Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter Melanie Fiona reaches deep and shares a lot about her journey into becoming a newly independent artist. If you are an artist yourself or just a creative soul, check out this inspirational interview with Melanie. It will breathe life back into your own work!
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Q: I know you just got back from touring overseas with your new music. How exciting is that! What was the response like over there?
A: Oh man, the shows have been amazing. You know, it’s been a few years since the release of my first album, which is around the last time I toured Europe. Well, London and Paris particularly, I went to other markets but not there since then. Getting back over there was just great, with a warm welcomed response. People had been following my career since, following my new music, and it was like a big reunion, basically, and with the fans I never got to see before, the fans I never got to meet before. It was just like an awesome– really like a positive experience! I really loved it, especially Paris. The Paris crowd, they were so on it. When I asked them, what did they want to hear, they all screamed out “Bite the Bullet”—that was huge, you know, it felt so good because that means they are following the music, they are up to knowing what I am doing new now, and the fans are still there with me on the journey. Like that is just the greatest blessing as an artist. For that fan to grow with you and support you throughout any phase of your career. It was awesome. Now I am actually in Toronto, this is like the final stop this week. I am at home here for the Manifesto Festival, which is great, because it is where I am from, and I am looking forward to sharing the new show with them as well. The energy is all really good right now, around the show and around the music. So I am very happy.
Q: I read that you will be performing in Toronto tomorrow –does it feel different being on stage back home?
A: Yeah! I’m really excited because this festival has been going on for like nine years, I think. We’ve tried to do it a few years prior, but for whatever reasons, you know, scheduling conflicts, we could never get it done, and this is year it just worked out perfectly, that I could come back on the way from Europe to make it happen. The weather is still beautiful in Toronto right now. The festival has gotten bigger and bigger each year now, so it’s actually going to be outdoors Saturday night in like what our Times Square is, called Dundas Square. So, the last time I played at a festival out here, the streets were just packed with people, you know, so it’s gonna feel like a good send off to summer and like a good welcome home for me too. I’m excited; the energy feels really good here. I am staying at my mom’s house. She’s like, “What do you want to eat?” These are like questions I don’t get asked that often anymore, so it is nice! There’s no place like home, for sure!
Q:The video Bite the Bullet is so strong and dramatic, I love it in black and white-did you have any input on putting together some of the idea behind it? Was it fun to shoot?
A:Definitely. The creative concept and everything behind it all came from my manager and myself. We—the space we are in right now– to be independent, all the flow come from us and instead of sending those ideas to other people we decided to do it all ourselves. My manager directed the video, we personally went in and picked out all the styling, did everything ourselves, and it was really like a labor of love. Everybody involved in the team was involved in some way. Some people made cameos, some people were extras, like whatever we needed, everyone was in. It was a real organic and really genuine concept that came from within the team. You know, what you see there is the true reflection of what we are capable of, and I am so glad that the world was able to see that and that they are loving that. Most of the things that we’ve done in the past have been ideas that stemmed from us anyway with an outside team, but being in this independent space really allowed us creative control to tailor and curate everything ourselves. So you know, it is a grand place to be at. I love the video because I feel like…the visual we created was unexpected and it was, and I really appreciate the word you said, “strong”, because I wanted people to feel the strength and the sensuality and the vibe of what that song is about, with the really strong visuals.
Q:I saw you had a dance contest going online, has that been fun seeing the feedback from fans?
A:Yes! I have a few I have to post. That was awesome! I just wanted to open that up for the fans, just to have people interact, to see how the music moved the people. And yeah, I’ve got some more videos to upload. I just love that people feel inspired by it, you know to get involved and feel free. And that was what this project was about anyway. Every concept comes with a campaign to interact, it’s about the fans enjoying the music. So you know, I’m glad you actually thought to bring that up. Thank you.
Q:You took some time to prepare for this album, and there has been some time since your last album release– —as people we change and evolve, what can fans expect the same of from this album and what if anything has maybe changed with you or maybe the sound?
A:Well, I think on this album, just overall from me, what I already know, is that I feel more personally connected to this album more than any of the other albums. Like I said, working in an independent space, I had the freedom to work with an amazing producer named Andre Harris , who we just really organically and at our own pace, at our own creative juices, decided to create this album and have fun and experiment and like just talk about what we want to create, and the mood of what we want to create, and we’re just about finished with the project. I’m so excited. I’ve been working on it since 2013, and so after I finished touring the MF Live I started writing for this project and I knew I wanted the album to be called Awake, and sharing the differences of where I’m at. Where I’ve been to where I’m at, it’s a space of strength, it’s a space of consciousness and presence within myself as a woman and as an artist, and so these songs are personal. I’ve written most of the album, These concepts come from conversations where I think I’ve learned something about myself or something I think people can relate to. I think the thing that people will be surprised about with this album is the vibe of what it is. I think people always have this expectation of me to always only be singing these large, huge big ballads. Of course that is what I classically love to do, to sing like big songs, but on this album I really put myself to try to express myself differently, like I said, conversationally through the lyrics. There’s highs and lows on this album as well, that I think people have never heard me sing at different registers, high registers and low registers. It’s really more, like I said, about the conversation of song. So I think people will be shocked to not know that I could go there and talk about some of the things we’re talking about. You know, I always root my albums, my music, in emotion. And I feel no matter what it is, no matter how small of a story, or how broad of a story, I feel like every emotion is solid. I think that people will see a different side of me; I would call it just more of a vibe side.
Q. When you write a song, what comes to you more, the words or the sound or the emotion? Or are you going through something and that makes you say I need to sit down and write this out?
A. Well yeah, I would say a majority of the songs I wrote for this project all came from the process from 2012 to 2014, where I was doing the most learning and the most growing and the most traveling, experiencing new things I had never experienced before, so the creativity in the stories were just flowing out of me. And in meeting Dre I was able to find a producer I was able to say these things to over music, and he plays every instrument, so he could just build as he went along. And other songs he had music and then we would write something to it, based off the vibe of the music. I keep a list on my phone of like notes and voice notes of things that really stand out to me, like moments or thoughts, post and things I come across that inspire me, the kind that you could turn into a story over music. So, I kind of don’t really have a rhyme or a reason, I’m really an emotional writer, I’m not one of those writers who are like—okay, today I am going to write three songs—so it’s gonna go, it’s not a science to me, it really is an emotional process, but sometimes I get blocked, sometimes I get like I can’t necessarily find the words. I do feel you need to take some time as an artist to get back to what that inspiration is and a lot of times it is the music. It’s like when I find the perfect piece of music that allows me to tell a story for what I want to say, I feel like that is the perfect chemistry for me in writing.
Q. What else do you do when you get writer’s block? Do you like maybe go home or hiking or something—anything else seem to work?
A. Actually yeah, the reset button in my life is very, very important. Actually whenever I feel blocked in any area of my life, whether it’s writing or emotionally, physically, if I’m having a hard time, I always try to hit that reset button– and I come home. It kind of just grounds me, and I can kind of sleep. Sometimes, for some reason, when I come home to see my family I get the best sleep. I guess it’s just like safety. But yeah, home is always a reset button, for sure.
Q. Is there any certain song in particular on this album that really speaks to you? Something that maybe says where you are at or who you are the most right now?
A. Yeah, I think it’s one of the most emotional songs that I’ve written for the album, it’s called, “ I Want it All”, I have this concept, in my phone, in my mind, in my life in these last few years of growing, and it was something I wanted to speak about and say because I feel like part of the reason why I have gotten to where I’ve gotten in my life, the things, the blessings, the people, the energy, just the wonderful experiences I have had, all come from the fact that I have never allowed myself to feel discouraged by what other people were doing or what other people were saying, and “I Want it All” was like a promise, almost like a mantra I made to myself to say like you can have it all , whatever you want, whatever your heart desires, don’t let anyone tell you can’t have these things for your life. Like your standard of success, your standard of happiness is your own, and it has to be determined by you and not other people’s standards. So I wrote this song. Dre was in the studio one day and was playing these chords, it was this music, and I immediately felt like this was the story I needed to tell with these chords, and we sat there together and we structured the song. I wrote the song and came back the next day and sang it. It’s just so honest, it’s just piano and just vocal. And I’ve actually been performing it these last couple of shows and people have cried and commented and reviewed, and like re-posted, and this song is really special to me for that reason. And I felt like it was that saying that I needed to get out on every album, on the first album it was “Ay Yo” , on the second album it was “Wrong Side of Love Song”, and on this album I feel like it is “I Want it All.” It’s for people who need to feel not alone. It’s for the people who feel like they need something to comfort them. And it’s even emotional to perform it. Because the words are so sincere. They came from such a genuine place from me. I mean every single word. I feel like I really manifested that song into what my reality is now. Because I feel like that is the most complete place in my life right now, and I’m on my way to being there.
Q. When do you know music was your calling? Were you little? When did you feel that pull, like this is something I have to do?
A. You know, it was like various stages. It’s like when I look back, when I was like three or four years old, and when people asked me what I wanted to be, I have writings and letters saying that I wanted to be a singing nurse. And growing up I would crack up at myself, I would say what a weird kid. What kid says they want to be a singing nurse, like not just a singer, not just a nurse, but a singing nurse? And then when I was like twenty-one, and I had this opportunity to head to the stage and pursue this in a solo position and experience the American music industry , see what I could make that into—that was also like a turning point for me to know I had to kind of go for it. You know, it took a lot of sacrifice, my friends at twenty-one were like hopping into the clubs and experiencing things like being out and colleges and universities , I was living this life of solitude in the States, trying to find my own way, my identity. It was just totally a different experience for me. But I would have to say the moment I really realized my calling in music when I was on a promo tour and “It Kills Me”, from my first album just came out, and I went to Spellman College and this girl, this young girl– you know, I was all excited to just be out and people knew my songs– and this girl came to me in such a genuine and emotional manner and she cried so sincerely and she told me her girlfriend put her onto my music, and she just recently went through a breakup and was watching my interviews and she said she realized that if someone like you, so beautiful, can experience heartbreak and sacrifice in these things and get up and be so strong and poised and go on all your interviews and go on to be this amazing person, like she could get out of bed. And that is a moment I will never, ever, ever forget, cause it was at the moment I realized what I was doing was bigger than just singing. This gift, this talent, was a vessel to connect with people and really affect them positively, you know, create a community of something like love and strength and something uplifting. That is when the calling all came together for me when I knew that for me, this was my purpose. And if any doubts come your way, you just have to keep on, you have to maintain this, this responsibility, basically. And I never take it for granted. And like even just coming off these shows I did overseas, even after the five years I didn’t see some of those fans, in London and Paris– I never take that for granted. To be able to connect with people like that. It’s the opportunity to be able to do something good for the world and love what you do every day.
Q. You moved on to becoming an independent artist—how does it feel , I imagine you have more control over your career and choices this way—what are the major differences ?
A. Yeah! I think the music industry in general is just headed into a very independent space. I mean people are like more entrepreneurial than ever, whether they’re on You Tube or online or in their basements creating the next amazing idea. You know I feel like having the opportunity to have the choice to become independent after having the experience and the platform of having a major introduction into the music industry for the first time, with two albums, is a real blessing and a real opportunity that I felt I needed to take to kind of, I would say, live and die by my own sword. At this time I feel like I have learned and grown so much myself—myself and my team are at a place where we would bet on ourselves. And we like to express some things that we would like to see. And do. And, it has its pros and its cons, like it is total creative control , that’s wonderful , and the final say comes from us , within us, I’m involved with every step of the process, and the flip side of that is it comes with a lot of work. It comes with a lot of brainpower. And overtime it becomes a true business at the end of the day. Where I am more responsible for the business end , Melanie Fiona music, like I am myself. I am my future more than ever. Because I know what the responsibility is and the output is more than the input, so I have to work harder than ever, financially, energy wise, but like I said, I would bet on myself, and I would bet on my team that I’m good with, so we’re doing great things and it’s been such a great experience so far. And I can’t wait. Today I was planning out my logo for my new album, and it’s all really exciting. To know that every step of the process I get to look at it and feel connected and I feel like the fans feel connected and I feel like they know the personal touch we put into it.
Q. I get that. That is why I love doing the interviews, helping to connect the artist to their fans in a different way.
A. Yeah! And I feel like now with the recent social media the fans can see through the façade of like when the machine created it or when someone else is speaking or tweeting or commenting—and I have always wanted to connect with my fans in a more personal way. I feel like this album more than ever will give people a chance to know who I am , as opposed to what my songs are. Who I am.
Q. To me, your music doesn’t have that manufactured sound, like it stands out —what do you think sets your apart from other music that is out there?
A. I think that it comes down to just my traditional self. I am traditional is a sense of I love what makes me feel something. Like what feels natural to me are things that make me feel alive, happy, sad– things that draw emotion out of me. And so I never want to limit what my sound or genre, quote, unquote, is. I Just because I feel like music is an emotion and I feel as an artist all is emotional. The way I dress is emotional, the way I chose to eat is emotional on certain days. I do everything from a very , very emotional place. And so I don’t think I am into trends per say, trends come and go, and I feel like a classic feeling is forever, so that is why I love artist like Sam Cooke, Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, like Amy Winehouse, she just had a birthday– it’s like all things, you’re attached to a feeling, to a feeling behind it, not just a moment in your life. And also I think just being Caribbean and growing up living in a really diverse city, in Toronto, being exposed to so many different kinds of music. You know, I’ve enjoyed all things that way and I’ve never wanted to limit myself to just one thing. That is what I think makes me different. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but that is what is honest for me. I’ll just stick to that formula, it’s worked so far.
Q. What do you hope people will get from listening to this album? What do you want people to take away from it?
A. I hope that they enjoy it , that is the first thing. I think overall I have never been the type of person to just say, oh let’s figure out what a good single is and forget about the rest of the album. I try to really make a good body of work, so I hope that when they listen to it, they are not just listening to it for one song. They are listening to it for a body of work. And when they finish listening to it they feel good. You know, like I said before, that they feel like they know me a little bit better. That they know that life is not just happening to them, it is happening to all of us. And that they feel connected. The album is Awake, and that is not necessarily just a song title or just the name of the album, it is really a way of living. It’s really a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world. That is something I want people to start to kind of think about. Because I think that is the time we are in, we need to be aware, that’s the purpose of what Awake is. I hope this album makes them feel a little more aware of self or their lives or what they want for themselves or what they don’t want for themselves. That is really the ultimate goal for the album. Another part of being independent that I love is that we can serve the fans, let them have songs along the way, instead of having to wait for the whole album, let them enjoy the songs, be a part of the journey as the album is being made.
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Interviewed for RnB Magazine by Stephanie Hodgson