'Genre is an afterthought for us'
Matty Pywell
15:18 22nd July 2020

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MICHELLE are a collective of various backgrounds, united within the proximity of New York City; the place that first brought the group together. After bad breakups, Julian and Charlie - instead of being bogged down by their frustrations - were inspired. What came next was a plan conceiving a quasi-concept record about intricate relationships and growing up in New York. Not ones to make it easier for themselves, the whole thing came together in just two weeks.

Adding Layla, Jamee, Sofia and Emma, a collective and fascinating collaborative project was born. The result of this clear-minded vision made 2018's ‘HEATWAVE’, a seamless experience and a project in which each member’s artistry is given full room to breathe and express itself. Each track is built on solid grooves, floating, flirtatious RnB and the highs of dream pop. Each riff; every line of synth is packed with colour.

The album was an experience in which a whole range of voices appear, coming into and out of fruition like a rolecall of characters: falling in and out of love and going through some of the most confusing times of their lives. 

Last week, the group made a comeback with their new single ‘SUNRISE’. We used it as an excuse to catch up. 

Gigwise: How did you settle on the name MICHELLE?

Julian Kaufman: As much as we are unique individuals, when we all come together, there is a greater being that comes alive. Trying to name that being was a challenge, but at the end of the day, MICHELLE felt right. Our second choice was GERTRUDE.

GW: As a group you have cited a wide range of influences from SZA to Led Zeppelin: how has that culminated in pop and RnB music? Are you planning on straying into different genres in the future?

Emma Lee: Six different minds making a sound for one band has allowed us to explore and expand our sound - which I’m grateful for. I don’t ever wanna be stuck in one place and I think it’s important that we are listening and making whatever we feel at the time. How our inspirations and listening habits turned into something else is a product of all of us being growing listeners and creators.

Layla Ku: We are bound to shift and change and grow, as people do. Our work is very directly affected by whatever it is we’re each experiencing or feeling at the time. Existing within a specific “genre” is too limiting for a group of 6 wildly different individuals. Genre is an afterthought for us.

GW: Your debut album HEATWAVE was all about growing up in New York. How would you describe your relationship with a city that is often romanticised by the media?

Sofia D'Angelo: Each of us have different relationships to NYC having grown up in different neighbourhoods and going to different high schools, but it’s ultimately such a small town and unites all of us together through the experience of just being from there. Personally, the city and I have the most exhausting yet fulfilling relationship; it might give me a crappy commute or slow-walking tourists, but the moments it feels surreal (running into your friends at the park, walking for hours with no destination along the river, being alone with your favourite piece at the MET) make it worth it.

Charlie Kilgore: I don’t think the New York we live in is necessarily the New York glorified by the media - that image of New York only really exists for people that moved here as adults. People who have lived here all their life, especially kids growing up in New York, tend not to really give a shit about upscale salad places and Broadway musicals, they just want to live their lives.

I know that a lot of people who feel really attached to those experiences feel that the glitz and glamour and tourism that the media romanticises is a really intrusive force. I think that’s the New York we’re writing about. It is a romanticised New York, but not by the mainstream media. It’s romanticised by other New York kids.

GW: It is a city known for the rise of so many genres, how has it influenced your own work?

JK: It is often said that process defines product. The way you get to where you are is often the deciding factor on what you are. We all grew up in the city, had our hearts broken in the city, cried with our friends in the city, so it’s inescapably who we are. MICHELLE was born in NYC, came up in NYC, and is going to remain in NYC for as long as we can.

CK: I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but for me, one of the most amazing things about coming up as an artist in New York City is just how many people there are making work all around you who are just so, so, so much better than you. Competition is a hell of a motivator.

GW: Your new single 'SUNRISE' feels perfect for the summer months, which can be said for quite a lot of your songs, is that by coincidence or does summer hold a particular place for you as a group?

EL: We made HEATWAVE in the summer of 2018, so our initial sound was moulded by that time. 'SUNRISE' was given to the summer, though it was written in the wintertime. We’ve all agreed that our sound calls to some honey like warmth which has stayed pretty consistent, but we are excited to share the music we are working on that expands towards new textures and seasons.

GW: Within the group there is a diverse range of backgrounds, how have you been discussing the Black Lives Matter movement? There is a long way to go but do you feel as though the right steps are being made towards fighting racism?

Jamee Lockard: As a band, we wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement and our conversations about BLM have mainly involved how we can use our platform to help. As individuals, we've participated in the movement through protest, donations, emailing/calling politicians...

I think the changes we're seeing in US policy and society are steps in the right direction, but they're baby steps: acknowledging that Black Lives Matter is the bare minimum. We have to continue to advocate for change and pressure our elected officials to dismantle the systemic inequities embedded in our legislation. We have to continue to educate ourselves about our country's racist history and commit to standing up against racism. We have to look inwards and challenge ourselves to unlearn white supremacist/anti-Black ideologies.

GW: You have been really active in sharing reading sources, offering out free music lessons and helped out your community with a GoFundMe page, what have you observed in your community during this time?

JL: I think our community, and the US as a whole, is experiencing a much-needed cultural shift. Racism in the United States has been normalized by white/non-Black communities for centuries; now we're seeing an unprecedented level of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and MICHELLE is trying to help any way that we can.

We're sharing resources with our listeners in order to highlight the lasting effects of systemic racism and to emphasize the importance of unlearning our implicit anti-Black biases. We have also taught free music lessons (production, song writing, music theory...) and donated to a different BLM organisation for each lesson. We wanted to financially help the BLM movement while making music education more accessible!

GW: What do you feel you have learnt from a period in lockdown? What are you most looking forward to post COVID-19?

SD: I’ve learned a lot about patience and about myself. I dismantled a lot of internalised fears I had towards authority figures and towards my artistic expression in and out of MICHELLE. I also realized exactly how special and privileged we are to have a family like MICHELLE in which everyone is always working at improving themselves as people and as artists. I literally cannot wait until live shows… Lately I’ve been watching lots of concert films and crying my heart out.

'SUNRISE' by MICHELLE is out now.

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Photo: Daniel Dorsa