Interview: Midian - talks authenticity, new EP, her retro sound & music influences
She's quickly gaining traction in the industry with her retro-sounding EP, and her recent popular feature on VH1's "Love & Hip Hop". The next day she reached #6 on the iTunes R&B chart (purchase it on iTunes), and #1 on Amazon’s R&B chart the next day. Her single "Bitter" received over 350,000 streams on YouTube and prompted numerous cover videos from fans. In response several key outlets took notice including Myspace specifically tweeting her out, and MTV hailing her as one of their their top 5 picks of the week. This was one talent we couldn't let slip through our fingers, and even had to book her for our upcoming R&B showcase "Sol Village" in February.
Midian is a lovely name, I know it has a biblical association. Tell us about your path from Virgina to LA, both personally and musically, how did Midian become the person we see and hear on the EP?
Well, Midian is my name, actually, so I just decided to keep it one word since my first name is so unique. I started coming out to L.A. two years ago, and I would go back and forth from Virginia to L.A.. I really wasn't ready to make the move yet, because I needed to build my own confidence in knowing that this was the path that I was supposed to be on, so, once I realized that, everything in my life seemed to just be pushing me to make this move. So I did it, and I came out here. I actually just moved here officially in August of this past year, 2012, and made progress from then until now. So I'm really pleased that I waited to release music until now. I mean, I have a lot of records, but, I never put together, I never released a project, because I guess I just wasn't ready for it yet, but now I am.
Can you talk about some of the pre-L.A. music projects that you have been involved with? At one point you had a song on a Mercedes Benz project?
I did, yes. They, Mercedes, licensed a song from me. That was actually my very first placement, we did it through a company in Germany. I had a couple of movie placements, and now some T.V. shows, and I just actually wrote a record that just got picked up by a pretty big rapper, but I can't really say much about that until the paper work is done, but something definitely big, and something to look forward to.
The placement of your song 'Bitter' in an episode of VH1's 'Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta' last year brought a lot of attention to you, with hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits for the song, and a top ten placing on the iTunes charts. How did this come about?
Yeah, that was like, so unexpected too, like, we got a call that they wanted to clear seven of our songs for different TV shows and stuff, and I'm like, well, hold on, let's slow down here, let's, like, start with one. So we did 'Bitter', and we were not prepared for the type of response that it had. It literally blew up over night, and it was off of just this small window on VH1, and it's so incredible to me how you can reach so many people. I think the hype of it lasted about two weeks, I mean the interest from consumers lasted about two weeks, and then it died off because I don't have a major label behind me, I don't have marketing or a promo budget.
You say the songs on the EP are very personal to you, very near and dear to your heart. In the Elle article you say 'they are so different from what the mainstream formula is'. What is it about them that makes them so special for you, as songs individually, and as a collection, and what is it, in your opinion, that makes them so different from the mainstream...was it a very deliberate decision to differentiate them from the mainstream?
I think that my music will work in the mainstream because of its difference. I don't have any dance records, club records, but I do feel that some of the songs that I have, or am currently writing, will definitely be able to be remixed into dance records.
Is that the route that you want to go?
No, I don't. I want to stick with the organic sounds, with the live sounds. I might push a little bit. I think 'Love Me Now' has kind of like a groove, like a dance groove to it, but that, like, four-on-the-floor dance sound will never really be me. I actually have had a major label try to sign me a couple of years ago, but they wanted me to go more in like, they used Katy Perry as an example, they were like, 'We kind of want you to try to go more in this Katy Perry direction', and it just didn't feel right for me. So, I decided to gracefully decline that offer and continue to pursue the lane that I feel best about and that resonates well with me. So, this is just the beginning for me though. I'm really excited about working on new music, I'm writing new songs now and I'm getting in with a couple of pretty amazing producers next month, and have some interest from a major. So, I'm just going to see how things go, but I'm excited.
Why is it so important for you to maintain your sense of identity as an artist, and to not compromise musically?
I wouldn't want to do anything that didn't feel like me, and I've tried to do progressive pop records and dance songs, I've tried, and they sound great, but it doesn't feel right for me. I could not see myself getting on a stage with a leotard and all that, like, you know, the crazy costume and the whole thing. I would just rather just be who I am, and I think that my voice actually sounds best on an open, more of an open, sound-scape, than to be cluttered with so much sonically.
The EP has a retro-soul sound-scape to it, and, as you have said, you have moved away from earlier efforts at dance/pop. Why has it been important for you to move in this direction sonically?
It just feels right to me. I mean, it's just what feels natural for me. I am actually working on some new stuff that is a little less retro but still is reminiscent of, like, an older, not older, but more of a vintage sound, but with a more contemporary feel. So the new stuff I'm working on kind of goes a little bit more, it is still soulful, but it will have more elements of, like, rock and, I don't want to get too much into that.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of making of the EP, a behind the scenes look at how it came together?
I took my time in finding the right producers and writers to involve in this project with me. I had a vision going into it of how I wanted to turn out, and I'm pleased with the end result. I hope to be able to go back in and work with these same people again, everybody was so great to work with, and I learned so much about the record making process. I was there from the beginning to end of each song, I mean, we didn't write songs to tracks, the tracks were built with live instrumentation, and it was just cool to be part of the whole process, you know. In fact, I really feel fortunate to be able to make the music that I want to make and be a part of orchestrating the people involved.
Could you tell us about your songwriting process as an artist, and a bit about how the songs on this EP were written?
I was going through a transitional time in my life and was having a hard time writing alone, and so I was fortunate enough to meet a really great songwriter who I brought in, Tish Hyman, and she's signed to Universal, she is really incredible. I brought her in to work on 'Bitter' and 'Love Me Now', that's how I met her actually was with 'Bitter', the Fisticuffs introduced me to her, and she did the majority of the writing on 'Bitter', and she wrote 'Love Me Now'. Then we went to New York, actually, and worked with 'Allstar', Allen Gordon, and he's kind of a, he's been in the business for a long time, he's worked with Whitney Houston, he's worked with a lot of really great people, and we wrote 'Love Is All We Have' and 'Too Bad' together. 'Up In The Clouds' is a song that I wrote with my friend Jen, and she played the piano, and we just, I mean, that song came out so fast and so effortlessly, that was a very fast write actually.
'Up In The Clouds' is a bit more enigmatic lyrically compared with the other songs on the EP, which are more direct in terms of their narrative. Was this deliberate to have the lyrics for 'Up In The Clouds' be more open to the listeners interpretation?
Yeah, I mean that's sort of the way that I like to write, it's a little more introspective and allows the listener to kind of stumble upon the thought on their own. I think every song is so different. Some songs call for a more poetic, introspective approach, whereas some songs call for a sassier, more direct approach, so it really just depends on the music.
The EP seems to have the theme that to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough so as to love another person is not actually a weakness, but a strength, as long as it is allied with a sense of self worth, a sense of your own value...what sort of messages would you like your listeners to take away from the EP? What sort of emotions are you hoping that people feel when they listen to the EP?
I think, like, you know, as you're maturing into who you become in life you sometimes have relationships that at the time seem like not a good thing, but then you can walk away from, you know, certain relationships in life and see how that person, or that situation, helped you grow and become who you are, and also give you sort of a point of reference to what you do or don't want in love, and also to really just evolve the idea of what true love really is and how it really does have to start with you. So, I feel like this next record, the next album that I do, will be a little bit more from the outside looking back and also looking forward for a more optimistic approach towards life and love, and all of that, so, yeah, I really like what you said though, the feeling that it gave you, because that's definitely sort of the message in what I was trying to, I guess, give at the time.
You have spoken of bringing in reference material, Otis Redding and Etta James, for the making of 'Bitter', and I imagine many other classic soul songs/artists helped to inspire you for the EP. Of course, much classic soul music was made within a specific socio-cultural context, the Civil Rights movement, Women's Liberation and the Vietnam War, and acted as social commentary. Following in that tradition, is social commentary something that you would consider incorporating into your music at some point, and what sort of issues would you want to address?
Wow, that's a really deep question that I haven't given much thought to. I think that I would probably want to just discuss, like, equality amongst people. I have a lot of friends, you know, in different walks of life, and, you know, the generation that I grew up in, I think we see things a little bit more three-dimensionally versus, like, our parents, who have certain views that can't really be persuaded. So, I would probably just discuss equality amongst everyone, I think. You know, as much as pop music really doesn't want to delve into religion, I think that religion, and or God, or the lack thereof, really does either unite or divide people and countries, nations. If you look back at history we've gone to war over personal beliefs and faith in a higher power, including what we are going through now. When you look at certain parts of the world they just don't think as freely as we do and they are not as open to change, and so I think that would probably be something that I would discuss too.
You have stated that you have a great admiration for Lauryn Hill, her ear for a melody and her honesty in her writing. Can you tell us a bit about the impact that Lauryn Hill made on you?
I was, like, obsessed with The Fugees. When 'The Score' came out I just listened to it over and over and over. The thing about Lauryn Hill that struck me was that I believed her, and I think a lot of times with music, especially now, you hear a song that could probably be sung by anybody, especially when you turn on top 40 radio. Someone like a Lauryn Hill kind of goes against the grain, and she brings an authenticity and a sound that no-one can really duplicate, and I think that is why I was so drawn to her because she was so different from anything else that was on the radio and her lyrics just really hit home for me, and I think that she just has a really cool way of telling a story with a very honest approach, and I've always appreciated that about her music. I don't know if she wrote everything herself, or if other people wrote for her, either way I don't care, she was really dope and definitely made an impression on me, in fact, some of my older music, it was definitely inspired by her.
Do you mean songs like 'Love Won't Let You Leave', a song that is on your YouTube Channel? In places it has a sing-song like flow. Would you consider incorporating some of this hip-hop influence in future projects?
Yeah, I was definitely inspired by Lauryn Hill on that one. You know what, when I lived in Virginia I would do a lot of shows in D.C., and I've always been really influenced by hip-hop, and my show was definitely a little bit more leaning in the hip-hop direction, I would cover Kanye West. 'Heartless', actually, was my band, and it was really incredible, and I just, I really would like to implement the flow back into some of my music, and I think you'll see a little bit more of that in the new music that I'm working on now. I will say this about that record, this was pre-Adele, OK, I went to, I'm not going to mention the label, but there were a couple of labels in New York, everybody loved the song...but nobody wanted to take a risk on a white girl with such an urban sound, so that's kind of why I got a little bit away from that, like, reggae-ish vibe, although I think I'm going to bring it back into some of the stuff I'm working on now.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience as an independent artist?
The benefit of being an independent artist is that you don't really have the pressure of a record company telling you what kind of record you have to make. On the contrary to that, though, not having a label will hinder you from gaining a platform quicker. I think that with my type of music though, it's okay to build it organically, the fan base is really important. I like being an indie artist, but I'm at a point now where if a major stepped in and they said 'I get it, I see who you are and what you are doing, we want to be a part of it, and let's take our time making this record', I would be inclined to entertain a situation like that, and I would feel blessed to have something like that. I was offered a single deal, but I really just didn't want to entertain a single deal because I feel like I'm a body of work artist. You could throw a single out there, but unless we have material to back up a single, I just don't think there is a point.