I recently had the pleasure of talking with singer/song writer/class act/Ivy Leaguer/whatever she sets her mind to, Miss Michelle Shaprow about music, life, the enduring influence of Michael. Her groove, “Ferris Wheel,” is featured in an a video by renowned youtube makeup guru Michelle Phan and has been hit over 1.5 million times.
With her positive lyrics and uplifting cuts, you’re going to hear more from Michelle. Here’s our conversation:
When and how did music came into your life?
We had a piano at my house when I was a kid. And my mom took me to lessons and made me practice. Every time I practiced my mind would start to wander and I’d end up making up my own songs instead of the ones I was supposed to practice.
Some of my other early memories of music include listening to Whitney Houston on the radio and being in awe of what she was doing. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in the living room and walking past a stereo outside playing Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema” on a really hot summer night and asking everyone if they knew what the name of the song was.
I also loved to dance in front of the movie theatre at the end of every movie.
Oh, and I loved the music they had in the Disney World rides too, especially at Epcot Center.
I went to musical theatre camp and became entranced with the writing of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Bernstein, etc.
So I was inspired in a lot of places and by a lot of different styles of music.
The thing that always gets me the most is chords and melody. And I found great stuff in so many places from Jobim, to Stevie, to Bernstein, to Debarge.
Chords and melody…I was telling a friend that “I Can See Clearly Now,” for me, is possibly the greatest bridge in the history of music. Speak a bit about the writing process, music and/or lyrics.
“I Can See Clearly Now” has a really great bridge. It’s an example of a bridge that is the opposite of obligatory. Its harmonic material is just as important as the verse and chorus. It moves the whole emotional narrative forward. And he has that whole section after he says blue skies where the chords are cascading and a bunch of people are singing heavenly “ahhs” and it really feels like what a blue sky can look like.
I dig it.
The writing process can be one of the easiest things or hardest things depending on the scenario.
There are really two main types of songs that I find myself writing.
There are the ones I write myself. And these are basically melody and chords that continuously suggest themselves to me with the insistence of a compulsive thought. These are very easy to make. And actually more difficult to stop making. It’s harder to stop thinking about them. They just keep on singing themselves to me and adding more and more material.
Then there are the ones I do as co writes where a producer will often give me a beat to write to. In these instances it’s often a little more difficult because I’m tasked to take myself into that state of creative frenzy. While in the former case I’m already there. Still, once I can get myself into that state it’s just as fun and rewarding and the ideas start flowing.
In the songs that I write myself they are most often chord and melody driven. and then when I put lyrics on them I’m mostly trying to make sure that the lyrics are consistent with what I feel the chords and melody are saying. Usually it’s some vowel sounds first and then a few words that come up. If the words are aligned with the chords and melody I’ll keep ‘em and build on them.
They can start at the piano or they can start in my head and then go to the piano. It’s happened both ways. In the piano I’ll often find surprises. New textures to a chord, new angles that I didn’t realize where there. And that’s exciting.
I mean it’s not all fun and games all the time. Sometimes it’s really hard. There’s even agony involved.
When there’s the distance between what you want to say and being able to say it, that frustrating tension, whether it’s caused by a temporary lack of technique or tools, but when you say it, when you express it, it feels really good.
I was listening to an MJ tribute with my youngest and I’m always struck by how many hits he had, how incredibly talented he was. Did Michael play an influence on you? Who inspired you?
Well definitely Michael!! Especially albums like Off the Wall. Quincy’s production and the writing on that album is very jazzy too. I love jazz as well. Well I’m inspired by a lot of people for different reasons.
I love the songwriting, chords and melody of artists like Stevie Wonder, Michael Franks, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jobim, Michael Jackson, Bernstein.
I love the style of artists like Imogen Heap, Jamiroquai, Erykah Badu, Bjork, Jill Scott
I love the attitude and energy of artists like Lady Gaga, Drake.
I mean there are so many…there are so many things I get from different artists I almost hesitate in listing them because there are always inspirations that I might forget to list but when they come to mind I’m filled with love.
Even now as I write I’m reminded that I’ve also been very inspired by film scoring and the scores for the movies I’ve grown up with. So lets add Danny Elfman and Michael Gore to the list.
Check out Michelle’s latest single at his official website.
All the proceeds go directly to the people making the music.