Lounging inside a coffee shop, singer Amber Monique smiles with a hint of embarrassment as she remembers an awkward childhood moment.
"I was young, dumb. And I went around the wrong side of the pole I was supposed to move to, because I thought I was a rebel, and I ended up falling face-first in the fountain," she recalls. "So I was just laying there, and I didn't want to get out. And some guy finally helped me out while laughing at me."
Over the last year, this shy and self-proclaimed geek has found her way into Miami's local cool crowd with the release of her debut project, Elevate, working with Prez P and fellow female artist E. Banga.
Now, following her latest release, Save RnB, Ms. Monique chatted with Crossfade about early memories, beating anxiety and stage fright, being biracial, and the current state of R&B.
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Crossfade: What's your first memory of singing?
Amber Monique: I would say the very first seriously memorable experience would be singing the national anthem at a boxing match at Hard Rock. That was my scariest one. You can't really forget the words to the national anthem. And they booked me the day of the event. There were thousands of people there. I was scared as hell.
How did you get that gig?
I was actually working at the pool at Hard Rock. I was a pool attendant, and somebody had seen my YouTube videos, and so they asked me if I could do it. I was kind of second choice. Somebody that was booked before canceled on them, so they took me last minute.
Why were you scared?
I don't know. I'm just a shy person. Even now I'm a little nervous. I've always been a really shy person. I feel like I have anxiety. I used to bite my nails, and that's why I have acrylic nails on right now.
I had to do a lot of open mics just to get past my voice being shaky and getting over that nervousness. And even talking to the crowd, when they would introduce me, I would just start singing. I wouldn't interact with the crowd at all.
Was singing something you kept from everybody?
I sang around the house. I would sing songs that I liked. But I really didn't tell people -- I don't even think my parents.
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You handed me your debut project, Elevate, to see what I thought about it. And I told you one of the main things that stood out was that you stayed away from hitting high notes. Would I be too far off to say it was because of the anxiety?
Umm, no. I think you're right. I think every artist's first project, they look back and then they're like, "I just kinda want to erase it. I don't want to listen to that anymore." Elevate, it was definitely a growing part of my singer career. I feel like I didn't put as much feeling as I should have into it. I feel like I was trying too hard to make people like my singing instead of just putting what I love into it. I was definitely a little pitchy on that one. When I listen to it, I'm just like, "Oh, my God, turn it off." But I was scared to hit the high notes and open up more.
Does your anxiety carry over into your personal life when it comes to friendships and relationships? Do you keep people at a distance for a certain amount of time?
Definitely. I mean, we're all humans. We've all been hurt and all that stuff, but I think I would say, not just my anxiety, but people have trust issues. I've been hurt by guys before as you can tell from some of my songs. But I definitely keep people at a distance for a long time. The people that I usually hang out with are people that I've known for years. I don't like to let too many new people in. I'm always open to talking and meeting new people, but I wouldn't say letting them into my personal life. I try to keep that as private as possible, even though I do air my feelings in my songs.
But doesn't that hurt your music at the same time because you may be shutting down experiences before they happen?
I don't think so. I do let people in. I just don't let them in that deep like friends that I've had for years. I feel like it's a big deal for anybody to meet my parents, even friends, because I don't usually let that happen. I introduce people to my family and all that stuff, I just don't let everybody in that deep to the point where they know everything about me.
How did "Pluto" with Prez P come about?
I'm like the worst at listening to local artists I have to say, because me and Prez actually performed at Miami Jam Fest together back in February. I don't remember his performance, and I told him that too. He doesn't remember mine either. I know his manager had given me his CD. I'd gotten like ten CDs that night. And then one night, I was just like laying in my bed and I looked down and all these freaking local artists. His had the best package, so I just started listening to it, and I was like, "Oh, he's not bad."
The song, "Pluto," began as a poem about a guy that I won't mention. And when I heard the beat, I was like, "His voice would just fit." Everybody knows Prez has this mellow-type tone, and I just felt like it would go perfectly.
How about taking on Tupac's "Picture Me Rollin'"? You have to have balls to try to pull something off like that.
I'm a huge Tupac fan. That was a freestyle to tell you the truth. I was sitting at home, and sometimes I might listen to the actual song, I might just listen to his instrumentals just because I love his songs. And I just started singing to it. I always record myself singing because I might like something that I do. I was in my living room, and my dad was in there, and I just started freestyling. My dad loves thug music. He was like, "I like that shit."
The instrumental had more music to it, and I was like, "I don't really want to add too much to it." And then I had heard E. Banga at Jam Fest. She rapped at the press party and I was like, "I need to do a song with her." And we met up at one of the open mics we went to, and I let her listen to it, and she was like, "I want to get on that."
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Tell me about your latest release, Save RnB.
This project you can basically hear what I went through this past year as far as breakups, makeups. On "Picture Me Rollin'," you can basically hear stuff that I went through too. I don't want to get into detail on everything, but being mixed and stuff -- I'm white and black -- I definitely get criticized about the way I talk. I talk too white. Or if I'm in the white crowd, I'm acting too ghetto. I'm an R&B singer, but I like to twerk here and there.
How should that be bad? Don't white people twerk or attempt to twerk?
Yeah, they definitely do. Trust me. Sometimes, it's like, "Oh, can you teach me that?"
You touched on being biracial. What crowd did you align yourself with?
I was in the geeky crowd. I was on the honor roll. I had perfect attendance. SGA. All of that stuff. Most of my friends, I guess, race-wise, I'd hang out with a lot of Spanish people.
My two best friends, one is Cuban and French and the other is Mexican and white. I don't pick friends, obviously, on race. But that's just my friendships. Other than that I hang out with my sister a lot. As far as crowd-wise in high school and middle school, I was a geek. A lot of people called me a suck-up to teachers.
What would you say were the most hurtful experiences you had because you are biracial?
I would say, honestly, my mom may hate me for this, but never knowing the white side of my family, because they didn't like the fact that there was a black side involved in the family. I would've liked to meet that side. And my grandma died before I was I born, so I never met her. I never met any of my white side.
What is R&B to you?
I describe it by artists. I like Joe. I like Tyrese. I don't feel like we have that anymore. The name, Save RnB, came about because I really feel like R&B is becoming extinct. I feel like some of the people that could've been amazing R&B artists, that could've brought that old-school feel back, they went the more pop side.
R&B is making you hit deep into your feelings. Some rap songs do that, but as far as singing, I feel like we're trying to switch over to people like Chris Brown. He doesn't sing too much about his feelings. He did when he came out. Granted, he wasn't like this slow R&B singer. But it's him, Trey Songz, August Alsina. All the R&B singers are sounding the same.
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