Home / Interview / Soulful Pop with an Activist’s Voice: An Interview with Michael Blume

Soulful Pop with an Activist’s Voice: An Interview with Michael Blume

Michael Blume’s resume is far from typical. For the New Jersey-born singer-songwriter, music was always more of a creative hobby than a career path. He played in school ensembles, frequently starred in plays, and sang in choirs, but it wasn’t until he wrapped up his Ivy League education that performing became more than just a past time. While on tour with the prestigious Yale acapella group The Whiffenpoofs, Blume realized “this is what I want to do. I’m an artist.” That was five years ago, and Blume has never looked back. In the time since, the deeply introspective singer has moved to New York, writing, recording, and performing as he blazes a path all his own.

Resisting classification, Michael Blume has made a name for himself defying genres and traditional labels; from his music to his personal style, Blume exudes a fiercely confident, unapologetic persona that leaves us equally dazzled and eager for more. Blume draws from pop, R&B, and hip-hop conventions with evocative lyrics for a sound that drips in soulful passion. Latest release cynicism & sincerity packs a hearty punch in only seven songs; from deliciously sassy “R U Mad” (featuring a sizzling refrain of “are you mad that I’m gay?”) to uplifting piano ballad “I Got You“, the deeply personal EP gives listeners a glimpse into Blume’s complex interior world.

Michael Blume sat down for a chat with Music Existence to talk artistic expression, outspoken activism, and (of course) Beyonce.

ME: Your music has very distinct R&B and soul influences. Where do those influences come from?

Michael: Soul music is really the root of all American popular music. All American popular music really has its roots in various forms of black American musical expression. And then when music became an industry in the 30s and 40s and 50s we started calling it, ‘this is rock and roll, this is soul, this is R&B,’ for marketing reasons so we could sell it. But really, it’s either got the feeling or it doesn’t. And I grew up in a pretty diverse town in Montclair, New Jersey and was exposed early on to Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle. I was lucky to be able to have friends and communities where I heard gospel music and I heard The Clark Sisters and I heard just great soulful, gospel, spiritual music and I think being around that music as a kid really influenced me and continues to influence me even in my work today.

ME: I definitely stalked your Instagram and your personal style really jumped out at me. What inspires your day-to-day style?

Michael: Hah, thank you! I’m interested in recombination of different elements in the same space-I do that with my music too. I’m interested in making futuristic, new stuff. I’m interested in my fashion, what does it look like when we mix masculine and feminine, what does it look like when we mix progressive and traditional, what does it look like when we mix old and new? So I’m interested in deconstructing and challenging, and even confusing and provoking with my style.

ME: Your song “Blunder” is a very beautiful testament to self love and self acceptance. I’m curious what your journey has been like to reach the place where you could write on those topics with such clarity.

Michael: You know, I write on it with clarity, but my day to day is not as clear as the song. Sometimes I’m able to distill a sense of clarity, even if my actual emotional state is not as clear as I wish it were, although being clear all the time will be boring. I think as a queer person, it took me a while to really be able to think of myself as worthy of romantic love and worthy of being loved, or loving someone in that kind of romantic way. And I’ve been able to overcome a lot of that insecurity in the last few years, or even if I haven’t overcome it, I’ve been able to really identify that insecurity and talk about it. So “Blunder” is about the blunder of not thinking that I’m worthy of love. I know rationally that of course I’m worthy of love, every human is worthy of love. But I think for most of my life, I blundered in allowing outside ideas of what love is supposed to look like to exclude me from it.

ME: Your song “R U Mad” was remixed by Shea Coulee and Peppermint from RuPaul’s Drag Race, and there’s been some really incredible choreo to the song. What is it like to see other artists transform your art into something new and different?

Michael: It is so cool! It’s actually one of my favorite things. My work has gotten a lot of response from the dance community, which I’m really grateful for. Even when I first put out one of my earlier songs “Colors” it got some great dance stuff. It’s still got some of the big dance influencers online doing “Colors” as well. Then Brian Friedman, who’s an amazing choreographer, did “R U Mad” and it’s just so cool. That’s one of the reasons I make art, to collaborate and to expand and to have a conversation. So it’s really cool to see the original song become the remix with Shea and Peppermint and then from there for it to become this choreography, this movement. It’s just cool to see the conversation continue through all these mediums and with all these different artists who express themselves so beautifully in different ways.

ME: You wrote “I Got You” in the days following the 2016 election as a counter to the sense of hopelessness and cynicism that a lot of people felt. What does the process of songwriting look like for something that is so personal?

Michael: In the case of “I Got You” the song literally just came to me, maybe the day or two after the election. I was just sitting in my room and I started playing those chords and it just had such a sincerity to it. It was so heavy and it really reflected some of the heaviness that I was feeling, and I think a lot of Americans and [others] globally were feeling. That song really just came in a couple hours; the verses came, and the hook, and it was one of those songs that almost already existed in the cloud and I just kind of downloaded it. It’s not always like that. Sometimes it can take forever and it’s a struggle and I’m fighting for it, but in the case of “I Got You” it really just came quite quickly.

ME: Pride wrapped up in June and I know that you got to participate in some really awesome events. What were some of your favorite moments from Pride?

Michael: Oh, there were a lot of great ones. I played at the Stonewall Inn. We did a joint event with them to kickoff their Stonewall Gives Back initiative, and that was amazing. Stonewall is a place that so much queer history has happened there, so to be part of that legacy was really awesome. I also got to open a few weeks ago in New York for Bianca del Rio, she was a season six [RuPaul’s] Drag Race winner. She’s hilarious and she’s a comedic genius and getting to open for her was really dope. And then she also had Aquaria and Asia and Cameron, who were three of the top queens from the most recent season. And since then Aquaria won season ten. So it was cool to meet them and kind of be part of the whole Drag Race phenomenon. Bianca del Rio is a fucking genius. I had never seen her live, I’d seen some of her bits on tv, but seeing her work a live audience like that, a New York audience, was incredible. She’s a comedic genius, it was amazing.

ME: You have been very open about being a queer artist. What do you think is most important about using your platform to be an outspoken voice for the LGBT community?

Michael: I just think it’s important to remind everyone, people who identify as queer or LGBT or not, that no one can be them as well as they can. You know, no one can be you, Dana, as well as you can be you. No one’s going to be me as well as I can be me. And that’s really the core of my message: I want people to lean into themselves unapologetically. I think there’s a lot of pressure, especially with Instagram and social media, even before all that, I think our culture in a variety of ways supports the narrative that wants us to strive for some idea of duty or success or intelligence or happiness or family or financial success, whatever it might be. But the reality is that we are all so different and that is beautiful. That is what I’m most excited about, how different all of us are.

ME: You speak incredibly eloquently about matters of social justice, which is very refreshing, and in particular I noticed that you used the phrase decolonize your mind in one of your videos. I’m curious what that concept means to you.

Michael: Well, I’ll tell you what it means and then I’ll tell you a funny story about that exact phrase. What that means to me is that we’re all a product of the culture that we live in and the world that we are in. Unfortunately what that means is that we’re all part of what I might describe as a cisheteropatriarchy, right? So much of the world around us works to elevate cis people, straight people, white people, men. And I think even though I’m aware of that and even though I’m aware of the ways that I have been subconsciously taught to be racist, to be homophobic, to be attracted to certain kinds of bodies, I can clock that, but I’m still in the matrix. And so I think my work and I think all of our work is to not expect that we’re going to individually tear down the matrix or to rip it apart, but to constantly feed the fire of awareness. And when I find myself wanting something, [I ask] ‘why do I want that? What are the forces or structures that led me to want that?’

But specifically when I talk about attraction, especially in this Grindr culture that we live in a lot of the gay community, there’s this really problematic misogynistic, racist culture where these very masculine, hyper worked out, straight-acting, white, young, youthful dudes with money become the eye of everyone. I, myself, find myself somewhat attracted to people like that, and that’s okay. It’s okay for me to be attracted to who I want to be attracted to, I don’t need to police myself too much, but I need to stop and take a second and say, ‘why am I attracted to that? Why do I want that?’ It’s across anything, ‘why do I want this kind of success? Why do I want to dress like this? Why do I want to do anything?’  How do we separate our desires from the problematic forces that shape our desires? So when I talked about decolonizing our minds, it’s about understanding that our minds are shaped by history, and history is fucked up.

Now the interesting note on that is I actually got a message on instagram a few days ago from a fan who said he loved my work and he loved the Kyle Krieger video-that’s where I said decolonize your mind. This particular fan, I think he was Latino and he identified as brown. And he actually called me out. He didn’t like that I use the word decolonize because he felt like, as a white person, it’s a little problematic that I was talking about any piece of me being colonized. So he kind of challenged me on that and I wrote him. I said, I understand why you feel that way. So I’m trying to frame it in a different way. I wouldn’t say decolonized now I would say, subconsciously influenced by, problematic history. Even as I’m working towards it, I’m also learning more, getting feedback, and checking my own privilege constantly, like in that moment.

ME: It’s genuinely really refreshing to see that from an artist. It’s very rare that you find artists who speak so eloquently on it, and then are willing to learn when someone calls them out.

Michael: Yeah, definitely. I think specifically as a cis-presenting white man, I have to be open to learning. There’s a lot that I am not going to know unless I listen to the people around me who are seeing things that I’m not seeing.

ME: We live in a particularly turbulent and, honestly, upsetting time, especially for anyone who isn’t white, straight, cis male, like we talked about. How do you stay uplifted when things can feel really hopeless?

Michael: Faith and hope is a choice and it’s actively choosing to be faithful. It’s actively choosing hope because it’s easy to be cynical and that’s what the EP is about. It’s easy to say ‘fuck this shit, everything is shit, Trump is president, the world is over. Let’s go smoke some weed and wait to die.’ You know what I mean? It’s easy to do that. But then to me, hope is faith. It’s the same thing as believing in God. How do you know God exists? I don’t know, but I just choose to believe that She exists because why else live? Just before you called, I was wrapping up a coffee date with a new friend of mine, an amazing Sri Lankan-Australian artist who now is living in New York named Elle. We were just sitting outside and she and I are from such different places and doing different things, but we connected just now. We had some salad and sat in the park and chatted, and things like that bring me hope. Meeting new friends, meeting new people who share the values I share and dream of a world that looks beautiful and open and accepting, and the way I dream of the world.

ME: That was really inspiring. And now I have a question that is totally just not inspiring at all. So let’s say that you have a Freaky Friday experience where you switch places with any other artist. What artist do you choose?

Michael: Beyonce.

ME: I’ve never had someone answer that so easily. Now that seems like the only right answer.

Michael: I think I end up talking about Beyonce in every single interview, it’s so funny.

ME: What artists have you been digging lately?

Michael: Oh, good question. Daniel Caesar. My friend John Splithoff‘s got an amazing new EP. Honestly, I’ve been on a Dolly Parton kick a little bit. Jessie Reyez…I’m into the new Drake album, which is amazing. I like everything. I love Cardi B. But then I also listen to some more weird shit. There’s this dude Jordan Rakei, I really like him. I have a friend in New York named Kate Kay Es, her stuff is amazing and she’s a good friend of mine. So yeah, lots lots of new stuff.

Connect with Michael Blume:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

About Dana Jacobs

I write about music and live shows and other fun things. Strong feelings about pugs, Halloween, and burritos. Currently zooming around northern California, with frequent stops in LA.

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