Miguel on Defying Genres, the Importance of L.A., and Writing About Sex

Miguel, the L.A,-based singer-songwriter, R&B crooner and hip-hop dabbler, has three albums, all of which have garnered critical acclaim. With his latest effort, Wildheart, it appears the singer is focused on himself as a human, a lover and an artist. It's about your basest desires, your insecurities, your swagger and bravado that keeps you going even when there's little to back that attitude up except the fact that you got laid last night. It's explicit in a way that manages to be seductive, and it discusses personal matters that result in confidence instead of low self-esteem. The cover art depicts Miguel, naked in a cloud of colorful smoke, with an equally naked lover laid out over his lap. It says more than any paragraphs here could about him and his vision: It's thoughtful, personal, and gets straight down to business. 

Ahead of Miguel's Ogden Theatre show on August 18, we spoke to the musician about the importance of genre and place, and figuring out your voice as an artist.

Isa Jones: This album is incredibly intimate. Whether you’re talking about feelings or actual sex acts, why did you take that personal approach?

Miguel: I would have to say this album is definitely closer to me and my perspective. I feel maybe it’s a kind of natural progression of a relationship. I’ve started to form a relationship with my fans, and I want to get to know them. You want your fans to get to know you the more and more you spend time with them. It’s a combination of that and not giving a fuck anymore — me almost not second-guessing any of my instincts when it comes to being an artist or an individual.

Speaking of not giving a fuck: This album was so interesting to me because no one sings lines like “confess your sins to me while you masturbate” without an air of irony or bravado, but you seem pretty sincere with it.

Sometimes the things that come of out of my mouth, I have no idea where they come from. But they're real. That’s really my personality. I think it is kind of cool; you kind of discover your own quirks and ironies in the creative process, which is probably the funnest part of creating for me. I reveal parts of myself to myself.

I think this is one of the better R&B album I’ve heard in years, and I feel like the genre gets taken in new directions on it. How much does genre inform your songwriting still, if it does at all?

The genre thing, man, I think you can tell by the album it means nothing to me. I’m of the music, but I don’t see lines I have to paint or color within. I think, if I see lines, I’m more likely to color outside of them then to stay within those constraints. That is more of my personality, though.

Well, in terms of your personality, clearly sex is important or at least plays a role in your creative process. What was the first song or artist you heard where you were like, “This is sexy.”?

Sexy … sexy … huh … goodness … I can think of a few, but for some reason this song and video ... Do you remember the video for Janet Jackson's, shit what was it? [“Got Till It’s Gone”] It was that Janet era. That "Velvet Rope" Janet era was like, "What?! That shit is sexy." Maybe I wasn’t paying attention to music like that way until then; it was an interesting era. It was that video — that video was fucking dope.

You speak about L.A. a lot in this album— which is a city famous for both its seduction and rejection, which is a vibe I can feel on the album. What aspects of the city speak to you?

I think there’s such a charm about the hope and desperation in LA that is everywhere. I’m accustomed to it, being from L.A., it’s a part of my temperament and the way that I see things and what I’m comfortable around. How I make music is a reflection of the energy of the city, I’m always playing with this passive aggressive approach. I know passive aggressive is kind of a negative thing but that’s a really honest way to describe the energy in LA. The approach is kind of consistent in my music, when my music is aggressive I may approach it more subtly, when the music is subtle I may approach it more aggressively.

“What’s Normal Anyway” touches on your ethnicity and race, and how you felt like you didn’t belong growing up. Do you feel like you belong now? Do you care anymore?

Man, it’s so crazy how when you stop caring you realize how much you do belong the people who don’t care end up surrounding you too. In one way, finally accepting yourself you emancipate yourself from whatever baggage. You embrace yourself and others can embrace you.

Do you feel like you know who you are? Or are you still exploring?

Times change, life changes. I think the process of knowing who you are is an ongoing thing, it’s a never ending journey. You’re constantly affirming and reaffirming your principles and whatnot. I do think as experiences come and circumstances change, your perspective is going to shift differently. But, I feel like the journey is never ending.

So there’s parts of Miguel we haven’t seen yet, then?

Oh, yeah. With every work I do, with everybody, I intend it to be a new dynamic. 
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Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones

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