Miguel Talks ‘Wildheart’ & The Cerebral Message Under Its Sexy Veneer: Idolator Interview
At first blush (and trust me, “blush” is the right word), Miguel‘s bold new album, Wildheart, feels like an intergalactic sex journey on a spaceship with no A/C. But after that initial listen, it reveals itself to be as concerned with emotions and philosophy as it is with carnal pursuits. And that sense of balance permeates the whole project, as moments of self-confidence alternate with self-doubt, rock blends with R&B, pop melds with psychedelic soul, the local speaks to the universal.
But mainly, there’s a sense of mind-body zen that could only come from a Cali mindset: Knowledge is power and love is power and sex is power, and harnessing all that will take the power away from what he calls society’s “programming.” I had a chance to chat with Miguel on the phone a few days before Wildheart‘s release to talk about all these big ideas, and how they found their way onto an album that’s destined to soundtrack innumerable baby-making sessions.
When musicians cede the spotlight on their own material, I think that indicates full confidence and artistic vision. You do that on songs like “DEAL” and “NWA,” where your voice is just one part of the texture. Were you at all reluctant to include moments like that?
It’s crazy that you say that because I think that’s how I write. I write with myself in the background, as a part of it. My voice is not more important than the sonics. It’s all about the sonics, the overall emotions. I’m not trying to convince you that I can sing, it’s like, how does it make you feel. I wanna see what it takes, an emotion that makes me feel and believe it and hopefully makes you feel it.
I wanted to discuss the album’s emotional aspect, because it starts with all this swaggering soul, then you get legitimately sad on “what’s normal anyway.” What made you reveal that vulnerable side?
I think I care less. I care less about appearances. The intention of this album is to have a conversation with my audience about transcending adversity. There’s that journey of transcending, one of hope and desperation. You deal with your adversity and literally figure out, reassure, assure and confirm who it is you are, what you stand for, what you’re willing to sacrifice. And that kinda gives you hope and a direction. And that new direction gives you more adversity, that you couldn’t foresee, that in turn becomes hope, that in turn becomes desperation, and so on and so forth. So if that’s the truth, then I have to show my vulnerable side.
And part of it is raising questions. Like really, what is normal anyway? What the fuck does that mean? Once you free yourself of this idea of normality, the less likely you are to sacrifice what you believe in. Because you don’t care anymore, and you realize that normality is subjective and based on people’s perceptions, which is based on people’s own experiences, circumstances, fear, blah blah blah. Shit that has nothing to do with you! So why try and live up to those ideas that are not your own, that you had nothing to do with creating? So that’s why that conversation “what’s normal anyway” is so important. It’s pivotal to Wildheart.
By combining those themes with the sexual stuff, it seems like you were trying to achieve a California mind-body balance.
I think being from here, it is a part of the DNA. I don’t know if it’s my parents’ sense of spirituality that carried over to me… I dunno. What I can say is that, with a more focused perspective, I feel a tremendous responsibility to have a deeper conversation with my fans. Like, “Wow you’re discovering these things about yourself and that’s great,” so what. What are you giving to people, what is the purpose of all this? You wanted to create music and connect with people. That was the thing. Create music that people could feel, because that’s what you love. That’s the deeper conversation. I have a clearer sense of purpose now. A responsibility.
Speaking of responsibility. Wildheart feels like a product of today’s racial/political climate, without directly addressing it. Was the purpose of the LP to show how self-love and romantic love can be therapeutic during times like this?
The more you know yourself, the less likely you are to allow the programming — which has everything to do with all this shit we’re seeing on television in the news, it has everything to do with programming. We’ve accepted certain things because of the programming, we’ve accepted that this is OK. We’ve accepted paying attention to something for just long enough then forgetting about it. That’s the programming. We’ve allowed ourselves to be treated this way. And the more you know yourself and what you stand for, the less likely you’re gonna be to let someone walk all over you.
It takes time to get away from all the noise, and figure out who you really are and what you really care about, what the fuck you stand for. The sooner we can do that and make that a pattern, then the more likely we are to change the way we as people allow the programming to dictate things. But the programming is so fucking ADD. Like even in music, the beats change in a song like four or five times, just to make sure we stay engaged. That’s fucking programming, man. But what transcends programming is knowledge. Knowledge of self. Knowing what you stand for. Knowing what you care about. I think that’s what the whole album’s about.
So in this era of distraction and programming, we have you, Kendrick, D’Angelo, all releasing these sprawling artistic statements. Can the album as an art form still mean something today?
Emotions matter. If an album in general can convey emotions, then yes. I just think businesses care less about albums, the record industry in general cares less about it. Their business is money, and how fast they can get it. So they’ll cater to the low attention span part, they want the quick money, the shit that happens now and they don’t have to spend as much time or effort or thought on. But that doesn’t change the need to feel connected to emotions through music.
There’s a lot to absorb on Wildheart, a lot of moving parts and ideas. Is there one takeaway you want listeners to have, or one thing you’re curious to hear reactions to?
That’s a tough question… I shouldn’t be interested in the reaction, I shouldn’t care, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want people to like this shit. I have to be honest with myself. Now, if the entire world said they hated this album, would that change my opinion of it? No. I love this album, because I know where I was and what I was going through and talking about and the purpose of it. But to answer your question…there’s not one song or moment, just the album in general. I’m interested in how it connects as a whole.