Amel Larrieux

Amel Larrieux is sitting on a bench in a New York park, on a sunny afternoon; watching her youngest daughter play. Serene, reflective and contented: a few words which describe this phase in both Amel’s musical career and her personal life. When aged only 19, song bird Amel Larrieux burst onto our airwaves as half of R&B duo Groove Theory, alongside Brice Wilson. Despite her age, Amel’s sense of self and purpose was already rock solid. Groove Theory went on to have small successes throughout the mid nineties until Larrieux left to pursue a solo career. Her natural progression into a solo artist appeared to be made almost effortlessly. Her first solo outing Infinite Possibilities (2000), showcased amazing vocals and incredible song writing ability – which can be both touching and explorative. Her silky tones, whistle register octave range, and gorgeous bohemian style have made her every bit the Greenwich Village style icon. Now seven years and three albums later, Amel has released a collection of great American jazz standards with her husband and producer, Laru Larrieux. Offering her interpretation on classics, ranging from Duke Ellington to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lovely Standards looks certain to become a must have for every music lover. Amel Larrieux speaks to about being a ‘progressive’ R&B vocalist, pushing her musical boundaries and those lovely standards. People often refer to you as a progressive R&B vocalist – how do you feel about being labelled that way and what does it mean?
Amel Larrieux: (Laughs) I have no idea! I’m just happy that I have the material to be put into a section; do you know what I mean? It’s crazy because there’s so many different labels and I swear I can go into a store and find my CD in about six different sections each time. So I don’t know, I guess maybe they mean that you’re not following the same R&B formula that is out right now. But it’s funny because you can do so many different things and it becomes your category. As long it is accessible and people like it and they can buy it, I don’t care. Your latest album Lovely Standards is a take on classic jazz standards; why was that something yourself and your husband wanted to tackle?
Amel Larrieux: I’ve had this idea for many, many years and it wasn’t until we left Epic and established me as an artist that we could just go ahead and do it. At Epic we wanted to do it but they weren’t seeing that vision but we have always wanted to do an album like this simultaneously with an Amel Larrieux album. My husband and producer has always thought artists should have alias’ or side projects while they are doing their regular projects for themselves. So, it’s really been on the cards for a long time now and I think that my live show has always been leaning towards jazz and improve; we’ve always done jazz standards but with our own kind of twist on it. What did you want to bring to your interpretation of the jazz standards?
Amel Larrieux: I definitely wanted to make it my own vibe and I also wanted to be able to expose people to who I am, there are a couple of sides to who I am musically, and this is definitely one of them. I think it’s cool to be able to do different things. You have your own Record Label with your husband called Bliss Life, has this allowed you to have more creative freedom?
Amel Larrieux: Well my husband runs it but we have a team that run it with him and I am the first artist on BlissLife. I think one thing that artists often talk about is not having that creative freedom with their labels, well infact I did with Epic. I created something but delivered over to hands who were not receiving, or not promoting the product. So now we can also guide it in that direction and that’s what is really nice. We can be involved with people that actually have the same vision as me – as an artist. Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?
Amel Larrieux: Everything. My parents, I listen to what is going on in popular culture, everything that is around me. I like be so musically diverse – I am not a musical elitist or a musical snob, I like what I like and I don’t feel like I should ever have to explain it. There are Hip Hop artists that I like and then I would immediately listen to some Shania Twain, and then after that some Mozart, and then after that – Stevie Wonder. It doesn’t have a pattern – the pattern in it is the diversity. I don’t know, it’s all over the place. My mum is a cultural historian and I grew up listening to many African, Indian performers. In our house because of my parent’s research I listened to music from Malawi, Ghana, all other the world – Tibet, India, and I think because we lived in the West Village, there was a lot happening at that time. I mean you had Bob Dylan and people were doing experimental things. So my wording and vocal techniques and stuff have been influenced from other cultures and places. Critics are always praising your intimate songwriting ability. What inspires your songwriting?
Amel Larrieux: Originally what inspired me was listening to other artists and the feedback and stories people gave me. I think that what is most important to remember is: music is so much bigger than just one person or one sound. It’s a give and take. These things definitely shape the way I write besides the fact that I have a personal life and my own experiences. All those things: loving, losing, being afraid, mould our experiences. I hear so many stories from people I know or going by me. So on a day like this when I’m in the park, when I see people and they are sad, happy or angry, it really sparks off a story in my mind and its all relevant – merging reality with fiction. So, what’s next for you?
Amel Larrieux: I have just finished a mini tour in New York. We are always writing and producing for the next project. My normal Amel Larrieux album will be out next year and that’s pretty much it, we will just keep working.
‘Lovely Standards’ is out now on BlissLife Records.