Soul Express: You were part
of the group By All Means, which recorded three excellent soul albums
for Island and Motown in 1988-1992 – all of which Soul Express contributors
rated in their top albums of the year. Can you please tell us about those times
with the group?
Mikelyn: I was hired
as a background singer along with Jimmy Varner (keyboards) for the Bill
Withers Tour. We met Stan Sheppard around that time and it was then
that he introduced us to his brother Billy, we started talking about putting a group
together, Stan reached out to Bobby Ghossen at Island, we sent him a raw
demo, a photo and literally were signed the next day. Bobby Ghossen was an
amazing human being and awesome A&R rep, especially for us entering into
the world of “recording artist” for the first time; he really took care of us.
“You Decided to Go”, The More You Give, The More You Get”. “Think I Fell In
Love” “Feeling I Get” are my favorites of the By All Means tracks!
We moved to Motown when Gerald Busby
who was president at the time, expressed interest in the group and was excited
about the idea of remaking “Let’s Get it On”. It coincided with his vision to
bring back a sound that put Motown on the musical map. I think that he felt
that we were the sound that could get the party re-started so tospeak.
Soul Express: What was the
music business like back in those days compared to today? Any difference?
Mikelyn: Back then the
focus was on getting a record deal. People wanted to be signed to a major
label, to be associated with the prestige that the label brought. It had its
pros and cons. Being signed to label didn’t necessarily give you the creative
freedom, especially if the company had a strong idea about which direction that
they wanted to take you. If you could sing then it was about finding you the
right “hit” song. I think when the Internet download happened and when Prince
decided to become the symbol he/it made a major statement for all of us,
creatively and financially. Now the music arena is filled with everyone trying
to do their own thing and not have the powers that be deciding your musical
direction, we decide our musical direction and hope that people can feel what
we are trying to say. Being independent does require a more hands on approach
in every aspect of your record, but at the end of it all it is very rewarding.
Soul Express: Who would you
cite as your greatest influences?
Mikelyn: My parents
for playing Billy, Sarah, Dinah, Ella, Duke, Ray, Frank, everything that was
jazz and swing and letting me hear it. Cape Verdean music, Burt Bacharach,
James Taylor, Bill Withers, Barry White and my greatest, Diana Ross, when I saw
her live, that was my first live concert, I remember being blown away, it
confirmed my direction. Of course there are so many others but this interview
would never end (smile)!!!
Soul Express: Do you know
what are the other members of By All Means doing these days? Are they still
singing or recording?
Mikelyn: Jimmy Varner
is in Los Angeles, still producing music; he has been working with our daughter
on her own musical project, as well as with some young new artists. I haven’t
seen Billy unfortunately in awhile but I know he still writes and produces.
Soul Express: After the By
All Means period, you have contributed at least to Rahsaan Patterson’s
recordings. What else did you do in the latter part of the 90s?
Mikelyn: I actually
went in a somewhat different direction; I started working on my production
chops. I worked with producer Terry Carter on a girls groups called Fyne Lyne,
the girl never manifested a deal but they were hot and we wrote a lot of good
songs. After that I went on tour with Barry White. I was signed as a writer
for Windswept Music and co-wrote with Rahsaan Patterson and Jamey Jaz. We
co-wrote “Back To the World and it ended up as Tevin Campbell’s titled and
first single off of that record. I wrote songs for film and in the midst of
all that did some acting. I worked on television and in a couple of films. The
latter 90’s were awesome for me.
Soul Express: Have you been
working with other recording artists (than Rahsaan Patterson) recently?
Mikelyn: Yes, I
co-wrote songs with Babyface and DJ Rogers Jr.. I worked with Kirk Franklin,
Chrystal Lewis and Maxwell. I just did a show opening for Frank McComb at the
Café De Paris in London. It was so great; there were so many By All Means
fans in attendance.
Soul Express: You had two
songs on the James Day’s excellent Better Days project, and these
songs (She’s Not the Girl, Remember When) were released on the
pre-release EP of the album. However, when the final CD was published, the same
songs were sung by Audrey Wheeler and Catherine Russell. What
Mikelyn: That was a little
crazy, and it’s the kind of thing that can mess up a beautiful project, cause
you have to deal with the business aspect, always. I was supposed to sing on
the full CD, but there were some minor issues with the contract that could not
be rectified before James’s release date, so I had to come off. That was the
question from a lot of people for a while. I know that part of the business
must be done; cause you have to handle your business, but it can be a major
vibe breaker. But James and are cool and hopefully our schedules will allow us
to work together again.
Soul Express: How did you
end up with a deal with the U.K. label Dome?
I was in London to do the show with Frank, I also did some radio interviews and
the DJ’s started playing songs from my EP. When I got back to the States there
was somewhat of a buzz and I just put out into the universe that the full CD
was coming. Rahsaan suggested that I send Peter Robinson the EP, and the rest
Soul Express: Has the CD
been released in the U.S.A.?
Mikelyn:”Copasetic Is” is available
through my company, Hip T & B Music. Until we hook up with a major, the CD
can be found on CD Baby.
Soul Express:Which songs are your personal favourites on your Dome album?
Mikelyn: They all are, really but Slick and Deep really stands out.
Soul Express: I also especially
love the jazz-oriented cuts like Slick and Deep and the title track Copasetic
Is. They are both written and produced by you together with Mark
Rasmussen. Can you please describe these two tracks a bit more detailed –
writing of these songs, the overall atmosphere you tried to create…
Mikelyn: Well Mark was sent
to me by God because he really gets me! I am not classically trained but I
hear the song complete in my head. When you have limitations you have to
recognize when you have someone that can understand what you trying to say.
Mark to me is brilliant in that way, and he is so freakin patient with me. I
have worked with a lot of folks and he is The Patience Buddha!!! Anyway, I
first heard the bassline for Slick and Deep, and the tempo for Copasetic Is was
kind of a mistake but we liked it and I just started singing to that offbeat
rhythm. When he played the chords, the lyrics just poured out of me. Slick
& Deep is my cleansing song. It speaks about the shit I was going through
for awhile and like it says “Had to go through it all” we all have to go
through it, to come out refined and clear so we can get on with what God has
planned for us. I won’t say I was trying to create an atmosphere but I was
creating a process for healing.
Soul Express: The Dome label is probably best
known for strong club-oriented soul/funk tracks, and on your album probably
tracks like Slippin’ are closest to the “typical” Dome style, with its
compulsive rhythm track. On your live performances, do you think the audience
expects you to play the more R&B-inclined and dance-oriented material or
the ballads – or both? At what type of clubs do you typically perform?
Mikelyn: Hopefully the
audience will get into the songs and maybe identify with something I’m singing
about. I do love an intimate setting, but I clearly see myself on the Hollywood
Bowl Stage, (an amphitheatre in Hollywood, if you’ve never been!) singing to
thousands of people. That would be grand.
Soul Express: I understand
that you have already visited U.K. at least once or twice. Can you please tell
about these gigs – where did you perform and what kind of response did you get?
Mikelyn: I first went to the
UK with By All Means to do some promotional dates and to meet Chris
Blackwell. The second time was with Barry White. And then recently as last
year I was asked by James Day to come to London and open for Frank McComb at
Café De Paris. The response was great, but I was truly blown away by how
committed the UK fans really were. I hadn’t been there since the first By All
Means record, and people were yelling out requests and after the show handing
me their personal copies to sign. It was great. Just great!
Soul Express: Is there any
chance to see you perform in the UK or elsewhere in the Europe in the near
future? Maybe some soul weekender in the UK would be ideal?
Mikelyn: Oh I would love
that, we are working on that right now!!
Soul Express: I noted that
on CDBaby site your CD was recommended for people who like the music of Sade,
Chaka Khan and Mica Paris. The last mentioned is an interesting
point of reference, since I have also mentioned in my reviews that your vocal
style strongly reminds me of Mica Paris – who happens to be my favourite UK soul singer of all time. Are you familiar with her work?
Mikelyn: Very familiar, I
love Mica!!! When I went to London for the first time with BAM, she was
already huge over there, so the A&R person for Island gave me a copy of her
album and when I heard “Don’t Give Me Up” it was over me. I had not been moved
by a voice in a long time and that sister did it. I must have played that
cassette tape to death but I couldn’t get enough of her voice. Being label
mates allowed me to finally meet her in Los Angeles. I think I still have a
picture of Mica, myself, Miles Jaye, Jimmy Varner and Will Downing. And yes, a
few people have told me that I sound like her!!!
Soul Express: If you were able to choose your own “dream team” of musicians and
producers with whom you’d love to work with on your next CD, who would you
Mikelyn: I already have
them!!! Mark, Rahsaan, Jamie. I have a few others that I would love to add too
the mix, but it will be a surprise!
Soul Express:Have you been impressed with any other female vocalist’s recordings
or performances in recent years?
Mikelyn: Oh yes, most
recently, Corinne Bailey Rae. Alicia Keys, still love Mary and Mariah.
And if you haven’t already, you must check out RaRe Valverde. And the
angel voice, Trina Broussard, but my heartbreaker and spirit soother is Miss
Soul Express:Anything else you would like to add?
Mikelyn: Just thank you for
asking me to do this interview, and for your continued support of Independent
Artists. Be blessed!