by Audrea Diaz
Mélat clears her head in coffee shops. It’s where she goes to write. We’re meeting in one that’s a bakery/florist hybrid on trendy West 6th. She’s more than 40 minutes early, and sipping on an oversized cappuccino she doesn’t like. It’s mid January; one of those rainy days in between sunny ones, the type of indecisive weather you can get used to, but never really prepare for. Doe-eyed and sparkling, she greets me for the first time in five years. She’s relaxed and singing along to The Shirelles’ “Mama Said” as it plays on the radio; her petite frame is lost in an oversized hoodie, a bleached blonde top knot frames her face in wispy waves.
I remember her as a shy, unsure curly haired kid with glasses just beginning to feel out the music scene then. Constantly billed in the press now as “The Austin Songstress” or “Rising Star,” her transformation is strikingly apparent – even in sweats. Locally, she seems to stand alone in her R&B genre, and it gets lonely. The phrase Shakespeare never tweeted a sonnet is printed in bold lettering on the front of her songbook. That’s the basis of her work – vulnerable, yet powerfully unwavering in its simplicity. It connects her listeners, and it’s what she values most, because she fought so hard to connect with her own ambition; a destiny that can’t be stopped. She calls it her gold lining, a common ground that strips us of fear and comforts us in the effort to realize who we’re meant to be; her silver lining being case by case occurrences of fate.
“There’s always gonna be a brighter side. There’s always a better side. There’s always a different way to take it, a different way to look at it; and that’s what the gold lining is to me. It’s hope; it’s the thing that keeps you going,” she says. “Being able to write something from my perspective to get it off of my chest, and hopefully touch someone else — that same one little thread that connects us, it’s very reciprocal.” “We’re having a one on one relationship; whether we’re actually speaking or not, it’s through the music.”
She purged her insecurities in what became 2012’s EP Canon Aphaea, a collection of private dairy lyrics that holds the root of who she is as an artist, and the main thread of her career span. “Everybody feels like an outsider at some point. Everybody has their issues that they deal with; for me writing was how I got those out, so I wrote those into the songs.” “I was terrified to put it out, but I was so confident in their truth, so confident in what they were saying,” she says. The leap of faith resulted in a successful Kickstarter campaign that enabled Canon Aphaea to independently distribute worldwide.
But is she still holding onto the comfort of holding back? “No,” she says firmly, without pausing. “It’s a different type of self growth.” “I was who I was back then, but now I have a voice that people are actually willing to listen to and can relate to.”
Singing professionally has always been at the forefront of her mind, and songwriting is a creative outlet turned passion. But she was too scared to pursue it, reserved and hesitant. She needed a reason to break down her walls; someone to believe in her, so she had the courage to believe in herself.
Her reason is Pha — a no nonsense, intense talker with Bronx DNA, who is Mélat’s guiding force and full circle industry jack-of-all-trades, acting as everything from producer to assistant. They met in college, and have been a constant support system ever since, building her music from the ground up. “In her voice, and in her presence, you can hear this bigness in a small package,” he says, with Mélat by his side. The two have an all honesty approach to music, and it works. “I am not a yes man; it’s not in my blood. I am not afraid to hurt her feelings; she is not afraid to hurt mine, and that is where you churn out your best work,” he says. “It’s a learning process…One of the best ways I can protect her is by giving her the skills to swim on her own.” He acquired a majority of these skillsets as San Antonio’s Market Head for ScoreMore, a Texas based hip-hop promotion/marketing company that rose to prominence for their ability to identify raw potential – Mélat is no different.
“You could have all the talent in the world, and if you don’t have the hustle and the drive to back it up, you’re not gonna get anywhere. Mélat has all the talent in the world, and the reason it’s working out for her, is because her and Pha are grinders and constantly getting it.” said ScoreMore’s co-founder, Claire Bogle. She’s an example of how much Mélat’s career has been propelled organically, sustained based on the benevolence of others and word of mouth.
Delicious Vinyl’s Jansport J, a producer friend with mainly underground rap credits, was looking to evolve his sound with an R&B artist. Bogle answered his open call via Twitter. “Mélat has earned everything she’s gotten. I just connected the dots for them, completely naturally, and very easily. Her talent speaks for herself, so she’s not a hard sell.”
This straightforward gesture of assurance eventually led to the Move Me EP (2013), a catalyst in Mélat’s discography – her silver lining, where her gravitation towards the effortless classic Jazz style of Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday shine through. “Mélat’s voice reminds me of an era where singers actually…sang,” Jansport later emails. “Move Me was a return to organic R&B music. Nothing forced. Nothing Top 40. It allowed for me to showcase some of the more emotional, mellow music that I’ve always had in the vaults, but never suited rappers. It’s a side of me production wise that I was finally able to fully tap into. This project was the affirmation that I could do it.”
But the first major project after Canon Aphaea was actually Canon Ourania: The Illumination EP. Released not long after its predecessor, Aphaea, Ourania’s cover art is constructed in a way that simultaneously features Mélat staring into herself, facing her fears and her future. They’re mirror reflections of who she was, who she is, and who she knows she can be.
“With the Canon, it’s my basic human level. It’s the stuff you don’t really wanna share, that you don’t really talk about, it’s that personal root. Move Me’s more of the other side of it,” says Mélat. If she still had any lingering doubts, Ourania silenced them for good. “I just want for the most part, to not be afraid to just speak my mind; not be afraid of what other people might think. Luckily, I’m really happy with where I’m at now. And I know I have further to go, but right now a good portion of that is gone…If anything, I found myself.”
Melat teamed up with Jansport J again for 2014’s Side B, a series of covers and collaborations with multiple producers Pha (Pha The Phenom in credits), WoodysProduce, and ELHAE among them – keeping the sound versatile, and helping it standout in the process. “Any artist that is able to get out of their comfort zone and work with new producers is naturally going to evolve with their own craft, which is exactly what Melat did,” wrote Jansport. “Mélat also works like a rapper…and I mean that in the best way possible. She’s constantly writing and recording. Her output and the quality of that output is what sets her apart.”
“We move at lightning speeds, there’s no stopping,” says Mélat, a couple weeks later outside another coffee house. “It is non stop; go, go, go, go, go, go. But you do hit a point, sometimes, even if it’s just for the last three hours of the evening, or the last five hours of the night — once a week, or once every couple of weeks, you have got to unplug for a second and gain your balance again.” This step back is the first time I hear her humanize the rigorous work ethic she’s known for. However minimal it might be, this space for personal reflection is crucial, because it allows for her to reflect on just how loud she needs to be in her hipster paradise, indie-centered hometown that doesn’t want to admit it needs her vocal representation.
“I’m from Live Music Capital of the World, but Live Music Capital of the World has meant nothing to me growing up, because it wasn’t my type of music. It wasn’t something that spoke to me,” says Mélat. She’s making sure that her music speaks for itself, having just circulated “Gladiator,” a statement record in collaboration with the young, humbly self-assured Houston rapper Doeman. It’s a small, but intricate piece of the puzzle in their ambitions to reach an audience beyond the local sectors.
He joins them on a makeshift wooden bench — here for business with Pha, and in town for a performance. Although he’s meeting Mélat for the first time, the two share proven chemistry, bouncing off each other’s sentences, adamant on marking their rightful territory in a new generation of statewide music and urban culture.
“Texas is viable music; it’s more than what you remember,” she begins, Doeman’s quick to add. “We’re just trying to show that we can compete with everybody.” “Exactly; we can play on…” “that level…” “that same level, you just gotta be able to see it.” “And hear it.” “We can get out there, we can show them, and we can be champions for each other as well; and say, ‘you don’t have to stay in a Texas bracket.’”
And she isn’t staying. Not confined; not to what people want her to sound like, or what you might expect her to be. She’s been afraid to sing, but not afraid to speak. You can’t help but hear what she has to say; because maybe it’s something that you can’t admit.
“All we’re doing is trying to put out a message with some sort of substance,” she says, her tone is soft, but unmistakably present. “Whatever it is you’re feeling, I felt it too, I’m sure. We all meet at some level. Not that I know your personal experiences, and not that you know mine, but we all meet at this basic level – this golden lining. We’ve all got it, and you just have to make sure you recognize it, and not let yourself get lost in the mess that we’re in.”