MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR news.
How shall we describe Melanie Fiona? Well, she's Canadian-born with Caribbean roots. And you could say, as critics have, that her music is a blend of pop, some rock, R&B and classic soul with a twist of attitude. But maybe she describes herself best in the title of her debut album "The Bridge." Here she is singing her number one hit "It Kills Me."
(Soundbite of song, "It Kills Me")
Ms. MELANIE FIONA (Musician): (Singing) Some things I just can't stand. I've got to be out of my mind to think it's work this time. A part of me wants to leave, but the other half still believes. And it kills me to know how much I really love you. So much I want to oh.
MARTIN: And she's on tour now, but she was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studios. And she's with us now. Melanie Fiona, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. FIONA: Thank you, Michel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So I referred to the title of the album "The Bridge," but tell me what you had in mind. I know what I had in mind, tell me what you had in mind.
Ms. FIONA: "The Bridge" is exactly that. I mean, a lot of people can describe this album as many different things. I knew that it was many different things. I knew that I was inspired by many different things from different cultures and foods and music and genres and people. And I just really wanted to have an album that would really bring that all together and make sense. And naming it "The Bridge" was the explanation.
Well, why did she do all these things? Well, it was to bridge cultures together. It was to bridge people together and just, you know, I always feel like music should be a universal language and I just wanted this album to just feel good and have people all over enjoy it.
MARTIN: How do you think you arrived at your sound? I mentioned that you're born in Canada. It's not exactly known as the soul capital.
Ms. FIONA: No, it's not, but it's definitely the melting pot capital of the world, I would say. You know, being...
MARTIN: Hold on, now, you know, we down here in the States kind of feel we own that, but take your point.
Ms. FIONA: Right. Take a trip up to Toronto, you'll see what I'm talking about. Yeah, I mean, you know, my family is Caribbean. You know, pretty much everybody in my life is an immigrant to Canada except for me, I'm a first generation Canadian. So the life of other cultures, of home cultures, you know, from the islands and different continents and countries is very much alive in Canada.
I grew up being exposed to so many different types of people and languages that that was definitely a big inspiration for me. You know, having West Indian parents and heritage and have that music and food and culture alive in my house, as well as being born into a North American society, I kind of had the best of both worlds in the cultures of music and heritage all at the same time. So...
MARTIN: I know your dad's a musician.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah. Not professionally, but, yeah, in his heart and mind he absolutely is. He used to gig a lot when I was a kid, played guitar in a band and they would rehearse in the house and he'd be gigging on the weekends, yeah. Guitar player.
MARTIN: Are they excited that you are working as a musician now? Because, you know, sometimes people - and not to stereotype, but people who have gone through the experience of immigrating and made a new life someplace else, they do not want their children taking those risks. They think, couldn't you do be a doctor?
Ms. FIONA: Be a doctor, be a lawyer. And just for the record, everybody who ever knows anybody from a West Indian family, it's like, you should be a doctor, be a lawyer, be something you can't be back home in Guyana. All kinds of, you know, there's an esteem that comes with these occupations. Well, my parents have always been very supportive of me following my dreams. And that is something that I think is very obvious in their - the way that they've lived their lives and immigrating to a first world country from a third world country to make a better life for your family.
So it's something they've been supportive of me. I mean, everything that I've ever done, from sports to, you know, anything in school, extracurricular activities. And then when I came home and said I'm going to go to Los Angeles and become a singer, of course they were, like, what? You need to finish school. And I just had to have their trust to know that I was going to do it the right way.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, say, speaking of sports, just to ask you one little thing. Is it true that you trained as a boxer or is that just one of those crazy things that made its way into the bio someplace? Did you really do that?
Ms. FIONA: No, it - I actually did, for eight months I trained. I was taking a really intense boxing class and I actually never fought.
MARTIN: Scared of you. Scared of you.
Ms. FIONA: I never actually fought because I didn't want to, you know, I can't how would I look with a black eye singing on stage?
MARTIN: Well, we'll talk about how that may have made its way into your lyrics at some point.
Ms. FIONA: There you go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: We'll talk about that. But before we do, I understand you're going to play something for us.
MARTIN: And for, you know, your guitar accompanist is cracking up over here.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah, I know. He's listening.
MARTIN: Has he seen you box?
Ms. FIONA: No, he hasnt seen me box.
MARTIN: And so we'll. Okay.
Ms. FIONA: Zack is on the guitar and I'm here and I would like to perform acoustically "Monday Morning," which is off my album "The Bridge," and it is one of my favorite records and definitely a fan favorite as well.
(Soundbite of song, "Monday Morning")
Ms. FIONA: (Singing) Have you heard the news today? I'm leaving town. Im cashing out. This town's too small for me to stay. The time is now. Im heading out. Baby, I still need you. But if you stay I'll leave you 'cause I got to get away. And if I ever see you, my heart is going to bleed. But I'm leaving either way. My darling baby, this is a warning, said that I'm leaving on Monday morning. You'll get no answer. No use in calling because I'm leaving on Monday morning.
This flower needs somewhere to go. No room to grow on these dusty roads. I got two tickets and a dream at 8:15; I'll save you a seat. Baby I still need you, but if you stay I'll leave you 'cause I've got to get away. And if I ever see you, my heart is going to bleed, but I'm leaving either way. My darling baby, this is a warning, said that I'm leaving on Monday morning. You'll get no answer. No use in calling because I'm leaving on Monday, on Monday morning. Monday morning. Monday morning. Monday morning. Not on Tuesday, baby.
Baby I still need you. But if you stay I'll leave you 'cause I got to get away. And if I ever see you my heart is going to bleed. But I'm leaving either way. My darling baby, this is my warning. I'm leaving on Monday, Monday. Oh, no use in calling. I'm leaving on Monday morning. Yeah. This is your warning. Not on Tuesday, baby but on Monday morning. No use in calling. Monday morning. On Monday morning, I'm gone.
MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin and I'm speaking with Melanie Fiona. She's on tour right now and she was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studio. And we're talking about her debut album, "The Bridge." You just heard "Monday Morning." Thank you for that.
Ms. FIONA: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thank you for that. What I want to know is why does such a happy seeming pretty girl have such jerks in your lyrics?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Okay, control, youre going to have to bleep me.
Ms. FIONA: Okay. We're going to have to...
MARTIN: Youre going to have to bleep me. Seriously, (bleep).
Ms. FIONA: Yes.
MARTIN: What is up?
Ms. FIONA: They are. I curse...
MARTIN: Are things that bad out there for a pretty girl like you?
Ms. FIONA: Yeah. They make for great songs.
MARTIN: Okay. Here's, walk on by. Dont say (bleep) to Me.
Ms. FIONA: Yes.
MARTIN: And then there's in "Johnny," you could have at least taken me home.
Ms. FIONA: Home. Yes.
MARTIN: Are things that bad out there for a nice young lady like yourself?
Ms. FIONA: Yeah. It's hard, you know? I think the beautiful thing about life is that I'm not immune to it. And I'm such a sap for love. I mean, I came from a great home. My parents love each other. I grew up listening to love songs and I am. I'm a bit of a hopeless romantic. I'm an emotional cancer in the astrological signs and I'm just, I really do have a faith and believe in love. And when I love I love hard and sometimes that has been to my detriment and I've had to learn very hard lessons from it. But at times, it can be very rewarding. So...
MARTIN: So cross Melanie, you might wind up in a song, huh?
Ms. FIONA: You might. I mean I have a couple ex-boyfriends that are really upset at me on this album.
MARTIN: Okay. But then talk to me about give it to me right.
Ms. FIONA: Okay.
MARTIN: I'm not trying to run your life. That's why I'm nobody's wife.
Ms. FIONA: I'm nobody's wife.
MARTIN: I dont want it - what is it? Dont want it all the time but I want when I want it. You got to be ready and give it to me straight or dont give it to me at all.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah. Give it to me right or dont give it to me at all.
MARTIN: Excuse me. What's going on here?
Ms. FIONA: Hey, it's 2010. And I feel that a woman should have the right to say what she wants. And I know that I've been through some really interesting...
MARTIN: To treat men like a piece of meat?
Ms. FIONA: No. No. No.
MARTIN: Are we - are they given advance?
Ms. FIONA: It's not.
MARTIN: Zack, help me. Help me.
Ms. FIONA: I mean, it can be if you want it to be. If that's what you want...
Ms. FIONA: ...then use it that way. I was never really a dating girl until I became single. And then, you know, I got into the dating world and I had some great experiences in learning about people and how to deal with different personalities. And what I realized is is that I refuse to compromise who I am for anyone else. And I've been that way in my music. I've been that way in my life and I absolutely feel that way about being that way in a relationship, because I have also been on the other side where I've been vulnerable by love and felt taken advantage of. And so, I refuse and I dont want to do that anymore.
MARTIN: So we're just issuing instructions now? That's what relationships...
Ms. FIONA: We are issuing strength.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FIONA: Because a lot of women should have the right to stand up and say, you know what, I dont want to settle for anything less than I deserve, so if you can't give me what I want then you need to move to the left.
MARTIN: Oh, okay.
Ms. FIONA: What about them people who are treating the nice young ladies like that?
MARTIN: What about them?
Ms. FIONA: What about them?
MARTIN: What about them?
Ms. FIONA: They never get in songs.
MARTIN: That's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: And speaking of Kanye, oops.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Thought I just had a momentary brain freeze here. I was just - speaking of being on tour with various artists, how has that experience been?
Ms. FIONA: It's been great. I did tour with Kanye West. He gave me a shot to open for him on his "Glow in the Dark" tour in Europe even before the album was released, even before I had a single released.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask about that. How did that happen?
Ms. FIONA: My management played Kanye my music and he really liked it. Kanye's a big music lover. He loves old samples and old records. And I think he really enjoyed that aspect of my music. So, he was getting ready to do the tour and he wanted me to come on and open for him. It was myself. It was people like Kid Cudi that were on there just breaking out, Asenteo Gold, the Roots were on there as well.
It was a real family situation. I mean like we all would hang out. We'd play "Connect Four" and listening to music. And he actually took me on.
MARTIN: Well, that's good to hear.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah.
MARTIN: So he was a mentor to you professionally.
Ms. FIONA: You know, really, really great. And...
MARTIN: Gave you a good musical feedback.
Ms. FIONA: Definitely and really spoke to me about, you know, what it is to be a performer internationally. And watching him night after night, it was a really great learning experience.
MARTIN: Oh good. Well, that's good to hear.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah.
MARTIN: I'm sure a lot of people will be happy to hear that there's that aspect of him that perhaps isn't getting the kind of attention right now.
Ms. FIONA: Yeah. He's very kind. He is.
MARTIN: But I did want ask, what does it take to be successful and to thrive in this business right now? This has always been a difficult business.
Ms. FIONA: I dont think I have the exact formula figured out yet. But I just know how to do what has worked for me and that has been, one, surrounding myself with people who are honest and genuine. When you have people who are in your corner who help you fight for yourself, it's great.
On a personal level, you have to fight for yourself. You have to maintain your integrity to who you are and that was something that I really struggled with initially, because here I am this Caribbean-bred, born Canadian breaking into an American music industry and I had to find my way. I had to really figure out who I was going to be rather than having, you know, certain executives and producers dictate to me who I should be. And that took a lot of soul searching in trying to make music that represented who I was and that's why the album is so diverse.
MARTIN: And I think youre going to play something else for us. What are you going to play for us?
Ms. FIONA: I am. Fitting an answer to that question, I'm going to sing one of my favorite songs off the album, "Ay Yo."
MARTIN: And what is it about?
Ms. FIONA: It is definitely about that. It's about the struggle. It is about the journey it took to get here. It is about all the naysayers and all the nonbelievers who tried to make me into something else and it was kind of my anthem to just override the bumps and to let people know that I go through the same things you do. And when it gets tough just sing this song and I hope it uplifts you the way that it did me.
(Soundbite of song, "Ay Yo")
Ms. FIONA: (Singing) Ooh. I want to thank you for every time you tried to get the best of me inside. How many times I compromised. I don't do this for the glory or for what people might say. I'm going to do this my own way, starting today.
And there's nothing that you can tell me. I'll show you I was born ready. And I say ay yo. Rise up let me see your head high. And if you're with it put your hands up in the sky. La da di di da da di di da da da. Ay yo ay yo ay yo. Ay yo, and I'm going to rock it to the fullest in this life. So I'm a give all I got before I die, la da di di da da di di da da da.
Every woman has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. This is your life here in your hands. You got to fight to take the stand. And I know you might not see it, but the high can fall so fast. When you're in first don't forget the last. You got to give it all you have.
Oh, life can be unforgiving. I'm fighting to keep on living. And I say ay yo. Rise up let me see your head high. And if you're with it put your hands up in the sky. La da di di da da di di da da da. Ay yo ay yo ay yo. Ay yo, and I'm going to rock it to the fullest in this life. So I'm gonna give all I got before I die. La da di di da da di di da da da.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. And if you have a light, then hold it up and let it shine. Would you make the choice to meet your destiny or let this lifetime pass you by? Yeah. Only you can make it what's yours is yours no one can take it. If you have a dream, something you believe, it's time to set it free. Yeah, your head high and put them in the sky.
La da di di da da di di da da da. Ay yo, and I'm going to rock it to the fullest in this, in this life. I'll give it all I got until I die. Ay yo. Rise up let me see your head high. And if you're with it put your hands up in the sky. La da di di da da di di da da da. Ay yo ay yo ay yo. Ay yo, and I'm going to rock it to the fullest in this life. So I'm a give all I got before I die. La da di di da da di di da da da. Ay yo ay yo ay yo.
MARTIN: Melanie Fiona is a singer and songwriter. Her debut album is titled "The Bridge." It's in stores now and she was kind enough to stop by our studio in Washington, D.C. while she's on tour. And she was accompanied by the able Zack.
Ms. FIONA: There he is.
MARTIN: Thank you so much for joining us. Melanie Fiona, thank you so much.
Ms. FIONA: Thanks, Michel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: To learn more about Melanie Fiona and to hear more of our in-studio performance, please head to the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org.
And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more tomorrow.