BWW Interview: Che'Nelle Unveils Calm Before the Storm EP
Names are a tricky thing in the 21st century, as parents adopt monikers of unusual spellings and meanings for their kids (or themselves). In the pop music world, odd titles become marketing tools, and performers seek to cement their identity in one that's short and easy to remember.
Visually, and by voice, those also have to be taken into account. Long a mainstay on the Asian music market, particularly in Japan, Malaysian-born Che'Nelle has a host of recordings in both Japanese and English, and her second American release, Calm Before the Storm has dropped, with the kickoff single, "Love You Like Me."
The sound may seem familiar on first listen, but critically, the numerous influences Che'Nelle has picked up throughout her career have helped make a sound that she now calls fully hers. "It was a real risk doing this album," Che'Nelle explains, "because after I finished my five-album deal in Japan, I had the option to sign with them again, but I had to really think about it. If I was to have signed with them, that's another five six years of doing J-pop, and they were not open to me experimenting with music I wanted to do."
Saying no, and taking full control of her career was a conscious decision, to shed the constrictive nature of Japan's music industry. "Music in Japan is five years behind," she declares, "that's just a known fact. Nineties R&B, that kind of sound is still hugely absorbed out there, so a lot of the J-pop music that you hear kind of has that sound, and it hasn't evolved much. There isn't much of a stretch."
There were some reasons for being on the J-pop treadmill, Che'Nelle freely admits. "At the time, I didn't know what the f--k I wanted to do, and I was still learning about how J-pop works, the musical culture out there. So I came back to LA, and spent about four to five months in a studio trying to figure out what sounds I wanted to put together, what was authentic to me."
Che'Nelle locked in with producer Mario Parra and songwriting partner Chris Jackson. The seven tracks of Calm Before the Storm show a push toward the American music market, and will fit in nicely with both pop and urban radio.
"Love You Like Me" has numerous pop hooks, and the time changes are enough to not lose the listener. This, plus two other tracks stood our for this writer: the sensual "Criminal" reminds of a torch song, probably the closest to a ballad, the best place to get a feel for Che'Nelle's vocal skill. "Superstar" opens with a jazz-like horn intro, then kicks back up a gear.
The makeover is one Che'Nelle is taking back to the east. "My plan hopefully is to slowly start to get people familiar with the change," she says. "I'm okay with not selling double platinum stuff. I kind of am more excited with breaking the mold a little bit, 'cause I feel a lot of my sounds are still familiar. My aim is to get them to start getting used to the different sounds that I'm bringing to Japan and rest of Asia. The way I see it, somebody's gotta start doing it, and why not me?"
(Photo Credits: Anouk Morgan)