Michelle is Making Music To Find Joy In

Michelle is Making Music To Find Joy In

Michelle is Making Music To Find Joy In

The band talks their new single, "SYNCOPATE," and much-awaited sophomore album in this exclusive V interview.

The band talks their new single, "SYNCOPATE," and much-awaited sophomore album in this exclusive V interview.

Text: Trishna Rikhy

MICHELLE is the best friend you’ve always wanted—or rather, six of them.

The New York-based group is vibrant and charismatic on our Zoom call, each of them trickling in one by one from their individual computers—there is Julian Kaufman first, followed by Sofia D’Angelo and Layla Ku, and then Jamee Lockard, Charlie Kilgore and Emma Lee. While we wait for everybody to join the meeting, the band members make small talk amongst themselves; some slept until one in the afternoon following a late night out, in relatable 20-something-year-old fashion; some were making TikToks just before joining the call; a few of them experienced a collective rental car disaster at 4 AM the night prior after playing a show upstate. They’ve known each other for years, and if their familiar banter wasn’t evidence enough, their distinctive, alternative sound made of the creativity of six tight-knight friends surely is.

“This summer is the first time we’d been together, all six of us at the same time, since the band has started,” says Lockard. “Usually, since some of us were in school or living out of the city, it was hard to get us in the same place. Now that we’re all living in the city all the time, we’re rehearsing four times a week and doing lots of album preparation in between.”

MICHELLE is a band born of unique circumstances in this regard. All the members know each other through either Kaufman or Kilgore, who decided to make an album in 2018; in the early days, there was consideration of calling themselves GERTRUDE. Scattered across the country, the six musicians came together virtually, sharing recordings and sounds until HEATWAVE was born in September—and the first time they were all in a room together wasn’t until months later, in November 2018. 

“A lot of people were part of the making of that record, and the record did pretty well,” says D’Angelo. “And then we started doing shows and getting more attention, which required us to make some sacrifices and make some hard choices and make some awesome choices and share some delicious feasts, and also just do a lot of things we’ve never done before, until eventually MICHELLE became the group that it is today with the six of us. Now we’re embarking on a tour in two weeks and releasing our second full-length album.”

While AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS isn’t due until January 2022, the first single from the sophomore album, “SYNCOPATE,” dropped alongside a music video today. For MICHELLE, everything is warm and sunny; their sound is a conglomeration of influences of all six members, from Sza to Stevie Wonder to NSYNC (“nsync is julians hair influence,” joked Kilgore in the Zoom chat, before hastily adding that “it looks great dont worry”), and their visuals are a dream of New York City friendships dipped in the sweetness of summer. 

The songs on the album are essentially a time lapse of what MICHELLE has been up to since 2018; not all the songs are brand new. “SYNCOPATE,” for instance, was written in November 2020, launched from a melody Kaufman woke up with in his head, a track not added until much later—the vocals led the single to what it is today, a spirited September single with whimsical, groovy vibes, lightheartedness resting behind the force of MICHELLE’s sound.

The music video fits MICHELLE’s sound entirely: Manhattan rooftops (the perfect summer hangout setting, if you’re lucky enough to have one) alternate screen time with the interior of an apartment where the group hangs out, lounging and dancing. It’s warm and intimate, much like our Zoom interview; whether you’ve been a listener to MICHELLE for years or are just being introduced to them, the presence of all six members at once feels like you’re on a group FaceTime call with friends, idly chatting and glimpsing into each other’s days.

“We had a MICHELLE manifesto going into the video,” says Lockard. “It had things like New York being our backdrop, but also the seventh member of MICHELLE. New York is a big part of the reason why the group exists and a big part of our lives, so we wanted the music video to reflect New York.”

If “SYNCOPATE” is any indication, AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS is going to usher in an entirely new era of MICHELLE, emphasizing their creative maturity and growth as a collective. 

“One of the biggest differences [between both albums] is that it’s going from being a fun summer project that we just kind of did and didn’t think much about to our second album, us being a band and really doing it intentionally,” says Lee. “Knowing that it’s the six of us working on this project, solidifying ourselves as a band and actually taking more than two weeks to write and record the album, and being very intentional.”

And how does this new intentionality manifest itself between HEATWAVE and ADWTD? According to Kilgore, “It’s totally different…and also very much the same.”

“A beautiful thing about MICHELLE is that because there are so many members and because the process is always shifting, you hopefully get something different, but that still feels like home,” says Lee. “Something comfortable, like ‘Oh, I know these people, and I’m excited to grow with them.’”

The band agrees that if you find one track extremely weird and another unbelievably perfect, your best friend might find them to be opposite, the weird perfect and the perfect weird. It’s an album for everybody, with something kind enough for all ears, a “galaxy that has all these little worlds in it.” But still, the band carries hopes for what might be a collective takeaway by listeners. 

“Happiness,” sums up Kaufman. “I do think that as musicians, we have a duty to make people feel better about everything. In a certain way, uplifting people. I hope some of the songs make people feel uplifted and happier, because the world can be so difficult and sometimes a good song really can make you feel happier.” 

D’Angelo adds on that she wants the album to feel like a comfort. “For me, whenever I put on a certain record, it feels like home and it’s something that I can always go back to,” she says. “The dream would be for this record to be that for somebody. I want this to be a record that people revisit when they want to feel safe.”

Whether upbeat or mellow, September or January, MICHELLE or GERTRUDE, one thing is certain: everything is right on the horizon for the band. 

“We’re going to see an influx of the MICHELLE vibe being taken in full force to things beyond the music,” promises Kaufman. “In the past, we’ve had a really strong focus on the music and everything else was kind of in the background, but now we’re taking everything and the music and making it just as powerful.”


Credits: Photography by Aysia Marotta Artwork courtesy of Michelle


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