1995 was a special year in Hip-Hop and R&B. Tupac dropped his classic “Me Against the World” from his New York prison. Biggie released both “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance” and had the radio on lock. D’Angelo blazed the charts with “Brown Sugar,” and TLC showed us how “CrazySexyCool” R&B could be.
That fall, a humble new group named Groove Theory released its debut self-titled album and its adorable hit, “Tell Me,” which became a staple in every DJ’s crate. The combination of Amel Larrieux’s salty and sweet vocals and Bryce Wilson’s production were the perfect match, and the two forever solidified their place among Hip-Hop’s golden era.
But in 1999, Larrieux went out on her own, created the independent label, Blisslife, and released her debut solo album, “Infinite Possibilities.” After three more revered albums and six years to tour, live life, and perfect her next album, Larrieux dropped the 16-track LP “Ice Cream Everyday”.
After last week’s shows at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco, I got the chance to sit down with the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and chat with her about being independent, staying creative and relevant in today’s competitive landscape, and pursuing her next big dream.
Amel Larrieux: Well, there’s never really any big thought-out plan. Things happen, songs are written, and if they sound good together in a group and they’re viable to be an album, then that album is done. And that’s how we’ve always worked it. It’s about each individual song being an experience sitting next to another experience, and it becomes an amalgamation of experiences and feelings and emotions...and then you have an album!
AL: “See Where You Are” is just about being present. I have my own meditation practice that affords me exactly that. Just to stop and be still for minute and sometimes not even think about what’s going on. “Moment to Reflect” is inspired by the idea that in society -- and not just western society -- there are so many platforms for everyone to constantly be throwing out their opinions, and it’s easy for some people to just become…just nasty. And people get so wrapped up in opinions... I write a song and have a point of view, but I really like it when a listener takes what they want from it. So I don’t often want to get too in-depth about what I aimed for because that doesn’t really matter. It’s about what the listener gets from it.
AL: For me and (my husband) Laru, we just always try to be authentic as possible. We listen to what’s happening mainstream-wise as well as underground, but we always keep a certain distance when we’re in super creative mode because we don’t really want to get too much into something that might sound trendy...I think we’ve found that when we do it our way, for lack of a better term, it ends up fitting into my discography more gracefully and seamlessly, and it all becomes like this seamless sound. But also, following trends in the music is not very interesting and also probably not very profitable for me. And I don’t think people want that from me.
AL:I’ve never been the mastermind behind the business moves that I appear to be making. It’s really been Laru, and I got really lucky that the person I fell in love with and married also happens to be the person who produces the music I make and had the idea to go independent and spearhead all this. I’m an independent spirit. I don’t want to have my fate in the hands of someone, or a conglomerate, that I don’t think really understands what I want to do.
AL: We’ve always had a space to create. We’ve always had our own studio, a home studio, or something that’s 10 minutes from home. That enabled a kind of (creative) normalcy. We’ve been writing together, even just in the house together, for so long, so we’ve always been totally natural and we almost take it for granted because it’s just what we do. At home, you can just be writing songs and working on some music and one of us hears the other one and chimes in and says “well, what about this?” or “what if you did this to it?” It’s just beautiful that we get to make something that’s universally felt on a spiritual level. That’s how music is. It’s also work. Sometimes I wish I had a timecard I could clock in and out with, but I know it’s a luxury that at 8:00 at night I can get a song idea and go remove myself and go write for a while. Or I can do that at noon and go for a walk outside. It’s just always been a natural part of our life.
AL: Anytime I hear people say, “Oh, you can do it all!” I’m always baffled because it’s hard. Personally, when I hear them say that, I think to myself, “Well, it’s not easy for me!” Traveling from one climate to the next in one day. Or the time (zone) changes. Or getting jet-lagged and then having to do two shows in one night. I often don’t want to be in front of the cameras, and don’t necessarily always want to be photographed. Some days I’m just interested in just singing, and some days I don’t want to sing at all. Some days I don’t want to have to do mom stuff. Some days I don’t want to cook. I’m just like anyone else in that sense. But we all have to kinda “make the donuts (laughs).” Someone has to do it. I would say that’s really the common denominator. From Amel Larrieux the artist to anyone out there; it’s about the struggling. I’m sure I could do a little better with my scheduling. I’m sure that would make things easier. You do have to be good to yourself, though, and allow yourself the room and space to have a tantrum here and there, and learn and grow, and then decide where you need to make changes and where you need to adjust.
AL: Well, I think there might be something to me deciding to determine my own image and my sound and having a hand in it. It’s taken years of just being me and not trying on other people’s identity. Instead, it’s been me messing around with the organic way that my own identity ebbs and flows, musically and visually.
The other thing, and I wish it didn’t sound so businesslike, is that there are so many of us out there that do what we do and there’s so few that get to make a mark, be heard, and be able to continue to do this decade after decade and not be struggling as a starving artist. Talent has something to do with it, but it’s all relative. What really matters is who you have behind you, working what you’re doing. A mainstream label has this machine of hundreds of people doing all this stuff. This is the machine that I have: Laru and a small crew of people that we hire to pull all this stuff together for me. That’s really important. Whether you’re a visual artist or a writer, a musician, a performer, dancer, or any type of creative, it’s really important to have a manager that has an incredible work ethic or a booking agent that’s a tireless presence behind you that keeps going when everything else seems to be saying no.
AL: My biggest dream is to segue into a life of work in the service of children from one to six years old in urban low income communities with the use of art, artistic healing modalities and yogic healing modalities. I would like to teach meditation, yoga, and art and music therapy, and be involved in these communities where kids are “at risk” or don’t have the resources they need. I want to give them these tools – these spiritual internal tools to be well adapted and healed adults one day. That’s my dream. It may not have anything to do with music, but that’s really what my heart desires at this point.
Want to read the full interview with Amel? Read it here.
Follow Amel Larrieux: @amellarrieux