Chrisette Michele On Her Long Island Roots & Upcoming Projects
Although she is a Grammy-winning singer, television star and songwriter, not everyone may realize that Chrisette Michele is a Long Islander. Nowadays based in Valley Stream, Michele first turned heads on an international basis with her 2007 debut album I Am. Around this time, Michele had also collaborated with a variety of major artists, including Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, and the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah.
After four major label albums, Michele first went the independent route with 2016's Milestone. That full-length, as released in partnership with Caroline Records through Michele's Rich Hipster label imprint, charted within the U.S. Billboard 200. Out Of Control is Michele's latest studio effort, as released last month, and is yet another work of art from the R&B songstress.
After catching Chrisette Michele live at the 2018 Pure Grenada Music Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting her. This chance encounter led to an in-person interview at the Four Kings Boutique in Valley Stream, which Michele operates alongside husband and manager Doug Ellison. Next to the Four Kings Boutique is a yoga-related retail spot curated by Michele, a certified yoga instructor.
Have you lived on Long Island your whole life?
Chrisette Michele: Yes, since I was born.
Did you ever have the temptation to get off of Long Island?
Chrisette Michele: Yeah, once that tour bus syndrome hit, I was pretty much a nomad, not even having a home pretty much outside of that bus. I traveled all over the place and every place felt like home.
Even when you realized that the music business is centered in New York and Los Angeles, did you ever think of relocating to Manhattan?
Chrisette Michele: I lived in Williamsburg and I’m an artist first, so I’m a culture-seeker as a form of inspiration. After 9/11 there was a lot of trepidation in Manhattan for everybody who’s from New York. So moving there, there was some of that trepidation. But Brooklyn, all of my family lives there for the most part and I call that home.
What is it that keeps you on Long Island aside from having grown up here?
Chrisette Michele: Culturally I’m a Long Islander, too. You hear it too, there’s that skate-park-that-we-had-in-the-backyard thing. There’s the mixture of hip-hop and alternative-rock and then jazz-band geek. That is my music, I really am the culture of Long Island.
Do you remember the first concert you went to on Long Island?
Chrisette Michele: I didn’t go to a lot of concerts at all growing up. My parents ran church, so the concerts we went to growing up were like Hezekiah Walker, that’s the choir I grew up singing in. So I saw a lot of gospel concerts growing up. My first big concert was Lionel Richie with Jay-Z.
Lionel Richie with Jay-Z? Do you remember which venue that was at?
Chrisette Michele: It was the Foxwoods in Connecticut.
Do you remember the first real gig you played on Long Island outside of gospel?
Chrisette Michele: The first real gig to me was at the Patchogue Theatre. I was still in college at the time and we had this choir called The Mixed Nuts. We did straight a capella. It was a really big deal, we felt like, “This is our show.”
A lot of notable artists these days come from an a capella background. How do you feel about that now being a mainstream thing?
Chrisette Michele: I’m definitely obsessed with Pentatonix. I think they’re awesome. I love how they mix technology with the a capella. I think it’s important to mix the times in the a capella space. But there’s nothing like those homegrown church classics that I grew up with in the gospel space. Those are still alive and well today, and a lot of my music has that.
I have this song on my last album, Better, that’s all a capella from top to bottom. I remember the record label trying to put a bassline in it and I got so offended. (laughs) I was like, “How can you put the bass on an a capella song?” I listen to it now, it’s called “Be In Love,” and they were right.
Speaking of Long Island, you are opening up a yoga studio very shortly. Can you tell me more about that?
Chrisette Michele: Sure, I took some time to heal over the last couple of years. During that time I got my yoga teacher certification and I felt really glad to talk to my culture about mental illness and grounding. I mixed hip-hop and yoga first, then I did an experimental class and it was packed. I was like, “oh my goodness, this is really a thing.” People came in hot pink leggings and Jordans, so we decided we would open up our own space and have hip-hop, dance and yoga in one space.
Is the eventual goal to have locations all over the place? Or do you not think that far ahead?
Chrisette Michele: I definitely do. I definitely feel like it’s so needed. The voice and the voices in yoga lend themselves to some expansion. I think that yoga is a very welcoming space for culture. We can find some camaraderie and ground ourselves together.
What or who was it that got you into yoga in the first place?
Chrisette Michele: Marshalls -- there was a yoga mat at Marshalls, I remember picking it out of the basket and asking my mom to let me get it, then taking some time to watch videos on TV. Yoga Booty Ballet was the first DVD I bought. I had so much fun with it. I grew up with ADHD, so yoga was grounding for me, and still is.
So you don’t approach yoga from the exercise angle, but rather the spiritual or well-being angle?
Chrisette Michele: Yeah, coming from the church, my mom was a missionary, we had kids living in our house all the time. If you didn’t meditate, you went crazy. My mom was always meditative and prayerful. For me that translated into a quiet space, and yoga speaks to that.
A common thread in everything you do in your career, I find, is that there is an independent spirit. Regardless of whether or not there is entrepreneurial backing to it like a record company, it’s very independent. When did you realize that it was going to be important to be your own person, whether or not you were on a record label?
Chrisette Michele: Sure, that’s my dad’s fault. I just recently found out that I grew up in “the hood.” I never called it that, my dad never told me that, he told us that we lived in a mansion and we were kings and queens, so I believed that. I went to school with my head up high and I thought well of myself. I’ve always had that kind of an independent spirit, and it’s my dad’s fault.
Does that have anything to do with the Rich Hipster branding that you have been using?
Chrisette Michele: Yeah, that’s been so fun for me. When I moved to Williamsburg, I lived in this high rise apartment on the water. I’m saying “on the water” because I’m from New York. Somebody might also say “on the sewer,” because it was the Hudson. (laughs)
I loved it and it’s the 18th floor and it feels so good. Every time you go down to the park, you see a coffee shop that has a name you haven’t heard of. You’ve got people making t-shirts, their kids are in expensive strollers, and everybody’s got this makeshift-ness about them.
I always wondered why these rich kids had on these sneakers, these dirty Chuck Taylors. They can afford better sneakers. In hip-hop, your sneakers have to be clean. But in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Hipsterville… I coined the term “Rich Hipster” about the culture.
Is it fully trademarked?
Chrisette Michele: Yeah, and it’s something that I really identify with growing up on Long Island. There is this culture that we have access to as New Yorkers, but there’s this green grass that we have access to as Long Islanders. It’s luxurious and cultureful at the same time. If that’s a word. (laughs)