Michelle’s New Summer Track Takes Us Back to Sunnier and Brighter Days
The six-member collective is riding at the forefront of New York’s energetic music scene.
The six-member collective is riding at the forefront of New York’s energetic music scene.
Text: Laura Sanchez
“Music can be like a mirror: you can face the mirror flat and use it to reflect the reality that's going on—or you can kind of angle that mirror 45 degrees and it goes up into the sky. And that music can help you escape the world,” says Julian Kaufman, one of the six members of the NYC-based collective, ‘MICHELLE.’ The sextet of multi-talented singers, song-writers and musicians blend a vast range of genres to deliver a fresh sound—a cohesive sound created by six unique, creative minds. This week, MICHELLE released a new track that smells and feels like hot, sweaty summer air. “Sunrise,” allows you to escape to better days filled with summer love, reminding us that like the sun will we will rise, again. V discusses MICHELLE’s creative process through these trying times and the release of their new summer track.
V Magazine Given the social distancing regulations implemented during this pandemic, how has your band managed to continue working together, yet separately? How have you adjusted your working methods?
Julian Kaufman It's definitely been a challenge to keep up our productivity and creativity in our current team. Usually, our process takes the form of the kind of a writing camp, where we'll all get together over the course of a week and work in different groups of people within the band. And usually that happens either just at somebody's house or at some of our houses, wherever we've got instruments. It usually involves a nice lunch and some sunshine or the breeze or if it's cold, we stay inside. In quarantine, it can't really do that. So we've just been trying to focus on the second half of the creative process rather than the first half. We've done a lot of 'starting' before quarantine started. So I think we've taken this individual time as a way to finish a bunch of things. We're finishing up a lot of the production and getting ready to release.
Charlie Kilgore Yeah, I think as the realization has come to a lot of us that this is probably going to be going on for a while. I have definitely been trying to figure out ways to make the ‘starting’ feel a little easier in ways that it normally wouldn't. It's just becoming a little bit more of a daily practice thing.
V So let’s go back to the beginning. You began by forming an NY-based collective, can you tell me more about how that got started?
Layla Ku Yeah, we all had this very intricate web of connections between us, but we had never come together in a group setting. So Charlie and Julian, individually, kind of roped each of us in, we knew them from different paths in their lives—through different showcases and other bands that we all kind of had been in and out of throughout that time. We had different courses throughout the album's creation. There would be times when it was just me and Emma in the studio, I later met Jamee at a certain point. We were kind of writing together in groups of two and three. We were all coming in with very different musical backgrounds because this was something that we all had a fairly intense passion for long before MICHELLE's conception. We didn't meet as a full band until like our first show in November, which was like, a couple months after the album itself had come out. We really did come together as a bunch of individuals with individual sounds and styles and experiences and thus this was born.
V Why the name MICHELLE?
Charlie So we'd kind of made this whole album and it was coming up on release. We're all really excited to release it, and then we all sort of like realized, "Fuck, we don't have a name. We don't have a name for the record. What are we gonna do?" So, Heatwave the name of the record came a long time before MICHELLE. But we all sort of realized that this whole mononym female name is a thing that a lot of people are doing, whether it's like Claro, Sophie, or even like, Monica, Brandy, Cher... the list goes on. So we thought, that'd be kind of funny if we did that for a group. And then we just started all throwing in a long laundry list of female names back and forth. And none of them really stuck until MICHELLE.
Julian I think my suggestion was Gertrude.
V I know your band blends R&B, indie pop, and jazz, but if you weren’t restricted by those genres how would you describe your sound?
Charlie Well, there's sort of a huge mishmash of different influences. But everyone has such different musical backgrounds coming in that it's hard to say there's really one 'MICHELLE sound.’ The production that me and Julian are doing is kind of the only consistent thread throughout the whole thing. But Jamee makes such different music from Layla, who makes such different music from Sofia and Emma. When different singers are coming in and especially a different combination of singers, no sound, no song is really going to sound that similar to another song. MICHELLE is going to sound a million different ways, depending on which day you ask us the question.
Sofia D'Angelo MICHELLE is very rooted in, inspiration-wise, in Black music all around. And like Charlie was saying each of us come in with our own inspirations that definitely get their inspirations from Black music as well.
V Your band is composed of mostly women of color. Based on your experience, what challenges do POC artists face today when trying to break into the industry? Especially women?
Jamee Lockard I think there's increasing representation, but having grown up not seeing people who look like us in powerful positions, who are like acclaimed for their talent or skill, it's hard to see yourself in that position if you don't see people who look like you, who you resonate with, that are already in this position. So I think representation is really difficult because I've been practicing my guitar a little more recently, and I'm just thinking if I saw more female guitarists, if I saw more women of color who were playing guitar, maybe I would've actually called myself a guitarist earlier on.
Sofia I want to bring up a memory. We played a show at Rough Trade and I remember we got off stage and we were hanging out and some guy comes over and says, "Yo, you girls are fantastic!" And we're like, "Thank you." Julian and Charlie were with us at this time, they were just backstage or something. And the guy's like, "Yo, those guys write such good songs." And we were like, “Ye all write.” And he was like, "Nah, you have to tell those dudes that they write amazing music like you guys sang those songs so well." Like, if you heard me sing it, I wrote it too. That was a very unfortunate experience. And it's probably not going to be the last time we go through something like that.
Emma Lee Yeah, I think that also comes with, in general, just being taken seriously or in how someone writes about you when making edits as to whether you're a substantial part of the group or a part of the making, as opposed to just the performer, or the vocalist, you know, or “the girl.”
Layla It’s so empowering to be at the forefront and embracing that energy, and embracing your sex appeal. Being confident in that but also acknowledging that we are not just the visual and vocals on to this. The brains behind the operation are very much so the six of us and what I would say is a very proportional kind of system.
V I see that you have all been very active during the protests and marches for the Black Lives Matter movement. Why do you think it’s important for artists to use their platform?
Jamee I'd say that being afraid of getting political is just not how we feel at all. We're not an industry plant, we’re six individuals. Black Lives Matter is an issue that affects us directly, affects our loved ones directly and just affects people. So this is a human rights issue. It's also political because systemic issues require systemic change, but it's an interpersonal problem too. And so we've decided that it's important for us to make this stance, make it known that this was important to us and not just berate people or make people feel bad for not knowing things because we've all been socialized in a very, like Western colonialist, Eurocentric school system. But we're trying to provide educational resources on our Instagram, we're trying to provide action items for people to sign petitions, and send emails to their elected officials. [W]e're also just trying to use our platform to bring attention to issues that we think are really important. Bring attention to other people who are bringing attention to issues. We want to share our platform with other people and create a very inclusive community that's hate free, and working towards educating ourselves and unlearning implicit biases.
V So you have a new song, “Sunrise,” can you tell me what you want to convey through that song?
Emma Yeah, we wrote "Sunrise" two January's ago, right. Yeah, February 2019, and it's about like summer you know. So there you have already like this kind of escapist feeling of just really reading the energy in the room was like what we were trying to get. But we wrote this song then and had been performing it ever since. And it's gone through a couple iterations. It's been recorded a couple times, we've had to live with, sit on. Sing the song going to bed just, it's lived with us for a long time. And it felt like the right song to be a first single because we had been living with it and we're also excited about it.
Sofia I love this song. I'm really happy that this is our re-entry into releasing music because sonically, it's just a really steady MICHELLE thesis statement of what we sound like and how we want people to feel when they listen to our music.
V You’re signed to Atlantic Records, how does it feel to be signed to such a big label? Was this in your vision?
Layla Yeah, I still don't believe it. But I'll listen for the time being.
Charlie I remember right after we finished recording Heatwave, you know, everything was done. We're getting a takeout-Indian-celebratory lunch and Julian was like, “Charlie, I think this record could actually go somewhere. I feel like we've got to know someone who knows someone who works at some record label. I feel that we could really reach out to people and it could be something big,” and I was like, “Whoa, slow down. I think you're really getting your hopes up here in an unhealthy way. We just made this thing and that's enough and no one's gonna care about it and that's fine.” And I have never been happier to be proven wrong.
Jamee I went away to Ecuador for a semester to study ecology, and that's when the paperwork was actually happening and the meetings were happening. So I personally had a very big culture shock when it came to that because I was only seeing contracts. I wasn't in the boardroom meetings. I FaceTimed once, in the middle of my biostatistics class, but I didn't go to the Atlantic offices until after we signed and I was like, “Oh wait like our pictures are up in the Atlantic record studio and we're recording in Atlantic record studio!”
V Last fun question, once live music resumes what kind of event/show would MICHELLE have?
Emma I just really miss all my friends. Maybe it's like medium-intimate. I would love to see the people that I love and have them sitting back. I just want to sing with everybody else, I want to perform with everybody else. And I want to hug everyone.
Layla I want the exact opposite of that. I want to be the most fucking batshit insane rager. I want someone to break a guitar. I want us to dive into the audience and crowd surf. I want the whole thing to feel like a fever dream.
Julian I want to do Celebrate Brooklyn! I want us to rehearse for like four weeks, with a live band and really rehearse it and just get it unbelievably tight. Just have it be super overflowing and have all my friends either like sitting on the side or upon the grass.
Jamee I would love to do an intimate thing but also, this is the first show out of quarantine so I want to go hard but I don't want to go so hard.
Charlie It's gotta be outdoors, but the thing that I feel really passionate about is it's gotta be a live band.
Emma You guys are right, let's go crazy. I can't wait.
Watch the new video for their single, "Sunrise" below