Interview: Kevin Michael
Mon, 18 Jun 2007 11:30:50
Recently signed to Downtown Records—the label that released the breakout Gnarls Barkley album St. Elsewhere—Kevin Michael mentions legends like Stevie Wonder, Prince and Michael Jackson as central influences. Clearly, Michael's got his sights set high. But if his YaDig? EP is any indicator, Michael's innovative blend of soul, pop and funk could just be the ticket to his own breakout success when he drops his full-length debut on August 28th.
We caught up with Michael to talk about finding inspiration in Philadelphia, his bi-racial background and what to expect from his new album.
How did you get involved with music?
I started performing when I was younger; you know, school plays and stuff like that. My father played music as well and he was in a band, so since the age of 8 to about 12 I was playing gigs with him in clubs and bars. They were really low-key places, but I was just hoping to get around. It was a routine part of my day.
Is that where you got introduced to R&B music?
Oh that was in everything! But yeah like R&B, soul and a lot of funk. We covered all types of stuff. That's why it's so crazy because I did it when I was young. Then I went to high school and I started to take my music seriously again when I was in my senior year of high school. I've been workin' on it ever since and never stopped.
A lot of great soul music has come out of Philadelphia—what is it about the city that breeds it do you think?
Absolutely, we have a long history and legacy. I guess for me it starts with Gamble and Huff and that whole '70s Motown sound is what put us on the map. And then in this generation we have that whole neo-soul thing going on. The music scene is really small though, I mean there are millions of people in Philly, but the music scene is so small that we all inspire each other—we all work together. I might not know Jaguar Wright directly, but I know her bass player and I was at the studio with Larry Gold and I met the trumpet player for them. So we all bounce stuff off each other, that's what keeps it going.
You've said that some of your influences include Prince and Michael Jackson. Do you have other musicians who influence you that people might not expect?
Oh, hell yeah! I love everybody. Let's see… who is really off the cuff here, I love Bjork. Her vibe and her voice are crazy! How about Stereolab, you know that's one of my all time favorite albums. I love a lot of different people, Led Zeppelin. Kurt Cobain is real gangsta. Some people laugh out here when I call him gangsta, but any and all music is art music—if it's good, it resonates, I'm living into it and I'm drawing something from it.
Your music isn't quite soul, pop or funk How would you define it?
I am that artist that walks that very fine line that not everybody walks on. That comes from my background and my growin' up, especially the different types of music that were being played around me at such a young age. It's also because I was never vocally trained; I am totally self-taught. It was just me and my stereo and going through CDs or albums. That's why my music sounds the way it does. If you put Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Bjork into a blender, that's what my music sounds like. I think that's why people think there are different inspirations in my music. I'm really proud of the fact that I'm not easily categorized or am not the same mundane things you're hearing on the radio. I never crave to be this great genius prodigy at 16 that has nothing to do [with anything] under the sun. I draw from the past.
"Vicki Secrets" is a sexy song. There seems to be a very fine line in R&B music between songs that come across as sexy and ones that seem trashy. In your opinion, what makes a song sound sexy?
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