Lazet Michaels Interview Remembering Pan Am 103 And Changing The Sound Of Music

She’s a lady who has got it all. A singer, a songwriter, a dancer, and a producer. Lazet Michaels is her name, and “Too Strong” Is the title of her debut album (Zoo Entertainment/BMG Records).

Q – How did you get from Detroit to New York City, where you performed in nightclubs, off Broadway theaters, and did recording sessions? Who helped you out? That seems like a pretty big Jump.
A – Well, I just decided that I wanted to go. I think I noticed how large the jump I had done, about a year after I did it. It was straight after I got out of high school. I told my mom that I wanted to come to New York. She told me, “No, you gotta finish college first.” So, I went to YN State, and then I came to New York right after, I got with some friends, and then I got my own apartment, and before you know it, I was set up, and started answering ads in the Village Voice as a matter of fact. I got my name around. What happens is, you live by your reputation after you work with a number of people. They start spreading your name around, and that’s how you get your work.

Q – When you first arrived in New York, did you find work right away in the music business or did you work other jobs?
A – Well, I had to do different types of jobs, like work temp. and that sort of thing when I first started. But, after I had been In New York about a year, I was in an off Broadway play, ‘Mamma, I Want To Sing,’ which lasted two years, and that kept me employed full-time. And, I was doing session work at the same time. I kind of made a living out of it after awhile.

Q – You worked as a session singer on a Diana Ross album, How hard of a job is it to work on such a project?
A – Very hard.

Q – How many session singers would you imagine get beyond the session work and into the spotlight of their own, like you have done?
A – Not very many. But almost all of the top session singers get a chance to get an album deal, weather they actually sell and are successful at it or not. Lisa Fisher is also a session singer. Will Downing was a known session singer in New York. Mickey Howard, Luther Vandross. I suppose maybe half get a chance to have an album deal. But, whether they’re successful at it is another story.

Q – You say in your bio “Music Is like fashion in that they both keep going back to the 60’s. I’m ready to take music forward.” Lazet, how can you take music forward? You’d almost have to invent a new instrument to project a new sound, wouldn’t you? How can you improve on the spirit of the 60’s music?
A – Music can go further than that. Music can, and music has and we’ve proved it in my album. Technology is advancing, but you can put technology with real instruments and take it somewhere else. A lot of people are just using technology only or using ‘live’ instruments only. What you can do is put them together, and create another type of sound. The sound we’ve created we call ‘Aggressive R and B’. Prince came and he changed and innovated music. Then, Teddy Riley, came about two years ago and he gave music another boost again when music was getting tired. What’s happening is that everybody’s on this New Jack Swing thing, and now is the time to take music another step further. And, we think we have the key, to take the music another step further again. The 60’s and 70’s were the most fantastic time when it comes to music, because the songwriter’s were serious writers. They just didn’t sit down and write ‘Yeah, baby I love you so. Why don’t you give me a little bit mo’, or something like that. They would actually come up with a title that was catchy, develop the catchy title into a serious story or a witty story, and then put their little nuances in with poetry and make it a serious, large production number, as well as working the instruments musically. I have studied Smokey Robinson and studied Marvin Gaye, but I’m not studying them to go back to do exactly what they did. I’m studying them, because you have to study the past to go, forward. I have used titles, that relate to today, like ‘Easy Street’, ‘My Rage,’ Too Strong,’ “Midnight Magic”. We’ve developed great stories around them. Also, we’ve taken music, and added some ‘live’ instruments with computer instruments, and we’ve made the music primitive, yet we’ve made the music very strong which is very representative of today, because life is Intense. So everything on the album is strong. Even the ballads. They’re very beautiful, but they’re very strong at the same time. We’ve used strong bass lines and a lot of drums.

Q – What is Zoo Entertainment? Is that a record company?
A – Yeah, it’s a brand new record co. It’s a brand new major. It’s a big publishing company called BMG that owns Arista, RCA and Zoo. I’m the second artist, the first R and B artist off of the Zoo label.

Q – Where did they catch your act?
A – Well, they didn’t catch my act anywhere. What happened is I was already signed to E.M.I, and they bought me from E.M.I.

Q – Didn’t E.M.I, want you?
A – Yes, but we wanted to get out of E.M.I. We thought the Zoo was a better label. Plus, the guy who signed us at E.M.I. Jerry Griffiths, he ended up leaving the company. He was the person who signed us, and we wanted to leave as well.

Q – How’d you learn to dance?
A – When I was in elementary, junior high school, and high school, and all that, I just participated in a lot of school programs, and after school programs. My mother made sure we went to good schools. So, all through growing up, I had performed in a lot of different areas, singing, dancing, acting.

Q – You dedicate a song on your album to your sister who died on Pam Am Flight 103 (which also took the lives of 35 Syracuse University students, and a couple from Clay, N.Y.) What would you like the people of Syracuse to know about your sister?
A – I wrote this song for my sister because it was something I was experiencing myself. Basically, I was writing it for everyone involved in the Pan Am 103 situation, whether it was a mother, father, sister, or brother, or friend. It happened around Christmas time. It was very devastating. It happened to people who they had dreamed and loved for. So, I just wanted to say to them in this song “Midnight Magic”, that your people love you, they’re with you in spirit and they want you to continue pushing, and continue on with life. Just to let them know that everything is gonna be alright. Don’t forget about your people, cause they’re with you all the time, but everything is definitely gonna be alright.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved

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