I didn’t know a lot about Kevin Michael when I was asked to interview him. It’s amazing what a bit of research can do for the musical soul. No amount of YouTubing, MySpacing and virtual social networking however, can prepare a person for a brush with the real thing. I went in to the Atlantic Records building with an appreciation for the musician’s vocal range and funky tunes – I came out wowed by a charismatic character.
Physically, Kevin Michael is a striking figure (even from behind). An impressive afro frames delicate features. He’s young, he’s soft-spoken and is delightfully free of the arrogance soaking a lot of musicians I meet. Twenty-two year old American talks like he sings… with Soul and a healthy dose of Funk.
As Kevins spins around in his chair, I’m hit with a wide smile and an outstretched hand. It’s against the rules to fancy a man my junior, but I find myself wishing I was younger. As we chat about the upcoming release of his album Kevin Michael and his Wyclef Jean produced single It Don’t Make Any Difference To Me (1 Love), Kevin’s pride in his music and his background is obvious. As we chat, he tells me about his tunes, fashion sense, hair-do and his ‘pack rat’ tendencies.
KS: What do you think of London?
KM: I love London. I’m a person that knows if I am going to like a place before I even go there, although, I had no idea what Norway was going to be like, so I couldn’t have judged that. I have always known that I would like London. When I was growing up, people would either say that I seemed like a New Yorker or say that I seemed like a European and that I would feel really comfortable in London. I think it is the attitude and the free spirited, fashion crazed…I feel like London is one of the Mecca’s of fashion. I love the accents, ‘I love it!’ (Kevin puts on his best London impersonation.)
KS: Where are you from originally?
KM: I was born and bred in a city called Chester, Pennsylvania which is fifteen minutes south of Philadelphia.
KS: Where are your musical roots from? Have your family always been quite musical?
KM: First of all, I just want to say for the record, I am a weirdo. I say that because if people knew who my parents were, then there is no way that I could not have turned out a musical nut. My mother doesn’t sing, but she always wanted to sing. I think that maybe her love for the music and wanting to be a part of it is why I am so musical. My father was a ghetto celebrity, back in the day; they used to call him Rick Prince because he was this hybrid of Rick James and Prince. I grew up seeing my father in floor length dusters and Michael Jackson leather coats and extensions down to his ass. Literally, my father had white doves in our house. I used to have to take care of the white doves – honestly.
KS: There has to be a song in that somewhere?
KM: Yeah, I wrote a song called ‘White Doves’. That was the first time I recorded was I was about seven years old. White dove, fly away….That is why I am so musical. When I was a baby, he had a band. I was always around rehearsals, I had a nick name back then, they used to call me Budge for Budgie. They used to do band rehearsals in our apartment and I would be jumping in the crib. No matter what song it was, I would always sing to the melody, but I couldn’t really speak so all I would do is go ‘budgie budgie budgie budgie’ to the music.
KS: Has your new album, Kevin Michael, been a long time in the making?
KM: Oh my God, it has been twenty two years in the making, but I guess technically, it’s been nine months. Some songs were written in 2005 – they are the older ideas that we had, we kind of revamped them and fleshed the out for the album. The other stuff was recorded from April to December 2006.
KS: You must have a very proud mother?
KM: (Sigh of relief) She is so happy. I don’t know if she knows, but she was kind of my muse. Back in the day, when I was developing my voice at about thirteen of fourteen, my voice was kind of twangy. She would say “People aren’t going to listen to that, it’s too twangy!” Then, when I decided not to go college and decided to pursue music instead, she wasn’t supportive because…well, I understand her point…she was a single parent, and worked in the same job for like, twenty two years. She was kind of like, why did I spend all that money on schooling if you are not going to further your education. I understood that, but what she didn’t understand was that school is not for everybody. But, everything is good now – I am going to buy her a house next year.
KS: Your album is officially out in the UK on October 29th – you blogged about it on your MySpace which was great because you were so excited and it really captured the moment. Are you still in the moment?
KM: The album came out on the 2nd in America and it has been released in France and Germany and stuff, that’s all cool – I have love for my overseas fan base. But, you have to understand that for me to go home on Saturday and to walk into Best Buy or Virgin and see my face in the store; I’m going to go crazy! I can’t really believe it because it’s a scary thought to me. It’s just weird to see my big ass fro…
KS: That is so great though. Don’t lose that.
KM: Yeah, I don’t want to lose that. I feel like I want to always be hungry for this music. It is my life, it’s in my veins.
KS: Tell me about the debut single, ‘It Don’t Make Any Difference’ – what is the story behind the lyrics to that one?
KM: It is totally autobiographical. When I wrote it, I never thought it was going to be a single. I thought it would be a little bit too heavy for people to deal with. I just did it because I wanted people to know who I was, or at least a part of who I am. Once we got Wyclef on it, it was like, oh, single material now! I wanted to let people know what I am because, people see the fro and they are like hmm, what are you? It talks a little bit about my family and what they went through growing up in the 70’s when it was taboo to be in a mixed relationship. I think that me and my cousins have had it the best. I think that it is great when you see mixed race children – mixed race are the best.
KS: And what about your song, Ode To Michael Jackson?
KM: That was written in May or June of last year. If I am being honest, I didn’t start out with Michael in mind, that just kind of happened because it is so off the wall and Quincy. When I was writing it, I had Marvin in mind.
KS: What has been the highlight so far?
KM: I haven’t seen the album in the store yet in America so that will be a highlight. This summer was really fun because I got to do Lollapalooza; it was my first time to even go, so that was crazy. What was so fun was that we did the official after party at the House of Blues. It was me, Emily King, M.I.A and the headlining act. I worked so much recently that I haven’t had a chance to be an audience member. I got to talking to Emily King and I got to chill with M.I.A and she is AMAZING. The whole time she was on stage, I couldn’t believe my eyes. To see it visually come together totally makes sense.
What is the live Kevin Michael experience like?
KS: First of all, not a lot of people know me so I am trying to prove myself. I have fun when I am on stage; I always tell people not to come looking cute and be all reserved. We come to party. I want to do my shows as quick as possible so that I can get out to the venue and be giving people my CD’s and stuff,
KM: I want to take advantage while I can.
KS: Have you ever had a bad hair day in your life?
KM: Oh, my god – are you kidding me – all the time! When you have a fro, you have to teach your hair how to grow. This doesn’t just happen over night. I remember this one time, I let my friend cut my hair. She was like, ‘I’m just going to trim it,’ but, she didn’t trim it in layers, she just cut the back of my hair straight along. It was just… weird.
Keep your eye on Kevin Michael and catch him during his tour with Maroon 5. He’ll be the one mixing with the crowd between sets. You can’t miss him – just follow the fro.