Our Womxn of Music series continues as we spotlight risk-taker Michele Wylen. With her past work featured in empowering content like 2018’s Be That Girl Sportsgirl campaign, Wylen’s music is the upbeat anthem that makes us feel like anything is possible.
With a list of creative projects lined up, Wylen is also hard at work in the community extending her support, time and attention to address climate crisis. Naturally, we wanted to sit down to catch up with Wylen to learn more.
Marmoset: You have such a passion for being active in the community, what have you been up to most recently?
Wylen: I’ve been very engaged in my city’s effort to lower its greenhouse gas emissions. I work with Citizens Climate Lobby and People for Climate Action, as well as other community groups, and I engage with my city councilmembers.
I see a departure from fossil fuel dependence as non-negotiable if the world is to move forward to a prosperous future. Currently I’m working on facilitating a community project that implements clean technology, though at the moment I’m still in the brainstorming process so there’s not much to report. Check back with me later in the year, hopefully I’ll have some exciting new updates
Though I live and breathe music, one thing my art could not fulfill for me, was my passion to get my hands dirty and do some practical work to help the world. I was born to sing but I was also born to solve problems. Our climate crisis is a definite problem, and it is deeply fulfilling for me to be a part of the solution.
M: Who were some of your earliest sources for inspiration in music?
Wylen: The first female artist I grew up listening to was my mom. She was a singer and songwriter, and she’d always be in the studio recording while she took care of me. When I was in the Philippines in elementary school, my mom sang the theme song for a popular soap opera and it became a hit on the radio. She also wrote songs for other Filipina artists. Several times she brought me with her to the studio in Manila to watch them record. Being exposed to this at a young age inspired me to pursue this kind of work for myself.
My first CD was Spice Girls Spiceworld. Missy Elliott also got a lot of play in my CD player. It was the sassy, empowered female artists who attracted me- I rarely listened to forlorn songs about broken hearts. I definitely went through a Britney Spears obsession, and I sang a lot of Destiny’s Child.
In high school I became mesmerized by Alison Goldfrapp and I’ll never forget seeing her perform at the Crystal Ballroom. Witnessing her magical presence on stage filled me with an insatiable desire to perform on stage myself. Then in my early twenties I got super into Peaches. I loved how abrasive she was, how she went against the grain — her songs resonated with the rebel inside me. Watching her perform at the Wonder Ballroom really inspired me to think outside the box in terms of my own performance art. Her background dancers were over the top, wearing costumes of giant pom poms with legs in high heels sticking out. It was ridiculous and amazing.
M: As a professional artist now, who inspires you today?
Wylen: If I had to choose one female artist who I’m continually inspired by, it’s Rihanna. A queen of style and music, now with empires in makeup and lingerie, she doesn’t let her entertainment business get in the way of the great work she does with the Clara Lionel Foundation. I lust for her slay but her community work is what makes me love her.
Female artists currently on my playlist: Asian Doll, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Sia, Killumantii, Missy Ellliott, Rihanna.
M: Self empowerment and confidence is so important for young women, especially in the music industry. What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Wylen: I’d say the most important thing is to know who you are and know what you want. If you’re not sure then you’d better take the time to figure it out. When you’re a budding talent, other people will want to impose their vision on you; so if you’re not sure of yourself, you may find yourself one day living out someone else’s dream and wondering what happened to yours.
Another key piece of advice was given to me by Che Pope: “When you’re starting out, make sure you have income outside of music to cover your bills.”
What happens when you rely entirely on music for your income is you give up the control you have over what projects you work on. You’re basically forced to accept any paying project that comes your way, even if you don’t feel it in your heart.
I used to have this obsession of being able to say I made all of my income from music. But it was so stupid because as a result I wasted years of my life not exploring my art and instead was chasing money. I don’t regret it — the experience did refine my skills and I learned a lot about collaborating in a professional environment. But I’ll never let money control how I use my artistic talent ever again.
M: Knowing what you know now, what would you pass along to your younger aspiring artist-self?
Wylen: If I could speak to my younger self I would say… relax, be patient and keep your life in balance. Yes, we have to grind and hustle and spend a lot of time in the studio to develop our skills. However, we must still balance that with our personal health.
When we are sound in our mental and physical health then we can come to our music from a place of clarity and control.
I should have spent more time with my friends and family and working out personal issues. Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson and my life is in much better balance now.
M: Can you give us a sneak peek about what music you have in store for us in 2019?
Wylen: Well, I don’t want to reveal too much I have a new single with Niko Javan coming soon that I’m excited for. Also excited about a collaboration with Graham Barton. Other than that, I’m just in exploration mode right now. What I’m most excited about in 2019 is empowering myself to say “no” to incoming commercial work so that I can have the freedom to explore my creativity. Also, I’ll be filming a music video this year and I haven’t made a video since 2012 so needless to say I’m really excited for that. It’s long overdue.