Chrisette Michele Gets Into Character

noah | March 12, 2009 12:00 pm

Long Island-spawned Chrisette Michele’s second album, Epiphany, comes out in May, and thanks to the strength of the Ne-Yo-co-written title track–a not-quite-lament about a relationship gone wrong–I’m very optimistic. After the jump, the Ray Kay-directed “Epiphany” clip, accompanied by a chat that Michele and I had shortly after she shot it; we talk about how she got in the mood for the video, the album’s overall concept of breaking free from bad situations, and adjusting to working with other songwriters after penning her first album, 2007’s I Am, on her own.

Q. Your new album is Epiphany, and it’s out later this spring. The title song is about realizing that a relationship is bad for you–is that the focus of the album or is it more wide in scope?

That’s one of the main focuses of the album, is coming to a realization that when something’s not healthy for you, it’s your responsibility and your right to walk away from it, which is definitely what it speaks about, so that’s a big part of the album. Q. What are some of the other songs about? Do they all draw on your life?

They definitely draw on my emotions. I gave you a lot of vulnerability this time around. I talked about getting out of crazy relationships and I talked about being in an uncomfortable relationship. There’s a song called “Blame It On Me” where I’m telling a guy, “I don’t care how this relationship has to end, it just has to be over, just get me out of this thing. Say it’s my fault, I don’t care, just make it over.” There’s another song, “On My Own,” which is I’m in a relationship, but I’m going to deal with it without the help of even my family or my friends, and most importantly, my dad. Q. You wrote your first album by yourself. How was the process different this time? Did you come in with ideas?

I had some ideas. Everything that you hear me sing on this album is definitely from the bottom of my heart, but what was spectacular about this album is that Ne-Yo made me so vulnerable, he made me so open. When you’re telling somebody a story, you have your Side A. “What happened was she came and she hit me first, right, so I had to hit her back.” Ne-Yo’s like, “Wait a second, you made her hit you, and that’s why you have a big bump right now.” He made me tell the truth. Even though the first album was very honest, this one is even deeper, because somebody else wrote some of the songs–a lot of the songs. Q. Kind of the three sides to every story concept.

Yeah, there’s 40 sides, and he got all the other 39 sides. It’s a good thing, because so many people have been through similar circumstances, similar situations, and if I don’t sing those songs, I can’t represent for them, I can’t cry for them. Whatever song they’re listening to has to be their story, too, it can’t just be something that’s easy and go-lucky, because we do that all the time. Q. You mentioned the video. Did you shoot that on Friday? How did it go?

Girl… besides all the glitzy stuff, which is part of being a girl, I sang from the bottom of my heart at that video shoot, I gave it to you, and I felt other people’s pain, and something happened where I was like, “I’m going to be so honest, so open, so real.” There’s times when I was on the floor, and I was wilding out. I was, [singing] “So I think of…” They were like, “Beautiful!” and I was like, “Word?” Q. Did you act in it as well or is it a performance video?

A friend of mine came down from Canada, and he was my boyfriend in the video. I definitely did act, we have a big fight in the video. He wasn’t paying attention to me, and it made me upset. It’s so weird when you act–when you act, all of the sudden…it felt like it was happening, I got so mad. I picked up his jacket and threw it at him, and I was like, “Get out of my house!” and then I was like, “Wait, this isn’t real. This isn’t happening.” [Ne-Yo chimes in: “A method actor in training.”] Q. You’ve acted on TV shows, right?

Yeah, and I’m with an acting coach now. One thing I definitely learned how to do was when you give a line, you say the line, allow that to be your honest reaction. Let the line come to you as a surprise. So if I say, “You’ve got something on your shoe,” somebody may have told me to say that, but when I say it, I have to believe it as if I just said it. that’s what happened on Friday, it just happened, and I was as if the song was just happening, so you can feel that, and it’s honest. Q. Did you start your performing career on Long Island? You sang in church?

I sang at church in Brooklyn–Hezekiah Walker, CeCe Winans, Twinkie Clark, Kim Burrell, the gospel girls. But in Long Island, I played the saxophone and the piano and I tap-danced and I balleted and jazzed and I hip-hopped my way to the arts, that’s how I fell in love with it. Q. What have you been listening to these days?

A lot of classical music. [singing] “Bring in the clowns…” Sarah Vaughan is amazing. What’s on my iPod? Lady GaGa’s on my iPod when I go to the gym. [singing] “Told you I was gonna…” I have so much stuff on my iPod, just everything. Q. Are you going to go out on tour with the record and everything?

Yeah, I am, starting at the end of April. Then I’m doing a promo tour in two weeks. Then I’m going to Europe and Japan – just going to have a really good time. That’s the best part, I think. Q. Why?

Because you get to touch people. You get to meet people, and you get to see people’s reactions to what your heart has been saying. It’s one thing to say, “I feel this way,” but to have somebody say, “Me, too,” to literally touch their hand is really special. Q. Where is your favorite place to go on tour?

I can get beat up if I answer this, because I love so many places. America is so huge, you go to Texas, and it’s nothing like San Francisco. You go to Washington D.C. and it’s nothing like Chicago, so I can’t compare one place to the other in America. Japan is amazing, they’re so passionate and sick, the Caribbean is really special, because they fill your soul and it’s warm and your skin looks really good because of the humidity. Everywhere! I just like to travel, I’m a nomad. Q. Things must be insane for you, every moment planned out.

Yeah, my Facebook status changes like every half an hour. “I’m in the studio with Ne-Yo, I’m at the radio station, I’m in Japan,” 20 minutes later. It feels good, and it’s a lot of fun–way too much fun.YBF Exclusive! World Premiere Of Chrisette Michele’s “Epiphany” Video [The YBF]Chrisette Michele [MySpace]