Following the same lines of a story often told by artists who came of age in the ‘90s, the first CD that Los Angeles-based songwriter Michl (pronounced Michael, which is his middle name) ever purchased was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In his own words, it was also “the album I listened to the most.” In a way, the release of his “Tell Him” cover — renamed “Tell Her” for his purposes — is actually a form of self-actualization for the young artist.
A stripped-down and shortened take on the closing track of Hill’s classic album, Michl’s “Tell Her” does not attempt to battle with the R&B icon’s version in any way. “It definitely can’t compete with Lauryn Hill as far as her vocal arrangements, her vocal performance,” he tells Billboard. “I wasn’t even trying to be in any world that she’s in.” What he was trying to do was reimagine the emotion — “this longing for someone,” as he puts it — that the song has always made him feel.
This process wasn’t without its challenges. Although he’s extremely familiar with the track and the feeling behind it (“I know it so well, I don’t have to hear that song another time in my life and I’ll still know what I feel when I listen to it,” he said) the process of deconstructing such a precious song made him nervous. In order to create a song that felt authentic to his own style of music-making — and Michl’s cover definitely does — he had to make some necessary changes. This is a daunting task for anyone releasing their own version of a famous track, but even more so when it’s a song one grew up with. Michl noted that “That song, ever since I was a kid, was probably my most favorite song on that album. It’s one of those that I don’t think gets a lot of recognition.”
What’s interesting about “Tell Him” is that, while the song is on one of the most famous records in music history, it’s also one of Hill’s least popular tracks on its own. This is another reason why Michl was drawn to this cover: “I thought it definitely deserves its due as far as people hearing it.”
But in addition to consciously bringing more attention to the woefully underrated track, he is also understands that his version will probably be unrecognizable “unless you’re a deep Lauryn Hill fan.” So far, Michl has been able to find comfort in the approval he’s received from friends that are hardcore Hill fans and have heard the track prior to its release.
Authenticity is at the center of Michl’s persona as an artist — not mystery, like many have inferred from the noticeable distance he’s kept between himself as a person and his art. Despite usually keeping his real name and face out of his projects, Michl is actually quite forthcoming when it comes to his personal life. Take his recently released short film datum, for example: The seven-minute long clip is a love letter to his hometown, shot on the same exact streets he grew up on. It’s an inside look at his adolescence — even including shots of the grocery store his family went to. While it was soundtracked by versions of his own music tailored specifically to fit the visuals, datum, ironically, wasn’t about the songs. “It was more about the film than drawing attention to the music, which is counterintuitive with knowing that I’m a music artist,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about how the music was sounding, I just wanted to make sure it complimented the film.”
Filmmaking seemed to be a natural conclusion for the artist, and something he would like to go back to — after he finishes his first full-length album, which he is hoping to release this fall. He doesn’t have a specific release date yet, but he does know that he is “going to be, for the next two, three months, holed up and trying to finish this album.”
It’s an exciting time for the burgeoning artist, who currently only has an EP and a string of singles in his discography — which is nothing to scoff at, considering one of these tracks is a Mura Masa collaboration. He mentioned that he is “in a much more optimistic mindset” since his original EP was released, and that this is going to be reflected in his newer writing.
Listen to an exclusive premiere of “Tell Her” below.