Words by Chelcie Porter
Jamaican-American singer Polly A, also known as Meleni Smith, just has one of those voices. One of those rich, velvety voices that as soon as she even speaks you think to yourself – “Oh, this is going to be good.” She’s gained popularity in the music world for writing some of your favorite songs by distinguished artists like Alicia Keys (“Love is My Disease”) and J. Cole (“Crooked Smile”) It’s been three years since the release of her last album and she’s back with a new layer of fabulousness.
Under the name of Melani Smith you will find two vastly different albums by the singer song-writer you didn’t know you already knew. Her EP’ Meet Me in the Bathroom’, released on Colombia Records in 2005, is a mix of soulful tracks and ballads. After leaving Columbia she independently released a darker, more emo album ‘My Heart in Focus’ in 2012. Tracks like ‘I Don’t Need a Plan” and Organ Donor show a grittier side of the singer. The new name Polly A, seems to be evoking nothing but girl power and sass with danceable tracks like “Nature” and the down-tempo song, “Pick Your Poison,” which is perfect for that drop-top cruising you do with your homies when you all know you look good that day. POTENT chatted with Polly A to talk about her music, her style and of course, her Jamaican roots.
POTENT: You’re Jamaican but you grew up in the Midwest. Did it make you feel different from other kids?
Polly A: I wouldn’t say I necessarily felt different than other kids when I was a small child, but definitely as I grew older, I learned to appreciate having grown up in a Jamaican household. My mother made sure to feed us all the traditional Jamaican cuisine that I took for granted as a child but now crave all the time as an adult.
Also growing up in an environment where Jamaican music was always heard gave me the strongest appreciation for our music and it is a huge influence in a lot of the melody choices and rhythms in my own music today. I also think one of the benefits of growing up with a foreign parent is the steadfast desire to seek the best opportunities available that sometimes people born in America don’t take advantage of or don’t readily seek as often. My mother was a single parent but made sure all of her children were given the best opportunities as far as education was concerned.
POTENT: What was it like the first time you went back to Jamaica?
Polly A: I was only 5 years old when I first visited Jamaica. I was with family and close family friends, so I felt right at home. My favorite fruit are mangoes and I remember climbing a mango tree for the first time and being able to have all the mangoes I wanted! It was heaven for me!
POTENT: What’s the one thing you miss about the Caribbean every time you leave?
Polly A: The weather and the food! I miss going to the water and choosing a lobster to have cooked and eating it on the spot. I miss the reggae music playing everywhere.
POTENT: You’ve got a great style, who are your favorite designers?
Polly A: Thank you! I recently discovered an amazing designer called Discount Universe and I’m obsessed. I love Jeffrey Campbell shoes as well, but for the most part I don’t really follow brands. I like to mix it up!
POTENT: The music you were producing before is vastly different than what you are producing now. Why the change?
Polly A: Well I started working with different producers and an evolved sound just started coming out of me. I wanted the music to sound more urgent in a way, play with my vocals so that I could use the power of my voice. I also wanted to play with more reggae-influenced rhythms because that’s my roots, so it sort of evolved from that. As an artist, I’m constantly and newly inspired by different sounds all the time, and I’m always pushing myself to create the best music I know how to make, without being bound to any particular sound that I may have created in the past. It’s all about evolving to your greatest self, whatever that means to you.
POTENT: Where are you currently living and what is your life like there?
Polly A: I live in New York City with my producer and our dog Jasper. We built a mini studio here so I’m able to record at home all the time and it’s amazing.
POTENT: Where do you love to hang out at in your neighborhood?
Polly A: I hang out at home usually to be honest. I love hosting dinner parties and having friends over.
POTENT: When did you start writing music?
Polly A: I started when I was a teenager. I used to listen to the radio all the time and started making my own songs from there.
POTENT: Who are you listening to right now?
Polly A: I’m obsessed with this Labrinth song called ‘Jealous.’ I’ve been playing that a lot. Besides him I’ve been I’ve been loving the new D’Angelo album ‘Black Messiah.”
POTENT: Tell us about your friendship with Kat Dahlia and how you guys wrote “Money Party” and “Mirror”?
Polly A: Kat is like a sister to me. She and I are super close and she’s just an amazing person. She and I worked with the same manager when we met and just started vibing in the studio, and we just hit it off. Kinda like musical soulmates in a way. We wrote “Money Party” originally for me, so there is a version with me singing the entire song but the label fell in love with it so she eventually did her own version and they released it.
“Mirror” was just one of those records that wrote itself. We were kind of just wanting to write a song that would make people understand how we’re all one but in a non-preachy way… something that would bring people together and open our eyes to the fact that you know we really are just reflections of one another and truly need each other in this world.
POTENT: What are you working on currently?
Polly A: I’m in pre-production for a video I’m doing with Kat. It’s for a duet we have together called “The Phoenix” and we’re both really excited about it. After that, I’m planning on releasing my project called “Ghetto Gold Dream.”
POTENT: Thanks so much for your time today, Polly A!
Polly A: No problem. Thank you!
Both albums “Meet Me in the Bathroom “and “My Heart in Focus” are available on iTunes, under the name Meleni Smith.