Amel Larrieux is one of a handful of artists whose music has had a permanent place on the soundtrack of our lives since the mid-‘90s, first as a member of the duo Groove Theory then later as a solo artist. In that time, she’s managed to avoid any industry drama and has consistently released strong material all while raising a family. With the news that she has an album in the works with singles dropping every month until its release, Amel is poised to return to the spotlight this year and her fans are more than happy to have her back. As an independent artist she gets to call the shots, but she has a lot of help in the form of her partner in business and life, Laru Larrieux. Together they have created an impressive body of work on her label Blisslife Records, but their proudest achievement is their children, Sky and Sanji-Rei, who are quite talented performers in their own right. With a personality as sweet as her voice, Amel opens up and keeps it real during this interview about her music, her independence, and the loves of her life.
Clutch: I understand that you’re working on a new album. What can you can tell us about it?
Amel: The nice thing about being independent is that you don’t have deadlines—well, you do, but they’re your own deadlines—to get things done, so you’re just basically out making music all the time. So we’ve been writing, recording and trying to compile enough stuff so that whenever we desire we can just drop an album when we feel. We don’t have anything thematic. That would be the one thing that might be a little bit different about this album, is that I really want to make an album to make people feel good and happy and not necessarily be too worried about giving people food for thought and having them be introspective. The times really call for stuff that uplifts you and makes you feel happy when you put it on to escape from what we all have to deal with now.
Clutch: Is there a time frame that you’re working with for the release?
Amel: I would say later on this year. At this point we’re releasing a song per month and feeling it out. Then when we feel like we’ve got this cohesive group of songs together we’ll release the album.
Clutch: The first single is the song “Orange Glow,” which is the funkiest song I have ever heard from you in a while. What made you decide to go in that direction for the lead single?
Amel: It’s just a song that we loved and felt that if you don’t particularly love it or adore it, you would probably move to it if you heard it or at least bop your head. It was just the desire to put something out there that would be a real bright light to get you out of your funk.
Clutch: How many singles do you plan on releasing?
Amel: At this point we got it covered if we want to go for a while. But as you know, the climate for music and especially for independent artists has changed to our benefit. I know that with major labels and major label artists it’s probably a little bit different. But for people like me who’ve worked really hard at building the grassroots online internet community at that level, it’s good for me. I do really well digitally. So we’re working on that and seeing how fruitful it can be to go in that direction in the beginning. It doesn’t mean forever and it doesn’t mean it will be exclusively only digitally, it just means for now. I’m very open to not having things to be in black and white. So for now I don’t say forever and I don’t say never and I don’t say no and I don’t say yes, I just say maybe and that’s what this could be leading into. But I definitely–and I’ve said this in my blog on my page–want to do a traditional album in the future as well as a digital album so that that people can have something in their hands as well as in their iPods.
Clutch: As an independent artist in this digital age, how important is the internet and connecting to fans through online communities, blogging and other social media important to your work?
Amel: It’s the reason why we could say, “hey, we’re gonna do this new thing now and just put out a single per month.” Digitally we do really well and a lot of my sales, a bigger percentage of my sales every year are digital. Luckily I have a manager who saw that way back when I was still on Epic and put time and energy into creating a home for me through our internet site and its been going over eight years, nine years almost. So it’s kind of been that way for us, and I think it was because we always knew we were going to leave a major label. We needed to be able to do things the way that we envisioned them and not be stifled by other people’s vision. The internet allows everybody an equal shot at being heard. The tide has changed and it’s very clear with how nervous these big corporations have gotten when you can do so much without their help.
Clutch: I commend you for being one of the first artists to embrace the internet in the way you have. You were definitely ahead of the curve and ahead of a lot of your contemporaries in that regard, so kudos to you and your team.
Amel: As I said, I can’t take credit for it. My manager, who’s also my husband, he’s just a person who’s a jack of all trades and he’s always able to reinvent himself and us. When things aren’t moving in one direction, he’ll find another door to open. He always has his hands on the pulse of whatever is going to happen next, he always seems to know. I would say it’s the primary reason why I’ve been able to stick around because it’s not enough to just make songs. The nice part about the internet is that you can put your song up, but it doesn’t mean that people are gonna come and hear it if they don’t know you exist. It takes much longer. So Laru has always found a way to keep me relevant in some way even if it’s under the radar or whether it’s being in a Coca Cola ad. It’s been fairly lucky for me. And I wish for every artist that is not on a major label or that is and that doesn’t have a machine behind them or a team, that they would have one Laru who is a genius with figuring out ways to insert the artist and keep them out there and still keep their integrity. It’s cool.
And I don’t have to pay him per se. Just make a big pot of greens, like “hey, here you go!”
Clutch: We’ve been talking about you being an independent artist and you have your record company, Blisslife Records. How has that been juggling your artistry and your business?
Amel: Lucky for me again, I don’t have to do the business end of stuff. That’s not where my head is. Of course I have conversations about production and marketing things, and I’m in on everything as much as I possibly can, but I figured out long ago that I could never write songs if I had to think about the business end of things. I’ve never been able to spread myself that thin. Being a mom takes so much work physically and mentally as well as trying to always be available to write the best songs that I can and not fall asleep at the piano. I’m lucky that I have a partner who continues to do it all and found the kind of people to work with that think the way we do and have the same desires and goals for my music so he doesn’t have to do it completely alone.
Clutch: That’s a beautiful thing to have a partner who is with you in life, love and business. You couldn’t ask for more.
Amel: It makes life easier. Of course you have conflicts; there’s no separation with what you do all the time. I don’t know what other people who have businesses together or work together do because if you’re not creative and you come home, then maybe you can just turn it off. But with creative businesses you’re always working. You’re always talking about it. You’re always thinking about it. Even in bed before you turn off the light there’s another conversation about it. Of course things can be tricky and people can step on each other’s toes. You have to be so careful to not go over certain boundaries, and you have to be careful to be respectful of each other’s opinions. On the flip side you have to be able to be really objective, and it’s a difficult thing because I don’t know if people really question whether they’re being objective with their spouse. I think people just go through the daily doings of whatever they’re doing with each other and then they have an argument and move on and forgive each other. For us, if there’s a disagreement with something then I’m already thinking that I want to get the best work out of this, and I want us to be in a harmonious environment so I can go off to work and not be sad, angry or upset. So it really challenges you as a couple and it also makes life easier because everything is in-house; I don’t have to go out looking for this or that for everything. And I have a spouse who is really understanding about my travel arrangements and how long I have to be gone for things. The inner workings of being an artist are not always easy for the other spouse to understand it they’re not in the industry.
Clutch: You’re both a musician and a mommy. What do you consider to be the harder job? Or do you even consider either role to be work since you’re doing something that you love?
Amel: Absolutely. If somebody had told me how hard it was to be a parent, then I probably would have waited a little longer. I got pregnant on my wedding night, so I tell my daughters “Wait as long as you can.” But you know what, women are afraid to say how difficult it is, how much you question yourself, how much of a rollercoaster it is. It is definitely the most difficult job I’ve ever taken. I don’t think any mother would tell you it’s easy, and I really don’t think they’re telling you the whole truth if they tell you that. Even somebody who has three nannies, a housekeeper and a cook, if they tell you it’s easy they’re just telling you it’s physically easy but emotionally it’s not easy at all. It’s such a mystery parenting. There are those who say “this is how you do it blah, blah, blah” but I would like to meet them and meet their kids.
Clutch: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. You can read a million books but until you go through it, until you live it, that’s another matter.
Amel: Exactly. Everybody’s personality has to come into account. Yours as a parent and the kid’s personalities and they’re always going to be a different equation than what you’ve already heard. Writing and performing is easier only because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve only been parenting for 14 years now, that’s it. So I’m still a baby. But with writing and music it’s something I started doing before I could even walk so that comes more naturally for me. And the part that makes it more difficult is trying to parent at the same time. So it’s really interesting because you want to be positive about everything but the truth is it’s just a juggling act, and you need to have a great support system to pull it off. And you also need to have a stress-free environment or a place to channel your stress.
Clutch: That’s definite food for thought for people who think that being a parent is easy.
Amel: Oh no. I remember people telling me before, “Oh, it gets easier.” I’m like “who are these complete nincompoops that told me that?” That’s not true at all; it does not get easier. The kids have more ideas of their own, and the stakes get higher. I mean, they may just go outside to walk around and someone may do something to them and hurt them. Oh God. It does not get easier. You gotta find more Calgon to take you away.
Clutch: Since both you and your husband are in the industry are your daughters exhibiting any musical talent and do they want to go in that direction that you’ve gone in?
Amel: Oh absolutely. My youngest, Sanji-Rei, we’re predicting that she’s gonna end up in Broadway or films. She’s quite the stage singer/actress/dancer and pretty good with the drums and instruments. My oldest, Sky, I’ve always called her a child prodigy. She can pick up any instrument and play it by ear. She has wonderful access to all the instruments that we’ve had. We’ve always had our own studios and she could be in there anytime she wanted when we were recording or when we weren’t. She’s played and accompanied me at the Blue Note on the piano, and she’s also done a song herself that I sing backup for. She’s playing on one of the songs that will be released in the next couple months. She’s quite the writer, and she knows how to edit film.
We took them to our friend’s agency, and I was like “Oh God, do I want to get them involved in this? Cause if they get rejected I don’t know how to say it to them in a way that won’t break their spirit.” I’m saying all this in my head and we go in, they give them a contract right there in the office and we signed. They get so many auditions that it’s a new job for me taking my kids to auditions and go-sees for modeling. It’s like “do I have to give up my career to manage their careers?” I see how people do that. Everyday there’s another thing to go to. I feel less like a parent and more like a manager. Not a stage mom–I’m not one of those. I’m pretty much always like, “let me know whenever you want to stop.” I’d love to just go back and be able to get my work done!