Interview: Melanie Fiona on New Album ‘Awake’, Stevie Wonder Collab and Being a Newly Independent Artist.

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Last month two-time Grammy award winner, Melanie Fiona touched down in London to headline a show at the O2 Academy Islington. This concert marked her first on British soil in over 5 years. So before she delivered a highly engaging, interactive and marvellous show we caught up with Melanie to discuss why it’s been so long since she’s been in the UK, the new album ‘Awake’ and much more.

Read all about it below:

Sope: It’s been 5 years since you last headlined a London show, so why the hold up? And what do you love in particular about London crowds and the city in general?

Melanie: Well yeah it’s been awhile since I’ve been back after touring and exploring other territories. I think one of the big reasons I never came back is because my second project was never worked in the UK. I was going through a lot of label changes at the time so I think that caused the 5 year void. But what I love is that from The Bridge to this 3rd album Awake which is almost finished is that I have the same fans, I’ve grown more fans and I’m able to come back here with such a strong presence after all this time. And it’s one of the reasons why I love London because it makes me feel like I’m at home. People here are true, they’re loyal, they’re music lovers and they understand where I come from.

Sope: What can we expect from the new album, what influenced it sonically and lyrically and are there any songs in particular you can’t wait for the fans to hear?

Melanie: Awake was inspired by personal events. Even before I started making the album – the word ‘Awake’ was something that I started to live by. I felt like I was going through an awakening, I was changing, transitioning and evolving. And that only came from pretty much my whole world being rocked from personal to professional – everything changing at once. It was a real test – and that’s where the term ‘Awake’ came from. I’ve been doing this project mainly with one producer Andre Harris and we decided we wanted to do this project together because we were both in a space of awakening and wanted to do something identifiable to both of us. The songs on this album range; some of them are very typically big ballads that people know me for, some are very relaxed chill vibe records. I didn’t want to limit myself on this album. I wanted a collection of feel good songs – and that can feel good on lows and highs.

Some of the songs I can’t wait for fans to hear is ‘I Tried’ which is the next single and it was also the first song I recorded for the album. I feel like that song was the catalyst because the song was about being in a dark place to being where you go from here so that was the awakening, I always feel like it’s darkest before dawn. There’s another song I love called ‘I Need That’ and another one called ‘Killing Time’. Also there’s a song called ‘I Want It All’ which is really special to me because I feel like it personifies the entire album.

Sope: You recently revealed that you worked with Stevie Wonder for the project, what was that like? And will that song be on the album?

Melanie: It’s a dream come true, I still relive that moment thinking did that really happen? And it happened with so much magic because it was just so random but so genuine. I don’t know if that song is going on the album but if it never sees the light of the day I’ll always have it for myself *laughs*. I would love to build a whole world album campaign around that song – it needs an official release for respect purposes. He’s amazing and that experience was truly incredible.

Sope: Do you have a release date for the album?

Melanie: I don’t have a confirmed release date yet. We’re looking at late fall in time for Christmas and the holidays. But up until then I’m going to be releasing music anyway, some may go to radio, some may not. I’m really okay because this album in this independent space is about the fans so I wanna get the music to them in any way possible.

Sope: How do you feel about being independent as opposed to being on a major label? And are you open to signing another major deal in future?

Melanie: I’m open to wherever the wind takes me, this current venture with a company like Primary Wave and being able to have major distribution from BMG as an independent artist is a good lesson and good test for me. It’s also a reward and a blessing knowing I’m responsible for my choices and knowing that I have a great team around me is a blessing. But sure if the right situation presented itself with a major label I would be open to that but it has to be right. For now I’m cool.

Sope: Since you are now an independent artist who no longer has pressure from a record label, what will define success to you in regards to this new album? Especially since you’ve had Grammy nominations, hit songs in the past etc?

Melanie: I think releasing Awake will be a successful thing, just to know I released an independent project. Also some marker of success would be visiting other countries and seeing fans I’ve never performed for before. But ultimately happiness, when this is all said and done if I feel I’m happier than I’ve been before then that’s the ultimate success.

Sope: When you were on a major were there any songs from your previous albums which you felt deserved more shine and attention? Me personally I would say ‘Priceless’ from the first album and ‘Bones’ from the 2nd album.

Melanie Fiona: I feel like on The MF Life, ‘Change the Record’ with B.o.B. should’ve been a massive record. That song is one of my favourites, I love performing it. I feel like it’s a fan favourite and everytime I perform it, I can see it’s a fan favourite so I know if more people heard it, it would’ve gone a little bit further. That’s the difficulty being in a big building, you have to play by the rules a little bit and whatever song they want to put the money behind you kinda just have to go with. But I don’t knock the songs that they chose because ‘4AM’ was a great success for me. I think on the first album ‘Ay Yo’ also had the potential to be great had there been a bigger push behind it.

Sope: Before your first album arrived, you put out a brilliant remix and covers EP with The Illadelphonics, which housed an amazing stripped down version of Monday Morning. Would you be open to doing a sequel to that EP and working with The Illadelphonics again in general?

Melanie: Yeah I would love to do that again, it was a lot of fun working with Questlove and the Illadelphonics. I always feel like performing stripped down is best for me. I actually did an acoustic version of The MF Life songs too. I just love the raw instrumentation of live music and the voice so I would definitely love to do it again. Infact what I probably will do with this album Awake is more intimate venues with just a guitar because I feel this is an album that garners conversation.

Sope: I’ve noticed in a lot of your interviews people bring up the Drake connection pnly in relation to the group you had back in the day The Renaissance. But they seem to forget he wrote ‘I Been That Girl’ which was one of my favourites from the last album, so my question is when are we getting Melanie and Drake duet?

Melanie: I would love to do that, the good thing is that we’re still so young and early in our careers. It’s all love, we talk about it everytime we see each other but we both never find the time to get around to doing it. He’s so talented and so sweet so I would love to see what we could do.

Sope: What’s your take on the state of R&B today and what R&B artists are you listening to at the moment?

Melanie: My take on R&B today is that R&B is changing a lot, not to say that there isn’t classic R&B but there’s a division between what R&B is and what R&B isn’t. At the end of the day, R&B is the foundation of a lot of music, it’s very important. So this whole debate about whether R&B is dead, do people still love R&B – I feel like people are changing what their perception of what R&B is but there is still a lot of great R&B out there but you just have to find it. I’ve been listening to Emily King who’s a friend of mine. I just love her project from start to finish – it’s a true real body of work. It’s definitely soulful but some people would call it Pop yet she has a smoky jazz voice. I love her, she’s such a sweet person and her project ‘The Switch’ is truly excellent.

Sope: Anything you want to say to your fans?

Melanie: I love you, I cannot thank you enough for your support here in the UK and worldwide for my life and my living, supporting and growing with me. I make this music for you and that’s what this project is about it’s from me to you directly and I hope you enjoy it

Check out the video for Melanie’s latest single ‘Bite the Bullet’ below:

Interview by Sope Soetan (@SopeSoetan)

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