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Are you looking for the closest thing to a perfect party-record? One that doesn't contain any fillers or mushy ballads, but is chock-full of fat beats and funky grooves? You want catchy melodies to go with that? And a strong female songstress? Well, then Yvette Michele has got everything you want on her debut CD "My Dream".
Yvette Michele was first heard in December 1995 on "Everyday & Everynight", a funky salute to all DJ's, which was lifted from Funkmaster Flex' "Presents The Mix Tape: Vol. 1". (For the uninitiated, Flex is one of the top DJ's on New York's Hot 97, the leading Hip-Hop and R&B station in the U.S.) "Everyday & Everynight" was followed by another smash, as "I'm Not Feeling You" from Flex' gold-selling "Mixtapes Vol. 2", soared up the both the American and European charts about a year later. In October '97, Yvette's much longed-for debut "My Dream" was finally released. Shortly thereafter, I got a chance to catch up with Yvette, via phone from Paris, where she was doing P.R. for her album. The songstress proved to be a very easy-going and articulate person (she has studied to become a speech therapist) and the natural opener was if there's any truth to that old myth that the French are rude. "Well no, I've been treated pretty good", Yvette stated with a laughter. "I've experienced my share of rudeness, but it's not that different from New York, of course".
25-year old Yvette started singing at an early age, but not through the "usual" route; i.e. her first experiences with music did not come in church and she claims that her family isn't musically inclined at all. "No, they're not and they're really surprised. They're all saying 'where did it come from?'", Yvette laughed. "I was brought up in the church, but I started singing long before that. Most people I know, people in the Black American community in general, they all start going to church from the day they are born. I wasn't religious until my mother decided to start going to church, when I was about ten. But for as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a singer. I've always had an affinity for singing. I never took any vocal lessons in school, but I was involved in dance class and I took music lessons. When I would sing at home, my family was like "cut that out, be quiet" (laughs) and that's what made me join the church choir. My family is very supportive, but again, they're very surprised."
At age four, Yvette was
"pestering" her family by singing along to the radio and her parents' records.
Her mother, a huge record collector, subjected Yvette to large doses of popular R&B
like the Sylvers and Jackson Five, but also a great deal of Jazz from Ella Fitzgerald and
Sarah Vaughn. But there's so much Funk and Hip-Hop on "My Dream" that Yvette had
to have been "funkified" too, somewhere along the line.
Your album is a great mixture of R&B, Funk, Hip-Hop and House. How did you create this sound?
I guess it was a combination of Flex' vision and just the way that I feel the music, the melodies that I hear when I vibe with the music. I picked out most of the songs without lyrics, they were all instrumentals when I made my selections. Once I decided what I wanted to use, I gave the producers the freedom to compose lyrics and after it was submitted to me, I either adjusted it or wrote the song completely by myself. That method seemed to work well for me because it gave me a chance to live with the music and really bring across, melodically, what I wanted to; what sort of was a bit clever or more interesting than the typical arrangements. I tried to give the lyrics a little thought and time. The reason I'm saying it this way is because I had to record really quickly. I was promoting "I'm Not Feeling You" and with the success of that song and "Everyday & Everynight", there was an urgency for the album. I kind of felt rushed, but that was the best system that I could come up with, to make sure that my flavor was included in all the songs and at the same time try to get variety. That was the reason why I didn't write all the songs. I didn't want everything to sound the same.
Who would you say have influenced your vocal style the most?
That's a difficult question, but I would have to say Chaka Khan. Aretha is another person whose phrasing I admire, but mostly Chaka. I have not patterned myself after her and I don't think I sound like her at all. But I feel her music and her voice more than anybody else's. I don't have her range and I don't have her power. I don't really know who influenced my style, who I sound like. It was really uncomfortable for me at first because I thought I should try to sound like somebody else. I tried and I tried and I felt very self conscious. I didn't really get comfortable with my own sound until after "I'm Not Feeling You". One of the things I think I do, more so than some other artists, is that I like to follow the instruments. I like to sound like a horn, or if I hear in the music that an instrument isn't there, I'll try to fit in my voice to sound like an instrument.
I read that when you signed with Loud Records, you thought you were going to make a ballad-orientated album.
Initially, I did, yeah. I do love ballads and I felt that I was stronger vocally with ballads. But when I started pursuing music, I was doing House. So the love for both is there, but I think my vision was different. I thought I was going to take a more "serious" settled-down approach first, that was sort of the vibe that I was getting from Loud Records, that they wanted a Diva-Diva, somebody to be competitive with Toni (Braxton). I would like to say that I'm not disappointed in any way. I'm very pleased and it was intentional that my album is a party album, because again, it's a reflection of the real story behind Yvette Michele. I went to the clubs every Friday after work and I enjoyed myself tremendously. I was a part of that music, that Disco-era, that's when I learned to dance. So "My Dream" is sort of like a biography. The ballads will be a concentration later on. I'm sure that the time will come for me to really display my love for the ballads. But right now, this is my focus because I've garnered the attention. I've obtained an audience that understands my style when it comes to fast music, so I figured' why not hold on to that?'.
I love it and I think it's an honest album. I can safely say to people that ask me what it sounds like that if they enjoyed "Everyday & "Everynight", "I'm Not Feeling You" or "Crazy", they will undoubtedly get into the rest of the album too. Frankly, I'm a little upset about the misleading singles releases I've seen from some artists. It's happened more than once that the first single issued from an album is upbeat and funky and that'll make someone like me, who isn't too interested in ballads, purchase the entire album, only to find that there aren't any more uptempo tracks!
Oh, thank you! Thank you very much. That was the intention and to be quite honest, because the album was prepared so quickly, as I was working on it, it seemed like there was no order (laughs). We were just working and I didn't know what it was gonna turn out to be! But I'm happy that you did perceive that and in speaking with people here in France, I've heard that it's being received the same way and I'm just really glad because it feels like my work was not in vain (laughs).
Just how quickly was it recorded?
Within three months, but I was also traveling at the same time! I started recording the album before "I'm Not Feeling You" was released. That was in the summer of '96. I was signed to Loud Records in January, I was working "Everyday & Everynight" promotionally over here In Europe and in the United States and in the summer of '96, I started working on my album. However, at the same time, Flex was working on "Mixtapes Vol. 2" and I had to take a pause and work on "I'm Not Feeling You". I started traveling because "I'm Not Feeling You" took off and there would be times when I would go directly from the airport to the studio. I had to write songs, maybe on the plane, in the hotel room, it was really that type of situation. I would say, back and fourth for three months, I consistently worked on the album. I didn't get a lot of pre-production time, so basically I had to go in the studio, record the song and I really wasn't given an opportunity to revise it. A lot of what you hear on the album is the one time recording. I hear things that I would love to change, but with the reception I'm getting from others like yourself, I feel that maybe I shouldn't be so critical (laughs). I'm a perfectionist, I'm trying so hard to make it right.. To make a lasting impression. My main objective is longevity. I don't wanna be a one-hit-wonder.
I'm not a Hip-Hop connoisseur, but I do know that Loud is the home of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Tha Alkaholiks, hard-core Hip-Hop acts. Was it hard being the first female -and R&B artist- on the label?
Yeah. It was at first, like with any new relationship. Loud knew nothing about R&B so we had our growing pains together. They've since learned what to do when the make-up artist is not great, if my hair is wrong or if I need clothes. I had a few bumps and bruises but I'm happy because I learned a lot along the way. It's an independent label and I was given a lot more freedom than a first time artist normally is, with respect to writing, being involved in the musical and vocal arrangements, and the selection of my producers. I was the first, but now Loud have Adriana Evans. She was brought on-board through PMP Records. She's excellent. She's got such a soul and she just feels the music. She's a throwback to the emotions, she reminds me of the early days of, just that soft, sweet Teena Marie, Minnie Riperton-sound. And her band is awesome, as well as Davina, who's an artist that was selected by the Loud Staff. Flex brought me to Loud, and Davina is the first artist that Loud's A&R selected and she signed direct. She's also a great talent. She's more of a one-man-band, you could say. She has the ability to produce her own music as well as write. She has a song on the soundtrack "Hoodlum", it was the first single and it's called "So Good" and I think her album will drop in the beginning of '98. So with Adriana and Davina, I feel like I'm in good company (laughs).
You wrote and co-wrote eight of the thirteen tracks on the album.
Wrote and co-wrote the lyrics, yes. With the music arrangements, I mostly made suggestions about different things. Subtle things, little changes. I was more involved in the vocal arrangements and the lyrics than I was in the music. But I did hand-pick the tracks, one by one and I feel good about my final choices.
Another thing about the lyrics. There's no "freak-me-booty-bumping", which is quite unusual in the Hip-Hop R&B world. Was that something you consciously decided to avoid?
Yes. I did that on purpose. Because I think it's time for a change and also, that's not me. I've always been subtle. I mean, I can get down and dirty, but it's not like I have to broadcast it (laughs). I think to be subtle or suggestive is more sexy than being blatant. That's not me, so I could not have portrayed that well. I tried to do what I could make believe.
Funkmaster Flex produced "Summer Love", "I'm Not Feeling You", "Crazy" and "Everyday & Everynight", but you also worked with Full Force on "Let's Stay Together", "So We Can Get Down", "DJ Keep Playing and "The First Time". Full Force were one of the first to mesh Hip-Hop with R&B, they did that long before the whole Hip-Hop/R&B trend, before Mary J. Blige became the "Queen of Hip-Hop-R&B". I think of Full Force as legends and pioneers. What was it like working with them?
I feel the same way about them. Working with them was just such an honor, I couldn't get over the fact that I was working with Full Force after having followed them for so long as a fan. They turned out to be great people, in addition to great musicians and artists. They sang with me, they taught me things that you can only learn on the job, like how to breathe and how to pronounce words to convey a certain feeling in the song. Just different vocal things that I would never have learned, had I not been associated with them. Up until that point I was really dealing mostly with Hip-Hop production. Not to take anyway away from Flex, but he wasn't really educated in terms of the music side. Working with Full Force enlightened me and we're friends forever. We talk all the time and they're very excited because they credit me for re-exposing them to the Hip-Hop or the R&B scene. I'm sure they're gonna get a lot of work because they gave me some really bomb tracks and I'm just happy to be a part of it.
Can you tell me a bit about the other producers and writers you worked with?
"All I Really Want" was produced by Vincent Herbert and a protegee of his by the name of Reggie Burrell. Vincent's produced Monifah, done remixes for Janet Jackson, he's popular with remixes. I liked his style, so we got together on that song. The title track "My Dream" was produced by Ira Schickman and Dinky Bingham. They're the team that worked together with Chaka Khan, New Edition, Rahsaan Patterson and Ira has been in Chaka's band for quite some time and he facilitated my chance at meeting her. She's my idol! She's excellent, she's so nice, she's a real person and she was actually very helpful in terms of talking to me about the songs that I was working on. Her daughter Milini, who is also a singer, sang backgrounds with me on that song. The remainder of the tracks "The Way I Feel" and "Only Want To Be With You" were produced by singer/songwriter/producer-extraordinare Ivory. He's a new addition to the Loud team and he's under Funkmaster Flex' label as well. Ivory's about to come out in January with his album and we work well together. We're like brother and sister; we fight and then we make up, we work, then we fight again (laughs), but we're a team nevertheless and those songs are incredible to me because they were two of the first I recorded. I'm really pleased with the melting pot of producers and the talent that was contributed.
I also noted Felicia Adams's name on the credits. Who is she?
Felicia is an artist that was also featured on a compilation, like myself. She was with Untouchables Entertainment, which is Eddie F's production company. He's also with Motown as an A&R and he's a producer who's very influential in Heavy D's career. Felicia is from Westchester which is an area of New York that is outside of the city, but close to the Bronx where I grew up. We have similar influences and I always admired her. Unfortunately, she didn't do much after her appearance on Eddie's compilation, but I looked her up and I worked with her on "Crazy". She helped me bring my thoughts together and write. She also worked on "Summer Love" with me and I think we make a great team.
What instrumentation did you use?
Ivory, Ira Schickman and Full Force contributed live bass and guitar on some tracks. The rest were from the machines in the studio and a few samples. But I requested that the strings be played live. But that's my goal, I definitely want a band. Like we talked about before, I initially thought it was gonna be more of a laid-back album, that is one of my sides. I want to be a Jazz artist, that is like my dream, and being in front of a band is a part of that and Jazz usually has a slower groove. So that's basically the mentality behind what you read. It's just a reflection of where I want to go ultimately.
Is your real name is Michele Bryant?
Both Yvette and Michele are my "real names". My name is Michele Yvette Bryant, but I reversed my first names because I couldn't think of anything good to name myself. I said "Flex, what am I gonna call myself?" We had completed the "Mixtapes Vol.1", "Everyday & Everynight" was about to be released and I was stuck. I could not think of a name and I needed something that was gonna stick, a name that really would be a part of me. Flex said "what about your real name?" and I said "nah, there's too many Michele's out there. There's Me'Shell NdegéOcello, there's Miche'le, I can't use Michele". He was like "well, what's your middle name?" (laughs).
(Laughs) I know you're probably tired of telling how you met Flex, but it's such a good story..
That's alright! Flex and I knew each other from school. He was a grade ahead of me and he also happened to be a DJ. When we would have parties, or dances, he always volunteered his services and it was kinda like the class joke because he wasn't that good or as good as he is now, but he was always Johnny-on-the spot. After graduation, I would see him in passing and we'd speak from time to time, but it was never more than "hi, how are you, who've you seen from school", that kind of thing. This particular time that I ran into him, I was really kind of fed up with the rejection I had been receiving from people who were promising to help me with my career. I felt like I had nothing to lose in mentioning to Flex that I was a singer. But I didn't know that he was Funkmaster Flex, I knew him as my friend George from high-school. Well, he said he was looking for a singer and that's when the conversation went into "so what are you doing?" and he told me he was a DJ, hottest DJ in New York City. I had been listening to his show, didn't even know it and I said "I have a demo. It's not complete, it's only one song but I'd like you to hear it. Maybe I can help you". Flex said "I am considering some other singers, but I will listen to yours" and within a couple of days we got together and he told me he wanted to work with me. That was the beginning. So, it wasn't like we were total strangers, but we hadn't been in touch for a long time. It's really like a dream come true for me and that's why I call the album "My Dream". My ultimate dream is for my occupation to be something that I can put my creative talents into and something that I love. I was able to see what it was like to earn conventional living because I started out working and going to college and all the while I was dreaming of bigger and better things. I was pursuing singing, but not whole-heartedly, because I didn't think it was ever going to happen to me; Michele Bryant from the Bronx being discovered? Oh, please (laughs). But I never stopped trying. For some reason it never affected me to the point where I would give up totally. I would sing at work, customers would hear me sing and I'd be like "oh, it's just a hobby"(laughs). But every Friday night I'm at the clubs. I know all the words to all my favorite songs, I'm a real critic with music and I'm also performing at open-mike nights spots in Greenwich Village. I was known on the underground circuit and I just felt like this was my destiny. Even if it wasn't, I still loved to do it. It was the only thing that really kept me motivated. School? I was into that, but it wasn't like I loved it. Work? I liked that because it earned me a living, but I didn't love it. Do you know what I mean? Music was my real, true devotion and for me to be recognized for my talent, just to be given an opportunity is just a blessing. It's my dream come true. If it all ended now, at least I have realized my dream. I have accomplished what I always wanted to do, which is to have a world-wide distributed album where people can hear me sing.
Is it true that you had sort of put a deadline on yourself when you met Flex?
Yes. I was very frustrated at that point. I said to myself "I'm really going to pursue this". I had always done that, but I had not dared to quit my day job. I decided to stop working and really go for it, gung-ho. I started going to auditions for background singers for artists like Mary J. Blige, Aaron Hall and Changing Faces, I was going to the industry parties, trying to find out who is who in the business and hook up with somebody who could take me to that next level. These were things I had not done before. I had been trying other routes, but I gave myself an ultimatum. I said "if it doesn't work out after trying this, then maybe its just not meant to be" and then I met Flex within six months.
I saw in your press bio that you were "sick to your stomach" when you first went into the studio with Flex to record "Everyday & Everynight" (laughs).
(Laughs) yes, I was so nervous! It was crazy! I had to keep running to the bathroom, I could not believe it. I was like "what did I eat?" But I hadn't had anything sour.. Oh my God! (Laughs) it was just so intimidating to be in a recording studio, with Funkmaster Flex, his manager, the producer and everybody staring at me through that glass. And Flex had not heard me sing live, he had only heard my demo, so he was as nervous as I was. He later told me that they had someone on reserve, just in case I didn't work out. But he took a deep breath and I started singing and that was it. He liked it and we went with it.Then Loud Records heard it and they wanted to sign me.
I heard you suffer from stage fright too. Has it gotten any better?
No, not yet (laughs). I still get the jitters right before I go onstage. I think it's a little worse when I perform for my peers, like conventions and expos. I'm still dealing with that. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. To me, it's good because it indicates that I still care about how I'm perceived and I try to be the best that I can. I will not be trying to get rid of the stage fright too soon.
Here in Europe, I think most people discovered you via "I'm Not Feeling You". The video is hilarious, who is that female rapping about the useless man?
Thank you. That's an artist by the name of Mother Superior. She's a rapper, kinda like a female KRS-1, on Island Records. Very militant, very political, very strong in her presence and I thought she would be a good person to convey the attitude in the spoken part. It was really patterned after Oran "Juce" Jones's song and it was intended to be funny, depicting a typical New York girl, in her accent and everything. Like I'm not having that (laughs). But I wanted it to be an anthem for women. I thought it was time and I just wanted to have that relationship with my fans where they could see that I'm not so serious all the time or so lovey-dovey.
Speaking of your image, you have a million faces. Comparing the photos of you on the album and the singles makes me wonder if Yvette Michele is one person or more! (laughs)
(Laughs). I've always been like that way. I can switch from high glamour to sneakers and a sweat suit in a minute. I get bored with one look and then I change my hair color or I let it grow and then I cut it off. I thrive off change and I never wanna be one look. I thought it was cool to have different looks, like Madonna. And since it comes naturally, I just go with it. But I'm fair. I'm light-skinned. I lost about twenty pounds since "Everyday and Everynight". I lost it intentionally because I wanna be in shape. I dance in my shows, so I have to be able to breathe and sing at the same time. I'm short in terms of height and people say I look like Angela Basset in person. I don't really wear make-up, unless I'm doing a photo shoot or a video. I like the clean look. What else? Um, I have curly hair. The first publicity pictures that were sent out I has short hair and then as it grew I had a weave put in, that was on "I'm Not Feeling You" and now I'm natural. My hair is about shoulder length, it's like a reddish-brown with blonde highlights and I wear it kinky-curly, nothing special about it, just wash and let it air dry. I wear glasses, but primarily contacts. I have different frames, depending on whether I want to wear glasses or not.
During your stay here in Europe, what has been the number one thing people have asked?
Where I'm going from here and my answer has been "everywhere". I want to do everything. I'm looking into acting, I hope to ultimately produce. I think that gives you a lot of freedom and it's something I should have done, meaning completely learning an instrument. I hope to continue to make good music.
Who would you like to work with, if you could choose freely?
I think Keith Crouch is absolutely
great and I'd love to work with Me'Shell NdegéOcello and Babyface. I would like to do at
least one ballad with him. I'm curious how we would work together.
© Maria Granditsky