c/o Aysia Marotta, NME.com

c/o Aysia Marotta, NME.com

Waves of synthesizers and punchy hits of electric piano create a lush tapestry of sound, upon which a melange of vocals harmonize, on MICHELLE’s hit song “MESS U MADE.” Perhaps this track and others by MICHELLE have populated your playlists of late, but you may not have been aware of the connection between these tracks and the university you attend. We sat down this week with Jamee Lockard 21, a founding member of MICHELLE, to discuss her time at the University, music in general, and her journey as a professional artist.

The Argus: When did you graduate and where are you now?

Jamee Lockard: I graduated in 2021 and I’m living in New York.

A: How did MICHELLE form?

JL: Honestly, in a group chat. I met Charlie [Kilgore ’21] at Wesleyan in our freshman year. We were in a band together called Ba Da Bing. Charlie had known Layla [Ku] basically his whole life. They went to elementary through high school together. Julian [Kaufman] and Charlie met through a mutual friend in the music scene, and then Julian met Emma [Lee] and Sophia [D’Angelo] also just through the teen New York music scene. Then, Julian and Charlie were both going through breakups after their freshman year of college and they were like, “We would love to work on an album this summer all about growing up in New York.” And so they hit up their friends who were singers and songwriters, and we worked on “Heatwave,” our first album, over summer break for about two weeks. Then we released it that fall of our sophomore year and then we performed together and that was the first time we were almost all in the same space. That was at Bard College, and that’s when we realized like, “Maybe this is something. Maybe we’re a group.” Because before then it felt like a very nebulous thing. I hadn’t even met everyone in MICHELLE at that point.

A: Can you talk about your musical experience at Wesleyan, including at Tiny Shed?

JL: I actually wasn’t part of Tiny Shed, but I did two Tiny Sheds during my time at Wesleyan, and I did one with my band Ba Da Bing. That was really fun. That was at 58 Fountain, I believe, the one with the shed behind it. And then I did one in the shed with Marley Gotterer’s [’21] thesis. That was really unique because it was a musical all about their gender experience. It was in FGSS, maybe cross-listed as a theater thesis, not very sure. But I played bass in that. Even though I wasn’t in Tiny Shed, it was cool to see the start of something. It was just some seniors my sophomore year who were living in 58 and they were like, “You know what? We have this shed behind our house, let’s film videos. Let’s just do stuff with it and get creative.” So it was just another way that I felt kind of part of the music scene at Wesleyan, even though I wasn’t a member of Tiny Shed. I found it was really fun. I had always been really musical my whole life, but I knew I didn’t want to major in music because I also at the time thought I didn’t want to do anything professionally with music. I was a woman in STEM—I thought I was gonna be pre-med. Then I decided, no, I don’t wanna do pre-med, but I do want to do something else science related. So being part of the music scene was kind of my outlet because I didn’t wanna do music academically, but I did wanna be involved in the music scene.

A: How did being a QuestBridge scholar impact your time at Wesleyan?

JL: QuestBridge is the scholarship program that made it possible for me to afford attending Wesleyan. And being a QuestBridge scholar was also a big factor in my decision to finish undergrad rather than drop out for the band.

A: What was it like balancing being a full-time student with your music career?

JL: It was hard. At first, my sophomore year when it wasn’t professional, it was purely fun. I would pop off of campus maybe once a month at most to do a show. Not everyone in the band had to go to every show. It was very low-key sophomore year, and then my junior year was when we signed with our label and then it kind of ramped up in intensity. I came back from abroad my junior spring, so I was off campus every weekend doing stuff in New York with the band. Honestly, [I] was ready to drop out of school, and then COVID hit and then I was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll stick this out.” My band responsibilities were all online anyway. And my school responsibilities were all online, so it kind of made sense to just finish school at that point. Then my senior year was mostly FOMO more than anything. Everything was online, but knowing that all my friends were in the city and I wasn’t was just an emotional thing more than something to juggle.

A: I saw you perform at Wesleyan last year outside of Russell House. What was it like to be back as a performer?

JL: It was really funny, especially considering I never thought Russell House would be the venue. It was nice coming back that year specifically because it was a year after I graduated, so I had a lot of friends in the year below. They were about to graduate, so it was really nice to come back and see so many familiar faces. I have a lot of memories on campus as well. I remember the champagne tent party used to be at Russell House. I would go for other senior weeks, even my own. So it was fun. Not my first time visiting campus since graduating, but it was the first time I came back and had somewhat overcome my pandemic social anxiety and could talk to people. The pandemic definitely socially rewired me a bit.

A: What has been a favorite performance of yours?

JL: I would have to say our most recent headline show. Our show at the Bowery Ballroom was really, really fun. It was one of the bigger headline shows we’ve done in New York and my mom was there, my best friends were there. It’s always really nice doing shows at home because you get a good mix of friends and family and fans. It’s nice to have familiar faces in the audience and it’s nice doing a hometown show because you can make certain references and the audience will get it. It feels very much like you’re coming home. Beyond that, we played a show in Montreal, which was really fun. That was on the Mitski tour, so it was a really big audience, and we finally found our groove on that tour. Those were much bigger stages, so you kind of have to cater your show to the larger audiences. We’d finally hit our stride and then after that show, the rest of the tour basically got canceled because of COVID. So at least we went out on a high note.

A: Do you have any advice for those at Wesleyan trying to pursue music?

JL: Yeah, I would say definitely even if you want to pursue a career as a solo musician, you should tap into the music community while you’re at school and wherever your hometown is and wherever you move after. I think community is such a big element of music because if you’re a singer-songwriter, you want to work with producers or sound engineers or managers. No one in the music community and no one in the music business is doing it completely alone. Even if they’re a solo artist and have the appearance of being alone, they always have a team around them and a team behind them. I would also say if you’re trying to do your own artist project, you should have management representing your best interests because the music industry is really tricky and you want to make sure that you have someone that’s going to bat for you and advocating for you before you add anyone else to your team.

A: What was it like finding your sound, and how do you think it is evolving?

JL: I guess our sound at first was very synth pop and summery, just ’cause it was an album we literally made in a bedroom in the summer. Those were just the vibes. We kind of went a little more hi-fi with the last record, did it all in a studio. And then, this upcoming record is kind of all over the place, but in a really fun way. We got some indie rock tracks, got some indie pop tracks, got some R&B, soul-leaning tracks. I think the indie rock is pretty new for the band. We don’t do too much of that as of right now. We’re doing more tracks with all of the singers singing on them, whether it’s all of us splitting up a song and getting a little bit of the lead, or all of us singing harmonies in the background into one mic. I think it’ll be an elevation and a growth from our last album, which is exciting.

A: Do you have any advice for current students?

JL: I would say just have fun. Everything feels super serious when you’re in college, but looking back, nothing was that deep. Especially having half of my college experience taken away from me with COVID, I really do feel like I lived my freshman and sophomore year to the fullest and that’s just because I was living spontaneously. Going to parties—going to class, but also going to parties. That’s my biggest piece of advice. Have fun, make friends. Whatever fun means to you—find that. For me, that was music. If that’s theater for you, if that’s fashion shows for you, do whatever’s fun for you and find your community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lia Franklin can be reached at lfranklin@wesleyan.edu.

Ethan Geiger can be reached at egeiger@wesleyan.edu.