Listening to Ameriie talk a mile a minute, it sounds like she’s working on a million creative projects at once. The singer and musician is most known in mainstream America for her 2005 hit single “1 Thing,” back when her name only had one “i.” (The second “i,” which doesn’t affect the pronunciation, was added in 2010 for a different “vibration.”) Since then, she’s released two albums — 2007’s Because I Love It, which was only released abroad, and 2009’s In Love & War, her first release under her own label, Feeniix Rising, which she created with her husband and collaborator Lenny Nicholson. And she has two more in the works (BILI, a nod to the initials of the earlier album Because I Love It, and Cymatika Vol. 1, the first of a trilogy in mind) that are scheduled for a 2015 release.
Ameriie is constantly planning, constantly thinking and constantly putting together vocals, chords, beats and drum riffs in her head, even if she encounters writer’s block and needs to go on a run to tempt inspiration to come. She doesn’t like to write down her ideas, because she feels like it loses some of the magic. (“If the idea is good,” she insists, “I’ll remember.”) And she’ll throw herself into each project. “I always record in the dark, and then I pace,” she says. “I go into a corner and face the wall, so it probably looks creepy.” But after she’s done, she’s on to the next thing. And when she’s not writing, recording or performing music, she’s working on her novels. Yes, novels, plural — one a young adult story and another that has a fantasy theme. She makes it a point to write almost every day, and her drafts and outlines are impressively organized on Scrivener, her choice of writing software she can’t stop raving about.
She’s been like this since she was a kid. Before she pursued music, she wrote stories and even worked on an epic saga that took her from third grade to eighth grade to finish. “I could have sworn it was hundreds of pages, but recently, I found it and it was only like 200 pages,” she remembers, laughing. “It was about a lone 9-year-old who arrives at the stables and asks if they need a stable cleaner. The family hires her, she befriends the youngest daughter, and the two of them are terrorized by her older twins.”
The creativity gene comes from Ameriie’s Korean mother, who, in addition to being a voracious reader, is also a painter, a pianist and a poet. Her mother introduced her to traditional Korean music, classical music and singers like Barbra Streisand, while her African American father introduced her to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. On top of that, she moved around a lot as a kid, living in Germany for three years where she discovered German pop and ’80s new wave, and she later went through a phase where she only listened to heavy metal for a year. As a result, even though many of her fans know her for her R&B/soul/hip-hop sounds, for which she earned two Grammy nominations, her musical influences are equally diversified.
“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Sensory overload! Sensory overload!’” she says, “and I can feel overwhelmed. But I do love to create.”
That was the theme for Because I Love It, a celebration of making art for the pure love of it. While the upcoming BILI will retain a couple of songs from the 2007 album, it’s mostly filled with new music that is sonically similar — a blend of hip-hop, soul, new wave and electronica. The album’s first single, “What I Want,” produced by her husband, and its lyric video have been released.
In contrast, Cymatika Vol. 1’s sound is bolder and more cinematic. “Cymatics is the study of visual sound,” explains Ameriie. “They’ll take sand on a plate and put vibrations through it, and you can watch the sand making shapes when you go from one frequency to the next. The patterns aren’t random; sound affects the matter in a certain geometric pattern, so that made me think about what sound does to us, how we’re affected by music and our own words.”
A lover of sci-fi and fantasy, Ameriie always likes to think big, which sometimes results in disappointment. “Things I want to do always cost too much money,” she laments. “I always have a big production in my brain. And then it’s like, ‘That’s great that you want it to snow in the middle of the forest, but that’s not really going to work within our budget.’” But that’s what she loves about writing music: Even if she can’t squeeze in a whole apocalyptic storyline into one of her music videos, she can add as many vocals and instruments as she wants to her songs and make it as grand as she likes. She imagines Cymatika Vol. 1 as a score for a movie like the epic fantasy war film 300, based on the comic book series by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.
Looking forward, she wants her art to go weirder, and she wants to take more risks. But mostly, she wants to release music faster. “Putting out projects traditionally is hard for me,” she says of working with her former label, Columbia Records. “Sometimes it was two to three years in between projects!” If she had it her way, she’d be able to release music whenever she felt like it.
But until then, Ameriie keeps herself busy. Two albums, a potential EP she’s thinking of giving out free to her fans, two novels, a new YouTube channel called Books Beauty Ameriie, and a long-standing goal to improve her Korean language skills. Though she’s conversationally fluent — she’s done music collaborations with K-pop artists 4Minute, Se7en and Tiger JK — she wishes she had more confidence when she spoke. So creating her own Rosetta Stone language class — just another thing to add onto Ameriie’s to-do list.
Photos courtesy of Mr. Nicholson, Feeniix Rising Ent.
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.