Elite Interview: Mikhala Jené
After being blown away by her debut single “Is It Better?” produced by Roc Nation producer Deputy, we finally had the chance to speak with talented Los Angeles-based songstress Mikhala Jené. In the interview we touch on her musical background, her opinion on the current state of music in general, her upcoming EP and more.
What kind of music were you exposed to growing up?
I was exposed to a lot of gospel growing up. My mother sang in the church choir and always played music throughout the house. In fact, the first songs I ever learned to sing were the songs she led at church. So I’m very familiar with every album from Kirk Franklin, of course, and other artists including John P. Kee, Donald Lawrence and Yolanda Adams, just to name a few. I also grew up in the 90’s, an era when R&B was at the forefront. So naturally, I listened to divas like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton and girl groups like TLC, Xscape, SWV and Destiny’s Child. I also loved listening to Faith Evans, Kelly Price and the teen queens Brandy, Aaliyah, Monica and Mya.
At what age did you pursue a singing career?
I would say I pursued a career in music in stages. I led my very first solo at church when I was 14 and the response from the congregation was unbelievable! After that pivotal moment, I knew for sure that music was my calling and purpose in life. I continued to focus on my studies and graduated high school early at 16 so that I could put all of my energy into music. Shortly after that, I began writing my own material. However, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I started recording, performing and taking the steps to be discovered.
What Artist(s) past or present would you say have the most influence on your career?
The artists that have influenced my career the most are Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Brandy and Beyoncé. All of them have contributed to both my sound and my idea of who I want to be as an artist. I admire how they all have distinctive styles that have stood the test of time and are often emulated. Therefore, it’s very important to me that I leave my own mark in music and be an artist with a legacy as well.
Your latest single “Is it Better?” is an amazing record, How did the track come about, and what was the writing process like during the making of it?
Thank you so much! I actually wrote “Is it Better?” over a year ago around Christmas. My producer Deputy was in NYC at the time when he called me late one night and told me to write a song to Ice Cube’s “Today was a Good Day.” So I went on YouTube and listened to the instrumental and instantly on the first listen the melody and words began to come. I kept hearing, “Tell me is it better? Is it better for you baby?” All I could imagine was a girl basically telling a guy, “I told you so.” I wrote the verses in about 10-15 minutes and called Deputy and sang it to him. He loved it! He immediately recognized its potential. He made a few provisions and told me to call him back with the changes and I did just that. I called him back with the complete song and at the top of that following year I recorded it and I guess you could say the rest is history!
What’s your opinion on the current state of music?
I think music is a direct reflection of the state of mind that society is in. We’re living in a time where people’s attention spans are shorter. You have to grab their attention immediately, which is often done with meaningless lyrics and chants that are catchy but lack the substance that I’m accustomed to hearing in music growing up. People from the past 10-20 years and further were immensely talented and made great music that felt good to your soul. Somehow we got caught up in gimmicks and antics, but I think we’re finding our way back to music with depth and heart. There are plenty of artists today that make great music. I think it’s an exciting time in music because artists are less afraid to experiment and mesh genres. It’s just sometimes overshadowed by superficial nonsense. Like fashion, music goes through cycles and trends. Some songs are here today and gone tomorrow. In the end, it’s real music that endures the ever-changing music scene regardless of what’s popular at the time. Real music that is timeless is the kind of music I intend to make.
Going through your you-tube channel I stumbled upon a video of you singing Mariah Carey’s “Hero”, at your father’s military retirement ceremony. what was it like growing up with your father in the service?
Honestly, growing up with a parent in the military can be challenging at times because they’re often away or your family travels constantly. Men and women who serve sacrifice a lot to protect our country and ensure our safety. I love my father and I am so proud of him for his dedication to serving this country. I understand it wasn’t easy, and that’s why “Hero” was the perfect song to sing for him at his retirement.
If you weren’t involved with music what else could you see yourself doing?
Oh my goodness! It’s so hard for me to say because I have so many interests outside of music; one of them is drawing. Before I began pursuing music, I was preparing myself to go to college for fashion illustration and design. While in high school I had already taken my prerequisite classes and everything! However, if I had not been artistically gifted in any way, I definitely would have wanted to be an anthropologist or archaeologist. I’m obsessed with history and the study of ancient civilizations. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a big nerd at heart.
When can the fans like myself expect a full-length project?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my EP titled “No Story.” It should be out sometime in February. We decided to name the project “No Story” because the first question I’m often asked is, “What’s your story?” or “What’s your thing?” as if I am expected to have some sort of shtick. The answer is simple. There is no story. There are no gimmicks. I’m just a girl from a small town in North Carolina who loves to sing and is eager to share her gift with the world. Everyday I’m learning, growing and writing my story, and all I want is for you all to be a part of it.