Michele Ducray: Midnight at the Christchurch Oasis

Michele Ducray: Midnight at the Christchurch Oasis

Songwriter and avowed Gemini Michele Ducray is these days Christchurch-based, but has a family history of tasting life in other, more challenging parts of the world. That perhaps helps explains the way that her level-headed approach to building a future career in music is firmly embellished with a natural instinct for seeking the best, not just quickest, way forward. Recording her debut single, the lush pop song Midnight, with not one but two of our finest producers in Simon Gooding and Devin Abrams, is a great example of her self-determining, self-managed talents. NZM decided to quiz this intriguing newcomer on her impressive arrival on the local scene.

Congratulations on your debut single, Midnight, how exciting! How did you get to this point?

Thank you so much! I’m super excited about it. It’s been a while in the making, so just relieved to get it out into the world. I’ve loved performing ever since I was quite small. I’m originally from South Africa, so was really inspired by my family and the sounds of growing up in such a musical environment. I used to put on these outrageous shows, at like two years old, where I’d jump up onto the dining room table, in front of the whole fam, throw on my Mickey Mouse, Elton John-esque glasses and sing songs from the Lion King or Pavarotti! I’ve been obsessed with performing, since. 

After moving to New Zealand I starred in a few school productions and joined the choir and began officially writing my own songs, from 11 years old.

My family moved to China for a bit, due to work arrangements, so after moving back to NZ I worked on getting demos produced with local studios. I also went to music school, to learn a bit more about theory, which was quite interesting! Then formed numerous cover bands and started gigging around town, to afford the breathing of life into my songs! I feel that doing this really enhanced my performance ability as well! Since then, I’ve performed on multiple radio stations and gone on to play at the Geraldine Festival, Rangiora Colour Festival and more recently, had my own sold-out originals show at Grater Goods.

Now, I’m heavily focused on writing, producing, releasing and performing my own music, with an emphasis on releasing singles, collaborating and the eventual goal of an EP and/or album. 

You recorded this song with Devin Abrams and Simon Gooding, both legends. How did you come to work with them?

Yeah, they are legends! They’re absolutely fantastic, musical geniuses. Watching these guys do their thing… is just next level, insane! The dream team, as I like to say. 

After having a few demos in hand, I really wanted to get my music produced to the level of something that I could be proud of. I wanted it to be of substance, so that the public would enjoy listening to it and that radio or a label, would accept. 

So, I sent an initial demo over to Simon, firstly, as I really admired the work he did at Roundhead Studios. When I got a response, that he was keen to help me out, I was over the moon!  I saved up to record two songs with him, and found that I really loved the way, my now, newly-released single Midnight was sounding, the most. He definitely captured my vision!

I’ve been a huge fan of Pacific Heights (aka Devin Abrams), and his experimental, drum & bass sounds, for a while. Finding out that both him and Simon collaborated on a song that I really loved, Woke Up Late, by Drax Project (feat. Hailee Steinfeld), I decided to also reach out to my fellow Christchurch-ian and asked Devin if he’d maybe like to add some extra production flair to Midnight, as well. To my absolute joy, he was like, ‘Yeah’! 

Overall, it turned out to be something I’m deeply proud of, with those deep, space-y/trance-like beats and harmonically-dominating vocals. It truly encapsulates how I was feeling at the time I wrote it, during the Covid lockdown.

What are some of the major changes that happened from your demos to the final result?

Oh, man! Those original demos I did, got nothin’ on these productions! I suppose it’s like putting kiwifruit on pizza – did you know, people actually do that? Ew… haha! 

Basically, as a pretty much broke student, I started off by recording home demos on my phone and sent them over with chord charts, and we’d have a bit of back and forth before choosing the final outcome of the backing track. They truly brought these songs to life, in a sense. 

As I’m based out of Christchurch I had a few Zoom calls with Devin and we’d go over beats and concepts, and he truly understood what I was going for production-wise; something eery, experimental with space-y sounding keys, heavy drums and wicked cool, additional vocal effects/harmonics.

He even added this Thriller door-shutting effect at the end of the song, which fits perfectly with the music video that I’ve already visualised in my head, and actually written out! So that was super interesting to hear! 

Simon also put in this incredible vocal idea towards the end bridge build up – the drawn-out, dubbed background vocal that goes, “freeee, yeahhh”. I actually cried hearing it the first time, I loved it so much. And this amazing sound in the second verse that is reminiscent of a whale cry. It reminded me of those emotional guitar licks in one of my favourite songs, Estranged, by Guns N’ Roses. Caught me by complete surprise and I just adore it! 

Your voice really stands out! Do you follow any warm-up routine or exercises you do for it on a day-to-day basis?

Wow, that means a lot, thank you so much! I’ve been influenced by so many artists throughout time, from classic to modern, so, it’s like an amalgamation of voices coming together when I’m drawing upon my sound.

I’ll be the first to admit that I honestly need to be a lot better when it comes to vocal health and warm-ups though! Having only ever taken one proper vocal lesson my whole life, l usually like to do the classic ‘1, 121, 12321…’, vocal warm-up before a gig, as it helps expand my range and get ready! 

On a day-to-day basis I love exercising my voice by singing different kinds of music. One day I’ll stick to slow ballads, easier pop songs, like. Nothing Compares 2 U or Say So, and then other days I’ll feel a bit extra and test myself with difficult songs, to push myself, as an artist. And because I love to use my falsetto I go for songs like Bohemian Rhapsody or Phantom of the Opera

But I try to never push too much when I can, as I don’t want to stress my voice out all in one go, but rather build it up and train it gradually. Also, I try to avoid certain foods, like dairy… oh and drink plenty of water! Someone just told me recently to drink warm water, so I’ll be applying that in my routine in future as well.

You’ve come up with quite a striking look for yourself – what’s the thinking behind that?

Ooh, this is my favourite question to get! I always loved the concept of having an ‘image’ in this industry. I feel like, as an artist, it can be a very important thing to make you stand out from the crowd. There’s so many people out there doing music, the ones who truly stuck out to me the most, had a well-sussed image. For me, it’s just as much about the music as it is the performance.

So, I was brainstorming not so long ago, with my number-one fan, my mother, haha, and we came up with a few different ideas. We wanted something to represent me as an artist, but also, as a human being. I always had this love for the fantastical, as my original music is heavily encompassed in the roots of those elements. And I like to tell stories through my music, using subconscious, metaphorical imagery. So, we knew it had to be something bathed in fantasy.

My image represents so many aspects of myself. As an avid, life-long Disney fan, I knew my adoration for Peter Pan and the feeling of never wanting to grow up, would come into play, hence, the hat! Then, my sign is represented by the Gemini, so the half-face (half-good, half-evil), was certainly something I wanted to convey, like Two-Face from Batman. I’ve always been told that there were two sides to me, almost like talking to two completely different people/personalities, haha!

The Japanese have these dual concepts known as Honne and Tatemae. Honne represents a person’s true feelings and desires (the face you show to yourself and your closest allies). Tatemae represents what you showcase to the general public, almost like a public facade. Elvis even said, “… the image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image.” I feel everyone has these two principles guiding them in life. Hence, I also like to represent that ideology here. There’s certainly a puppet-like, harlequin component there, as well…

What’s been your proudest musical moment so far?

I’ve definitely had a few! But my most proud moment was selling out my originals show at Grater Goods, with 212 Music Group. It’s the first time I’ve put on my own originals show (no opening acts etc.) and it sold out, thanks to all those beautiful people, that truly believe in me. It meant a lot to me! And for my supporters, who I love to call my friends, I’m so grateful. 

What part of the job of being a musician that’s not directly music-related do you enjoy best (or least)?

I’m currently a self-managed, indie artist, so I’m doing everything at the moment. Booking, PR, writing out bios, organising releases, making EPKs, contacting producers, placing ads, designing my own DIY posters, attending conferences etc. This can be exceptionally daunting! 

The marketing and PR part, as much as I love writing to everyone – putting in all this hard work and booking everything, it’s hella stressful! I don’t need lines ageing me beyond my years already, haha! So, I suppose I’d really love a helping hand in that department, as I’d love to put all my energy into focusing on just writing music and the artistry side of things! 

My absolute favourite part is forming connections with people, both fans and industry professionals – call it the Gemini in me, but I just adore forming those relationships! We can all learn so much from one another. Everyone has a story and everyone has a special piece of them to share, that you wouldn’t get anywhere else!

What advice would you give to the version of you from two years ago in regards to music?

Save your money, girl! Haha! That… and just never give up, keep reaching, performing, promoting and striving hard to be the best version of yourself as possible. 

Now the single’s out what’s next for Michele Ducray?

Round two! I’m very much looking forward to working on my next single release and promoting that as well. After this current one, I have a few more goodies that I’m super excited to get recording and sharing with everyone!

I’ll also be playing another originals show, in conjunction with a few local, talented female artists in Christchurch, at Grater Goods on June 16, which everyone is welcome to come to! Then I’ll hopefully save up enough, eventually, to get a music video out there, for Midnight, as well! As the planning is all already there! 

Long-term goals – EP/album here we come! 

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