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Miguel talks sex, politics and swinging pendulums

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As he releases his third album, Wildheart, we talk to space-age R&B auteur Miguel

You’ve always been a non-conformist, but this is your most deliberately ‘different’ record so far. Is there a reason for that?

My album is about taking the time to know who you are, what you believe in and what you stand for, and letting your actions reflect that. It’s about ignoring the programming, not conforming to outside ideas of what happiness, success, wealth, love, or what being ‘cool’ is. It’s about knowing what those things are to you, and what you really want. Then you can ignore all that sh*t. It becomes like, “F*ck what you think – this is how I feel about it.” The programming says: “This is exactly what happiness is, this is exactly what success looks like, this is exactly how you get there.” And it’s not how it works. I know that, because I didn’t have to conform to get to where I am. Not conforming got me here.

Do you think there’s an unrealistic amount of pressure today to keep up with other peoples’ expectations?

We have so much information readily available, so there’s a lot of faux-knowledge out there. It’s just enough to be able to say, “I know about that”, when in all actuality, you don’t know sh*t about growing tomatoes or whatever. Everyone’s a f*cking scholar about whatever topic you pick. It’s insane. So you have all these judgmental people. The internet is the greatest and worst thing that ever happened to us. You know anyone can edit Wikipedia? Some kid who doesn’t know sh*t could write anything. And misinformation is regurgitated and spread around; you can’t tell what’s real.

There’s a definite political edge to what you’re saying as well…

I loved making the song Deal, because I wanted to make a track people could dance to, but not really paying attention to the lyrics, and that song is really about the relationship between politicians, lobbyists and multimillion dollar corporations. It’s a political song, but it’s a party song.

The album has a gutter mouth to match its lofty ideals. A track such as The Valley – basically just a shopping list of sex acts – is both filth and a lesson in good bedroom communication…

If you’re not in a relationship, it’s the epitome of everything you would want to say. I just say what I feel, and I’ve always been good at saying it the way we want to say it, as men. Quickie is a good reference for that, on my first album – it was a more playful way of saying it, less animalistic or visceral. I’m saying what we want to say, and it comes across as real, so women aren’t offended by it. It’s like, “At least he’s being honest.” They just want to hear it the way it is. Sometimes it’s maybe brash, but at least you can respect it. ’Cause the truth isn’t always the nicest thing to hear – especially in my case – but there is a balance.

Do you dance when you go out?

A little bit. I groove. When I go out, it’s normally to a bar to play pool or just talk sh*t. I’m not really a club person – it’s become a part of work. Being of ethnic origin, they want you to come to the club and it’s f*cking R&B and hip-hop and whatever, it’s an appearance.

The album uses LA as a very obvious backdrop. Is there a reason behind that besides hometown pride?

I wanted to portray this never-ending notion of hope and desperation, which Los Angeles is a perfect tangible, symbolic place for. Everywhere in Los Angeles is a weird juxtaposition of hope and desperation. It’s like, palm trees in the hood. Mann’s Chinese Theatre is on Hollywood Boulevard, but three blocks away there’s a person sleeping on the street. Venice Beach is a huge tourist attraction, but by the time the sun is down, you do not want to be on Venice Beach. It becomes very seedy.

Miguel

Performing in Philadelphia on 4 July

Why was that idea so central to the album?

I wanted to capture this idea that you don’t have to conform. Hope and desperation seems to be a never-ending, reciprocating dynamic, in living your dream and chasing it. In the desperation, you find out what you stand for, what you believe in. You wanna know who you really are? Go through some hard times. It’ll show your core values, what you’re willing to sacrifice, what you’re not. And when you get through desperation you find hope, that light, you get to a new level, and that will come with adversity. Then new challenges come, and in turn you’re back in desperation, because you’re challenged again. It’s never-ending.

So you think experience swings like a pendulum?

Yeah, it comes right back around. And that’s the process. As humans, we forget that. I don’t like this notion some people have of ‘I’ve always been here’. What are we selling, to kids? No, you weren’t always there! You haven’t always been the f*cking man! Get the f*ck out of here! You don’t have a story. That’s the real journey, man – you’re gonna f*ck up. You’re going to experience hope and desperation, that’s part of the process, but you’re going to be happier for it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. There’s not one way to the top of the mountain. You’re going to find your way, as long as it’s the mountain you want to climb. Just figure out if it’s the right mountain first.

Wildheart is out now

(Image: Rex)

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