Photo: Shervin Lainez
We got the chance to speak with the brilliant Adeline Michèle on the eve of her first live show in 15 months. A conversation about her collaboration with KAMAUU, 2020 release ‘Intérimes,’ BLM, releasing music through the pandemic and her many influences. A bass player, producer, and singer, Adeline’s solo career since performing with the nu-disco group ‘Escort’ has been a thrilling journey for listeners.
We’ve been following you since you were a part of the Nu-disco group “Escort.” And since then, I’d say your sound has had a bit of an evolution. How would you describe it now?
Well, it’s definitely dance music. When I left Escort, I wanted to do something a little more personal and intimate. It’s tricky because I love to dance and hype it up on stage, but I also wanted to have a more laid-back approach to my music. It’s a mix of Soul, R&B music that I try to always make funky.
We’ve been jamming out to your single with KAMAUU,’ Mango’, which is such a summer jam. Can you tell us a little about that project and how it came together?
Thank you! I’ve known KAMAUU for a few years, and I’ve been a fan of his music.
I saw him perform at a party that my husband co-owns called ‘Everyday People’ years ago, and I was totally blown away by him. I think we’ve had this mutual respect for each other, and every time we would run into each other, we’d say, “We’ve got to get in the studio together, do a song together.”
It took a while for us to actually get there. One day, I’d posted a video of me singing on Instagram, and KAMAUU wrote to me, “That’s it, we’ve really got to work together.” He was really connecting with what I was doing. We said let’s do it, and he came into the studio the next day.
Morgan Wiley, my production partner and I, own a production entity called Nightshade. We’d started a track the previous evening that only had the drumbeat, some chords, and the bassline chords. When KAMAUU arrived, we were adding some keyboard layers to the track. He walked in and heard the track and started freestyling and recording vocal ideas on his phone. When I asked him if he wanted to hear something else, he said, ‘Nope, that’s it. Let’s work on this one.’ We freestyled together and found the right melodies. He said, ‘Here’s what I’m going through these days, I was in love with this woman, and it didn’t work out, and she’s with someone else,’ and we wrote to that story that he shared with us. We wrote the song in 3 hours, and he recorded his part right away.
It was all serendipitous; our close friend Carter Yasutake who plays the trumpet, who was recording in a studio next door, walked in to say Hello. I asked him to record a solo on the fly, and that’s how we ended up having a trumpet on that track!
What would you say is the principal difference between 2018’s self-titled debut album and 2020’s ‘Intérimes’, and all other stuff that came later?
The first album was me proving to myself that I could do it, you know? Not necessarily to leave the band, because I was really happy with Escort, but to believe in myself as a solo artist outside of the band.
The first album is a collection of songs that I’d been working on for 3-4 years when I’d started producing. It was a love letter to my younger self, to believe in myself, that my ideas were good and that I was good enough. Being a woman in the music industry trying to produce, there have been many occasions throughout my career where people made me feel like my ideas weren’t good enough. It was a testimony of mental resilience. It was really all about trusting yourself and your instincts.
Looking back on it now, I was searching for my identity, and I had so much music in me that I had to express. That’s why I ended up with 15 tracks on the album!
‘9’ is a great new single! Is that sign that there’s an EP on the way? Any dates you can share with us?
There is an EP on the way, and it’s sooner than you think!
The past two years have been either emotionally challenging or productive for many artists, depending on their state of mind. You’ve had the chance to release two EPs. What’s the entire experience been like?
I had the opportunity to ride my bike to work with Morgan in an actual studio every day, to be outside of my home and get into music completely. I had completely siloed away from reality. As soon as everything shut down, I had to dig even deeper and dive into music creation, because it was really all I could do. I feel so fortunate that I could have that.
In the socially charged atmosphere that has been the U.S.A over the past few years, how do you see art and music being vessels for political and social reform?
That’s a great question. The pandemic and all the other issues really put into perspective why I make music and why I do what I do, and the responsibility of it.
Prior to that, I didn’t think my voice mattered that much – I wasn’t a mainstream artist, I didn’t have too many followers at the time. It made me realize that if I could make three people feel good with my music, it was just as impactful as three million.
It was so humbling to hear from people who wrote to me that ‘Twilight’ helped them through things. I realized it wasn’t about me anymore, somebody will listen, and it’ll make a difference, especially being a Black woman and an immigrant in the U.S.
I live close to the Barclays Centre, and I was protesting as well. It felt equally unfair but also the right thing to do, to push the release of my EP. I was working so hard, but as a Black Woman, it was impacting me in so many ways. It was much bigger than me. Sometimes living a normal day as a Black person in the United States is already a challenge, knowing you could walk out one day and get murdered for no reason. That’s what we’ve been trying to express.
The movement was bigger than anything else, and your contribution to that was immense. Let’s talk about your gig at the Turks Inn today! It’s your first show after a long time and from what I’ve read it’s a seated experience. How do you think it’ll impact your performance?
It is seated, and it’s such a sign of the times as the rules are constantly evolving. I wish it wasn’t seated, I like to watch people groove. But I don’t think anybody will get into any trouble if they want to get up!
I’ve had people sitting down when I played at The Blue Note, in Tokyo a couple of years ago. I was happy to be in Japan and playing in a different place. The New York show might be weird, but I’d choose this over playing through a phone or a computer. It’s humans in a room and that’s all I need!
Aside from interviewing with us, what does the lead-up to your show look like?
I try not to make a big deal about it. I spend time with myself the day of the show, I meditate every morning, try and have a normal day. I like a little bit of solitude. I have a lot of energy naturally – so it’s a challenge for me to be calm. That helps to save my energy for the show!
You’re French-Caribbean, born in Paris, living in Brooklyn. You’re a world citizen with so many cultural influences. Who has inspired you musically and mentored your career?
I’m inspired by so many artists that I listened to growing up. I feel like we’re just patchworks of our influences, and I wouldn’t be here doing what I do if it weren’t for all of them. My main influence is Prince, my favourite artist of all. He helped me understand how to hold my instrument on stage, my work ethic, the possibility of being a Singer, Instrumentalist, and Producer.
I feel like I don’t come up with ideas, I’ve had the opportunity of being shown what’s possible and I gravitate towards that.
As an artist you travel quite a bit, do you visit any record stores while you are touring?
I buy old records once in a while. I remember having a great time in Bogotá, Japan, and Turkey buying records. When we are touring, we spend such a short amount of time in a place, and to be able to carry music from those places with me, is an illusion that I got to experience more of the culture than I really did, you know?
I ask this of all the artists I interview: If you could be a fly on the wall in any studio session, past or present, which one would you be and why?
Wow! Can I be 10 flies? Haha.
This will be surprising, the first one I thought of was Bob Marley and The Wailers. Bob Marley’s music is so transcendent. I could go anywhere in the world and in time, and people would feel good and react to it. I want to know what magic existed in that room, and what the infectious energy in that room would be like. It’s like in the movie ‘I Am Legend, there’s a scene where they play Bob Marley and people react to it and it’s so realistic!
Photo Credit : Shervin Lainez
With all that you’ve produced and all the music you’re making now, can you share with us some personal goals that you’d want to achieve with your music?
I’m not going to say I want to achieve Bob Marley status, because that’s impossible.
But, I want to find a sound that’s danceable, dirty, and not obviously Dance-y. That’s hard to do. I just want to keep getting better and developing my sound, and I know that there’s something around the corner that feels like ‘That’s it!’.
There’s something to say about Mango, 9 and certain songs of mine that just come out like that. Songwriting is really a spiritual journey into yourself, and that’s why I meditate so much; is to be in a space where I can receive. You don’t really create anything, you just have to be in the right mental state to receive and have the right tools in your hands as a musician.
Serendipity and Fate! What rituals do you practice to get inspired? How do you navigate a creative block?
Well, if I’m in the studio and I feel stuck with one song, in particular, I just put it aside and try something else. My song ‘Middle’ for instance, was created out of frustration for another song. I was working on another song that I couldn’t find the verse for, I had started getting pissed. Morgan encouraged me to put it down and try something else. That’s probably why ‘Middle’ has an aggressive approach to it.
My mother is from the countryside in the South of France and I spent a lot of my life on a farm. So for a broader ‘creative block’, I find myself more comfortable in nature, sitting on the grass, I could stare at trees for hours!
You’ve had an awesome career so far. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about your craft?
Ha! ‘You don’t make music for musicians’, is the first one I can think of right now.
In a conversation with my guitar player, we were talking about the genius of Jimi Hendrix, and how so much of his music is not musically ‘crazy’. That was the genius of Prince and Bob Marley as well. When you’re not making music to impress, or to show off your musicality – more people will react to it. Simplicity is important. But musicians like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington prove otherwise too!
Thank you for taking the time to speak to us on the day of your gig. Good luck!
Thank you for inviting me, I’m honoured.
Words by Akhil Hemdev & Keerthana Sudarshan.