Muse Magazine

Thursday, April 20, 2006

SOUNDS: Profile
























The Morning After
Amel Larrieux Is Finally Comfortable In Her Own Skin


If you figured Amel Larrieux, who grew up in an artist commune in the West Village in New York, for a cosmo-boho-fashionista, you’d be right. If you assumed by her album titles – “Infinite Possibilities” and “Bravebird” – that she’s an unflappable phoenix, you’d be wrong. That's surprising considering the maternal optimism her music emanates. “I don’t have a lot of confidence. I’m not innately secure as Amel,” she admits.

The 30-year-old even says she has struggled with her image. “Like a lot of American women it somehow snuck in my psyche. It’s off-putting because I wasn’t raised to think about that stuff. But people would be surprised to know I’m insecure about my looks. I always wanted to look like somebody else.” Her 12 years in ballet imbedded the ideas; its conformity drove her to explore her feelings through songwriting at 16. And so, she learned how to cope. “Because my job is about me presenting myself, at least I know not to stand there and cry,” she explains.

Her career really got moving in 1995. Yet she wasn't comfortable in her own skin. Even after spawning the massive hit “Tell Me” as half of the seminal Groove Theory, she split. “Infinite” came in 2000; its jazzy eclectics made her a neo-soul fave, but she still fled – this time the big label. “I knew during Groove Theory that (Epic) wasn’t the place for me. They had this preconceived idea about how black female artists should look sound and act, and that didn’t fit my world at all.”

In 2004, she and husband-producer Laru Larrieux started the indie Bliss Life, releasing “Bravebird.” More soaring than “Infinite,” it more importantly marked a milestone: she was finally confident as an artist. “It’s like when you know as a parent your kid does better in a small school. It’s exactly what I needed.”

Her latest release, “Morning,” seems a touch more ephemeral and experimental than before; there’s less of an R&B formula. “I definitely like this better than anything else we’ve done. We finally found the comfort zone.” She credits much of her sonic innovation to Laru, who initially encouraged her to abandon the major label mindset and go grassroots, initiating intimacy with her fans. “I would go through the (website’s boards) and print out 50 or so pages and read every one. I’d get to know their names. And every single show I would say,’ Is so-and-so here?’”

That touchy-feely sensitivity shows in her stage delivery too. For many years, she would perform with her eyes closed. “I was really shy and scared of rejection,” she says. But she’s growing. “Now I’m more confident. I get to the point of elation and joy. Then you can open your eyes bring other people in.”

-Malcolm Venable
info@musemag.net

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