Reading off an extensive list of Michelle’s accomplishments, it’s hard to believe she goes to high school, grapples with classes every day, and still makes time for a vibrant and blossoming music career. She’s already released a polished studio EP, ramped up to release another single, performed at the International women’s summit, and acquired an artist pseudonym—MLO. Read our extensive interview about Michelle’s experiences as an active, 17-year-old singer-songwriter, and listen to her music at the end of the interview.
MM: How did you get started playing/singing?
MLO: It’s pretty silly, but when I was around four or five, I discovered Britney Spears, and after singing along to all of her songs, I knew I wanted to make music my career! Around age 10, I started writing, and it all came together. About two-and-a-half years ago, I recorded and produced an original EP, and I’ve been performing it at local venues in both Orange County and LA ever since.
MM: What caused you to start writing songs?
MLO: To be completely honest, when I wrote my first song, it was unintentional. I had been playing guitar and singing for a while, and I just sort of heard this melody in my head one day, and figured out how to play it on the guitar. Once I figured out the music, I decided I should finish the lyrics, and about an hour later, I had completed my first song. Since then, my writing has mostly been inspiration-based.
MM: Where do you find inspiration when you’re writing music?
MLO: I can find inspiration in almost anything. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s completely true. Usually though, I just write what’s on my mind about certain situations that I’ve either been a part of or witnessed.
MM: Who are your main influences?
MLO: This is always a hard question for me, because I have such a love for all music. Since my taste is so eclectic, it’s hard for me to pinpoint a few artists. To answer though, I guess I’d have to say everything from Jack White to Avril Lavigne to Nirvana and, most recently, Ed Sheeran.
MM: Describe your style in three words:
MLO: Authentic Rock/Pop
MM: When you’re sitting down to write, what’s your workflow like? Do you come up with lyrics, melodies, or chords first?
MLO: Every song is different for me. Lots of times, a melody or a catchy line will come to me, and I’ll work off of that. Other times, though, I’ll sit down with a theme in mind and try my best to convey the message in an artistic manner.
MM: You recently finished your first EP. Is there a rhyme and reason to the songs and order that are on it? Did you write all the songs in one short period, or did you write and compile them over time?
MLO: My EP, The Race, was really fun to work on. Each song has a different story. The title track, “The Race,” began when I was about 12, but at the time, I had just come up with the chorus and no verses. I kept it in my journal, knowing there was something there. About three years later, I came back to it, and it just seemed to flow. That was both the easiest and hardest song to write. “Just the Beginning” was the first song I recorded and I wrote it specifically for the EP. I knew I had to have another song, so I wrote “Gone With the Wind” with sort of a new idea in mind about who I wanted to be as an artist. The last song on the track called “Before We Kissed,” was actually written by my producer, Freddy Scott, and Alexis Diana. It was fun experimenting with a pop-country genre and exploring different styles.
MM: Which of your songs is your favorite?
MLO: My favorite song I wrote is “Gone With the Wind,” because it seems to be the fan favorite. It’s also the closest song to depict who I want to be as an artist; it has elements of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, while still having the structure of a pop song. The song that is closest to my heart though is “The Race,” because it’s the most personal. I literally wrote exactly what I was feeling at the time, and turned it into a song, and when people connect with it, I couldn’t be happier.
MM: Tell me about your experience recording the EP.
MLO: When I recorded, I did work with live musicians. We had a drummer come in, but for the most part, my producer played the multiple guitar tracks and bass. There were a few synth tracks, but I’d say 95% was live.
MM: How does recording differ from live performance? Which do you prefer?
MLO: They’re actually a lot different, but each skill helps develop the other. When you perform, you get one take. When you record, you can punch in lines to add more character, etc. Recording is much more straining physically, I think. The recording process though is so incredibly creative, and watching songs come to life is amazing. I think overall though, I’d have to pick performing live, because you get to be in the moment with a live audience. The emotion and passion is out of this world.
MM: Tell me about any recent gigs you’ve played.
MLO: Over the summer, I played at the Chain Reaction, Cobalt Café, Kulak’s Woodshed, and some local coffee-shop-type venues. I also got the opportunity to perform for the International Women’s Music Summit and an NSAI songwriting workshop.
MM: What was it like to perform at the Women’s Summit?
MLO: When I was invited to play at the WMS, I was completely in awe. In addition to performing, the Summit was a three-day workshop, and I got to meet amazing musicians who have toured with Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, and Jeff Beck. I also got to meet songwriters and publishers who worked with some of the greats, and we all got to collaborate. The WMS was one of the best experiences in my career so far, and I have no doubt that I’ll remember it years to come.
MM: Have you toured, or do you have any immediate plans to tour?
MLO: The past two summers I’ve played shows in Nashville, New York, Austin, LA, and Vegas. I just started my senior year of high school, so I probably won’t get to perform until winter break.
MM: Do you feel like you belong to a “scene,” or are you going it alone for now?
MLO: Although I am a solo act, I feel like I have a very strong support system. My family has always supported me 100% in music, and without that I couldn’t do a lot of the stuff that I have done. My friends are equally as supportive. Most recently, I’ve become a member of LAWIM and WIMN, and they really empower female artists like myself.
MM: Do you have any exciting music-related things coming up?
MLO: I plan on releasing a single soon and touring once I catch a break from school!
MM: Describe where you hope to be in five years.
MLO: In five years, I’d like to be making a career out of music. Although I’ve been focusing on being a performing artist, I know the amount of jobs in that area, and unfortunately, the numbers are low. Honestly though, after working in Pro Tools and learning about the music industry, I’d be happy working in any area of the music business. My biggest wish is that people can connect with the songs I put out there and hopefully be inspired to do whatever it is in life they are meant to do.
MM: What advice do you have for kids who are too afraid to perform?
MLO: Take it from someone who had terrible performance anxiety: don’t give up if you have a dream. If you want to perform, but are too afraid to, I promise you the positives will outweigh the negatives, and you’ll feel so much better after you perform and express yourself.
MM: As a young singer-songwriter, what’s the best way to get started writing music and moving beyond just singing someone else’s songs?
MLO: Many people have different techniques, but in my opinion, I think you should just take one of your favorite songs and evaluate it. Think about why you like it. Is it the rhythm? Lyrics? Chord progression? Whatever it is, try to incorporate one of those elements into a song of your own. I think the most important part is finding something you are passionate enough to write about. When you do though, it shows, and that’s what makes the hits stand out.
Currently listening to: Awolnation