PHOTOS BY ALICE LUBBOCK.
The British reinvention of soul continues with Mali Michael. A second-generation soul singer, Michael released his first single, the mysterious, glitch-y “Ghost” last month. His follow-up song “Wild” is just as promising; a languid meditation on longing. “It’s when you’ve got that itching feeling for someone,” the 20-year-old North Londoner explains. “You already know them; you’re deep into them. You’ve just got to be with them, but there’s always two sides to it.” With his careful ‘fro and freckles, Michael certainly looks the part of an earnest, contemporary crooner, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a normal, messy 20-year-old who loves living with his friends in the neighborhood he grew up in and dreams of collaborating with Pharrell.
Though Michael is cagey about the release date of his debut album, he assures us that “there is definitely something brewing” and mentions flying to New York to work with John Legend. “I guess if I had to put a label on it,” Michael tells us of his musical style, “I’d call it ‘future soul’—classic songs with a contemporary production.”
HOMETOWN: Highbury, London
ALL IN THE FAMILY: My dad was a singer. As kids me and my brothers and sisters always used to hang out around the studio when he was recording. His music was folky sort of soul or reggae. A bit of everything, but mainly soul. [When I told my parents I wanted to be a singer] my mum was all over it. She was like, “Yeah. Do whatever you want.” And my dad was like, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that.” I think he had a tough time in the industry—back then it was all a bit cutthroat—so he just assumed that it would be the worst thing for me to do. But it’s going well so far. I’m gonna take my chances.
OUT OF THE CLASSROOM: The first instrument I started playing was the saxophone, but it got to the point where lessons had become just so boring it started putting me off. As soon as I quit learning I started teaching myself and enjoying it again. I’m scared that would happen with singing if I started doing vocal lessons. I think it’s so boring, it would make me lose my love for it
FIRST SONG: I must have been 12, 13. I could barely call it a song, though. It was probably about my mum or something really embarrassing like that. I was I had it, actually. I just remember it was on the guitar, strumming some chords that probably weren’t even chords. I had a band when I was like 14, 15. We’d do reggae songs, James Brown. It was amazing. We started playing pubs and school gigs, stuff like that.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1993: The two records I find the most influential were actually both recorded in 1993, which was the year I was born. One was a Terence Trent D’Arby record [Symphony or Damn], which I love, and the other one was Prince, The Love Symbol Album.
MODERN MUSIC: This is going to sound really bad, but I don’t listen to that much contemporary music. I’m a fan of what Frank Ocean’s doing. I like Kendrick Lamar, all that sort of stuff. But I can’t say I go out of my way to listen to it.
GETTING DISCOVERED: It was actually through a feature I’d done a couple years ago with some dance DJs here—they’re called Chase & Status. I was featured on one of their things. It rocketed from there. I was at college at the time, so I was sort of forced to quit college—I say forced, but I kind of wanted to leave. I separated myself from that because, as much as I appreciate that music, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I took a couple years to find my own sound, my own music and really hone in on that. But I still like to think I have a following from the Chase & Status thing.
THE COOLEST KID IN SCHOOL: [laughs] I dunno. I didn’t actually tell anyone until it actually came out because I hate being that guy: “Yeah, I’ve got a tune with Chase & Status.” People started finding out, [but] by that time I wasn’t even at school anymore. I like to keep things secretive.
UNDER-SHARING: I don’t like playing my stuff to people. Not until it’s completely done: recorded, mixed, and mastered. It’s always quite a personal thing; it’s always something you’re writing about that’s really personal to you. I try to play stuff to people only when I need to play stuff, like when my manager demands to see it.
DREAM DATE: Jessica Alba. She doesn’t do anything? She can not do anything for the rest of her life. [laughs]
WORST NIGHTMARE: Losing my voice, that would be the worst. Losing a hand and not being able to play guitar or piano.
MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Have I ever been recognized? A couple of times. People normally come up and they’re like, “Hey, you’re the guy from LMFAO.” And I’m like, “No, I’m definitely not that guy. I’m definitely not that guy.” [laughs] It’s so bad. It has happened a couple times. It’s quite hard to miss me with the big ‘fro.
WRITER’S BLOCK: If I get writer’s block, it’s just not meant to be. I’m not meant to be writing a song, so I just go to the pub or something. If you can’t think of anything to write, you’re not meant to be writing at that particular time.
FOR MORE ON MALI MICHAEL, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.