New York collective MICHELLE are all about summer vibes – perfect for road trip adventures, or just sitting by a window. Y’know, whatever lockdown allows.
Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Sophia Wilson.
John. Paul. George. Ringo. Just listing four names immediately makes you think of a certain band, right? Yes, they may have had a bit of an impact on, y’know, the world, but it’s also a big reminder that bands aren’t just this one thing. It’s made up of individual people with their own stories, their own dreams, their own goals and their own personalities that bubble away at the surface of an overarching banner.
If there’s ever a group that symbolises this to a tee, it’s MICHELLE. The six-piece – made up of Charlie, Julian, Sofia, Emma, Jamee and Layla – thrive in their individual voices while joyful in the magic that comes from joining together, and it feels like the world is about to catch on. Not too shabby for a band who only were together for the first time when they were playing their first gig.
“In my mind, and feel free to correct me guys, but we made that first record and thought that was great, that’s done! Then we got asked to play…” explains Charlie, gathered on a Zoom call as they remember back to the unlikely path that has led to thousands falling head over heels for that MICHELLE sound.
“When we left that show I still had this impression that we were all moving on to that next thing, time to never see a lot of these people again. And then we started getting asked to play more shows, and it was like, okay… I guess this is a thing now. That’s what really solidified us, this awareness that people gave a shit and wanted to see us.”
And why wouldn’t they? Starting life as a concept album project being crafted by Charlie and Julian, that idea of collaboration found themselves reaching out to those they thought would be perfect for it. Jamee, Sofia, Emma and Layla added the voices that would form what would become their debut album ‘Heatwave’, where tracks came together in a day on a record exploring modern life living in New York.
“It all started from this awareness of what other people were doing artistically,” adds Charlie. “Everyone was doing these really badass things, so it’s not ‘oh MICHELLE is a collective because we also do these other things’ – MICHELLE exists because everyone was doing these other things first and that’s what brought us all together.”
“We didn’t go into it thinking, oh let’s get the band together,” continues Jamee. “We didn’t realise we would be performing this album or writing a second album together, we just came together as a group of friends.”
From the first rehearsal ahead of that debut show at Bard College, the connection was there. Clicking immediately and having fun around each other, that reaction wanting more was just one element that helped inspire them to push on with what they had.
“That’s definitely a huge part, but also just getting to know each other when we would hang out and we would just end up making music,” elaborates Sofia. “We would continue making music just because we were hanging out and getting to know one another so that just continued the momentum.”
“My first impression of everybody, which I think is a good sign, is when I meet someone, and they’re just on a higher plane of existence than I am. Like, damn – you’re operating 10 levels above me, I will never be able to get to you. What can I do to get to you?” smiles Julian. “I think that’s the impression I got of everybody – oh my god, you guys are just operating on this higher plane of existence – I’m just grasping on to whatever I can to get a fraction of time and their attention.
“I see everyone in this band as such close friends, and when we get together, we are one strong unit. One unified unit.”
“It’s great to create joy, but we are very aware of the injustices going on in the world”Jamee Lockard
The mutual admiration and love for one another can be heard brimming from the sounds of MICHELLE. A freedom to explore and meld different sounds and influences and a tireless drive of collaboration has you standing on your toes wondering what will come next. Dazzling early standout ‘The Bottom’ has given them a dreamy pop launchpad into the worlds of smooth jazzy-soul with ‘Sunrise’ and sun-kissed R&B with ‘UNBOUND’. It leaves the door open to try whatever they like, the individual creatives ideas and visions mixing together to form a sound undeniably of their own.
“It’s a game of personalities,” lays out Sofia, reflecting on how the world of MICHELLE becomes one with the breadth of ideas that bubble about in each of them. “Everyone comes up with melodies and hooks, and together we work out what works best and what we like the best, and it turns into a track from there. Sometimes we have a concept, and we write about that, and sometimes it just comes out – we navigate it all out that way.”
Spurred on by one another, it’s not your usual ‘band’ process. Sounds, melodies and ideas bounce around each of them, and the result is songs that feel gloriously timeless whilst shining fresh at the same time. MICHELLE isn’t just one voice, it’s six – and it’s that which makes them so essential for 2021 and beyond.
“We’re a band made up of six people with strong artists forces and their own opinions,” notes Charlie. “We all love each other so much, and we’re all working towards the same thing but in a very fundamental day to day way, when it comes to making the music and making those decisions, everyone is at war with one another so getting that one yes is so sweet.”
“The best five words you can hear in a writing session are definitely ‘I think that’s the hook’,” laughs Sofia. “There’s an interview between Stevie Nicks and Matty Healy, my favourites in the world, and Matty asked what it is that keeps a band together after all the drama. Stevie said what keeps a band together is when you continually impress each other, and you continually surprise each other with how incredible everyone is in the band. I think we’re all definitely lowkey musical simps for each other and constantly impressed with what we all come up with. I’m just in awe, and it’s like right I gotta keep up – no slacking off!”
That creative drive feeds directly into MICHELLE’s next move. Creating an album, plotting out a future together which they never saw coming – it’s a growth that sees them all embracing new directions and experimenting in new fields. The warmth blossoming from every release so far ensures they’re going to be a much-needed antidote to a world in constant flux.
“I think it’s going to be extremely different from ‘Heatwave’ because that felt very much like a portrait of a time and had a very specific feeling to it,” reflects Charlie.
“We’re trying to be less selfish on this album,” continues Julian. “We’re trying to branch out from our own lives, our city, trying to talk about more human experiences that maybe anybody can relate to or see themselves in. I think the aim is for every single track to find a home in somebody’s heart or every song to find a home in a lot of peoples hearts.”
“I just think,” adds Charlie, “the thing with MICHELLE is that everyone makes such different music on their own that whatever combination of people you slam into a room there’s always going to be something different that comes out. So whether that’s R’n’B or pop or some darker synth-y thin or folk music or jazz – it’s all sort of represented in the MICHELLE world.”
More than anything, it’s a journey of artists connecting over music and blossoming into a friendship that joins them together in a moment of feverish excitement and love. The platform that they each now find themselves with is something not lost on MICHELLE either, of how important it is to speak out and put into the world what each truly believes and represents.
“Sometimes our music falls more into the category of escapism where we’re creating this world, and we’re pulling the listener in, and it’s not very reflective of the world around us,” ponders Jamee. “It’s great to create joy and create joy for other people, but we are very aware of the injustices going on in the world, and so we use that platform. Once people are drawn into our world by listening to our music, we then speak to them and say hey, you can help here. We can help. Let’s do this together.”
“I also think that we wouldn’t want anything to be forced if it wasn’t on our minds,” points Emma. “If it felt like we were trying to do something separate to ourselves, then it wouldn’t be of interest nor would it be of interest to other people. Things become clearer as time goes on. For example, I can look and think not necessarily about what I want to do or everything we want to do – but also have ideas of what I don’t want to do or sing about or write about. It’s all about how do we reassess how the actual music takes part in those conversations as opposed to just some image shared on the internet.”
With 2021 sure to bring brighter days, MICHELLE’s next steps are sure to be unmissable. They may not have planned it, but together they’re primed to take on the world – one sizzling track at a time. There’ll be shared taco nights, there’ll be that constant drive to impress one another, and there’ll be countless memories to come – for now, MICHELLE are revelling in simply finding others who can share that dream with them. Together, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who can stop them.
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork, out now.