Since the release of his 2010 debut, All I Want Is You, Miguel Jontel Pimentel has proven himself to be one of pop’s most dynamic creative forces. While he’s nominally an R&B star (the slinky “Adorn,” from his stunning second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, won the 2012 Grammy for Best R&B Song), his music pushes beyond genre limitations; perhaps “soul” is the best descriptor for Miguel’s style of music, because it clearly comes from a deep place.
Miguel was raised in Los Angeles, and for his third album, Wildheart, he left New York and returned to the Golden State for recording and inspiration. The sprawling, ambitious record takes on the dichotomies of California — the logy sex jam “The Valley,” the wistful “Hollywood Dreams,” the regretful “Leaves” — in a way that’s intensely personal, zooming through styles while staying grounded in Miguel’s artistic daring. Miguel on Wildheart and all the little details of shared intimacy.
What inspired you to go back to California for Wildheart?
I think there’s a huge discrepancy in people knowing where I’m from, and telling that story helps people understand who and why I am the way I am, why I believe the way I do and why see the world the way I see it.
There are a lot of themes that intertwine with the idea of California, too — the long nights, the promise of hedonism or beauty around any corner. Those all seem to tie into your body of work leading up to this album as well.
L.A. has a certain opulence to it in the right setting, and the possibility of a lot of chaos, too. It’s a weird juxtaposition of a city. It’s the perfect symbolic reference for the journey of a Wildheart… it’s riddled with hope and desperation, which are [the journey’s] two dynamics.
The idea of the Wildheart — what does that mean?
Wildheart is knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re not willing to sacrifice. You’re no longer concerned with other people’s opinions, because you’re so sure about where you stand. Wildheart also believes that we don’t all want the same thing. I think in general, we all want the same feelings, but how we get there and how that looks and feels is different for everyone. And I think we’re programmed to believe that it looks and feels the same. “This is what happiness looks like; this is what cool looks like. Blah blah blah.” That’s how we’re marketed to. We’re marketed to as “the masses.”
This record also feels a lot dirtier than Kaleidoscope Dream.
Does that tie into the Californian theme, or is that where your writing process took you?
I would say it’s the aggression. I think that was the energy. It was the attitude and the aggression that I find in this city. It’s kind of a weird place, because it’s such a passive-aggressive place. Whereas with New York, if I don’t f*ckin’ like you, I don’t f*ckin’ like you. Here, [people act like], “Hey, we’re cool,” but really, “I don’t f*ckin’ like you.” That’s how they differ. In a perfect world, in my L.A., it would be a lot more to the point.
But then speaking along the lines of Wildheart, I think it takes a lot of confidence to say what you want and to say how you want it, when you want it and saying how much you want it. And I think it’s a level of confidence and control, knowing the control you have when you say it — you just say it. A lot of it is reminders to myself, too.
What do you mean by “reminders to yourself”?
Well, growing up here, in a very passive-aggressive place, and me being a Scorpio, I suppose — we can be that way sometimes. I’m in a place in my life where it just doesn’t work for me, so it’s a new practice to be direct, to be vocal, to be clear and concise about my intentions about what I want.
You’re also really good at examining small details about the shared intimacies of relationships, and I would imagine that that also falls into the whole idea of being able to speak up.
When I write about lust or love, that’s what keeps it fresh, for me. The cool thing is that I can do both; I can be direct and say things like, “I wanna f*ck like we’re filming in the Valley” — because it’s honest and it’s true, I can get away with that. That plays into the way that I’ve been writing. “I just want a quickie.” “Pussy Is Mine.” It’s also more of the attitude behind it; it still speaks to the emotion.
“FLESH” is trying to describe my character or personality in the throes of lust. It’s a big personal [statement], it’s not just a physical thing. I think that sex, often, especially in R&B, is talked about in such a [way that makes me think], “We know that already, we know that. We did it. We heard that already.” Give me something that I can relate to, or I can understand, feel. Everything else has become so generic, otherwise. So I try and talk about it in a more personal way.
It’s that whole idea of getting to the universal through the highly, highly specific, which is so much more effective than just broad sloganeering.
Yeah. It’s not about mass appeal. That’s what it is. Sex is spoken about in certain genres to have a mass appeal.
How did you wind up working with Lenny Kravitz?
Working with Lenny Kravitz came about through [RCA President of Urban Music] Mark Pitts. I said to him, “Man, you know who’d be amazing? Can you just get Lenny to solo on this?” So he got him my phone number, and he FaceTimed me. We had met in Paris for a Saint Laurent show a year prior. So all I said to him was, “Man, thank you.” And he was like, “Man, thank you. ‘Adorn’ is my joint.” And I was like, “Oh, shit!” in my head [laughs]. So he was just like, “Hey man, let’s create. You should come to the house. I’m going to be here for a while. Come out. Let’s create and let’s just see what happens.” And I was like, “All right, cool.”
The Kurupt verse is also really fantastic. Had you worked with him before? What drew you to him for that verse?
I’d never worked with him before. I was playing music for my agent. I went up to just hang out and just catch up, talk about some stuff that I wanted to happen, this album, this and that. I played him some music and I played this song. I was like, “I want to play this joint. It’s not done, but I think with Kurupt on it, it would be amazing.” And Brent, who’s one of my agents at William Morris, was just like, “What do you mean? I can call Kurupt right now. Actually, I’m going to call him right now.” I spoke to him right then. We got together the next day; he had already had his verse written. It was pretty much that easy. It was crazy.
When you announced the tour last week, you used this slogan: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” That phrase sums up a lot of what makes your work so compelling. What was your biggest challenge while getting this record together?
For every album, I have a general idea of the picture I want to paint. It’s always centered around my life and how I see the world in that moment in time. Kaleidoscope Dream is very true to that; even All I Want Is You is very true to that. But this album, as it came together, the most challenging thing was knowing that it wasn’t Kaleidoscope Dream. It was like, “I know this album’s not that album. It’s not the same album. I’ll never make another Kaleidoscope Dream. I’ll never write ‘Adorn’ again.” And I think it was, at times, a little bit daunting in that I was hoping that my fans weren’t expecting that from me. And I think I’ve built — thank goodness I’ve built, too, the expectation to do something, to evolve as well.