“Do you like drugs," Miguel asks over a smooth guitar riff on “Do You…,” a cut from his forthcoming Kaleidoscope Dream album. Last week, dressed in all black, from patent leather loafers to his short-sleeve button down shirt, the California singer gave Complex an early listen of the LP. Quietly singing "I'm gonna do you like drugs" to himself and bopping along, it’s clear that the new tunes resonate in a way that his debut album, All I Want Is You, didn’t. It’s not that he doesn’t love that album. That set had a couple of hits (the J. Cole-assisted title track and “Sure Thing”), but it didn't show his audience that he has more to offer than love songs, either.
“This album is more lifestyle, thought pattern than anything,” he’d say later. “It’s the sound of my life.” That Miguel thinks of more than which girl he wants to bed is reflected on "Candles in the Sun," a pensive cut about the social issues of the day—senseless killings, drug-infested communities, and a blind government. Still, Kaleidoscope is more light than not. “Where’s the Fun in Forever” encourages listeners to live in the moment and “celebrate today.” He was also proud of the album’s developed sound, noting the live harps and strings on “Kaleidoscope Dream.”
The release of the Dream is a bit unconventional. It’ll be out, in full, on October 2. But a third of it (including lead single "Adorn") was released as Kaleidoscope Dream: The Water Preview on July 30 on iTunes. The second EP, Kaleidoscope Dream: The Air Preview, comes out September 11, 2012. Come October, those who purchased the both EPs can complete the album with the remaining five songs. Others can buy the full product at once.
Miguel’s obviously confident about his new music, but not so much sure about everything else. When the listening session wrapped, he talked about why this album makes him a little nervous, his hunger for fame, and how he got Alicia Keys to sing background on "Candles in the Sun.”
Interview by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
What’s different about you from your debut album to Kaleidoscope Dream?
The first album was, “Hey, I’m talented. This one is like, “Hey, this is me. Let’s sit down and have a conversation? You want a drink? I’m going to have a Jack and Coke.” You’ll get the idea and what the fuck I’m really into. It’s the sound of my life. I’m glad you think that I’m a cool guy and a nice guy, but I want you to feel like you have a more rounded perspective of me as a person. I’m in a very comfortable place as a man. And as an artist I have a responsibility to myself and my fans to become more personal with them, so they know who they’re really fucking with and why. This album is more of a feeling album. The last one was a relationship album.
I feel really happy with the music. I’ve been so involved in everything this time. It’s all such a real extension of me and it’s dope. But it’s so scary. I don’t know how people are going to take it.
The album does sound more well-rounded topically. Do you think people are going to enjoy getting to know you like this?
It’s kind of weird to admit this, but maybe the sound of my life doesn’t fit everyone else’s. And the pace doesn’t fit everyone else’s. I feel really happy with the music. It’s me. I’ve been so involved in everything this time. The creative direction, the way we’re releasing it. It’s all such a real extension of me and it’s dope. But it’s so fucking scary. I don’t know how people are going to take it.
But if it’s a success...
It’ll feel good.
What have you learned about yourself after your rookie year?
You can’t take yourself too seriously. But always have conviction. What is any great idea without conviction? I don’t do anything if I don’t have that. In retrospect, I was letting other people guide me because I wanted to be open-minded. I was young. I was like, “You’re right. I don’t know anything about this. This is my first album. I’ve never done this.” At the end of the day, there’s a balance to that. That’s the most important thing, knowing when to go with your gut and when to let people do their thing. It’s really important.
You seem to have the perfect level of fame. Your true fans recognize you, but you can walk down the street without commotion.
I want more fame. I really do. I’m not going to run away from that. A lot of people are like, "You want to be famous?” I’m like, “Yeah!” That’s one of the things I want. But I also want privacy. I don’t think that that’s something that can’t happen. I don’t think that’s impossible.
I want more fame. I really do. I’m not going to run away from that.
So you want Bieber-level mob scenes in your honor?
I’m enjoying getting there. Every once in a while I’m really tired, but I fucking love my fans. As a creative individual, all you ever really want is an audience for whatever medium. You want someone that’s going to pay some fucking attention and appreciate it. I appreciate when I walk down the street and someone is like, “Hey, you’re Miguel, right? Can I take a picture with you?” I’m always down.
What about the other side, the rumors and negative attention? That’s a part of the package, too.
It’s a double-edged sword. I’m not here to please or impress. I’m not looking for approval from anyone. Is positive attention welcome? Fuck yeah. But either way, I don’t take personal. Good or bad. The moment you let that stuff become important, that’s when you start to write music that doesn’t resonate with yourself.
I make music because I have to, whether I make a dollar from it or not. I have to do it. It’s just me. When I put it into perspective like that, the hierarchy of what’s important to my personal brand as a human being, what’s important is being creative. When I do that, I feel good. Do that and everything will be put into perspective. You can’t please everybody!
I heard you’re pretty intense in band rehearsals for shows.
Yeah. The process is, “Let’s get it right. And as many times as possible, so when we run into some bullshit on stage it doesn’t even phase us." I’m a lot more comfortable on stage now. At my bad shows, I’d just fixate on mistakes for hours. Now I’m a little cooler. And my band is thorough. It’s really easy to work with them. We kind of have a rhythm now. I arrange and let them embellish and pull stuff if we need to. It’s all about the overall sound.
I saw you backstage last year when you were opening for Marsha Ambrosius, about to step on stage. You ate an apple just seconds before stepping into the lights. Why?
At my better shows, I’ve had an apple or a nectarine right before. An apple clears the palette. Next time you eat an apple, you’ll notice that your voice just feels more clear. I learned that from someone.
I make music because I have to, whether I make a dollar from it or not.
What’s a bad show for you?
A bad show for me is one where I don’t feel connected in. Normally it happens when the sound is wrong. I can’t figure out why I’m not hearing certain things. I’m trudging through the show. I’m not connected with the people because I’m stuck on trying to figure out what’s wrong. And then it affects my vocal performance, then my overall performance. It’s a domino effect. Thank God it hasn’t been too bad.
Are there any featured guests on this album?
“Candles in the Sun” has Alicia [Keys] on it.
I didn’t hear her.
She’s just doing backgrounds.
How’d you get one of the biggest stars out to only do background vocals?
I wrote the song when I was in Jamaica opening for her. I played her the record and she loved it and wanted to cut it. It didn’t really work for her album. I was like, “Yes.” I’ve never written a song with the purpose of giving it to anyone else that I really wanted for me. Sorry, Alicia. I’m so glad she passed.