Miguel Talks Wildheart
On his seductive third album, the singer rejected conformity to produce his most daring work yet.
By pushing the boundaries of rock, pop, and R&B, Miguel found freedom on his latest album, Wildheart. After rising to fame (and winning a Grammy for Best R&B song for “Adorn”) following his sophomore release, Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel—née Miguel Pimentel—became recognized as a much-needed creative force in the music industry. With sexy tracks like “Sure Thing” and “Do You…,” Miguel’s talent for mixing dramatic guitar riffs with pop undertones didn’t go unnoticed. On the highly-anticipated Wildheart, the singer fully embraced his unique approach to R&B and normality went out the window.
“Normality is so subjective and yet we sometimes measure ourselves up to what the status quo of things are: in reality, there’s no status quo,” says the 29-year-old singer of his latest work. “We’re all seeing the world in different ways.”
For Miguel, Wildheart is a celebration of appreciating those differences and finding happiness. While there’s still some sultriness to the record, Wildheart is a more of a personal look at self-acceptance, society, celebrity, and an opportunity for Miguel to take a look at his own purpose. These ideals take shape on Wildheart’s opening track “a beautiful exit” and carry on throughout the record even in the down-tempo “leaves,” which uses Miguel’s home of California as a metaphor for a breakup of sorts.
On the eve of his album release, Miguel filled us in on what it means to be a “wildheart,” and the power of happiness and acceptance.
What’s the concept behind Wildheart? How long were you working on it for?
Wildheart is about knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in and what you’re willing to sacrifice and living it. I probably worked on this album for about a total of four months. Because we had shows and touring, we had to break it up.
Makes sense. What’s the theme that resonates throughout the album? Is it a political statement?
There’s a political statement. I don’t think that has anything to do with the theme. I think the theme goes back to living your truth in every way possible: being yourself, knowing who you are, allowing your intuition and instinct to guide you, while trusting it and being passionate. That’s the concept that kind of ties the album together. It starts up the notion of what’s normal anyway
So, what is it that you want at this point in your life?
I think everyone always wants happiness and contentment—not complacency. Complacency and contentment are two different things. I think happiness comes from being content. I think—more than anything—as a musician and as an artist, I think I want to use the attention that I have from my fans to hopefully effect some kind of awareness. I want to show that if [my fans] are truly are passionate, that they can get there and achieve it.
What musicians influenced this record the most for you?
It’s essentially all of the same musicians that I consider musical mentors, but probably in different doses on that album. It’s still lots of Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Hall and Oates, and Marvin Gaye. All of the artists I think that I grew up listening to—those sounds and influences are all in the album, but in different doses.
What do you think is the most powerful lyric on the album?
There are a lot. “Don’t ever sell yourself short for acceptance” is one of them. “What’s normal anyway” is another. It’s kind of hard because the entire statement in “leaves” is really powerful.
Who hasn’t experienced change that they didn’t see coming? I think the analogy to the way the seasons change in Los Angeles, CA is powerful. It was an a-ha moment.
That’s true—I think everyone has. With regards to the question of what is normal have you figured that out for yourself? What do you consider to be normal?
I think one of the best things I’ve come to understand for myself is that there is no such thing as normality. Normality is just subjective. There’s no sense in trying to live up to other people’s ideas of normal because their idea of normal is based on their taste, their aspirations and their fears. All of that has nothing to do with me. My version of those things is completely different for me, so why should I try and live up, conform or fit into someone else’s idea of what normal is? That’s a huge part of what Wildheart is about: it’s about accepting that. It’s about you. What’s normal to you? What does happiness look like to you? What is wealth to you? What is success to you? What is failure to you? Know those things, and then you’re less apt to look outside for the answers, because you’ve already answered them for yourself. You’re free to act, choose and be based on who you allow yourself to be.
How did Wildheart become the title of your album?
I think all of this is a part of my belief system and Wildheart is the perfect way of describing not conforming.
Did you come up with concept the for the album artwork, or did you collaborate on the idea?
When you know who you are and what you stand for, you’re a wildheart and you feel free. The freedom of not worrying or caring how things that you do or say or the way that you act come off to other people makes you free. That’s real freedom, and that freedom is very powerful. That freedom is what I wanted to convey in the artwork. Three of us came up with the artwork.
Which song are you the most proud of on Wildheart?
Tough. I think “leaves” is one of the songs I’m most proud of [on this album]. It’s still ambiguous and poetic at the same time. [The song] could also still be commercial. It fits a lot of boxes. There’s a lot of meaning for someone to take to create meaning for themselves. There’s creativity in the song. I think it’s a great fourth single.
Do you see Wildheart as a fully integrated art project akin to the direction Kanye West has taken with his albums?
I hope that every album is evolving from the last. I wouldn’t say that it’s new: if anything it’s an evolution. It’s definitely an evolution of my perspective and my belief of those things. I think the music should reflect that, and I think everything else should reflect that too.
As a musician, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since your first album, All I Want Is You, came out in 2010?
I don’t know if it would be as a musician—I think it’s more of a life thing. It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about when being wildhearted: it’s not caring so much about the way things are perceived. You can’t control people’s perceptions: people’s perceptions, and the way they look at things are based on their own knowledge, their own experiences and set of circumstances. You have no control of that, so why edit yourself to satisfy other people’s perceptions? You almost enslave yourself: you put yourself at the mercy of other people, and that’s not what artistry is about.
Photos by Daniel Sannwald