and there was never any box for me to TICK! You know, are you Mexican? Are you Latin? Are you black? Are you Caucasian?... So yeah, I think the fact I didnât really have a place and always felt like I was kind of on the outside did actually help me find my own IDENTITY in the midst of it all. Which is something Iâm quite THANKFUL for now. Because as an artist I think it has made me more comfortable with being MYSELF - particularly in terms of honesty and creativity.â

PETE: Nevertheless, I understand your bi-racial background did initially cause problems in the very early stages of your music careerâ¦

MIGUEL: âWell yeah, I think a large part of my life has just been about other people trying to make me out to be the status quo, or whatâs EXPECTED. Like growing up it was Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Usher, BLACKstreet... I mean, they were the archetype, they were the MOULD. And so it was like âIf youâre R&B youâre gonna DRESS like this, youâre gonna SING like this, youâre gonna SPEAK like thisâ⦠You know, thatâs what was EXPECTED of you - and my upbringing didnât lend itself TO that! So going into that environment I actually felt even MORE out of place than Iâd naturally felt BEFORE! Which is why it never really WORKED for me. You know, thatâs why Iâd been in every single major-label office; Iâd seen every executive in the business - and they just couldnât SEE it! It was like there was something MISSING. And I think it was because it just wasnât ME! So it wasnât until I decided for myself that I was going to just be myself all-the-way-round and make the music that I wanted to make, that people started to really CONNECT with me. You know, it was only when I started making the music that I was hearing in my head and being myself as an artist and not living up to some R&B stereotype, that I started to really catch the attention of the people that could give me a big fat CHEQUE!â

PETE: So how do you now feel about being hailed a one of todayâs breakthrough artists who are helping take R&B into a fresh, more inventive direction?

MIGUEL: âWell, because I think R&B was definitely going in a really redundant and soulless direction, I am really happy to now be a part of a handful of artists who are kind of pushing the boundaries. Because I do think my music is just a bit more ALTERNATIVE. And while I canât really put my finger on why that is, I do feel some of it has to do with the kind of music my father played when I was young. You know, The Clash, Queen, The Beatles, The Eagles... Listening to all those bands at an early age I think did make its way into my SOUL. And so I feel itâs really cool for me to now kind of finally make it a very strong presence in my music alongside the R&B influences I got from my mom. Because thatâs where I COME from, man! And while I have been waiting for so long for the right time to come along, I feel now IS that right time! Itâs like Iâm finally having my shot and Iâm like âFuck it! Iâm just gonna DO it, man!â!⦠Which feels good, REALLY good!â

The album âKaleidoscope Dreamâ is released October 1 through RCA/ByStorm
Words PETE LEWIS

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