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Watch & Listen
Time away from the spotlight can be a bad thing.
But for Chrisette Michele, it was a necessary thing. Without the break, there is a strong possibility she wouldn’t be sitting in her Williamsburg apartment on a crisp morning, excitedly talking about her brand new album, Better.
To say the album title is fitting would be an understatement. Chrisette is giddy and proud to share the name of her fourth album with anyone who asks if only because she is a living embodiment of the word. “I’ve sang a lot of broken-hearted love songs because I had a broken heart from love,” says Chrisette. “I began to write a little bit darker. And for me, dark just means a song that doesn’t have a happy ending.”
On Better, even when Chrisette is laying her heart out on a table, she sounds confident and composed. Whether it’s the emotional Prince-like balladry of “You Mean That Much To Me” or the stern warning of “Snow,” Chrisette sounds independent and resolute. Even on “Soopa” a song where she explains to her lover that she won’t always be the perfect woman, Chrisette isn’t apologizing for her flaws as much she’s telling him, take it or leave it, and if you leave it, that’s okay.
Chrisette’s 18-month long journey to be the better hasn’t been completely downtrodden. “There were some really, really low and really, really high moments,” says Chrisette. “So over the past year and a half, I took the time to regroup and pull my heart together.” Chrisette insists her time away had little to do with the music industry and more to do with how she was feeling within. Around the time she began to promote her last album, “Let Freedom Reign,” Chrisette felt what in hindsight looked to be burnout. She was physically, mentally, emotionally, and artistically fatigued. So she took time for herself, traveling the world as a global citizen instead of an artist.
But along the way, Chrisette says she developed a vice - albeit not with the kind of substances we typically associate with vices like drugs and alcohol. Rather, it was an unhealthy addiction to food. “I literally gained 40 pounds,” she says. “And I began to feel not beautiful; heavy on the inside and outside.” The effects of her eating habits began take a toll on her public persona. “I would avoid everything from the red carpet to television appearances,” she says.
Though Chrisette could feel and see the effects her unhealthy lifestyle had wrought, the biggest wake-up call that she was not in the best of places was in her music. “I felt myself beginning to give music that doesn’t have a happy ending.”
To get right, Chrisette began to open up in therapy sessions and in her journal about the way she was living, focusing specifically on the way she was eating. “It wasn’t natural,” she says looking back on that time period. By meticulously documenting her daily eating habits, she began to gain some introspection. “I was able to find my spiritual self, my writer, and most important to me as a girl who likes all things girly, my love for love again.”
Recognizing what was missing on her own was a crucial turning point in Chrisette’s path to better. But another important point came during a recording session with producer Harold Lilly. “Harold offered me some green stuff,” Chrisette recalls. “And I said, ‘No thanks, but I’d like some Reisling please.’” Lilly acted as though he didn’t hear her. “No,” he said. “You have to try this.” The green stuff Lilly was referring to was juice. “After Harold told me how green juice changed his life, I decided to try it myself and I’ve been juicing and a vegan since January of last year.”
A healthier lifestyle has begat a healthier Chrisette Michele as an artist. “A lot of artists don’t really worry about what space they’re in when they create, then they give people things that aren’t healthy,” she says. “Then you wonder why people aren’t healthy when they listen to certain types of music. It’s important for me to become healthy in order to give music.”
In other words, a better Chrisette Michele = BETTER.
Though Chrisette took her time to put together her new album, she didn’t stay completely silent. She was featured along with Musiq Soulchild on “Ah Yeah,” the single from jazz pianist Robert Glasper’s 2012 Grammy winning album, BLACK RADIO.
And in late 2012, she excited fans with a surprising free mixtape project, AUDREY HEPBURN: AN AUDIOVISUAL PRESENTATION.
The mixtape was a necessary reminder to her fans. “I went to the record label and I said, “It’s taken us a long time to put out this album, but I need to tell my fans what’s going on’,” Chrisette explains. The result is a concise but bountiful 9-track collection of soulful goodies that features collaborations with Wale, Bilal, and 2Chainz. A close listen to songs like “Rich Hipster” featuring Wale, is a good way to understand exactly what kind of changes Michele has made in her personal life like her move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “‘Rich Hipster’ is kind of my whole life,” says Chrisette. “In Williamsburg, there is a type of a look. There is a type of sound. There’s food, there’s music. I’m not afraid to be a part of that,”
Chrisette is also no longer afraid to let people in, which is part of what her campaign leading up to the release of BETTER is all about. Not only is she active on social media through her Twitter (@ChrisetteM) and Instagram (@ChrisetteMichelle), she is producing a web video series called, “Journey to Better” that gives her fans an inside look at the kind of lifestyle changes she’s made as a vegan. She’s also posing for PETA and releasing a cookbook/coffee table book called, “Fat Vegan,” which features her one of her favorite recipes, Fat Vegan pizza. “I want to make lifestyle contributions to my fans, not just musical contributions,” says Chrisette.
But it is through the musical contributions Chrisette is really going to let people into areas of her life she hasn’t previously exposed. For instance, the bedroom. “I’ve not been vulnerable on any of my past albums in a sensual way because I was so upset with love,” she says about songs like the sultry “Get Through the Night.” “I wasn’t comfortable being beautiful but this time I’m comfortable talking about the bedroom.”
Artistically, Chrisette is also comfortable with being one of the best singers in her genre. “You have to understand I’m young and when you are an R&B singer, it’s who you are by mistake. I didn’t wake up in the morning and say I wanted to sing R&B,” she says.
But on the title track, Chrisette sounds completely comfortable with the singer she is. “Secretly it’s my favorite song on the album,” she says. “This song is straight old-school R&B, it has the title. It is the type of record, and I’m going to say this because I think it’s important, that I’m an expert in.”
Whether it’s the traditional sound of the title track or the whimsy of “A Couple of Forevers” or the sleek bounce of “Charades” featuring 2Chainz, “BETTER” is about exposing Chrisette’s fans to the new Chrisette. “This album about me is about having as much fun as possible and showcasing my healing,” says Chrisette. “Being able to sing these songs is about the ability to be able to love again.”
Newly-signed RCA Recording artist Alex Boyd is a triple threat – by the young age of 13 he was dancing with Debbie Allen at the Kennedy Center, singing with Patti LaBelle and acting alongside Bruce Willis.
Growing up in northern Virginia, Alex was accepted at Washington, DC's famous Duke Ellington School of the Arts where he was immersed in all facets of music. Alex discovered Musiq Soulchild, D'Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest all the while being trained as a classical vocalist. After his 2nd year at DESA, he earned a scholarship to the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy, located in one of Michigan's national forests. While at Interlochen, Boyd explored the forest and discovered opera. A bit too rebellious for the often rigidly enforced guidelines of the prep school environment, Alex was expelled from the academy and found himself back on the East Coast — just in time to audition and score a part on NBC's Fame in 2003. When the series wrapped, he stayed in Los Angeles and started writing songs. He left the classical world behind and rediscovered his earliest influences in R&B, pop, neo soul, jazz, and rock. With the help of producer friend and chief collaborator Andy Rose, Boyd finally honed in on the musical direction that best suited his craft – classic, old school soul - and was quickly signed to a recording deal.
"The first records I ever made were old Chet Baker and Sinatra jazz standards," he says (his favorite singers are still Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway). "Even when I was studying opera, I wanted to be Harry Connick Jr."
Alex possesses a strong reverence for the soul masters, which is heard in his expressive vocals, as well as throughout the instrumentation and production on his debut.
The album's first single, "Wish I Knew" was produced by Carvin & Ivan of Musiq Soulchild, Jazmine Sullivan, and Jill Scott fame. "Another album highlight is Light Up Tonight," the result of a collaborative effort between Alex and producer Andy Rose.
Themes such as love — losing it, finding it, learning to live with and without it — is a recurring subject throughout Alex Boyd's music. The song "Snap" in particular is about a split Boyd initiated and immediately regretted as the worst mistake of his life. "She had me at the snap of her fingers, and literally I would have dropped everything for her at that time. Nothing else mattered," he says of the uptempo track, which comes with an irresistible horn section. Common, who guests on Boyd's forthcoming album throws a rhyme on "Between the Lines," an introspective song about self betrayal and misunderstanding Boyd wrote nearly 8 years ago. "I remember being in tears at the bottom of a wine bottle with a wet piece of paper and a pen, scribbling out lyrics. I was facing intimidating questions about whether or not I was the person I thought I had been raised to be, or if I was even capable of being that person at all," he says.
And while the collection of songs Alex has created for his debut album is immersed in classic soul, there are many adventurous moments. The track "Commit Me" which Boyd and Rose drafted "when we were in this whirlwind of dreams coming true" after finally landing a record deal, starts with a "They Won't Go When I Go" gospel aesthetic before shifting into a more grimy pop section. "It's got movements that feel like something Freddie Mercury might have enjoyed," Boyd says. "And it was recorded with a full live band."
Alex has a strong storytelling talent and an eye for detail and drama but his bottom line is, and has always been, pure honesty. "Things really changed for me was when I stopped listening to the way I sounded in the headphones while I was recording, and started listening to the way I felt," he says. "The world is hurting badly, and I hope this music will somehow help to heal people everywhere. At the end of the day, that's what all musicians truly are; caregivers. I think it comes with a huge responsibility to deliver the message that you're willing to stand by until the day you die."
Alex is currently in the studio putting the final touches on his debut album for RCA Records and will spend the summer performing at the famed Essence Festival, Hampton Jazz Festival, Cincinnati Jazz Festival, and more.
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