Miguel Pimentel discusses wanting to establish an identity on his third album Wildheart, what being wild-hearted represents, how he’s grown as a songwriter and live performer, and why his L.A. roots will always play an important part in who he is.
On this album, Wildheart, who did you collaborate with and what was your basic songwriting process? Did you have themes in mind before you started? And overall, what do you think makes a great song?
As far as songwriting goes, the most important thing for me this time was to show more diversity and depth in my abilities to write. I wanted to give my fans, obviously a lot of my personality, but then also give some variation in topic and then approach. So, you’ll find a little bit of allegory. You’ll find a little bit of more introspective perspective, and so on and so forth. I was trying to do it as diverse as possible.
I pretty much worked with the usual suspects – Salaam Remi, Fisticuffs, Happy Perez. Then I got to work with a few new people – Benny Blanco, Benny Cassette, Cashmere Cat, AK Paul and Raphael Saadiq. So, adding those along with the couple features, which are Lenny Kravitz and Kurupt, it was really fun this time around, man. A lot of fun. It was really cool to jump in and catch a wave.
You talk a lot about L.A. on the new record and I’m curious as to what remained of the kid who started out in San Pedro.
I think growing up in San Pedro and Inglewood simultaneously, you carry the lessons that you learn in your childhood with you. I think a lot of my growth as an adult happened in Los Angeles because San Pedro is such a small town. I think that place for me represents a lot of my adolescence.
So, I think what remains from that place is a sense of being grounded and down to earth. Knock on wood, I hope I can keep the people who have kept me levelheaded in my life, and champion that. Also, just trying to take those moments for myself to be in solitude and really quiet the noise, and that helps me stay grounded.
But it’s those moments that I’m reminded of my adolescence in places like San Pedro and Inglewood. I think it’s more of a disposition that remains from San Pedro, that kid that grew up in San Pedro. I think the song “what’s normal anyway” is a big part of that, what remained of the kid from San Pedro, and who grew up in Inglewood as well.
AP.net: So I was at the show Friday night here in L.A., and you talked a little bit more about that concept behind Wildheart, which you were just talking about, which some listeners might not pick up as much as some of the broader threads on the album as the sex and the L.A. stuff. Can you unpack a little bit more of those ideas behind the album and how they tied into those other themes as well?
Absolutely, and great question. Thanks, man. Hopefully you enjoyed the show, man. That question, let’s start with this. “What’s normal anyway” is the spine of the record. The journey of being wild-hearted starts with knowing the answers to a very small set of questions. And that is, what do you stand for? What do you believe in? What are you willing to sacrifice? What are you not willing to sacrifice?
I think when we take the time in solitude to answer those questions for ourselves we also come to another question, which is what the fuck is normal anyway? Why are we striving so hard to appease other people’s opinions of what things like happiness or success are? I say throw away any need or expectation to conform to other people’s opinions or perspectives, because the truth is normality is farce. Normality is subjective.
The moment we take the time to answer those questions for ourselves – what we stand for, what we believe in, what we’re willing to sacrifice, and so on and so forth, because we know who we are and where we stand – we are more likely to make decisions that resonate with who we truly are, as opposed to making decisions based on other people’s opinions of how we move and act.
So, that in itself is such an empowering and powerful disposition, which I think is the position of anyone who has done or accomplished or thought of anything timeless, great or of note. Nothing that matters in this world has ever been accomplished by being faint of heart, or by being fearful, or being conformist. It always took a little bit of delusion, a little bit of crazy, a little bit of wild-heartedness to go against the grain.
Because the truth is, being yourself is wild-hearted, because no one will ever be like you. You are the only you that will ever be and has ever been. And I think that’s to be celebrated, as opposed to being muted, or being edited down, or trying to mold ourselves to be single-minded with monotone ideals of what people should be.
So, that’s what Wildheart is all about. And the tone of the album is more a representation of that because I’m way more apologetic, and I feel the album is so much more aggressive than I’ve ever been. That’s the confidence that kicks in when you answer those questions for yourself. It gives you that. You approach things with a much clearer idea of what you want and how you want it. I think that’s why the album sounds the way that it does.
One question I’ve always wanted to ask you, especially with the upcoming tour, is how do you feel your stage presence is now compared to when you first hit the scene as a rookie R&B musician? Now, you’re this superstar. People know who you are. How has your stage presence changed, if at all? And then who’s maybe one of your favorite performers to see live?
With practice and with experience I’m becoming more and more the showman and live musician that I envision myself becoming. I don’t necessarily think that there’s an end-all, be-all to that formula. But I will say that I’m much more confident and much more in the moment than I’ve ever been, and more consistently in the moment than I’ve ever been before.
So, it’s exciting to feel not only the music is on a certain level, but also the showmanship in the live performances is reaching the same level. Because the honest truth is that I started spending most of my time in the studio, so even things like this – what we’re doing now, interviews, and so on and so forth, being on stage, being in front of the camera – all of those things are things that I learned and grew in front of everyone. So, it’s cool to feel a new sense of comfortablity, and stability, and confidence on stage, on camera, etc.
And some of my favorite artists, man, shit, anyone growing up our age you have to say Prince and Michael Jackson. Prince and Michael Jackson are the ultimate for me. But then it’s also Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. I could go down the line. I think those are my solid go-to guys that I love watching. Elvis Presley is one of them that I go back to. Those are a few of my favorites.
I would like to know, in terms of the song “Adorn” which everybody knows you from, did you ever expect that that song would become such a household word to people when you first wrote it?
Oh, man. Even in the moment of writing that song, I feel like it was given to me somehow. It was as if the song wrote itself. So, even recalling how the song came about is very cloudy for me. I remember starting the song and finishing the song. I remember waking up and playing it back in my car, and feeling something special about the song.
But expectation is a really big word, and I think in music the greatest thing is that you never know. It’s such an unknown. Our job as musicians is to put ourselves on the line as much as humanly possible, as much as personally possible, and essentially just giving it to the world.
In that sense, I think my only expectation was that the song would find the people that would be into it. But you can never fathom how many people might be into the song or how long the song might be relevant. As fast as we can sing content in this day and age, it’s a blessing in retrospect when I think about how long that song stayed on the charts. Creating a new record, these are things I never thought about, but it’s really cool to see the possibilities.
Yeah, no expectation, other than that the music would connect to the right people. Music always finds its audience, the right audience, so that’s what it’s about for me.
My question is what was your mindset when you wrote “Coffee?” The women seem to go crazy when you talk about the pillow talk.
Righteous, righteous. I wanted to paint the picture of a night that was just a beautiful blur. That night when you meet someone unexpectedly that somehow has the same sense of humor, and you guys have great fucking conversation, and you leave one place and go to the next and somehow it becomes an adventure to stay up all night, and you talk shit. Do you know what I mean?
It’s like there’s a real connection. And it’s all so vibrant, and it’s all so thrilling because even though you’re connected, you know you just met so everything is brand new, and the world just seems so vivid and brilliant. And the conversation is amazing. And you wake up in the morning after whatever happened and it’s just like, wow, that really fucking happened.
I was trying to paint that picture, so when you listen to the lyrics, that’s what the lyrics are about. I wanted it to be a montage, lyrically, of just an epic night, a night that was just a beautiful blur. So, all of those things, like “wordplay turns into gunplay, gunplay turns into pillow talk,” and so on and so forth, I think that’s the way my experience is. That’s how it happened, and that’s what it feels like. I was hoping to capture lightning in a bottle, so to speak, and paint it.
I always wanted to know, is there anything that you regret not experiencing on tour because of being so busy with rehearsals and everything? Is there anything that you’re looking forward to this time around?
Oh, man. I’ve gotten to experience tour life in so many different ways with so many different artists, artists that I look up to, artists that have taught me so much. Up to this point I’ve enjoyed my touring, I would say, to the fullest.
But the one thing that is going to be really awesome is headlining my own tour this time around. I’ve done it before, but on a much smaller scale. So, I think knowing that we’re starting, it’s going to be insane, just because it’s mostly going to be my core audience and the people who have grown with me thus far, who know the music. That’s super exciting. And then just knowing that the people that are there are really there for you. It’s a different dynamic.
So, man, I don’t think I have anything to regret about the way that we’ve toured in the past, and my experience thus far has been actually extraordinary. It’s prepared me for these moments to really excel and to really set myself apart from my peers. I think not only in the music do we stand out, but I think the intention in the live show is obvious. The same way Miles Davis said it, it’s like these records are merely advertisements to come see us live.
That’s how I’ve modeled my musicianship, is that the music on the album is truly from a real place. But I want you to see it live, because in that setting you know for a fucking fact that it’s real. There’s no faking. It’s real time. There’s no delete and rewrite, you know what I mean? It’s just pure, uncut, fucking moments. And they’ll be moments that we shared in real time. That’s what the fuck music is about for me.
So, man, I’m more excited than anything. Never, never regretful. I’m appreciative and grateful.
Let’s go back for a second before we go forward. A lot of who you were from the start, I remember a very confessional brand of songwriting. You wrote songs for Jaheim, you wrote songs for Usher. Two things, I want to know when you knew that you had made your confessional brand of writing specifically your own, and how do you think it’s evolved on the new record, to songs like “…goingtohell,” to songs like “FLESH,” to songs like “leaves?”
I think it’s a never-ending process. I think as a human being I’m constantly proving and reaffirming my answers to those questions that I was talking about earlier on – what I stand for, what I believe in, what I’m willing to sacrifice. My music really is just snapshots of my life, so the answers to those questions inform my creative process, and it also eases my subconscious when I’m creating.
So, I can only say that I don’t know if there was a pivotal moment since writing songs for Jaheim, or for Usher. I just know that as a human being I’ve been growing, and my perspective in how I want to express my opinion sonically is a reflection of my growth, and my comfortability, and how sturdy I feel as I navigate.
It’s really encouraging when you have a song like “Adorn,” or an album like Kaleidoscope Dream, which for me was risky, in the sense that it wasn’t the music that I was making prior to that. It’s an entirely different album in comparison to All I Want is You, just like Wildheart is an entirely different album when compared to Kaleidoscope Dream.
It’s the added support that you get from your fans that gives you a little more confidence, on top of you already answering those questions, that really informs your decisions and informs how you navigate it, which is reflected in the music. I hope that answers your question.
This goes back to the first question I asked about songwriting, since that’s the focus of this portal. I wanted to know if somebody asked you, like an aspiring songwriter that’s really a big fan of yours, comes up to you and says, “How do you really become a really great songwriter?” In other words, obviously you have to have a certain talent, but how do you become even better? What are maybe some tips you might give someone on how to really find their voice as a songwriter? And how do you personally know when you’ve written a great song?
Shit, if someone has the answer, tell me, you know? I don’t really have a real answer for that. I think my method has always been just write what is true, and truth is often simple. It’s simple. I don’t know how to explain what truth is. But we all know what I mean when a truth is just very simple. It’s cut-and-dried. And that for me is what has worked the most, is just being true to your emotion and not editing, or watering it down to make it more palatable or anything like that. I think your taste should inform the creativity.
But other than that, it’s also studying the music that you love, just really, really taking your time to understand why something connects, why this melody connects, or what’s the point of the repetition of this melody. Or even little things like the way vowels are pronounced can change the way songs feel, or a word feels, or a phrase feels.
There are so many intricacies that I think when it comes down to it the best songs of all time to me were songs that took a really powerful idea, or resonating idea, and explained it in a way that was simple, and clever, and understandable by children and older people.
So, when Stevie Wonder says, “As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving/ And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May/ Just as hate knows love’s the cure/ You can rest your mind assure that I’ll be loving you always.” That is vivid and simple. A kid can understand that. I think that’s a great example of a perfect songwriter. Good ideas and clever, simple explanations, and great melodies.
I wanted to ask you about your collaboration with Lenny Kravitz on “Face the Sun.” What was the experience like for you? Has he always been someone that you’ve looked up to? Are you planning to bring him out on tour? And would you ever consider to collaborate with Zoe Kravitz?
Lenny Kravitz is a musical mentor. I grew up watching and listening to Lenny, so I think a lot of the music that informs his taste is the music that I naturally was drawn to. So we share similar taste in music, and I think some of our life experiences have really influenced our perspective, and influenced the way that we create, in that neither of us, and he, after Prince, is one of those special artists. He’s a black artist who was not doing straight up what was expected of anyone ethnic in a time where the landscape in that way was very vastly different. He did it on his own terms. So, he’s a tremendous inspiration and influence on a number of levels.
Meeting him and working with him, you never know if you’re going to really connect with an artist. I’ve had sessions with artists that I thought obviously we would be on the same page, and we just never really got on the same page. But with Lenny, honestly, we had a conversation over the phone, and he was like, “I’m going to be over here working. You should come out.” He was like, “Let’s just create. No expectation, no purpose. Let’s just fucking create for music’s sake, for our creativity’s sake.” And that already was like, oh man. This is going to be amazing.
Sure enough, I got there, he met me for lunch, we shot the fucking breeze, talked some shit. I went for a workout, and he joined me and my trainer for the workout in his clothes. He was just down, super down. Not pretentious at all, got a fucking workout in. I went and ate. He went and ate. We met at the studio later on, and then it was just chill. The creativity was awesome and it was just easy. No pretension, just complete creating for the sake of creativity with that spirit. And so, man, it was probably one of my favorite sessions of all time that I’ve been able to do.
As far as Zoe goes, she’s also a friend. I actually met Zoe first. I love what she does as a musician. If there was a time where she wanted to rock, I think it would be super special. So yeah, I guess that answers your question.
My question is about “NWA,” the collaboration you did with Kurupt. How did that come about, and is there any relation to the movie that will be released about N.W.A?
Oh, man. So “NWA” came about because as much as I am an ‘80s baby, I grew up in the ‘90s. I was born in ‘85, but all of my real growing up happened in the ‘90s. So I got the best of hip-hop, even though N.W.A by the time that I got into hip-hop was already finished. Cube had already gone his own way. Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren just kind of disappeared. Everyone went in their own direction and was on their own path. I still was going back and listening to N.W.A and catching myself up on the roots of the sound from L.A. So it’s a part of my musical upbringing, too. All of those MCs are musical mentors to me as well.
In creating the song it was more about the attitude, because for N.W.A, the way that it was, it was aggressive and gangster. It was straight out of Compton. It was about that aggression and the way that it really was in the streets in L.A., and really telling the story and getting the story out. It was about that. Whereas, for me, even though it’s not like that anymore, there’s still the attitude and it’s more the confidence. I think it’s just the confidence to do, and say, and be whatever the fuck you want to be. It’s a little cocky, and I think we all have our moments.
So, that was my moment to just grab my nuts. Yeah, I mean pretty much. I’ve been a huge Kurupt fan since hearing him freestyle on Power 106 for five minutes straight. And Power 106 in L.A., if you don’t know what that is, it was the hip-hop station. Now it’s like a rhythmic station, but it was the hip-hop/R&B station growing up. That was the number one spot. It became the number one station after 92.3 fell off.
So, it just was like Kurupt was the man. He was underrated, which I might have a complex about that in myself. I just always felt like I was the underdog, so for some reason I always looked at him like, man, this nigger is so dope, and he’s underrated. He just was my favorite on top of his talent, his disposition, or whatever position he was in.
I always wanted to do a song with him and this was just the perfect song. As much as I wish this song “NWA” was going to be a part of the N.W.A movie, I think for Dr. Dre, he loved the song, but he was like, “For N.W.A, it represents something very different to me. And this song, as dope as it is, it’s not the energy that I’m capturing in this movie.” So, I regret to say that as much as I would love “NWA” to be a part of the film, it just may not be the right fit. But how dope would that be? That shit would be insane.
AP.net: Obviously after the massive success that “Adorn” was, it would have been really easy to go in a more mainstream direction on the follow-up album. But instead you decided to explore more of the kind of darker nooks and crannies that were throughout Kaleidoscope Dream. Early on when you started first working on this album, can you talk about how you arrived at going in that direction, and what you were trying to accomplish sonically on this album?
Man, great question. Thank you. I can only say that with this album I wanted it to be more subconscious, in that if I wanted to do a song about partying, I wasn’t going to judge myself for it. If I wanted to say, “I want to fuck you like we’re filming in the Valley,” I wasn’t going to judge myself for it. If I wanted to be introspective and say, damn, these were some of my insecurities, like being too proper for the black kids or being too black for the Mexicans, and so on and so forth like on “what’s normal anyway,” I wasn’t going to stop myself from doing that.
This album was more inspired. It was like wanting to capture a few different things. I wanted the album to be distinctly my Los Angeles album. I wanted it to ground me with my fans and to be a statement that hey, I’m really fucking born and raised in L.A. I’m not from New York. People from different places think I’m from all over the place, like what the fuck is he? His name is Miguel. He sings. He looks like he’s Asian. There were all these people unsure of where I’m from, what I am, and so on and so forth.
So, there’s a bit of wanting to establish an identity with this album, not only with setting but also with, I guess just being unapologetic. Yeah, I guess that’s the word, just caring less about the presentation of it and just giving it. I think subconsciously that’s why it is, I wouldn’t say darker, but more aggressive. It’s a more aggressive album sonically.
And that’s where I am. That’s a very honest representation of my energy in person. All of it is. It really truly is the closest album I’ve been able to give thus far. And it only makes me more confident to allow my fans in closer and closer for the subsequent albums, and the following albums. So, it’s exciting to me.