Melanie Fiona [Interview]
Toronto, ON – Boundaries have been broken in the recent years in Canadian music. It is about time that recording artists get recognized internationally for their efforts. It has been a slow process, but the musical gems are finally being discovered one by one, leading Canada into mass recognition.
One such gem is Melanie Fiona. She is an outstanding vocalist that has been singing and recording professionally for some time, but finally now, in 2009, she is getting the recognition she deserves. Her single “Give It To Me Right” made U.S. Billboard Hot R&B & Hip-Hop Songs and her album The Bridge, was released in Canada on June 30th, but still pending on a U.S. release has received rave reviews. You can download it on iTunes now.
Earlier in the year she toured with Kanye and now she is headlining her own shows not only here in North America, but all over Europe. An avid twitter user, she recently shared “JUST HAD THE GREATEST SHOW OF MY LIFE… sold out a 2,000 person Venue in Germany… and the show was televised LIVE…. ON CLOUD 9!!!”
But before she was able to ride the mainstream waves, Melanie had created quite the resume for herself under the moniker Syren Hall. She performed throughout Canada and the US, sharing stages with artists such as Keyshia Cole, Robin Thicke, Lupe Fiasco, Buju Banton, Collie Buddz and more. In 2007, Melanie performed in Long Beach, California at the Ragga Muffins Bob Marley Festival. Her song “Somebody Come Get Me” also appeared on Reggae Gold 2008.
Her stage presence is truly electrifying and it sets her apart from what most artists today have to offer live. “I think that aside from working hard on a good performance and sweating and just working hard, people want to experience an emotional rollercoaster and leave feeling an experience,” Melanie says.
HipHopCanada caught up with Melanie Fiona [AKA Syren] back in 2007 and Lola [iluvlola.net/HipHopCanada] was able to catch up with her again to discuss her career and new album The Bridge.
HipHopCanada: So The Bridge, your first album . . .
Melanie Fiona: The Bridge . . . yes.
HipHopCanada: Were you nervous before it came out?
Melanie Fiona: Yes and no.
HipHopCanada: Why no?
Melanie Fiona: No, because I feel so confident in the album and the music and I feel like people will really love it and I feel really good and strong about it. Nervous, yes, because it’s my first album. They don’t know me and they don’t know what I’m about and it’s always nervous trying to get the attention to people and wanting them to like you. But I feel like once they give it a chance they won’t be disappointed.
HipHopCanada: Anything you wanted to stay away from with this album?
Melanie Fiona: Yeah, sounding like everything that’s out there right now. I think that when you hear my songs and the music that I do in comparison to what’s out there typically in urban music, it really sounds like something different. It’s real singing and live instrumentation. It has a more soulful feel.
HipHopCanada: Do you think that people who get the chance to see you perform understand or love your music more? Or do you think with the album, one can get that same vibe without needing to see a live performance?
Melanie Fiona: I feel they’ll like the music as it is, but I feel like once they see the performance it will take it to a different level. For me performing is the strongest thing . . . I love it. And I think for an artist it’s the best way to interact with their audience. So I feel like with the show, that’s when the music comes to life.
HipHopCanada: From back in 2006, which is, when I saw you perform first, until now I mean you toured with Kanye also . . . is there anything you have learned as a performer?
Melanie Fiona: You know what, definitely. I think growth is the one think I have learned. I think it’s one thing to be at a point in your life when you hit your height, and then you grow, and then your height gets higher. And I think for me, my abilities as a performer have grown, especially being able to say that I’ve gone on tour with Kanye. Like you said, touring with Kanye, watching him perform . . . he’s a storyteller on stage. I think that aside from working hard on a good performance and sweating and just working hard, people want to experience an emotional rollercoaster and leave feeling an experience and a story . . . and I think Kanye does a great job at that. He told me, “Whatever you have to do to make people remember you, don’t be afraid to do it,” sometimes you do things that seem left, but people don’t forget those types of things.
HipHopCanada: What are some things that concern you? Anything that you are maybe afraid of?
Melanie Fiona: My fear is that . . . and I’m being honest with this . . . is that, I feel like people need to hear music. If it’s ahead of its time . . . that’s the fear that every artist that tries to do something different has. I feel like real followers and real lovers of music will like it. and if it takes a couple of years for the rest of the world to get caught up, that’s fine. But I feel like, to set the standard now, you need to have it now and i’m not afraid to take the risk and I’m not afraid to step outside and really do something different. I hope that people who are out there who hear that, will recognize that and respect it for that if anything . . . even if the music is not what they like.
HipHopCanada: Do you think your album would have had a different impact . . . say a decade ago, when artists like Lauryn Hill were current?
Melanie Fiona: No, I don’t think I could have made that album. I think I have to live through Lauryn Hill and live through Alicia and I have to go back and credit Sam Cooke and Bob Marley, and I had to live that to get here. I feel like more people are trying to get back to being music and if I can be a pioneer in that direction, I’m about it.
HipHopCanada: Do people compare you to other artists?
Melanie Fiona: The comparison I get the most is Alicia Keys and to be honest, I haven’t actually gotten somebody that I don’t think is dope. It’s a compliment and I think the one thing that people see consistently is the element of soul in the music.
HipHopCanada: Do you think that being signed to Motown you have to live up to certain standards?
Melanie Fiona: Yeah . . . I mean I met Barry Gordy and when I met him he was like, “What kind of music do you do?” And I was biting my tongue because I didn’t want to say “soul” to Barry Gordy. He would have been like, “Child, what do you know about soul?” But yeah, it’s an honour and I don’t think any other label would have fit as well.
HipHopCanada: How was it to work with Steve Rifkind in the beginning? I know you have been working with him for a few years now.
Melanie Fiona: Yeah. It’s been two years now . . . since ’07. And I was trapped in Canada without a work visa until February 08.
HipHopCanada: Really? I thought I was talking to you about LA way before that?
Melanie Fiona: Oh, I was traveling back and forth but since the end of the summer ’07 until February ’08 I was stuck in Canada. But it was good. I learned a lot about myself and being self-sufficient because I couldn’t be around my label and my management. But the thing about working with Steve, and it’s the real reason why I signed with SRC, is because from the beginning he never wanted to change the project. He loved it and believed in it, in the form that it came. The rest of the labels that wanted to sign me were like, “It’s great, it’s great, and it’s great. but we want to take you in this direction.” Steve believing in it, and not wanting to change it, is the best situation. And he’s brilliant. Music marketing mogul, most definitely it’s an honor to be with somebody who is recognized for breaking so many artists.
HipHopCanada: Do you feel that there is more pressure on your shoulders due to the fact that you are a Canadian artist signed to a US label and marketing yourself abroad? Side note: I did see your interview on Carson Daily and I know people love you . . . [Laughing]
Melanie Fiona: [Laughing] Ahhhhh . . . Yes. But it’s welcome pressure, because I feel like it’s been a fight for a minute, even before I got my deal, even before I got a song on the radio . . . it’s been a constant fight and so I feel like, yeah there’s pressure, but I’m willing to take it. I feel like if I’m one of the representatives that will expose more of the world to Canada, I’m with it. That’s an exceptional thing that people like Drake and Kardinal are doing and for us being from Toronto, we know how long it takes. We had to work and experience failure and disappointment and then get back into it. It is pressure but I welcome it . . . if you succeed at it, the reward is the best feeling.
HipHopCanada: There is also the pressure of “carrying the city on your back”.
Melanie Fiona: You know what I find is that a lot of people now ask me to collab with them . . . people who never asked me before. But that’s cool….it is what it is. Maybe people didn’t know that I sang or didn’t know that I was capable of doing it. It’s all love . . . anything that I could do to put the city on, I absolutely would. I don’t think it’s too much pressure, but I will definitely give back as much as I can.
HipHopCanada: So tell me about the album. Did you include songs from way the beginning when you were still recording here or . . . ?
Melanie Fiona: I started from scratch. I had a whole arsenal of songs that I had written and done with other artists and things like that and when I started working on the album, I started writing with Andrea Martin who is an amazing artist, songwriter, producer everything. She’s incredible. When I met her I literally felt as if I had met a new mentor and a new teacher. I sat down with her and I watched her create music for me, and it was the most humbling experience from going to writing everything, to working with a writer. It was a humbling experience. Working with Andrea now it’s been over two years and there’s not a person that I trust more creatively with my voice. I worked on the majority of the album with her. From the time I was “freed” from Canada . . . that’s when I went to Europe and recorded, and I went to Jamaica and recorded and I went to the States recording. The music came so organically and naturally. I took my time recording the songs. We wanted to make sure that we explored every producer, every sound, every experience to see if we could top what we had . . . and we got to the point where we were like no I think this is it. This is some good stuff. And sometimes you need to know when to stop so you don’t spoil a good thing . . . and save your ideas for album two.
HipHopCanada: If there was a way to describe the album, what would it be?
Melanie Fiona: I would say it’s consistent variation. That’s a complete contradiction. But the variation is the different genres of music that you will hear on the album. The consistency is the soul of the music. Whether it’s a song infused with pop, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, the bottom line is the soul of the music and how it makes you feel. I think it’s going to be a classic. I think it’s going to be something you feel like you’ve heard, but you’ve never actually heard before. You’ll be able to go back to it 10 years from now and feel the same way you feel about it today.
HipHopCanada: You do not have any features on the album. You are happy about that?
Melanie Fiona: I am. People can appreciate me for the music and not for some co-sign that’s on the album. Remixes are always cool and those are great for spreading the word and creating awareness, but on the album I really just want people to feel me, know me and know the body of work that it is.
Written by Lola Plaku