TODAY starts with Jean-Mikhael telling me about...
his new E.P., The Deal, and what themes inspired it. I ask what he has coming up and which artists influenced him growing up. Jean-Mikhael talks about playing the young Michael Jackson on the stage and the importance of that; which rising artist to watch and the three albums that mean the most to him.
I ask what advice he would give to artists emerging and how he chills outside of music; if he has anything he wants to achieve before the end of the year and if touring might be a future possibility – he ends the interview by selecting a classic Michael Jackson cut.
Hi, Jean-Mikhael. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. I’m well, thank you. How are you? Aaaaah. This week has been crazy. Just released my debut E.P., The Deal. The response has been immense. I charted in the R&B/Soul iTunes charts at number-eight. Especially for someone that’s just put it out and among my team and label this was cast as my soft release, so it's just amazing to know that my music has reached out to people. It was so unexpected but such a huge blessing.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
So. My name is Jean-Mikhael; born and raised in West London, I’m twenty-two. I started singing from a very young age. You could say around five. Then, because of everyone around me saying how well I could sing, I just took it on and ran with it and from the reactions I would get I loved doing it. So, music just became my life in the end really and that’s all I knew I wanted to do. Perform and (haha) perform.
Your E.P., The Deal, is new. What sort of themes and ideas inspired it?
The idea of the E.P. came quite organically. I was with my producer Akara and we recorded, say, around twenty to thirty songs in two months or so with no agenda. I was making the music and having fun. I brought some people in and most times I wrote by myself. When I write, it’s normally to do with maybe a situation I’m going through or someone else’s story I’ve heard and thought would be a good one to express through my music. I like to empower people and I think that’s just something I have always stuck with.
So, when it comes to writing, I automatically think about making people believe my words and feel they can do whatever they want. To also understand we can relate as well. By the time I had put together the E.P., I decided to call it the single name because it was my first record deal I was signing and also it was showing people this is my story, my truth…so here's ‘The Deal’.
You appeared as Michael Jackson in the West End musical Thriller. How does that experience and your time at the BRIT School inspire and affect your music?
That really shaped me as a performer. I think playing a young M.J. at such a young age made me learn what it is to be an artist even more. Music-wise and regarding vocal ability at that age, I was compared to him at times so that just stuck with me. Wanting to be a PERFORMER, a showman. Give people what they came for. I don’t believe artists should be so lazy on stage. I want that when you see me; you’re dying for my next show because I make your body part of mine. To every single person in that room; whether it’s 100 or 50,000. I want you to feel like you're feeling my every move because of the charisma I have. So, that definitely defined me to work very hard. With BRIT School; I loved being there but then I felt restricted at times. I also was a little bit rebellious, you could say, in my own way. I knew I wanted to be an artist and that was it.
Teachers would ask me to sing a certain genre in their way and I would say no. Maybe that was my way of saying I wanted to be my own person but in a non-explanatory way (haha). I wanted to soar that’s for sure, but it definitely taught me how to be a businessman as well in the game. My mum didn’t know loads about the business but she said I want you to learn it for yourself. So that’s what I had to do. I had to learn how to understand every single side from the academics of it to my performance; how to read music, learn instruments; produce. I definitely would say it helped me grow to become strong in this game. I thank those two monumental moments in my life - being young M.J. and being a student at BRIT School - for really showing me such a great insight into the business.
Can you give me a sense of the artists you grew up around? When did music come into your life?
As I said before; it was around the age of five. My mum would listen to people like Al Green, Aretha Franklin; Andrea Bocelli (that’s an amazing Opera singer); then there would be my sister who would listen to Brandy, Destiny’s Child; Alicia Keys and I think it was her music that then moulded me into loving people like Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Usher. All these R&B/Pop artists that are phenomenal and have so much stage presence.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
By the end of 2018, I hope to see my numbers rise in terms of whose listening to my music. To just see the music gliding more and more. Have more fans and hopefully some shows come through too.
Do you already have plans for 2019?
For 2019, that is definitely going to be a big year. There is so much planned but I really want everyone to just see the work happen and appreciate it. I have a little part of me that doesn’t always like revealing things simply because life is very unpredictable and everything I have I prayed for, worked for and gave to the universe…but you have your times where it won’t happen straight away and I want people to feel the moment when it’s here. But, I will drop one word which is ‘America’.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
My favourite memory would be performing at People's Day. The reaction was crazy and, if I may add another one, it would be releasing this E.P. and getting number-eight on the iTunes R&B/Soul charts.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
All three of my own future albums are the ones that mean the most to me (laughs). No, I joke. I would say Alicia Keys – Songs in A Minor
It means a lot to me because, at that time, I started singing her really famous song Fallin’ everywhere. That album was just amazing. One of her best works.
Beyoncé – The Beyoncé Experience
Beyoncé came to really find herself in that album. The performance, production and vocals were just on another level. I remember listening to the live version of that album all the time. Her concert, The Beyoncé Experience. It was mesmerising and I wanted that appeal so much. Just for people to listen and see me performing and think, ‘WOW’. It definitely inspired me to be a performer as well.
Prince – Purple Rain
This album is so reckless and slightly controversial to be honest. That’s what I loved. It was unapologetic and a bit of a fu*k you to the world. I can sing what I like. Prince generally was that guy and it's definitely a motto of mine. People love you when you’re true. I am someone completely different on stage and off. I become a light, a fire. My stage is my playground and he show’s that so much. Being this extravaganza on stage. It's fascinating.
As Christmas is coming up; if you had to ask for one present what would it be?
Well. Growing up, I never celebrated Christmas. So, it's not really something I do much of. But, all I ask is that I have a prosperous life and can keep doing what I am doing and continue to inspire people.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
It would be Beyoncé. I would want water, a nice scented room; food for my crew, anything to make sure my vocals are on-point and somewhere I can just rest for the show. I just want whatever's going to make the best. I don’t really eat before shows so water is my best friend, but food after is always a great thing. I am a foodie.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Keep going, keep going. Believe in yourself. Listen to some people sometimes, but if your heart really says ‘no’ then go with it. Be creative and think out of the box. Make your own lane and be a businessperson alongside your creativeness.
Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?
I don’t have any tour dates as such yet but they will be coming. Right now, it's just putting the music out but I am going to have some eventually. I might be performing on 15th November for Ticketmaster but that’s not confirmed yet so keep your eyes peeled for that on my socials if it is going ahead.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sharna Bass
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I really like Sharna Bass. She’s cool. Dope tone to her voice.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I try to, but with success come hard work, so not a lot really. When I do though, most times it's in my house with family or friends or we go out to eat, which I’m cool with because I don’t like going out all the time, but to get to the next level I have to keep working nonstop. I am a bit of a workaholic.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Nice. Well let's play Michael Jackson – Remember the Time. I love that song