Miguel Jontel: Singer, Songwriter and Producer

The music of Miguel Jontel is genre-defying.  And when one considers his ethnic background, as an Afro-Mexican singer, then his penchant for blending and mixing socio-cultural elements is immediately understandable. Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Miguel’s claim to fame initially came from his songwriting and production talents.  Working behind the scenes, he has placed several […]

The music of Miguel Jontel is genre-defying.  And when one considers his ethnic background, as an Afro-Mexican singer, then his penchant for blending and mixing socio-cultural elements is immediately understandable.

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Miguel’s claim to fame initially came from his songwriting and production talents.  Working behind the scenes, he has placed several tracks on Usher Raymond’s past two albums.  In addition, he contributed to Musiq Soulchild’s GRAMMY-nominated single, “IfULeave,” which featured Mary J. Blige.

Such massive successes led Miguel to release Mischief: The Mixtape, in order to whet the sonic appetite of his long-time followers. Additional singles, like “Sure Thing,” have made their rounds on the Internet as well. To date, the aforementioned single has received over four and a half million MySpace plays – validating his international appeal.

Miguel’s full-length debut will be released in the Fall of 2010 under the Jive imprint.  The album’s name-sake and current buzz single is “All I Want is You” – featuring J. Cole.  Upon the release of All I Want is You, Miguel managed to squeeze some time out his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the “McDonaldization” of the music industry, his appreciation of musical diversity, and his admiration of Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Dianne Warren. 

AllHipHop.com:  Since you wear several different hats, as a singer, songwriter, producer, how did you develop and refine your songwriting talents?

Miguel Jontel:  Man, I have the very best mentors in the world. Even though I didn’t know Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Dianne Warren personally, I grew up studying great songwriters who wrote great music.  So I just studied the songs that I loved, and I just dissected and analyzed them, and tried to apply those qualities to myself. 

AllHipHop.com:  What is it about the writing styles of Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Diane Warren that you most admire?

Miguel Jontel:  Different things. But I am really interested in their perspective on the world. Someone like Stevie, he definitely has a perspective that isn’t based on sight alone.  Even though he can’t see, he sees the world through rose-colored glasses, in the most vivid pictures in the simplest ways, and that’s what I love about him. His melodies paint very vivid pictures. Everything is very picturesque. [starts singing Stevie Wonder’s “As”] “As long as there’s sun, the earth knows she’s revolving.” [stop singing] And that automatically gives you a mental picture, which takes you to a certain place. You’re almost looking at the artist revolving around the sun. You know what I mean? Whereas John Lennon was a little more pragmatic, and his position as a philanthropist and a person who cared about social issues, that’s what I love about his perspective. Diane Warren just happens to be just a great songwriter in general. She’s very descriptive, and her melodies are amazing. They’re very intricate. They seem simple, but they’re very intricate. In my own songwriting, I try and take small things that I love most about those artists and apply them to my own songs.

Miguel featuring J.Cole – “All I Want Is You”

AllHipHop.com:  When I first downloaded your mixtape, I found the title – Mischief – to be very interesting.  What kind of “mischief” do you plan on causing in the world of R&B?

Miguel Jontel:  The mischief I’m trying to stir up is telling people that there is an alternative to getting sort of the same thing. Like everybody is being fed McDonald’s, but there’s all kinds of other things. Now I’m not saying that this is what my image is, but I’m saying there’s steak and potatoes out there. But I mean, it’s like, if you’re getting Happy Meals all day, you’re going to want some variety. And I think that’s what I am.

AllHipHop.com:  I, for one, am not a fan of “fast food”! [laughing] But you are definitely bringing something new to the table. I noticed in a lot of your songs, the guitar is heavily prominent – whether in acoustic or electric form. What kind of musical connection and appreciation do you have with that particular instrument?  And why do you think the guitar is so central to a lot of your songs?

Miguel Jontel:  It’s hard to describe. I just find that the most inspiring sounds come from the guitar.  It can be edgy and driving, but then it can also be very sexy and sensual. I think because it’s able to evoke those emotions out of me, that’s the kind of set I gravitate towards to get those emotions.

AllHipHop.com:  If your voice was an instrument, do you think it would probably be a guitar?

Miguel Jontel:  I would hope it would be something like guitar! [laughing]

AllHipHop.com:  Out of all the songs on the mixtape, “Strawberry Amazing” was my favorite.  The vibe is really funky and smooth on that track.  But you let loose and rock out on “Pick Up the Pace,” as if you are having an ethereal supernatural experience.

Miguel Jontel:  I love being myself, and the more I can give you, and the more I can see you appreciate it, then it tells me that I’m headed in the right direction.

AllHipHop.com:  As a listener, I love the fact that you bare your soul when singing.  I can’t wait for your debut album, which has had two different titles attached to it. At first, I saw that the project would be entitled Gravity and then I saw State of the Art. Walk me through the process of selecting a title, as well as the inspirations behind those separate titles.

Miguel Jontel:  With the title, all I want to do is basically convey the theme of the album, because to me that’s what’s most important – the body of work. So the first working title was State of the Art. And it is kind of a play on words. I wanted to make a statement as to the current state of the art of making music in this genre, which I’m going to automatically be put in, which is like an urban/R&B category, despite what I think. And so, that was the original title, but as the album evolved, the theme of the album started to change, and so Gravity started to fit more. And so I think, overall, whatever the title will end up being, it will be the all-encompassing theme of the album and what message I’m trying to convey to the listener.

AllHipHop.com:  So right now, with the tracks that you have cut, what kind of message do you want people to walk away with when they hear your music?

Miguel Jontel:  With this album, I just wanted people to walk away knowing and appreciating a variety of musical styles and sounds.  And I also wanted to prove that it could be appealing and successful in the marketplace.  I just really want to convey the fact that it’s okay to be different, because difference doesn’t make you weird.

AllHipHop.com:  Why was that such an important mission for you? Is there a particular life experience that made you more appreciative of musical diversity?

Miguel Jontel:  What makes that message so important to me is because of what I hear on the radio, and the things that I see being pushed by different labels. And what I wanted to do is kind of be like a wedge – start small, start somewhere. My music is different, but it’s not too different where people won’t “get it” or it lacks a certain appeal. At the end of the day, everything I talk about is universal.  With this album, people will see that Miguel was feeling like he wanted to be in a relationship and then not wanting to be in a relationship, and at the end of the day, just wanting to be at peace with himself.

AllHipHop.com:  Another track of yours that I like – “Sure Thing” was not on the Mischief mixtape.  Considering what you just said about you changing stance on love and relationships, what signs tip you off for knowing it is a sure thing? Is there are particular lesson, perhaps from a previous experience, that you have carried into other relationships?

Miguel Jontel:  I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is that you have to know yourself and love yourself enough before you can love somebody else. It’s not a new idea or something that we haven’t heard, but it’s something that I had to learn for myself the hard way. Every relationship is going to have its ups and downs.  No one is perfect! [laughing] And even if you move on and find someone else, they’re going to come with their own set of quirks – things that are great about them and things that are not so great about them. It’s all about asking yourself: “Do those things that are not so great about them and also great about them, fit with the things that are also great about you and are not so great about you?” 

AllHipHop.com:  Since you were born and raised in Los Angeles, in what ways has the city’s music scene influenced your style?

Miguel Jontel:  Los Angeles is sexy, cool and eclectic. And I think, somehow, those elements do kind of spread into the way I make my music, the way I dress, and the way I carry myself.  You know, there are so many different cultures here in L.A., and we have the ocean and plenty of sunny weather, so that kind of sets the vibe.

AllHipHop.com:  As you speak about Los Angeles’ cultural diversity, I am reminded that you are half-black and half-Mexican.  Have you ever found yourself at odds, or found yourself mediating a cultural balance by trying to market yourself in a certain way or sing in a certain way or style?

Miguel Jontel:  I was always determined that my focus was always going to be about the music.  I am who I am, but I do understand that my cultural background may matter to the fans, because we all want something to attach ourselves to, and seek out people that we can relate to in some kind of way.  But at the end of the day, good music is good music.  When it comes down to people listening to music, those things may make a big difference, but as far as where I go, it doesn’t make a big difference. It doesn’t make a big difference in the sense that I feel like I need to promote or make that a focal point of any promotion in myself. Maybe it’s because I just only wanted to be judged on the music that I create—and nothing else. 

AllHipHop.com:  To date, you have written songs for several other artists, including Usher Raymond, who has used your work on his past two albums, Here I Stand and Raymond v. Raymond.  When writing for others, as opposed to yourself, do you modify your songwriting process? 

Miguel Jontel:  When I’m writing a song for another artist, I try to put myself in their shoes and think like they think. I’m not trying to guide as opposed to direct; whereas when I’m writing for myself, I know how I feel about things. I know what choices I make stylistically, even when it comes to the delivery of the melody or whatever is coming, and there’s less thinking going on. I’m just kind of going off the feeling. There’s a lot more thinking involved when I’m writing for another artist. 

AllHipHop.com:  When you look back on your songwriting experiences with Usher, is there a particular song that is special to either you or him?

Miguel Jontel:  “Revolver” is important to me because I had just met Usher. Lyrically, we had both been through the “Revolver” experience. And so, it was personal, but it also represented him well and it really serves as the foundation for our partnership.  So that was important.  I was always impressed with Usher, because he is incredibly talented, but I got to learn a lot about him – personally – through that song. We had a point of reference and we had an understanding. “Monstar” is also important to me, and it stands out because it’s just very different from anything I’ve ever heard from Usher. I got to co-write it with him and Terry Lewis.  And of course, meeting Terry Lewis has made a huge impact in my life.

AllHipHop.com:  Behind the scenes, describe your professional relationship with either Terry Lewis or Usher.  What advice have you received, and what professional lessons have you learned?

Miguel Jontel:  The way that behind the scenes, these two people have affected my life, I think, is just the amount of wisdom and experience that they both offer. On one side, with Usher, I have an artist that I can relate to, and on the other, I have a producer who has seen and dealt with everything the industry has to offer.  So it’s been very beneficial, since I am a singer, songwriter and producer. I look to them for guidance, because Terry has a wealth of experience, and Usher gives me insight on the challenge of being an artist and things that I will have to deal with inevitably. 

For more information on Miguel Jontel, visit his official website:  http://www.officialmiguel.com/