Miguel Talks Kaleidoscope Dream
When I worked at Time Out New York, we hosted a pretty no-frills performance series called “Live At TONY,” where local acts or artists passing by would come to our lobby and perform a song or two. Occasionally, a group was so keen on the attention that they’d basically make a day of it, lounging on the lobby couches and dispatching the music staff to retrieve coffee or tea and other comforts (not naming names but, OK, just one! *cough* Occidental Gypsy *cough*). But the best performances were always by the artists who came in on time, did one take, and promptly got the fuck out of there. The best example of this, perhaps, was when Miguel came in to perform “All I Want Is You,” which is hands-down the best performance we ever hosted. He came in, wrecked it, and was out the door in about 10 minutes.
Since then, a lot has changed for Miguel Pimentel, at least from the attitude standpoint. His 2010 debut, All I Want Is You, is a cool collection of songs, but it didn’t really strike people initially. Soon enough, artists like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd became the du jour saviors of textured, challenging R&B — the kind that many said Miguel was already making — and the singer took advantage of the reinvigorated interest with his Mixtape Of The Week-worthy Art Dealer Chic series. The final result of this cycle is the mesmerizing, wholly outstanding Kaleidoscope Dream, a record that posits Miguel as his own, singular force with a signature sound; one moment, he’s singing along to the Zombies, and the next he’s staring down a maximalist wave of psych-tinged, heady R&B. With many rock flourishes. Recently, we took some time to chat with Miguel about the new record — which is now streaming at NPR — and his approach to making his most fully-realized recording yet.
STEREOGUM: As I deduced from the liner notes, there’s not a lot of people working on Kaleidoscope Dream. It’s mostly you, occasionally Salaam Remi, “What’s The Fun In Forever” has Alicia Keys in the credits … why did you decide to do it like that? Tell me a little bit more about what you were going for on this record as opposed to All I Want Is You.
MIGUEL: First of all, the title Kaleidoscope Dream is my metaphor for life. Everyone has their own kaleidoscope dream, and what I mean by that is that we’re all collecting ideas and beliefs and that has everything to do with how we act, how we react, the choices that we make and how we shape our subconscious thought patterns. All of those things put together, we’re creating our life and what we experience. It can directly influence and affect and create what it is that we’re experiencing in the future. Because I wanted this album to be a pure and honest projection of my lifestyle and my kaleidoscope dream. It was really important that I was very much involved in creating the sound, pulling in the textures, pulling in the colors. Painting honestly and trying to be as concise and true to what it was I was getting in my head. So it was really cool to work with this handful of producers, really taking seriously and understanding how important it was that this sound be mine. If I wasn’t producing the song, I was co-producing. If I wasn’t co-producing, I was playing on it. It was all very much a very personal journey, an honest interpretation of the sound of my head.
STEREOGUM: The record came out in pieces, so people have been sitting with “Adorn” and a few other songs for a while now. Why did you do it that way?
MIGUEL: The reason why I wanted to release this album in this unorthodox way is that I don’t consume music like I used to anymore. I find my favorite artists now release their music in very small doses; I go to my favorite blogs and my favorite magazine, talking to my friends, get two or three songs at a time. That comes out of the fact that we’re being bombarded by so much information and content on a consistent basis, it really is hard to dedicate any kind of committed time to one thing or one idea. So, for those of us who are like me, I wanted to engage that sensibility in a way that made it a little bit easier to get to know me. Like with the Art Dealer Chic series we put out earlier this year, I wanted to somehow break it up in a way that was not only concise but made business sense. We reached out to iTunes to figure out if we could use their “Complete My Album” program in a way that hasn’t been done before, and they were really excited to let us to be a lab mouse in this test. The way it works is, you buy the first portion of my album preview for three dollars and some-odd cents, the next portion for three dollars and some-odd cents, the money that you spent on those portions of the album go toward the complete price of the album, and for the first week the album is on sale for $7.99. So instead of paying $10 for the first album –- or in this case paying the remaining balance, three dollars and change –- it’s something like 45 cents or 35 cents for the rest of the album. It doesn’t deter people from enjoying the music in a more traditional sense. It’s just a way of engaging different kinds of audiences.
STEREOGUM: What parts of your lifestyle and personality were you trying to assert on Kaleidoscope Dream?
MIGUEL: I think I covered my lifestyle in the pace and the sound, in the music. I think my personality shows through in the lyrics. It was kind of a marrying of those two for a more rounded perspective of who I am as an individual, my perspective. Musically, this album is a bit darker, a bit more edgy in comparison to All I Want Is You. This album is just my lifestyle, you know? Sonically, and the approach it just feels more like my daily life and the choices that I will make, conversation choices that I make, choices of entertainment, choices of individual friends. It speaks to my sensibility in that way, sonically and lyrically. And now I think I’m the most proud of it –- and subsequently, the most nervous –- because I feel like it is very unique in a sense.
I try and stay away from music as much as possible when I’m working and listening to myself. I stay away from radios, the Internet, all my favorite blogs I go to for music. I don’t want to stumble on anything that I really fuck with. As I was trying to finish the album it was just really important that I was creating what I was hearing in my head. And I just wanted to be true to that. What I will say is that I really appreciate that you were almost expecting something different, and coming from that place. There’s definitely rock flourishes … that’s my life! I didn’t get to highlight that on the first album as much. Because I’m playing on the album I think it came out more naturally that way. I was raised on a lot of classic rock, a lot of country rock, a lot of fucking funk, a lot of great rock, you know? It kind of manifested itself in the music and that’s my favorite part of the sound of the album. Then there’s lots of 808 cuz I like my shit to knock! I want that feel.
STEREOGUM: Having your shit knock is usually a pretty good way to go.
MIGUEL: Indeed. That’s what it was all about. It was definitely a function of that perspective.
STEREOGUM: It feels like — going off your recent stop at Joe’s Pub for the EP release — the live show is so much more aggressive and fleshed out. Like, you were mugging and rapping “I Get Around” before instantly segueing into some blown-out new song. Do you feel like that’s something you’re deliberately trying to do, make the live show more visceral and flashy?
MIGUEL: Because of the music, and the older songs that we were playing, I rearranged them with my band so that it complements … me and how I really feel, what I really wanna feel when I hear the song. I think being inspired sonically lends itself to how I perform it, and I think that’s all it was. I think this is so much more who I am and I think it comes through in the performance, you know? I have moments where I’m very aggressive and I have moments where I’m very tender and I have moments where I’m a little dangerous and I have moments where I’m more pensive. I’m trying to somehow give people … that’s all I really wanna do, man. I spent two years being misunderstood.
STEREOGUM: When stuff like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean started popping earlier last year, a lot of people were pointing to you as someone who was already successfully wading in this kind of blown-out R&B aesthetic, the people trying to check the hype were pointing back to All I Want Is You. Do you feel like, with this new record, that this is finally your moment?
MIGUEL: Whether it is or it’s not that moment for me, I don’t really know. Who can really say? I would say I hope so, but at the same time what I can say is that the music will stand on its own. When people come and see me … what I’m so grateful for is that, in a way, the first album did get kind of slept on initially. And it’s quietly at gold now.
STEREOGUM: Why do you think people slept on it?
MIGUEL: Honestly, I think marketing has everything to do with that. But also I think it had to do with me. Maybe I wasn’t really ready, and I was still discovering how to find myself in the midst of the limelight. I was being pulled in different directions but trying to maintain individuality amidst the persuasion of a label who obviously has experience breaking an artist, and maybe I let them push them in a certain direction so much where I was holding on to some kind of individuality but it wasn’t really who I was, it was just different. At the same time, what I did accomplish was that it completely separated me from my peers. It poised me for being so confident in what I’m doing now. Now I’m extremely sure of what I’m trying to accomplish and what I’m trying to project and it’s so deliberate now that you can’t really tell me anything. I’m like, no. This is who I want to be, and this is how I’m doing it. This is how I feel about this and I’m going to speak my mind. It was a great writing experience, man. This time it’s different; it feels different. Not gonna lie.
STEREOGUM: It probably goes without saying, but people are definitely going to have sex to this.
MIGUEL: I hope there’s a lot of that. I wanted to make a record that wasn’t only for the bedroom cuz my life isn’t all about that. I have my moments, and I included those moments on this album. But there are also moments of conversation, opening up the topic. I only recently came to terms with the fact that I’m not going to live forever. I had to somehow convince myself along the way that nothing ends. But more recently I had to face reality and my perspective has changed. “Where’s The Fun In Forever” is now just kind of how I feel about it.