Grammy Award winner Melanie Fiona recently debut her sophomore album, The MF Life, on March 20, 2012. If one thing can be said about Melanie, it’s that she doesn’t have to present herself like other cookie cutter artists in the business today. She can literally take you back to a time when what you say is more important than what you look like. With each song, this album pulls the listener deeper and deeper into a vulnerable trance easily surpassing any song on The Bridge. Thriving in a pocket of 60s to 70s soul R&B, her husky, yet sultry voice is remarkably versatile with modes of expression. By constructing one of the most eclectic and honest albums of our decade, Melanie bares her soul and genuine love for real music. I was fortunate enough to sit down and interview Melanie about The MF Life.
Dee: When Motown transferred to Universal Republic where were you in the process of releasing your album?
MF: I was in “Gone and Never Coming Back” world. I was in the studio, I was working on this album, and I had just released “Gone and Never Coming Back.” It all happened so quickly and they were like, “oh okay your going to go over to Republic,” and of course then you need to hurry up and get stuff in and then wait. And everything got put on hold: the album, the single, everything kinda just froze. So I found myself in the position of, “Whoa, Oh My God, what am I gonna do?” I’m out there doing promo, I’m promoting all this stuff but I don’t even know when I’m promoting it for, I don’t even know what I’m promoting. I can’t finalize my album, I can’t do anything yet. So it was a bit of a tuff time for me because I was kinda of like in limbo trying to figure out what I was going to do next. What my next move was, what my next move was going to be with the team and the label so…it was a bit of a crazy time for me there.
Dee: I read that during that process you actually had the time to add features like Nas and J.Cole to the album. You said it was a tuff time but do you think it actually helped?
MF: Absolutely. I really have the belief that nothing happens before it’s time, everything happens on time. Had it not been for that delay, had it not been for the merging, had it not been for the whole regime change of going from Motown to Republic and then settling into that new label situation I wouldn’t have had time really, I think, devote or to say, “How can I take this album to another level? Who can I reach out to? Who’s going to be available?” Because, the fact of the matter is schedules just sometimes don’t permit. It was really cool to be able to then have the time to reach out and get Nas, B.o.B., and J. Cole. It solidified and completed the album. If not, they might have rushed me to put out the album without features so it was a great look.
Dee: Composition wise, the album is made up of Soul, R&B, there is some Rock elements. What would you say lyrically or thematically this album is about?
MF: It’s about love. And it’s about the many levels and layers of love because that’s what, I think, we all know, experience, and can relate to. I know that I’ve experienced and I felt I kinda needed to go a little deeper on this album and really put out my best emotions and best storytelling on this album. I really feel like it’s about the ups and downs of love and life. And that’s The MF Life. When it came to the writing and the context it was just, “Where am I at right now?, What am I feeling?, What do I need to say?, What do I need to get off my chest?” and putting those all together for one great story, one body of work.
Dee: Do you feel that today’s R&B and Soul artists have to work harder to get their music more mainstream or to just get the attention?
MF: I definitely think it’s harder. I think it’s harder for every artist, that’s why every artist is doing so many ridiculous things to be noticed. There’s just so many things out there that I find people are trying to do to out do the next person so that people will talk about them and pay attention. I feel like, for me I just always try to out do myself in the music. If I want to be recognized for anything I want to be recognized for the music. And yeah sure, their are people out there that are just like, “You know what you need to do, this is what you need to do,” there’s always going to be people out there, but at the end of the day I ultimately have to answer to myself and I want to feel good about the decisions that I’m making and the music that I’m making. I’m just not very quick to jump on this pop, dance wagon because that’s what everyone’s doing. I’ll probably do a pop, dance record when no one’s doing pop and dance anymore. That’s how I feel I operate. My music is to be spoken about and enjoyed and to be a conversation piece not necessarily to be in the club. I think it’s supposed to help people more privately than it is publically. It’s suppose to be that quiet conversation I think people have and reflect on and share with the people that they love and will celebrate for a lifetime instead of just a moment.
Dee: Do you ever see yourself making a return to Caribbean/Reggae music?
MF: I kinda don’t feel like I’ve left because if you listen to the album there’s always a feel of reggae influence. On this album it’s “Can’t Say I Never Loved You” that has that. And that’s always apart of my shows as well. I think that I will eventually like to do a reggae compilation or a reggae remix version of my songs to my album.
Dee: The album has been out for about a month now, what are your plans for promotion? Any upcoming projects or tours?
MF: We’ve got music video’s getting ready to be shot right now. We’re going to be shooting video’s for, “Change the Record,” “Wrong Side of a Love Song,” “This Time.” I would love to shoot a video for all the songs on the album, which I think is important. Also getting a good tour together and getting out there. That’s the key. Getting out there and hearing these song’s live. I think, that’s the best selling feature for myself. I think people get a chance to really see me and get a better sense of who I am. They get to feel these records, get up and laugh, and sing and cry. Other than that, I got stuff I gotta take care of overseas in Europe because that’s also a very strong market for me and I’ve got different songs and different records doing well over there so you know. I’m getting ready to lock in a tour and that’s really the one thing I would love to do because touring is a lot of fun, it’s really straight forward, you know what your getting yourself into everyday and I get to do what I love everyday.
At a recent sold out concert in Washington, D.C., Melanie certainly didn’t fall short of those live performance expectations. On every song, you felt what she felt, and in essence got to know the real Melanie through her music. It was as if you plugged your iPod in, closed your eyes and had a good cry for a past love. Her Alto register was flawless, reminiscent of a young Toni Braxton or Jazmin Sullivan. When she found it necessary to pull out those high notes, they were as genuine as a bruised lover woe at 4am.
The concert was only a few days after The MF Life was released, so not everyone in the audience knew all the songs, but they quietly listened to her love stories -- laughed when she laughed, threw up napkins when she chanted “Jump up and wave,” during the Caribbean segment of the show, and chanted her name until she returned to the stage for an encore. Certainly, Melanie knows her strengths and it definitely shows in her multifaceted performance.
As always, at the end of my interviews, we go into the Rapid Fire segment. Melanie was a good sport on some of these difficult “think on your feet” questions, and the sound bite below gives you some insight on how she thinks.
My MF Life is…Beautiful
My number one reason for waking up in the morning is…my love for my career and what I do.
If I could only pick one song on my iPod it would be…Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough
My greatest inspiration is…Love
Check out exclusive outtakes on his interview at criticsitdown.tumblr.com and follow Dee.Windt at @billboardcritic