One of the first things you notice when you listen to Kea Michaels is the range and depth of her voice, and oh yeah – the texture. It’s light, bright and shiny, but can immediately slip into a rich silky patina that belies her young years. Her debut single was just released and for a woman who is all about human connection, it’s easy to understand the name of the song: simply put, “I Love You.” It’s a message for the ages and for all of us. It’s also a directive to ourselves.
Where does your unique style – the phrasing and pacing – come from?
My phrasing and style come from conveying the message in a song. It’s the storyline inside the lyrics that drive me rhythmically. My emotions take over when I color a song because I want to take you to a place where you can feel it deep within. I’ve always had the capability to use my past experiences (usually painful) to draw emphasis on the lyrics and music.
When I feel the music, something takes over.
What do you look for in a song before you decide to cover it?
I look for drama. Kind of like a problem and solution. I also look for material that has meaningful lyrics and context that can bring us back to a place of love.
Who are your musical influences?
Probably too many to mention, but what I will say is the African-Americans from the Motown era paved the way for me to sing and perform today. I hold them very near and dear to my heart because they were able to thrive given a time where they were challenged on so many levels including racially and economically.
If I were to pick: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Carmen McCrae and Phyllis Hyman.
Who are your personal influences?
I’m truly influenced by African American history. Those who fought for freedom, civil, and human rights drive me to perform. Also, those who are suffering and struggling in life but remain humble and kind truly influence me.
When did you know you wanted a career in music?
I started singing when I was in kindergarten and I knew I had something that was maybe special when my music teacher came running out of the building to my mother who picked me up after school. He was ranting and raving about a performance I did in music class and wanted me to join choir. I recall him asking my mother if she knew I could sing like that. At that time, I knew, but didn’t officially accept it until 2009.
Who plays in your band and what instruments?
I don’t have a concrete band yet. However, I do have musicians who accompany me at performances – a bassist, keyboardist, and drummer. I may throw in a guitarist and a horn player.
You have done spoken word and your lyrics cover social issues. What’s your main message about coping with life’s difficulties?
Know who you are by learning about your history. Once you have that foundation you can start the process of self-love and realization that you’re equipped with the strength to overcome all obstacles. Also, standing up for what’s right and not to turn your back on your fellow man is a message you’ll hear in my music.
We can move past the struggles in our communities if we stand together instead of against one another, by using love and faith to build unity.
How does music bring people together who have opposing ideologies?
Music can bring people together! By using lyrics that can relate to the issues and flaws in society we can begin to develop a relationship.
Music to me is just another form of communicating with people. It’s another way to say look, I see and hear you, and I’m here to let you know that we’re in this thing together. Whatever you’re going through, let’s talk about it.
Music is medicine, especially if it’s used in a positive way.
Talk about your debut single. What’s unique about the lyrics and what does it mean to you?
My debut single reflects on a person who feels lost without love. There’s something – someone – missing in this person’s life and they set out to find it. They’re begging this person to stay and pouring out their heart to say I love you, I need you.
How do you hope people feel when they hear you sing?
I hope they feel touched emotionally and inspired to love deeply.
Your tweets are all about staying positive. Have you always looked for the silver lining?
My life has been an emotional roller coaster with many setbacks, being a single mother and with several failed relationships that I didn’t foresee happening.
I always looked for ways to bring myself out of my lows, whether it was reading an inspirational book or listening to a spiritual sermon on the radio.
I could never stay in a place of mental torment because I’ve always been a very positive and bubbly person. If there was no brighter side, I created one.
Is “I Love You” part of a CD you are putting together?
“I Love You” is part of an EP of three songs.
What gives you the courage to start on this road?
It comes from the dreams of people who never flourished because they were busy working a 9-5 or raising children. They believed a lie that their dreams were far out of reach. They never had the support or encouragement to pursue their dreams so their aspirations withered away.
Being a single mother, I want to show that yes, I can do this! I want to be the role model and motivation for single mothers everywhere.
What do you want people to know about you?
I’m an artist of many sorts including a sketch artist, writer and poet. I’ve been drawing since the age of 2 and writing poetry since the age of 12. I’ve also written and illustrated my first book at the age of 13.
I’ve modeled and am involved in serving my communities whether it’s rallying against gun violence or serving the homeless.
I want people to know that music isn’t dead and I’m here to bring back that classic soul sound that disintegrated years ago.
A lot of people are missing and craving that feel-good groove in music. They’re missing artists who didn’t have to take off their clothes to sell a record; singers who didn’t have to use auto-tune and weren’t trying to be sex symbols and just sang from the heart and soul. Kea’s here to bring it back. Tactful lyrics and all!
Where would you like to start touring?
Anywhere that welcomes my music. If you like it, I want to perform for you! In 2019 I’d like to start touring.
Talk about the Pittsburgh jazz scene, and about Schenley Park.
The Pittsburgh jazz scene is not as diverse as it should be; it’s very small and not open to new talent.
During the summer, families, couples and friends gather at several of the local parks to hear live entertainment that’s free and open to the public. Schenley Park is home to the universities here so a lot of college students come to hear live music and catch a movie afterwards.
How often do you write?
Once a song comes to me, as many often do, I grab my phone or recorder to record ASAP. How often I write just depends on how I feel. I have to feel something to write something.
How many songs have you written?
I can’t say how many I’ve written thus far but I will say that I have scattered songs that aren’t quite finished. At times, the lyrics to an unfinished song will come to me in the most peculiar way and I’ll write it somewhere before I lose it.
Who would be your #1 choice for a duet with any artist living or passed?
Marvin Gaye hands down would be my choice for a duet!
Is your family surprised about your career choice?
I’m sure they’re not surprised because I’ve been artistic since I was a toddler. They’re very supportive.
For more information, visit http://keamichaels.com.
Photo courtesy of and with permission of interviewee.
© Debbie Burke 2017