R&B fans have been wondering where the hell Melanie Fiona has been for the past three years. A great deal has happened since the Canadian beauty was singing about finding herself on the wrong side of a love song. She bet on herself and left a major label, Universal, and went independent, partnering with Primary Wave. Melanie's also been hard at work on her forthcoming project, entitled Awake, which features the reggae-tinged single "Bite the Bullet."
We caught up with Melanie Fiona in Harlem, New York, before her performance on the last stop of the Verizon Unlocking Your Passion Tour. The tour included panel discussions and concerts to inspire diversity in business through technology, art and communications. The tour's mission was also to help people turn their passion into profit.
That's where Melanie Fiona comes in. If there was one word to describe her, it would be passionate. We got a taste of that passion as we discussed her refusing to be labeled as an angry R&B singer, her new album and reuniting with her old bandmate Drake.
Your upcoming album is called Awake. What's the significance of the title?
It is about being present and being awake. It's what I feel like I've experienced from the second project, The MF Life, up to now. It's not just music. It's a way of thinking and a way of life. It's about honoring each moment, good or bad, because with everything that's happened from 2012 to now, I've grown so much. I'm stronger and my best self. That came with a lot of experiences, and I had to welcome them all in order to elevate myself to a new level of sharing and making better music. The songs on the album are little snapshots of moments of awakening along the way.
What did making the last album and the promotion of it teach you about yourself?
It showed me a lot of my flaws and strength. Like, it was ups and downs, highs and lows. It also prepared me for this next phase because The MF Life was my last project on a major label. Now, I've gone independent and partnered with Primary Wave. So I've gained greater control, strength and creativity as an artist. That album was great for me because I got to tour with Mary J. Blige and D'Angelo. It was "4 AM" and "Wrong Side of a Love Song" and it was Grammy nominated. So it was a blessing.
You've already won two Grammys with the CeeLo duet "Fool for You." Does winning awards with someone else make you strive harder to win some for and by yourself?
Sure! Of course! [laughs] I've been blessed enough to be nominated for Grammys and be a part of Grammy Award-winning albums every year since I've put out music and that's something some people never experience. I mean there are huge acts and artists out there that you would think have had enormous success and they've never been nominated for a Grammy. So I try not to get caught up in all of the accolades. The respect factor is more for me. So the fact the academy even knows my name is a win for me. It'd be really nice to win, especially on an independent project. The future is bright and long so I've got time.
What made you take the leap from a major label to being an independent artist?
You know what? It was just unrelenting belief in evolution and progression. The industry has changed, and I've always found myself in these one in a million type situations. It's rare you hear of an established Grammy Award-winning artist going from major to independent by choice. I'm fortunate for my family at Universal. I'm fortunate for my family at Primary Wave. I'm thankful I've had great partners along the way to prepare me for this moment. I'm just excited I was able to have the power to choose.
Do you ever feel like you should be getting a little more respect than you do because you have loads of talent in an industry where it seems personas are rewarded more than talent?
Doesn't everyone want what they don't have? I just think that comes with ego, and I try to keep my ego to a minimum. I don't think I deserve more than what I'm getting and right now I'm getting respect. That's really all I care about. I find it flattering when people say I'm so underrated. That just means they believe in me and they want others to believe in me. I try not to get caught in what I expect more so than what I work for and what I accomplish on my own merit.
Your biggest hits are "4 AM," "Wrong Side of a Love Song" and "It Kills Me." What do you say to those who try to paint you into the angry R&B chick lane?
I think ignorant people try to paint me into that lane. That title, or whatever that is, is so general and based off one aspect of what people might think they know. Yes, those have been my biggest songs and I'm so proud of that because my strength and greatest success has come from my pain and there's no shame in that. But to say I'm limited to being the angry R&B chick, then you haven't listened to my projects. You haven't listened to the other moments or come to a live show. You haven't gotten the chance to know that I'm a very happy and positive person. I don't wear my pain like that. I just channel it into my art.
You're mostly known as a soul and reggae singer. Would you ever venture off into the house/EDM genre or something of the sort?
I will do whatever I want to do! [laughs] What is always going to be true, for me, is my voice. I've never wanted to be labeled and boxed into one thing. Some of our best house records and big records have had soulful voices. I'm so down for that. I don't know if I'll do a whole album of house/EDM because I just think my soul is sexier than that and I want to be slow sometimes.
You and Drake were in a group together called The Renaissance. Now that both of you have had success, when can we expect a collaboration?
[Laughs] Everyone keeps asking that! You have to ask him! I'm going to call him later and be like, "Yo, the people are asking!" We've talked about it and we really should collaborate on a record together. On The MF Life, we did "I've Been That Girl," which was written and produced by him. We made the decision to do it that way because he's such a talented songwriter, but everyone has been waiting for this on-wax rap/sing collaboration and I would love to. That's family. That's hometown.
(Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Verizon)