There comes a time in your life where you come to a crossroads, a point where you must make a decision to take the straight and narrow path or the rigid and even intimidating path. Michael Keith, better known as Mike, one-fourth of the hit R&B group 112, has decided to take a chance instead of following the straight and narrow path by releasing his self titled solo debut.
Coming forward after several months of soul searching and 100% focus on providing quality music on his debut, Michael Keith took some time to speak with Singersroom about the status of the group 112, what really went on behind the scenes, his new album and three particular songs that tell his unique story from growing up in inner-city Atlanta to becoming a singer, songwriter, and surprisingly an Opera trained and multi-genre loving artist.
Singersroom: You recently released your self titled debut album, tell me about that, how did the project come about?
Michael Keith: The name of the album is Michael Keith, it’s self titled and it is basically a window into my life. Basically all of the things that have happened over the past couple of years as well as life and relationships. It is a very interesting way of looking at relationships in my opinion.
I have certain songs that are about love; how to deal with love and it basically can be used as a manual to kind of give people a way of dealing with issues if you don’t have a way of doing it. Hopefully with my album you can get some kind of answer.
Singersroom: Cool, so with stepping out on your own has it been completely different for you as far as the challenge of selecting the music, promotion and performing solo?
Michael Keith: Absolutely man. It was very different for me but different in a good way. For so many years I had been part of a group and part of a situation that involved other individuals and it was something that was kind of nerve racking at first.
Once I started to get the hang of it, I realized there were a lot of layers to Michael Keith that I did not know. It really became a good way for me to figure out who I am in the music industry and where I stand. I’m a better artist because of it.
Singersroom: So you’ve grown a lot on this project then.
Michael Keith: I’ve grown production wise, writing wise and singing wise. I’m going into a real different style because even though 112 was not for all of us having the ability to sing lead we had our style which was primarily letting ‘Slim’ sing the lead. A lot of us played the background so to speak, so me venturing now in displaying my voice is a whole ‘nother world. I’m doing things that I never really realized I could do. I hand picked all of the producers. I wrote primarily all the songs and it was really good. It was the toughest job I’ve ever loved. (Laughs)
Singersroom: You can’t beat that.
Michael Keith: (laughs)
Singersroom: I had a chance to listen to a of couple cuts from the album and there are two songs that I found very interesting. One titled “Picture Me Ridin'” and the other “The Road”…were either of those tracks based on real life experience?
Michael Keith: Actually everything on the album is based on my life experiences.
“The Road” is pretty much self explanatory. I was going down a road where I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do or whether or not I was making the right decisions. It summarizes what I was going through as far as doing the solo project.
For example, I was unsure about a lot of things like “Is this something I really want to do?” “Would I be successful?” “Do I really wanna be a solo artist?” That song really emphasizes that time period. The way that I wrote it, I left it for interpretation so you could make your own guess as to the road I traveled and if I went the wrong way. Hopefully it’s parallel to the people that listen to and appreciate the music as far as their life is concerned. I’ve had things that have happened in my life where I feel like I’ve needed an answer and I needed a song like “The Road” to help me out. Hopefully this song will help other people out.
Singersroom: I can appreciate that.
Michael Keith: As far as “Picture Me Ridin,'” I’ve gone through a situation like that where I caught a girl cheating and it wasn’t really cool…it wasn’t really a nice place to be and so I won’t go as far as to say that I did everything that’s in the song but yeah she broke my heart man. I had to put her out on the road. (both laugh)
Singersroom: I see.
Michael Keith: I gave her the cab fare so it’s all good (laughs)
Singersroom: Now I read something about you having a slight tinge of opera in your music…is that true? In terms of your vocal capabilities and training.
Michael Keith: Actually that is true. I was going to college on a scholarship for opera but obviously 112 was most important thing to me at that point. It was either go to school or 112 so of course I decided 112.
I was trained operatically. It’s a funny story. In high school, inner city Atlanta, you know I’m doing everything everyone else is doing including skipping school, really just a real bad a** kid. This teacher heard me singing something on the radio but it sounded operatic and she basically made me become an opera singer. Let me tell you man I bucked on her as much as I possibly could. I would tell her that I was coming to rehearsal and never showed up and so she finally caught me one day and grabbed me by my ear. Imagine being somewhat of a grown man and this woman comes by and grabs you by your ear and pulls you back into a room and makes you sit down and rehearse.
Singersroom: Wow. That’s crazy.
Michael Keith: From that point on I had the utmost respect for her. I started to really evolve as far as music was concerned and realizing all of this potential that I had.
It actually was fun for me and I really enjoyed it. She had seen that potential in me and I tried my best to run away from it but thank God she saw something in me that I didn’t’ see at the time.
Even though my voice is very soulful and a lot of my music is R&B based I try to implement other things for example the opera or like on “The Road,” the Country/Rock feel just so you can appreciate other types of music. Opera is definitely in my album. In fact I took one song and made it kind of operatic called “In My Bedroom.” I’m very proud of that record.
Singersroom: Would you consider going back into opera in the future?
Michael Keith: It takes so much practice and dedication to just focus solely on Opera that if I do it, it would be somewhere way down the line because I would really have to dedicate myself to the art of singing Opera because you just can’t come out of nowhere and just start singing Opera. It’s really about the vocalization and getting your breathing right. It’s just a lot of things you have to consider.
Rock music, once I leave the R&B field, if I ever leave the R&B field, would be like the second thing that I would try out because I’m a real big fan of Rock.
Singersroom: Excellent, now I do have to ask you about 112 for a moment. There were a number of stories about the group separating permanently and others about you guys coming back together for a follow up to “Pleasure & Pain” next year can you clear that up for me?
Michael Keith: I’m not sure what the status is of the other three members, but myself, I am no longer in 112. There was a situation that happened where I felt like it was best that I sever the ties so to speak and just move on and focus on my solo project.
Singersroom: Oh wow man, now I must ask, there was a rumor about a publishing check can you tell me about that?
Michael Keith: To clarify there was a member of the group who took the check that was intended for me and another member of the group. Because of that it was a trust issue for me. Once that trust is gone man… I equate it to family.
I love these guys and its no love lost but as a businessman I can’t work with the guys anymore. Money and family are kind of a bad formula. You know how it is with family and money. When you do something like take money from somebody and you’re taking something away from me and my family you negate that trust. That’s something I really just can’t let go. As a businessman I had to learn to work around this and not let the personal interfere with it. The best thing for me to do business wise was to focus on the solo project.
Singersroom: With that said how do you feel about the state of R&B today?
Michael Keith: I’m a big fan of R&B and anything R&B related I’m all for and I just wish the best for everybody. That being said the way R&B is being done these days is so cookie cutter in my opinion and is so generic that you loose the soul of who that artist is.
Case in point, when Marvin Gaye did a record you knew that was a Marvin Gaye record. You knew he was going to give you a song with substance. Donny Hathaway being another person. Stevie Wonder, when he did a record, even if it was an up tempo record, even if it was not as socially conscious as “What’s Going On?” you still had that sense of this is who this man is, this is what he believes in and ‘this is what I expect of this man every time he comes out with a record’. That’s what’s not going on in the music industry right now.
Everybody is following this same cookie cutter, generic, mole that in order for you to be successful in R&B you gotta put a rapper on the end of your record. I don’t know man. It’s just real insipid to me. It’s real stale. Honestly I know we can do better but at the same time you can’t knock a man’s hustle. I really appreciate and respect each artist that’s out there doing there thing, but me personally, I know for a fact that we as artists can do a lot better with what’s going on now. Hopefully with my album I’ll be able to really set in stone what it really means to be an artist in this day and age.
I want people to expect nothing less than what they get from me. For example I have a record on my album entitled “Father” and it’s one of the most socially conscious records till this date in my opinion. “Father” is a story about me reconciling with my father. About four years ago me and my father sat down and worked everything out because he wasn’t there in the beginning and you know like most African American males who have gone through that, you know it really effected the way they grew up as men.
Now my father’s part of my life and it’s a really good thing to have him in my life now. That story was something that I had to tell people. It hurt, you know, it really hurt for the situation to go down the way it did but because I did something about it, because I spoke to him about it we were able to come up with a solution that was beneficial to the both of us.
Singersroom: That is great man.
Michael Keith: Yeah, it was a Kodak moment for me (laughs).
Singersroom: Cool and where can fans purchase your self titled album?
Michael Keith: For those that want to purchase the album online you can go to Michaelkeithonline.com and it will take you straight to Amazon.com or iTunes and you can just pick up the album. —— By: Interview By Njai Joszor