Sellah is a genre bending solo artist exploring the sounds of electro, hip hop, techno, and R&B. Born Michael McCloud in San Bernadino, California, Sellah’s early life was spent traveling the world with his high profile government family. After two years of university in Illinois, he transferred to Hawaii to play NCAA basketball.
For the past seven years, Sellah has been honing his craft in the fashion and entertainment industries. Involved in photography and commercial modeling across Asia, London, and South Africa, Sellah’s extensive experience led him to become the first black male model to work in Shanghai, China & was even featured in Rolling Stone magazine for his music. Now, I’ve had the pleasure of getting in contact with this triple threat so I can pick his brain, touching on topics of the love of art, self exploration, his music, his life, fashion & his stance on homosexuality in the hip hop arena.
1a. Tell me about your upbringing & your ancestry. I find it interesting you said you have West Indian roots. Being from Barbados, my readers here may find you a bit more relatable.
- I was born into a government family. Therefore, how I perceive life was and is very open and accepting to most things I encounter. I had to learn to adapt to different cultures, countries, people and task at a very vast pace because we moved over thirty places before I was even eighteen. My racial background hails from what we know as of now, West Indian, Scottish and African American.
b. Do you feel your upbringing has influenced you artistically, in terms of molding your path as an artist in all forms? Or was it more of a calling?
- My upbringing serves as the key to my influences. I am inspired by life and being able to travel/experience so many different lifestyles and cultures allowed me to take on many unique forms, at a more international approach. It allowed me to be fearless and take risk after risk, failure after failure, until I planted the right seeds into the purest and most fertile soils, which are now finally growing very beautifully. My upbringing was certainly my calling. I was searching my whole life for answers, but now I finally realized, that my life is my answer.
2. How & when did you get into the arts?
- I was always into artistic things as a child but I started in the arts professionally when I was eighteen going on nineteen. I am now twenty four years of age and I spent most my childhood, through teenage years playing at the highest levels of competitive basketball. I even played for a twenty one and under professional German team, at the age of sixteen. This was when I was living in Germany for my first three years of High School. These skills allowed me to play college basketball, but only time would tell when I would venture solely into the arts. Being an artist, was secretly always what I really wanted, but growing up in such a strict environment, made it hard for anyone to actually say and do what we truly wanted. Anyways, art to many people is just a “hobby” not a real job. After my second year of university, I could not take lying to myself anymore. I decided to drop everything and discover the real me and what I had to offer this world. This is when it all started…
3. Did you immediately know it was your passion?
- No, as mentioned above, I blocked every thought of it out because of how society made the outsiders perceive it. Something that was “impossible.” Back then, everyone made fun of me when I would sing or speak about the entertainment industry. That killed every part of me to even want to pursue it, but I’ve always been drawn to art, fashion and pop culture in general. I was just way too afraid to be open about it to anyone or even to myself.
4a. Why the arts? b. What does it mean to you?
- ART is LIFE. It is every form of creation known to man and even beyond that. Music is everywhere, fashion is everywhere…beauty is everywhere. We just need to open our minds and free our souls from the entanglements that the world has placed on us.
5. What came first? Music? Photography? Modeling? Tell us about your journey through the arts.
- I actually started modeling and photography at the same time. I am just at exactly 5’11 and being black with no real vital features, I figured let me do both a the same time. I just knew modeling would only take me so far. So I did modeling and photography together for about five years. I eventually stopped photography because people’s negative words got to me and too many people wanted free shoots, but would do nothing to help me out in return. “You cannot be a model and photographer at the same time. No one will take you seriously.” I would help models for months to get them signed to an agency and they would go behind my back and do contracts without me knowing. Even causing rumors, saying I was doing this and that with so and so. I was just at a point that enough was enough, you know? This is the kind of thanks that I get for all my hard work I placed into others and not myself. Nothing to me was worth that kind of stress, especially at my age. It was even to a point, photographers would not book me for jobs anymore because I was shooting the same models they were working with. It was just so pitiful and made me notice how our world is very egotistical. At that time, I was just not strong enough to deal with so many different pressures and negativity coming at me all at once. I was still discovering who I was as a person, a entrepreneur and as an artist. From there, I just kept doing commercial modeling. Booking jobs like, Gap China, Ralph Lauren China, China Fashion Week, GQ/Cosmo/Glamour Magazine, Tush Magazine, Nike, Fanta, Duracell and Reebok commercials. The list goes on and I was at a point where I made a lot of personal accomplishments and really just became quite bored. This was not enough nor what I truly wanted to be doing. I was only doing it because I was damn good at it. So I decided to start my own magazine called IMMO, which means “Yes” in one of the many distant Latin languages. I was tired of people telling me “no” and I was so depressed, meeting so many talented artists around the world, who did not get enough recognition for their creative talents. At this point, I decided IMMO would serve as a major platform, where we share inspirational, influential and inspiring works from artists all around the world. I hate trends, I am more touched by diversity, thought, really nurturing and respecting raw and special talents. It is something this industry needs and my team and I are providing that in all ways, shapes and forms. My music is new. I only been doing this for a little over a year and a half now professionally. So I am extremely excited for what is to come. I evolve and adapt fairly fast and this is the first time I am really placing so much of me and my time into one main source.
6. What were your most memorable (good or bad) moments while modeling?
- I do not want to say I had bad moments. I now focus on living in the present and believe everything we face is a representation of what we are now today/will be. Without the “bad” moments I would not be as strong and as assertive as I am now. In a way, I embrace the darkness. How can we illuminate, if we never knew what it is like, to be in the darkest corners of existence? With modeling, I respect the industry so much because it allows so many people to travel. That was a huge blessing for me. Modeling also brought me to Cape Town, South Africa. Which is a place I will never forget and encourage anyone to make a trip there. Just hit me up and I will direct you to the places to go there!
7. Do you still model, or has music solely been put to the forefront?
- With me personally, I mix fashion and music. They go hand in hand. It is important for an artist to create their own brand/image and for that, you need fashion clients to back you up. You need the fashion world to support you! Take Kanye West, Beyonce, ASAP Rocky, Lady Gaga and Miley Cirus just to name a few for an example. You will always see them on the hottest fashion magazine covers and campaigns because they understand the idea behind branding themselves in every way possible. They know exactly what they are doing and Kanye is a huge reason why males can wear what they wear now. He is someone I feel does not get enough credit for what he has already done/is doing, and cultures he has majorly influenced. Even newer artists like Sky Ferreira, who was the face of CK and a few other big brands for a few years. This allowed her to promote her music on those platforms and at even higher levels. Which also gave her even more of an edge/sophisticated look. In a way, you can say I will never stop “modeling,” but yes it will be in terms of my music. Image is everything, as much we do not want to believe that.
8. The reason behind the name Sellah.
- Sellah originally comes from the word “Selah ” which is layered with many different definitions behind it. The reason I chose this as my artist name is because Selah means; to be freed from, a break from chains of negativity. To stop and listen. The meditation of the soul. These were things that I did not just want for my music, but for my life in general. I added the extra ‘L’ to be original and make it my name exclusively, but keeping the same meanings. Sellah is a lifestyle, a new way of thinking and doing. It is a embodiment of everything raw, spiritual (not religious) and true. In other words, anybody can be Sellah, once they start living free. Sellah simply is a MOVEMENT.
9a. Where do you draw inspiration from? OR what inspires you most? b. Is there a continuous message/theme you are specifically trying to convey through your music?
- Life is my main source of inspiration. Everyday I find new and amazing things about our world that inspire me. My music will constantly be at different levels because it represents me as a person and I am constantly growing/evolving. No matter what, my music will always resemble something about experiences I’ve gone through/will go through. Things that I long for, or even things I felt/see through others.
10. Tell me about your latest video, ‘Hallelujah’. What was the full concept behind it & how did it come about?
- Hallelujah was shot in Belgium by a talented directer named Louis Rose. My main goal with this video was to be very “in your face”. Hence, why I deliberately used a church, a priest and a king’s crown. I wanted to take the everyday stereotypes and add humor to it purposely. We get so caught up in religions, media hype and on what is right or what is wrong. Yet, these same people are the ones who are quick to judge another person. I am tired of living in such a fake world, where no one is confident enough to speak up for themselves. So I wanted to make this video to show that we must live in a free world. I will not do rap videos with a bunch of guys in chains and drugs behind me. Instead, in my world, my team is so diverse and not based off of what society claims or how one should dress, look or speak.
11. As a model, image becomes intrinsically important to you & is embedded into your everyday routine. What are some of your regular techniques when it comes to health & fitness?
- Just watching your food intake and exercising regularly. I am now a vegetarian and I love it, but not saying one has to go to such extreme levels to be healthy. I just love challenges. Even if you are naturally skinny, just eating whatever you want is not good for you. A healthier body creates a healthier mind. So feed your soul with love and care by taking care of your body.
12. You most definitely have impeccable style. How would you describe it?
- The easiest way to describe the style I am working hard to embrace is “timeless”.
13. Any favorites designers, style icons or fashion movements that you have drawn inspiration from?
- I try hard to stay away from the words ‘favorite’, ‘idols’ and ‘fans’ because I feel we all have the power to be just as big as anyone else. I really do appreciate the whole Grace Jones movement though, fashion wise. Musically speaking, I love Robyn, The Sleigh Bells, Childish Gambino, Deftones, Norah Jones, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Lauren Hill, Elvis and Florence & The Machine to name a few, but the list goes on.
14. The hip hop world seems to be slowly welcoming gay rappers into the arena. However, there is still much controversy surrounding the topic. What is your stance on the issue?
- People need to grow up. Just because of someone’s sexual preference, does not mean they cannot also go through the similar struggles or want/have the same ambitions. I support any and everything that stands for something pure and true. There are no judgments in my mind. If you can rap, let the person rap! Now if they are talking about nonsense then that is another story.
* Facebook fan page – http://www.facebook.com/officialpageofsellah
Soundcloud – www.soundcloud.com/wearesellah
Twitter – www.twitter.com/iamsellah
Instagram – http://instagram.com/iamsellah#
YouTube – www.youtube.com/iamsellah
Hallelujah music video – http://youtu.be/tC87TBwod6k *