Interview: Miguel Discusses Writing Lyrics, Kaleidescope Dream Inspiration

When discussing musical inspiration with Miguel, it becomes apparent that he's an artist who channels his passion and creativity directly into the music he puts out. Case in point: his recent standout album Kaleidoscope Dream, an LP full of personal lyrics cloaked in dreamy metaphors.

During our interview, Miguel explained the origin and inspiration behind Kaleidescope Dream. Much like his music, there was a poetic sensibility in the artful way Miguel constructed each answer — even breaking out into song a few times!

Read on to see what he had to say about his sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream, his songwriting process, and what inspires his music.

MetroLyrics: When did you first start writing songs?

The earliest recollection of writing songs was when I was 8 — we had just started writing poetry in school and I guess it's kind of a natural thing, if you love music, to then try to turn it into song. That's kind of where everything began for me.

MetroLyrics: Is that how your songwriting process works now?

Being from Southern California, you spend lots of time on the beach. I grew up in a port city where the beach is about ten minutes away. You learn a lot about waves when you're that close to the beach your whole life. You learn quickly that no wave is the same. They all have their own direction, speed. You learn to kind of adapt and ride the wave however it comes — and that's how my creative process is. Sometimes it starts with music and other times it starts with lyrics.

interview pull quote miguel

MetroLyrics: Where did the [album and song] title "Kaleidoscope Dream" come from?

Image of recording artist MiguelThe song [Kaleidoscope Dream] began out of frustration. We were wrapping up All I Want Is You, my debut album, and the label was asking for a song that was in the same vein, same sound as the first single "All I Want Is You." So I went back in [the studio] with Salaam Remi and it took me about 4 different sessions to get this song done. I'm not the type of person to try and duplicate things, if I've already done it, then I've done it and I'm not going to try and recapture the same vibe — so it took me quite some time to get this song done and I knew I wasn't really into it. But after getting through it, the one stipulation I had was that Salaam and I could do a song with no pretense, no expectations, we would just be creating and he happily agreed.

[Salaam] played this beat for me and the vibe was just amazing. We were in this small New York studio and I was sitting there vibing to it and it just came to me and I said "turn the mic on" and I went into the live room and [starts singing] "I taste you / in infinite colors / collide in a fountain / amidst all the lovers / Kaleidoscope Dream." It was absolutely, no meaning at the moment, but it felt right. After writing a bit more of the song I had gotten tired and we decided we'd come back to it. Fast forward to two years later, I had listened to the song so many times and I kept writing it, it had taken on a completely different meaning and it became like this sonic painting of my conversations with my life. I realized that these words were coming out of some innate desire to be passionate and live passionately. That's where the rest of the lyric comes from and that's what the song became in meaning to me. It was kind of like a conversation with my lifestyle and my sensibility. That's what Kaleidoscope Dream as a metaphor really is: life. And everyone has their own Kaleidoscope Dream.

MetroLyrics: We heard "Where's The Fun In Forever?" is a really personal song for you that you originally wrote for Alicia Keys. Can you explain why it's so personal and what it means to you?

Absolutely. I don't know if anyone else has experienced this moment, but, there's a happy-go-lucky nature about my parents that I think I've inherited and I suppose for a long time I always felt like I was going to live forever, even though I knew I wasn't. I don't think I had really come to terms with the fact that I was getting older. More recently just watching my family and my grandparents start to age, you start paying attention and coming to terms with the fact that we're really not indispensable, we have an expiration date.

pull quote miguel

Image of MiguelIt was around that time that we were underneath the stars in Jamaica. Alicia Keys had been so gracious to fly us out, and we were having this conversation about Queen and how epic their arrangements were — what if we came up with some Baroque-style progressions and like, underneath it we're doing boom-bap, you know, like hip hop and how crazy that juxtaposition would be. Steve Moyzen, who's the bassist on the song — amazing musician —starts playing this progression, and the drums just kinda come. I was looking up at the stars and all I could hear was the waves in the distance, and it occurred to me that it may be our greatest edge as humans, knowing that we don't live forever. It may be that driving force or that knowledge that has driven our greatest accomplishments. You know, flying to the moon, or defining each element on the periodic table, or coming up with equations that can help us determine speed and distance, and time, and it was in that moment that I realized that it's an advantage because it makes us passionate, it helps us to thrive and appreciate the moments we're living in. I was kind of just looking out and [starts singing] "Where's the fun in forever?" and then the rest just poured out.

About half the song in, Alicia came up and — we were actually working outside and I think this had everything to do with it, the setting. We were literally outside on top of a studio and we were just with the elements. I was looking out and you could see every star and all you hear is the waves. Alicia heard it and fell in love with it. But by that time it was such a personal discovery, it was like an epiphany, and I was tied to it. I've never co-written a song with another artist that I've felt so tied to. So we finished the song and I was so happy about it, but it was Alicia's and I was hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't going to use the song. And so I asked her if she was using it and if not to let me know, and she was really gracious about letting us keep it.

Bonus: When we sat down to chat with Miguel, he was nice enough to personally handwrite out lyrics from his songs "Kaleidoscope Dream," "Candles In The Sun," and "The Thrill," and we're giving away the sheet he wrote them on to one lucky fan. Head here to find out how you can win this terrific piece of Miguel lyric art.

Watch the music video for "Adorn" below: