Amel Larrieux is the ‘Shhh…’
With a music career spanning nearly 20 years, songbird Amel Larrieux released a new album in October, “Ice Cream, Everyday”, her first original body of work in 7 years, and proves why she is the ‘shhh…’ Since her emergence onto the music scene in the early 90’s with Groove Theory, she has evolved into one of the most eclectic artists, with an unmistakable sound that transcends genres. Prior to the release of her latest project, Heed had the chance to speak exclusively with the gorgeous vocal chanteuse for what started and ended as a very delightful conversation.
Chatting with Amel was a bit surreal, as I listen to her music quite often. She’s an artist whose records evoke solace, and her musical and vocal choices move me like most can’t. With this new album, it’s definitely a continuum of what her supporters have grown accustomed to expect – good music. Amel says, “It’s pretty much consistent with the way that we have evolved musically in the past. It’s not predictable, but there are certain sensibilities that I kind of tend to lean towards. I do things vocally that may be considered risky or maybe to the left. But I also do things musically, in terms of production, that are straightforward and I like to combine all of those things. So, there are songs that you can say are extremely R&B driven, and then there are songs that aren’t easily categorized. I think most of my albums have a combination of both, and this album is not unlike the others in that way.”
Her debut album, “Infinite Possibilities,” was pretty successful as it featured her highest charting single “Get Up”. This album, however, would be the only album she released under a major label. The music industry is definitely an interesting machine and for someone with Amel’s creative and innovative intuitiveness, it would seem a bit stifling. “I felt like I was a slave to someone else’s ideas,” she says. She further explained, “…I had no control over my own destiny and actually having people make decisions that contradicted what I believed in or undermined what I wanted for myself or feeling like I could do anything…my hands were being tied because someone else had the final say…” So, what do you do? In this case, Amel went independent, starting Blisslife Records with her husband, Laru Larrieux. “It’s definitely an up and down business. Especially being independent, but it’s up and down in a way that feels much better and much more in control than when I was at the record label and my future was in someone else’s hands. We’re constantly in a state of perpetual limbo and we’re kind of on the same page about that, so that in itself makes life so much easier with your spouse.”
Sure, the initial rewards of major record deals can be unprecedented. Especially when thinking about the advances, production budgets and whatever else goes with it, but the back end can be quite depleting. “I’ve never been one to need much of anything besides shelter, food, health, and access to a doctor or hospital if I need to. [Laughs] And you know, get to the beach every once and a while. I don’t need a humungous budget in order for me to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle, I’d much rather have my sanity and my freedom so to speak.” She continued on to say, “I have a Buddhist mentality in that way…I like having my future be in nobody’s hands but the Universe’s, not like a bunch of guys who don’t know anything about me and don’t care to know anything about me.”
A twenty year career in music is not one to be taken lightly, especially with the ‘now you’re hot, tomorrow you’re not’ trend that we see all the time. It could be because of the timelessness of her music, but a huge part to Amel’s lasting power has been her loyal supporters. “I could make music for my own self and my own house and that would be fine. But once I decided to do it for a living, the reason why I can make a living is only because of them. There are a million wonderful singers, artists, what have you…I happen to be given the kind of support from these people where I can be heard and there’s always someone else out there that can’t be heard because maybe they aren’t being supported.” Even with the ever evolving world of technology and the accessibility of the celebrity through digital media, Amel has managed to stay very present. “The person that buys the music is very integral and very important to me and I started to get the gist of that with my first solo album. When I was signed to a major label, my husband, who is also my manager and my producer, was kind of always involved in the computer world and wanted to get me more involved in the internet and to our website…our record label didn’t really understand the importance. I’ve kind of cultivated my Internet family through my Internet presence since 2000 or probably 99. So, a lot of people who have come to the shows loyally for the past 15 years are people that I really tried to say thank you to in those early days and will never stop because I want them to know.”
If you’ve ever been to one of her shows, you experience what we call ‘moments’. You know those ‘moments’ when you hear a really good song, and you go ‘that was nice!’? Moments like that are pretty constant when listening to an Amel Larrieux record. From the soaring bridge in “For Real” to the ease of her vocals on the more recent “I Do Take,” her voice has highs and lows that are borderline perfect. So, I was incredibly surprised when she mentioned that the studio process was not something that she enjoyed. In fact, it’s in those recording moments when she just wants to stop. She said, “I think it happens every now and then because I prefer to write and perform and I don’t like the other stuff. I mean, I’m just like very honest about that.” She went on saying, “I don’t really like photo shoots and video shoots. I do it, but I’m not comfortable with being ‘the girl’. I’d much rather have a role, and be in disguise. All of the other stuff to me I can do without, but I am very aware of the fact that there are a lot of jobs that I can do worse! [laughs] There are a lot of jobs that I would hate having!”
And we cannot be mad at her for that. Self-awareness is very important, especially in an industry where so many artists are not themselves or are unable to be honest. So many artists aren’t interested in recording, but don’t have the luxury to say so. So many artists hate the music they’re selling, but are obligated to continue doing so. For Amel, however, the rewards of recording far exceed the not so great moments for her. “For me the payoff is that first initial feeling of finishing a song. Not even when I’ve heard the recording, because that’s with all of the editing and it’s like totally cerebral! But the experience of writing a song and completing it. That is a high that I can only compare to the feeling I get when I have a performance and after the first 10 minutes of nerves and being aware, and how my clothes are fitting, and did I just trip over that mic stand and is it a good turnout…and I just get lost in the performance! I’m vibing off of the audience and I’m hearing them and my band is killing it and I don’t even know what I’ve done!
Amel Larrieux is one of the precious musical gems, who will be around for years to come, and while she may not be one of the most popular artists, she is definitely one of the most respected, and let’s be honest, she really is ‘the shhh’. She does what she loves to do on her own terms, and our conversation proved that. She wasn’t guarded, pretentious, overly defensive, nor was she rude. Instead, she was naturally gracious and very honest; two qualities that you develop with years of experience and self-awareness. Maybe that’s why we love her music; because its poised in grace and honesty. And even though the actual recording process proves less than joyous, of writing and completing a song, she says “Those are the two highs that can’t really be matched by to many other things I’ve experienced life except a couple of other personal things, but they’re enough to make me keep doing this. If those things lose their luster and those two things lose their luster then I know I’m done. So for now, it hasn’t.”
Check out, “Afraid”, the lead single off of “Ice Cream, Everyday” and be sure to purchase your copy today! It’s really an incredible project with all of the great nuances we love to hear from Mrs. Larrieux!
All Photos © 2014 Amel Larrieux