The singer Ne-Yo once said, “I pride myself on being the type of artist who can work half in the R&B world and half in the pop world.” Canadian-Haitian singer Melissa Laveaux is the type of artist who can work half in the world of jazz and the other half in world-music. She’s got her toes dipped in both puddles,and her frequently be-spectacled eyes stuck on rock, as is the case with the song “Dew Breaker”.
The eclectic singer has been up to quite a lot since she and I discussed her craft more than two years ago. Won’t you follow along as we discuss everything from her new paths, Haiti, and even life lessons.
Kreyolicious: You’re working on some new material. Will you be going in a totally new artistic direction?
At the moment, I’ve been a little bit greedy with the work material I’ve chosen… I’m scattered in many different directions. I’m working on a short story, that will turn into a musical dramatic performance. I’m also working on a cover project of Haitian protest songs. I’m also working on a more straightforward album project, themed around self-care – in other words, a breakup album. I’m also a collaborator on other projects with French artists such as jazz sax player Julien Lourau’s big band project – the Groove Retrievers – and electronica bassist Tom Fire, on his current tour promoting his album on which I appear. I’m always trying something new, but I really liked the pop direction that my last album took. My aim is to push myself to make something that isn’t necessarily easy on the ears, but that something that resonates and pushes my boundaries as a songwriter.
Kreyolicious: Excellent…When you are in-between projects, and you get an idea for a new song, how do you determine whether it’s going to be set aside for now or whether it’s going to be definitely be viable for your next project?
I immediately record ideas on my voice mail or my smart phone or whatever’s nearby. I try to keep recording apps on all my devices in case I’m not travelling with a computer, a guitar and a mic. I think it’s so important to write down the first idea…However, you can’t despair if you forget to. Nothing ever disappears forever. Sometimes, I start singing or humming ideas I had forgotten months ago because I’m doing something very conducive to songwriting. Ironically, this often happens when I’m swimming in the ocean or if I’m in the bath or shower. The one place, I can’t bring my phone to record…
I don’t know if any song is good until I’ve finished it, which is sad, but it’s good to keep working. All work fine-tunes your skills, even if it’s work you have to cast aside or put in the garbage.
Kreyolicious: Interesting…When you lay down the vocals for a song, and you do multiple takes, what criteria ultimately determine which version you use?
The producer and I make sure I’m not singing off-key…first. And then, I try to make sure the people in the studio feel the hair on the arms stand up. The goal is resonance – as always.
Kreyolicious: The title for one of your past albums Dying Is a Wild Night was based on an Emily Dickinson poem. Emily Dickinson once said, “Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.” By that, I think she meant that wisdom can come out of nowhere. What’s the biggest epiphany you’ve had in life so far.
“Anger is like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies”. I’ve been learning to keep just the right amount of anger to heat the coals, but not enough to self-destruct. Who has time for that? Anger is a justified short-term reaction, but long-term it’s a very damaging distraction, and I’ve got too much work ahead of me right now to be distracted.
Kreyolicious: Any plans to go and perform in Haiti?
There are plans to perform in Haiti. I returned this past year after 19 years since my last trip. My goal was to forge contacts and start research on my project of Haitian protest cover songs. The trickiest part is finding somewhere to crash because hotels and travel inside Haiti can quickly become very expensive. I’ve stayed in some Haitian owned Airbnb’s last time and the hosts were so lovely. After my research is done, I’d like to record the album and release it in partnership with a Haitian record label and return to perform the songs regularly. The songs have a historical importance to Haiti, but as a Canadian of Haitian-descent, I’m trying to find ways to work with the songs without exploiting them. Because of their history, whether or not this project becomes successful, I am compelled to make sure it has a long-lasting and nourishing legacy for musicians on the island. That can be getting performers to tour with me or using some of the profits to start an instrument library. I’m looking for a way to pay it forward.
Kreyolicious: Sounds like a good plan…What would you say to an aspiring singer?
Don’t quit. Keep working. If you didn’t manage to work, take some time out and return to the work again at a later time. It’s always there waiting for you, you just have to do it. Be kind to yourself and listen to your intuition – not your fear.
[Photo Credit: All three photos of Melissa Laveaux were taken by Emma Picq]