Melanie Fiona ‘The MF Life:’ Singer Wants Thom Yorke, Talks Relationship With Drake
“Hi everyone. I’m Melanie Fiona,” the Canadian singer announced while joyfully accepting the first of two trophies at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards earlier this year. Melanie felt the need for introduction but fans and producers know the chart-topper behind songs like ‘It Kills Me’ well. She was honored that night for her duet prowess on Cee Lo Green‘s soulful track, ‘Fool for You,’ and has worked with the likes of Nas, Drake, John Legend, Salaam Remi and J. Cole. She’s a rising star from the “Great White North” and after adding “Grammy award-winner” to her bio, hopefully there will be no need for further introductions.
Despite getting the last flight out of snow-panicked Chicago, Melanie looked stress-free as she strolled into the Universal Republic Records office building in midtown New York City. She was calm, collected and ready to chat. Melanie has an air of confidence about her — she knows who she is and where she’s going. The ’4 AM’ singer looked at home in a cozy room filled with leather couches and worldly textiles. Her first album, ‘The Bridge,’ was highly influenced by artists like Amy Winehouse so it seems fitting that an almost wall-sized portrait of the late songstress sits mounted proudly overhead.
While enjoying some sliced pineapple, the Canadian native discussed the Adele-like breakup that fueled her sophomore album, ‘The MF Life,’ due March 20, her longtime relationship with Aubrey Drake Graham, and her genre-bending dream of collaborating with Thom Yorke or David Guetta.
Tell me how your sophomore album has evolved beyond ‘The Bridge’?
The first album was definitely more reflective of my inspirations, an homage and respect to retro soul and soul music in general. I think now, on this album, I’ve evolved into my own artist and have embodied this sound that is an evolution of retro and current soul that mixes a lot of different genres. It’s a little more aggressive. It’s bigger, it’s fuller and it goes through a range of vulnerability, power and strength, both lyrically and melodically.
Were there any mistakes you learned from while recording your first album?
I don’t think there’s really any mistakes you can make, truthfully, cause they’re all growing experiences but I did learn that I wanted to be a lot more involved on the writing side. When you first start out, as an artist, you really don’t know what you are getting yourself into or what to expect. It does take a team of people to show you and guide you. I learned a lot from working with writers on the first album so this time, I was able to step up my writing chops. It was more hands-on, in the studio, working with every producer, writing with every producer. It was really a great experience. I wrote six songs in total including ‘Change the Record’ featuring B.o.B, ‘Wrong Side of a Love Song’ and ‘Watch Me Work.’
Watch Melanie Fiona’s ’4 AM’ Video
Tell me about the recording process of ‘This Time’ with J. Cole. How did that come about?
J. Cole and I worked together on ‘Beautiful Bliss’ for Wale‘s album and we talked about doing a record together. We’re both signed to Roc Nation so we’re friends and label-management mates as well. ‘This Time’ I did separate from J. Cole and then I went and met him in the studio. I brought him the track and told him the vibe, he said, “Alright, I’m going to do it tonight.” So, he did. In one night he hit us back and sent us the verse. It was really cool. He was in the process of working on his album so it was really great that he made the time to do that for me.
‘L.O.V.E’ with John Legend, who produced it and wrote it?
No I.D. produced it and John and I wrote it together. I love this record because I feel it’s important to have a socially conscious record on every one of my albums. On my first album, I feel that ‘Ay Yo’ is that record. For ‘The MF Life’, it’s definitely ‘L.O.V.E;’ it’s all you need — pretty much — and I do believe that in all regards. It’s all you need to get by in life and to keep that at the forefront of respect for one another as humans interacting everyday, being responsible for each other as a society. It’s actually the last song on the album so it’s a nice positive ending as well.
Did you and John have any chemistry in the studio — any ‘L.O.V.E’?
Well, no because I love his girlfriend [laughs] but we absolutely do have a love for each other musically. We met just before we did ‘Wake Up’ for his album. When I got back to L.A., we wrote a few songs together, just to jam out, but this one made the album. I love that we were able to do ‘Wake Up,’ which was a socially conscious record for his album and do one for mine as well. John Legend is actually one of the most talented people that I have ever worked with. He can just get behind a piano and create. It’s so organic for him so just being around that is an inspiration.
You write a lot about heartbreak. Did you have an Adele-like breakup that really impacted you?
Yeah, for sure. It’s interesting because on the first album I experienced a really bad breakup and on this album I experienced a really bad breakup. I actually wrote all the songs that I ended up living, before I lived them, which is really crazy. I found myself with all the records that I wrote in succession and they actually told the story of what happened in that relationship. I was in the relationship and at the time; I didn’t foresee it ending.
So, how is it that you were writing from a place of heartbreak when you were in a happy relationship?
I think that subconsciously our emotions get the best of us even though we consciously don’t necessarily recognize them. For me — frustration, sadness, despair, anger — these are the things that help me write my best music because I feel that I’m a positive person overall. My outlet to express that darker side of me is through my music. I don’t necessarily have to live that everyday but it’s therapeutic for me to get it out. Oddly enough, it’s not just me, the singles that become the hits are the ones that people choose. It seems that there are a lot of people going through heartbreak and just need a voice to help them say it. You live and you learn. I moved on from ‘It Kills Me’ and now, we’ll get through ‘The Wrong Side of a Love Song.’
I read you were in a group called The Renaissance with Drake and he penned the song ‘Been That Girl’ on your new album. How did you first meet and how has the relationship evolved? Do you ever reminisce together about Canada?
Yeah, all the time. He’s actually fortunate enough to still be there because he has private jets and stuff, he’s so fancy [laughs]. But, I’m so proud of him because when I met Aubrey, when I met Drake, he was 17. He was on ‘Degrassi’ and he had this fire that needed honing. He was so talented and everyone around us felt that. We all had a mutual respect for each other and we would jam out, provide dinner entertainment music at these supper clubs in Toronto. It was just a good time in our lives. We were fun, young, budding artists in Toronto and we found the best of the best. It was me, him, a super talented singer by the name of Anne Clark and now, Drake’s current keyboard player, D10. Of course, we were all working on solo careers and now we get to look back and laugh at how goofy we were then. It’s great reinforcement to know that you were on the right path, with the right people, when you can see that you end up in the same place, individually.
Watch Melanie Fiona’s ‘Ay Yo’ Video
You have a tattoo that reads “Live on Purpose.” Do you have any other tattoos and can you explain the meaning behind them?
I have only one other tattoo, and that’s my purple heart. Interesting enough, I got both of my tattoos in moments where I felt that I had grown. My purple heart was right after I finished the Kanye West tour. I was getting ready to release the first single and I had gone through a really bad breakup. What I realized in that moment was that I was stronger than I thought I was in the past. I lived through those experiences, both monumental and dark, and picked myself up and did great things. The purple heart is my symbol of courage and it’s a reminder that I don’t need to give into the weak moments that face me.
The new one, “Live on Purpose,” came about after meeting one woman in particular. She’s a breast cancer survivor and her energy was so infectious to me and inspiring. I told her that I was moved by her story and that we shared the same sentiment of living on purpose, making everyday count. Whatever you do, do it on purpose, don’t be apologetic for it and own what you do. I actually got this right before the Grammys.
Wow, how fitting. Now that you’re riding the wave of two Grammy wins, what do you want to show the world with your sophomore album?
I’m hoping to achieve more Grammys [laughs]! These Grammys are such an honor and I just use them as fuel and motivation. Hopefully, they fuel and motivate people to pay more attention to the music and what I have to offer as an artist. It gives you another notch on the respect belt in the industry and that’s really what I’m about. I don’t care if I’m ever the most famous artist but if I can be one of the most respected — that’s all I care about.
The-Dream worked on your album and also helmed Rihanna’s ‘Birthday Cake’ remix. From a female perspective, how do you feel about Rihanna and Chris Brown working together again on two tracks?
I think what’s sad about the whole thing is that they lived a very private situation in a public forum. That’s real, dispute and abuse is a real thing that’s happening to people everyday. I just think, you got to live your life, if that’s what they wanted to do and they really don’t give a damn about what anybody has to say, then, why should anyone have to say. At the end of the day, you just have to live and stand by what you say. Once you do something, you got to live with it.
The album is done. Are there any surprise artists you want to collaborate with next?
I would love to do something with Miguel. I’m a huge fan of his. I would also love to do a really cool, big house record. If I could get in with David Guetta, I would love that. When you think about CeCe Peneston ['Finally'] and back in the day, C+C Music Factory ['Everybody Dance Now'], these big voices that were over dance tracks went well and they tend to be classic records forever. I know I love a good house song, you know you can’t deny that. I also love Radiohead; I love their last album ‘King of Limbs.’ I think that Thom Yorke is brilliant and I’m really feeling this underground group from Denmark called Quadron. I’m really into finding music that I enjoy like James Blake, that kinda mellow electronic music is cool when I’m trying to be still.
What’s one thing about you that fans may not know? What do you enjoy away from music?
I’m into sports. I like to watch sports. I used to play sports. I really like boxing, I love watching Saturday night fights. Anytime there’s a good fight on HBO, I’m locked in. I’m pretty athletic and I think that’s one thing people would be surprised to know about me because I wear heels and perform like a girl but I’m kind of like a dude inside.
See Photos of Singers Without Makeup