There's a fifty percent chance of rain this Friday but that doesn't mean that the skies will be barren of soul: one of the folks kicking open the only New York music festival with a four course mini golf link will be New Jersey-native Michael Blume, whose publicist tells me just cut of his man bun in preparation for the show.
After graduating Yale with a degree with Latin American studies and spending some time in Brazil, Blume hoofed it to the soul-singing quarters of Harlem, where he decided to try his hand at that whole centuries of musical tradition they got going on there. Last year, he dished some of it out on When I Get It Right, his debut EP on S-Curve Records, a major label sticker famous for discovering "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
Who let them out? Who, who?
A record of strung-out soul that has been favorably compared to British people like Sam Smith and James Blake, When I Get It Right is a five song collection of romantic agony and queer self-possession that threaten to overwhelm each other in a flurry of soul-pumped choruses and operatic lament. It's the good stuff, surely, and Blume tells me that he'll be at Randall's Island with an eleven piece band of " some of the baddest cats" in the city and ready to freak you out. Check out our conversation below.
POPDUST: Gov Ball! You're playing it! What acts should we be excited to see besides yours?
MB: There are so many amazing acts this year. I'm definitely super excited for Chance. He's just the man of the hour right now and I'm sure he will bring fire to the set.
"It's definitely frustrating to combat subtle homophobia as folks consume my work"
PD: Something I really dug about your songs on When I Get It Right is the frankness you talk about gay sex. As someone who makes pop music, how do you reconcile writing songs for audiences with largely heteronormative expectations?
MB: This is such an awesome and refreshing question and I first have to thank you guys for asking a question like this. It reflects a bravery and depth on your part that not all publications have had when responding to my work. Thank you.
That aside, it's definitely a tricky space for me to navigate. I've had a lot of people say to me "why do you haaaave to talk so much about sucking dick on the EP? We know your [sic] gay but isn't enough enough?" And the truth is that I do mention sucking dick explicitly... On two out of six songs. I compare this to many albums by my straight contemporaries where song after song has a reference to pussy-this, booty and titties-that. So it's definitely frustrating to combat that kind of subtle homophobia as folks consume my work. There is a tendency in our collective heteronormativity to silence/privatize gay experiences, and I actively aim to combat that.
Now, as far as audiences with heteronormative expectations, that work is on them. That's not my problem. All I can do is talk about my experiences, some of which relate to sex with men. That said, the explicit references to sex are never meant to alienate my straight listeners. I think my experiences are totally relatable and I definitely drive to make my work at once honest and true to me but also connectable to others' truths.
PD: The song, "Relationships" also uses a lot of gospel music choruses and you talk about a prophet in "Colors." Do these religious references reflect any particular beliefs of yours?
MB: My religious beliefs are really a hodgepodge of different things. I was raised Jewish and definitely identify culturally and spiritually [with that], though I don't practice Judaism in any traditional way. In college, I became very close with some Christian leaders on campus and became super into the idea of Jesus. The concept that there is one truth/love and he wants to accept us all no matter who we are -- I love that! And then just humanism. Love each other be good, etc.
I've also done my share of hallucinogens and had some powerful spiritual experiences there as well. Other spiritually informing events: Sky-diving, international travel, the death of a close young friend.
All of these things have led me to recognize my own tinyness in the larger beauty of the universe. The prophet for me represents whatever it is - Jesus, spirit, power, God, Plants, The Mother. At the end of the day my relationship w her is very personal and not so much about a larger traditional religious narrative, but the point is that there is something bigger than me -- bigger than all of us. And recognizing her and honoring her is essential to my work.
PD: In an interview you did on ABC, you identified as a "community facilitator and community leader first." As a Harlem-based musician, how do you approach facilitating and leading a community many believe is undergoing rapid gentrification?
MB: I approach it by making honest music. The community I want to facilitate isn't necessarily a geographic based one. I aim to facilitate a community of young thinkers and non-traditionalists. Folks that think about love and peace and respect and human dignity as central to the ways they build their own more discrete, and perhaps geographically specific, communities. I think my music gives members of this larger, less tangible community some skills -- and perhaps more importantly, some questions -- to bring to the table as they tackle difficult questions like gentrification.
PD: I also love that hat you're wearing in that interview. Any outfits lined up for your Gov Ball debut? As a performer, what are your aesthetic inspirations?
MB: Not sure yet on the Gov Ball outfit! [But] I'm aesthetically inspired by so much. I love contradiction -- it exists all around us all the time so I think honoring it is important. In terms of my style, that often ends up looking like mixing traditional with progressive, masculine with female, tight with lose.
PD: Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, can you talk about what drew you toward Latin American and, later, African-American-inspired music.
MB: I was a nerdy kid and became super interested in the Spanish language early on. I had a knack for languages and got pretty fluent in Spanish by the time I was 15 or 16, through watching a ton of Spanish TV and taking every chance I could to practice. This initial language interest lead me down to line to major in Latin American Studies.
The summer after 9th grade I did a program called Anytown. The program brought together high school leaders from all over NJ to do a week long workshop on diversity and identity. That week honestly changed my entire life and was the beginning of my interest in intersectionalism, identity politics, and activism. It informed my studies, it informed my music, it informed my coming out process. It just totally opened me up to diversity for diversity's sake. In terms of Black culture, I'm a musician in America. American music is Black music so I would say anyone who listens to or makes American music is "drawn to black culture."
PD: You've got a pretty early spot this Friday. Tell me why we should wake up that early.
Damn. I mean, my set is poppin'. We make real music and tell real stories. I have an 11-piece band of some of the baddest cats in NYC. Promise ya it won't be like anything else you've seen.
Intrigued? You can catch Michael Blume at the Bacardi Stage this Friday at 12:45
Andrew Karpan is also very loud. You can follow him on Twitter.