When we first introduced you to out musician Michelle Chamuel, it was as the enigmatic frontwoman of My Dear Disco. She was fresh off a pretty sweet gig; performing at a little music festival you might have heard of called Lollapalooza. Three years later, Michelle landed on another cool stage as a contestant on The Voice. Her inspired covers of Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper and Katy Perry as part of Team Usher had new fans voting for her up through the season finale, where she came in a close second.
Michelle did not take the conventional after-the-reality-show route with her career. Her first post-Voice album, All I Want, was electro-heavy and released as a solo side project, The Reverb Junkie. She followed that up with three Reverb Junkie EPs—The Drift, EP2, I Am—and, in 2015, released Face the Fire, her first album under her own name. And on her new EP, Feel It, Michelle has taken the reins on all aspects of the music, including the mixing and production.
We talked with Michelle about the new recording process, why she may be a little bit of a control freak, and if she’ll be collaborating with partner Mary Lambert anytime soon.
AfterEllen.com: So many things have been happening in your life since we spoke last. What’s been going on and how has it shaped the new music?
Michelle Chamuel: Absolutely. Yeah! I’m still trying to sort out how to eloquently describe this process because I think—you know, everybody’s process is so different. For me, I think I’ve been realizing—it’s been so strange because I’ve been known as a singer for so long, and it’s definitely a big part of who I am, but it’s something I’ve been rebelling against since I was little, even though I love to sing. So that’s kind of been confusing to incorporate as an artist, because people will be like, “You love to sing—why don’t you sing right now? Why don’t you want to tour?”
Dealing with that in the context of making music, I’ve always wanted to not only just sing—singing is a part of the entire music of it, getting more into really digging intro production and engineering and figuring out that the person that controls the sound is not just the singer. Like you don’t even get to control, fully, your voice when you’re a singer because of cueing or the types of effects. That for me is a part of sound. But I think for a lot of other people, it’s not. Someone else will say their voice is, you know, they’ll put reverb or no reverb, and it’s like, cool, I’m still singing and still expressing my identity. But for me, it feels really different. If someone plays a different bass note under me than the one that I’ve expected, I have to figure that out based on my own performance and composition. That changes what I’m singing.
AE: For a lack of a better term, are you a little bit of a control freak?
MC: Yes. [laughs] I also feel like—I’m trying to think of a good analogy—but like I walked into the wrong classroom. I’m someone that loves to sing and will always sing and will always do that, but at the same time, just labeling me as a singer? I feel like I stepped into the singers meeting. It’s like “Wait, you’re not like us! Why don’t you want to do this thing and this thing?” There’s gotta be some kind of other major or something. This isn’t quite me yet.
AE: Do you think that has to do with the fact you were on a show like The Voice, covering other people’s songs, and so that’s the assumption made about you?
MC: I think that made it more so. But it definitely wasn’t The Voice where I started dealing with it. In college, I studied music psychology. I always sang, so it was still happening, but I definitely had issues with it. Like I almost failed a class because it was aural theory and you would have to sight read to sing the stuff, and I just couldn’t do it. I can’t really sing on command. My voice will shut off. It just shuts off. So I couldn’t do it! The teacher was super nice like, “OK, maybe next week; maybe next week.” It was almost the end of the course, and I figured out I could sing from the hallway into the classroom—I could sing if it was loud around me and everyone wasn’t looking at me. So that’s kind of my relationship with it. It wasn’t like, “Let me sing for you!”
AE: So you like being able to control the other elements around your singing.
MC: Yeah, for sure! In college, basically, I did a track with a friend, so I recorded in a studio which, for me, is very different than performance. And so based on that track, I ended up being able to collaborate with a band and then I joined a band. I’ve been bucking against that whole singer label and all that since college; since like 2006. Being like, “I know that I sing in this band, but I don’t want to stand in front of everybody; I want to be treated like a musician and like we’re all part of the music.” And I want to be a part of the music and work that way rather than an accessory or on top of the music.
You know, the lead singer is usually out front and is the person that does the interviews, and I wanted to share that. I thought we were all part of the music, and I didn’t understand why my voice wasn’t viewed as an instrument. Going places—I didn’t dress like a lead singer. I just dress like a musician so I’d show up at gigs, and they’d be like, “Oh cool, are you the merch chick?” “Nah, I”m the singer!” It wasn’t like, “Oh are you the bass player?” The band would be getting ushered into some suite at some event, and they’d be like, “I’m sorry, miss. You can’t go in. It’s for band members only.” It’s like “What!?” So I’ve dealt with that. The Voice was just making it louder so to everyone else it’s like “Oh cool! You’re a singer,” but it started in the band.