A Day at the Opera Gallery: Interview with Kevin Michael
His press photos are angry, dangerous even. I entertain the notion that his hair may destroy me and prepare for the worst as I scale the walls of the Opera Gallery in SoHo. Degas, Dali, and Rembrandt look on, movmnt’s editor in chief David Benaym films, and Kevin’s label rep is around to look up for him. Enter: Kevin Michael. He paces into the spectacular arena of the gallery, dragging his suitcase and his afro. Not angry, not dangerous, just plain adorable actually. To his label, he’s “Kevin Michael: Lifestyle Artist,” but just ask: they don’t even know what that means really. It comes as no surprise to find Kevin Michael more endearing than his image. He’s a 22-year old kid who has booked his own ticket and wardrobed his own shoot. Here’s to getting to know a fine young artist in a clueless scene.
Mario Spinetti: This is the magazine! [Mario hands Kevin movmnt issue #5]
Kevin Michael: “Get to know real talent!” [reading the cover].
MS: Which is exactly what you are.
KM: Thank you!
MS: I saw you on the French TV show Taratata.
KM: Oh yeah! We’re doing that again … and then we’re doing… What’s the other one called? [To his label rep]. [silence] … It’s like American Idol in France?
MS: X Factor?
David Benaym: Star Academy!
DB: Star Academy is American Idol but way bigger. Approximately 60% of the watching TV in France watch that show.
KM: Wow. I’m nervous now!
MS: No need to worry! Your last performance in France was great. You really live up to the record you’ve made.
KM: Thank you!
MS: One thing I’ve noticed about your live show is the partnership between you and guitarist/beat-boxer Akil Dasan. How did that duo come about?
KM: My label, Downtown Records. The head of the label, Josh Deutsch said, “there’s this dude that beat-boxes while he plays guitar. You’ve gotta check him out!” At first I was a little scared, but when we met, we just vibed and clicked.
MS: You mentioned Downtown Records. For everyone who doesn’t know, Downtown is a start-up label affiliated with Atlantic Records. How does it feel to be a young artist on a young label?
KM: It feels really good. Especially for me, because I was the first person to sign with them. They’re very forward thinking. Very “out of the box.” I think that’s what we’re going to be known for, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
MS: Do you feel like Downtown is preparing you for the long haul?
KM: Oh yeah. Not only Downtown, but Atlantic too. They have these things. What do they call those? [To his label rep.] You know how I’m, “Kevin Michael, Lifestyle Artist” [Mario and Kevin laugh]. You know how labels have those sheets, well, apparently I’m a “lifestyle artist.”
MS: Wow. What does that mean?
KM: What does that mean? [To his label rep.].
MS: You know, I might venture a guess as to what it means, listening to your record. A track like “Difference” talks about race issues a lot. Take for example the lyric “Love ain’t got no color.” I noticed that’s a theme throughout your work. That might qualify you as a lifestyle artist. Because you talk about race and social issues?
MS: Good enough! Moving on… Was there any specific event in your life that inspired you to write more socially aware music?
KM: Not really. I just write so that people can get a glimpse into my world. People look at me and they’re like, “What the hell is he? He’s got a fro. Is he black? Is he white? Is he latino?” I wanted to tell people who I was right off the bat so they would know. When I was growing up, Mariah Carey was everything to me. She was mixed too. I kinda wanted to be the voice for the up-and-coming mixed generation.
MS: I think you do it really well. You mentioned Mariah Carey. Are there any other artists that you looked up to while growing up?
KM: I love Alicia Keys. She’s very cool. Lenny [Kravitz] is God to me. A lot of different people like that, but especially mixed artists.
MS: What was it like making your debut album with such heavy-hitters? I mean, you worked with WyClef!
KM: It wasn’t always great because you’re recording every day—day in, day out—for nine months. I was recording in New York, LA, Atlanta. We went to Sweden, we were in Philly for a little bit. You get tired of it, but at the end of the day we had over 30-something songs to choose from, and we narrowed it down. Recording an album was a journey. Trying to say everything you’ve wanted to say your entire life, in nine months. The nerves start to act on you. But it’s great. It’s a great process, and I can’t wait to start the second album, believe it or not. People are hearing these songs for the first time. But you know, “We All Want The Same Thing,” I actually wrote that in 2004! “Difference” we wrote in 2005. “Vicky’s Secrets” was also written in 2005. People don’t realize that I’ve been hearing these songs for the past three or four years.
MS: Do you find it difficult to write out on the road? Or has it been more productive for you creatively?
KM: I think I have more to draw from now because I’ve seen more places. I’m a vibe person. I’m going to Paris on Friday and it’s so beautiful. I may be inspired to write something different. I take my writing and songwriting very seriously. I love publishing checks. I hope to be one of those artists who is regarded not only as a great singer, but as a great songwriter as well.
MS: In the Old Testament, Samson’s hair is synonymous with his power. I was wondering if you attach a sense of power to your hair?
KM: Actually, as a teenager my hair was my mask. It was my shield away from everybody. I used to be very, very shy. I used to wear my bangs way down so nobody could see my eyes. As I got older, I started to get more confident and it became the thing that set me apart.
MS: Some musicians dream of playing Shea Stadium, others of an HBO Special. Do you have a professional dream?
KM: A Grammy would be so lovely on a shelf somewhere in my Mom’s house. But outside of music … acting, fashion, and I love to cook. I want to have my own restaurant, probably in my 30s. I have a lot of stuff to do. I don’t sleep; I work. I’ll rest when I’m dead.
MS: How about personal goals?
KM: Family is the ultimate. There’s this weird thing inside of me that feels like I can correct the wrongs that have been done in my life by having my own family.
MS: What are you trying to correct?
KM: Well, I grew up in a single parent home. My mom and dad split up when I was very young. and my mom was always working. I have two younger brothers that I helped out a lot when I was younger. I didn’t have the freedoms of a normal teenager because I was in the house taking care of my little brothers. Stuff like that, and other deep stuff that we won’t get into right now.
MS: Thank you for sharing that.
KM: No problem.
Interview by Mario Spinetti – Photos by David Benaym
Stranded on a desert island with an i-pod “super-nano”
Here’s what Kevin Michael calls his Superplaylist. “That’s off the top of my head. I love some songs so much that I wish I could live inside them.”
Stereolab – The Flower Called Nowhere
The Verve – Bitt ersweet Symphony
Michael Jackson – Human Nature
Prince – Darling Nikki
Kim Burrell – Over and Over Again
Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy
No Doubt – Don’t Speak
Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High
Stevie Wonder – As
Jimi Hendrix – [Anything]
* The super-nano has an eternal charge (for extended listening), but only fits one playlist!
First published in movmnt magazine “Keep it Real” Spring 2008 issue
To buy this back issue right now : [quickshop:Movmnt - issue 6 - Spring 08 - Keep it Real:price:5.95:shipping:2:shipping2:0:end]