Onstage before last Thursday's sold-out show, the one-name wonder's bedroom-eyed funk brought the women in the crowd to screams. Spinning, dropping into the splits, and stirring the pot with his hips, he was a rock star.
No, we weren't at Prince's show; we were at Miguel's.
The San Pedro native released his debut album just last November. He's been bubbling for years, though, singing on Songwriters Hall of Famer Diane Warren's demos and writing for Usher. But the minute his falsetto yearned over a distant, tangy guitar in last summer's steamy, “All I Want Is You,” nobody could remember when Usher had made a song sweat with such raw sexiness.
In an era of the “what you see is what you get” hip-hop performer, Miguel's almost boyish offstage demeanor is surprising. We went downstairs after the show to find out where he learned his tricks:
LA WEEKLY: The first time I heard you was on Blu's Below the Heavens (“First Things First“).
MIGUEL: Yeah! That's a great album. I met Blu the first day of my ninth grade year in high school. And Exile … yo the STORIES we have!
Tell me one.
Ok, this kinda brings it all home. The night that I wrote “Quickie,” I was out at Detroit Bar. I was underage, wasn't supposed to be there. Matter of fact, Blu and our boy Anthony helped me get in; they went and found some random dude and convinced him to let me use his id to get in. And I'll never forget watching Blu and Exile's set that night, and meeting a whole string of friends and being introduced to a scene that to this day has been a part of my life. And “Quickie” is one of the songs that got me signed.
You sent me on a Diane Warren YouTube chase, by the way.
How did Diane Warren figure into your inspirations?
Diane Warren came about through … wow, how did that come about? I wanna say Julie Pilat, the program director over at KISS FM, she took a personal interest in me, and introduced me to a friend of hers who was working with Diane at Real Songs, her company. But prior to that–wait, no, I'm mistaken! I met Diane through Brian Kennedy, who used to do demos for her–he's an amazing producer, he produced Rihanna's “Disturbia.” He introduced me to Diane Warren to demo stuff. At the time, I wasn't making any money, and she needed people to come sing her songs. It was the perfect circumstance. She hired me to do a few demos, and that's why you can find songs written by her that have my voice on them.
So everybody knows you've worked with Usher, and of course J.Cole (“All I Want is You”), but in L.A., who do you want to work with?
Flying Lotus. And I've worked with Brook D'Leau from J*Davey–he actually did a remix to “Sure Thing” and it's dope. It's ill as fuck. It's not anywhere; I haven't posted it yet.
Henry Rollins recently wrote a column for us about a great frontman. You have the makings of one–I especially notice elements of Prince and Morris Day. Is that intentional?
Absolutely. I lick my fingers a lot. Because they taste like chicken. Prince and the Time and Mazarati, that whole slew that came from Paisley Park is a huge influence. I fell in love with funk music through my father–Funkadelic–as well as soul and classical early on. No one else has really done that, you know? Really made their mark like that. I completely study Freddie Mercury from Queen–you know who I think is a really dope frontman that is super underrated? Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers. He's ill as fuck. He's such a character. He reminds me in that way of Bowie. Just because he's his own person. The extremes of who I'd love to be onstage are David Bowie, Prince, and, I don't know, Bjork.
Have you seen Prince's shows out here?
No, but twenty fucking one nights. Today, you could've walked up and gotten tickets for ten dollars to see prince. And I'm so sorry that you came and saw me instead. I'm so sorry. (Laughing)
When did you first encounter Prince?
“Kiss.” I remember my father was fixing the sink–I happen to be Mexican, and we fix things–so I was in the restroom, helping him fix the sink, and the song, which I loved already, came on the radio, and my dad was singing, and I said, how do you know this song?? And he taught me about Prince.
What song encapsulates your childhood in L.A.?
Cube. “It Was a Good Day”
Song that makes you homesick when you're on the road?
“Brown Eyed Girl” It reminds me of my dad. My father's here tonight. My dad's the coolest; he's the shit.
You're a very sensual performer–
Is that so? Is that so? Thank you. That's cool.
Oh yeah. So, what album was playing the first time you seduced a girl?
WHEWWWWWW! What album was playing?? Probably Bilal, First Born Second. “Sometimes,” that was probably the song, too.
What about if you really dug a girl, you walked into her apartment, and she has horrible music tastes, in your opinion. What do you do?
That probably wouldn't happen. You know what? I think your conversations are indicative of your tastes–even your diction. How you dress, all those things are so telling. Maybe it's because I pay attention to certain things. One of the most telling things about a person is how they say hello, handshakes. I pay attention to fingers, when you talk. But see, you're not nervous at all, you're very calm.
What about you? What are you like before a show? Calm?
No, I'm nervous as fuck. In L.A., I'm the most nervous. Only because, hometown, you always wanna show your ass.
Depending on the show, I may end up in the bathroom and want everybody to leave me the fuck alone. Andrew, my road manager, will give me his honest opinion on how the show went. I reflect for the first ten minutes–the real moments in the show verses the dead ones. There's a freestyle section during the set that I don't rehearse. I end up saying similar things, but it's more because of the message I hope to leave people with. Always about overcoming the “cannot.” As children, we're all told we “cannot” something. So easy to lose that along the way; we get so many “nos” along the way. But often we forget what it was we originally wanted for ourselves. And I keep repeating, you gotta live your passion. You have to find it, and live it. That's what life is all about to me. And I'm a young guy, I have a lot to learn, but I feel like if people spent more time doing what they love, we'd be a lot happier and make better decisions. Not only for ourselves, but for each other.