New York queer pop artist Michael Love Michael used forms of fantasy and escape to cope with being bullied as a child and not finding emotional comfort from those around them. Having never conformed to the binary they were forced into as a youth, Michael grew up in the Midwest and was pressured to play sports and to play with action figures. More introspective by nature, Michael took comfort in reading poetry and music magazine and creating their own stories about fictional bands that toured the world. A pivotal moment in Michael’s life came at the age of 16 when a family friend who produced music for local hip hop bands introduced them to the music production program Fruity Loops. Michael realized that their creativity and sensitivity to the world around them was valid and deserved to be cultivated and nurtured and began to read Rolling Stone and found influence in bands such as Interpol, MIA, Nine Inch Nails, Aaliyah, TLC and Madonna. This period fueled their self-produced music that helped to instill their desire to keep creating music and songwriting. Although Michael was not officially out as as queer at 16, 15 years later they are out and proud and planning to soon release their debut album. Although it has taken many years to do so, they have come to find their voice and realize they not only have something to say, but that what they have to say is important and valid and worth expressing. An evolution of their musical, lyrical and personal tastes over the years has resulted in a collection of songs that Michael is proud of, with a message that reflects not only their own experiences in life as a black, queer and non-binary person but also our polarizing social and political climate. Drawing on the phrase “the personal is political”, what were once merely bedroom demos have become bigger, more polished songs that have been cultivated through Michael’s collaboration with producer and creative partner Rich Dasilva. The album contains lead single “Rope,” a song about being under constant pressure as a Black, queer, nonbinary person in 2020, a hybrid of Nine Inch Nails atmospheric tension and hard-hitting grunge guitars. “6 Jaguars,” with its glittery, expansive ’80s synthpop sound, is a commentary on unchecked white wealth and privilege and its direct impact on social policies (i.e. America’s ongoing immigration crisis). “On God” is a spiritual, anthemic call-to-action for marginalized people everywhere. “The Hatred” simmers with claustrophobic tension, toying with the complex dynamics of predator and victim in a world seemingly motivated by evil. Those are just a few ideas embedded in Michael’s genre-defying, yet accessible brand of pop music. “I see my music as a statement of love, even if I’m not shying away from what’s real in my world, and in the world around me,” Michael says of their debut album. “I hope people can connect to that, and really understand that there is nothing more loving than I can give than my authentic expression of truth without apology. I hope that my music can encourage people see where their truth lies beneath and dig it out. It sets you free. Perhaps that can inspire more widespread change.” Michael, who is a journalist with PAPER Magazine, has been working remotely from home during the quarantine and using the time to reprioritize and reconsider the things they care about and has come to the realization that happiness in what they do is their most important goal. With plans to make some quarantine videos to promote their debut album, which will be released later this year, Michael is trying to do they can to get their music out into the world on a wider basis. In thinking and writing about the world they hope to see when the pandemic is over, a world with more shared compassion and one in which we all find ways to uplift our communities, Michael is pondering how it can start with them and how they can spread that love out into the world. I think that is a goal we can all get behind right now. You can follow Michael Love Michael and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music and news, as well as stream and purchase their music, via the following links. Photo credit: Sam Sparro.
Hi Michael! How are you today? Are you having a good day so far?
Yeah. I’m working remotely and am grateful for that, but I’m also experiencing the things a lot of people I know are dealing with. It’s like “Oh wow. It’s really just going to be like this isn’t it?”.
You will soon be releasing your debut album and have talked about how your music has become political to reflect your experiences and just the polarizing societal climate in general. What can you tell me about the process of making the album and writing the songs?
Yeah. With this album, I basically started working on it seriously around last spring. That’s when I started making my first demo for it. I’ve been making music on my own since I was 16. I had taken a poetry workshop a couple of summers ago with Eileen Myles and was super inspired by that. I had written all of these poems and was thinking I could turn them into songs like I had always done, from teenage to college years. I took some time away from doing that after college. I got re-inspired after taking the workshop with Eileen and they (Eileen’s pronoun is they) helped me realize that there sort-of are no rules to how you go about poetry and storytelling and that helped me think about music in a new way. It also helped me to reflect on the fact that from the last time I worked on any demos or anything until now, my tastes and interests have grown quite a bit. I just thought it would be really fun to start that process again but to take it a bit more seriously. So yeah, I started the process last April and had a demo that I made with my friend Blue Velvet, which I then took to my friend Maluca Mala, who is a singer, and Maluca told me I could make it way bigger and I said “What do you mean?”. It was sort-of like this little bedroom recording. I had recorded the vocals on an iPhone and it was really unsophisticated in a way, but I liked it. I was kind of rocking with it and was happy to release it just like that and she was like “No. I hear where this could go. Let’s start putting you in a big studio”. She had me save up money and encouraged me to rent out a big studio in Midtown Manhattan for a full day and we had a session where we re-worked the song. She introduced me to Rich Dasilva, who has become my main collaborator for this project, and it’s just been him and me. I think I’ve just been…it’s hard not to reflect on where we are right now. I think maybe subconsciously, all of these thoughts have kind of been on my mind and I’ve been thinking about how I could possibly use music and poetry to address that. That’s kind of how the song started forming, but I’m almost done and that’s really exciting.
You have said you weren’t really prepared for how much feedback you would receive upon releasing your music into the world for the first time. What has that been like for you, processing all of that feedback and those opinions?
I think it’s interesting because I’m a journalist for a living, so I understand the other piece of it as well. People are always going to have something to say, and I think with the internet that process is so much more democratized. I have a lot of sympathy as a journalist, but as an artist, we navigate that minefield of releasing our art into the world and then realizing “Holy shit! It’s still mine. It’s always mine. But now it’s being shared with everybody!”. The concept of art truly being subjective to whomever the witness or the listener is, now I understand that a lot more fully. It’s been really cool, though, just to have anybody respond, really (laughs)! I didn’t expect that. I kind of just wanted to make this album for myself and start putting out songs. I’ve not anticipated people actually, like, giving a shit (laughs)! It’s cool. It’s cool that people give a shit! Either way, I’m like “Great”!
You have talked about how important storytelling is for you and about being bullied as a kid and not really having the emotional support that you needed. You turned to books, music and poetry as an escape, so what role do you feel that they played in developing your love for storytelling?
I think they’re everything. I think that when I was a kid, I just so desperately needed fantasy and forms of escape. I don’t really think that makes me unique. I think we all sort of have that need. I think that I just really believed that I could kind of create the world that I wanted to see around me. It didn’t really feel like it was reflected in my immediate environment. When I would read books I’d think “If they can do that and I can feel immersed in that, maybe I can help myself in that way by creating my own world”. I’d write all of these short stories and had all of these composition books. Every year for Christmas I asked for composition books and CDs and I had a subscription to Rolling Stone. That’s how I got a lot of my best music recommendations and would just go to FYE or Coconuts or Sam Goody. Like god…remember going to the store to buy CDs?
Oh yeah! I still buy CDs!
Yeah! I do too! I still have a portable CD player and people are like “Oh my god! Are you joking? Thats so hipster!” and I’m like “I’ll just be hipster then!” (laughs)! I believe in the process that you can immerse yourself in an album when you listen to it from start to finish and I love that. I think there’s obviously a lot of great things about things being digital and whatnot and the industry is still adjusting to that, but there’s something really special about just having a CD and being able to just put it in and listening to the whole thing. You can skip if you want…skip tracks if you want, but you’re sort of in that world for the 11 or 12 songs. I feel like there are so many musicians who taught me about that. Everybody from Fiona Apple and Lauren Hill to Björk and Interpol and Nine Inch Nails. Aaliyah is one of my favorite artists. I always found her music really expansive and immersive. I just think all of these things I took in played a pivotal role in me, especially realizing i was queer and coming out, finding out that I not only had something to say, but things worth saying. I didn’t always get a lot of external encouragement but I was able to give it to myself through all of these things I was constantly consuming.
Do you find that when you are writing songs that you write about experiences you have had personally, things that are happening in the world or a mixture of both?
I can’t remember who the person is who actually said this. I should probably look it up. There is a phrase, though, that says “the personal is political”. I just feel that is such a good summary for my life. Everything that I am as a queer, black, non-binary representing person is not something that I choose. It’s kind of forced on me by society. It’s like the more layers you are away from a cis, hetero, straight white dude or whatever, the more society kind of decides you are this entity. I’ve learned to kind of embody that, especially as I’ve like gone back in time and have done some research into things like goddess culture and realized it’s always been trans and non-binary people of color who sort of like have either led major movements or have been active parts of their communities as healers or light workers or shamans and things like that. I’ve come to a space where I’ve really embraced that because that’s where I come from in a way. I don’t have so much of the shame that society tries to throw at me and say “You should be ashamed of being who you are!”. So yeah, I write from that place basically. That’s what I mean to say. I write from the place of my personal experiences just because I exist and inherently have a type of political resonance. Not to add some kind of elevated sense of importance to myself, but it’s just to kind of say that as a person who has had to struggle to realize that I had something worth saying and worth hearing, to be able to now say “Alright. Here I am and here’s this thing” in it’s own way is a political act. I think that because I am a person who has experienced what it’s like to be oppressed by society and to find my own kind of glory despite all of that, I’m able to see society differently. I think that’s just going to come out in anything I write subconsciously.
You decided you wanted to move to NY when you were 8 after watching Muppets Take Manhattan and ultimately moved there at 19. What were those early years like for you in the city and was the reality of living there what you thought it would be? You also wrote stories of fictional bands in elementary school and landed an internship with Rolling Stone upon moving to NY. What was it like to work for a magazine you had grown up reading, as well as writing about real life bands?
I moved at 21 to NYC. The reality of living in NYC was that I made no money at Rolling Stone and folded clothes on nights and weekends at the Times Square location of American Eagle. Later, I was paid $1000 a month while working full-time in an entry level job. I rode the subway for an hour and a half each way to work every weekday, then sometimes I’d go out partying or to see local bands play after work with friends and not get home till 3am. I met folks I’m still friends with today. I attended red carpet events and would try to get quippy soundbites from Stevie Wonder and Joan Rivers about winning awards or Occupy Wall Street. I lived near Coney Island by the beach and sometimes I’d go to the boardwalk in the off season. I’d stand there, exhausted, sometimes hungover, looking at the sea and think of how blessed I was to be living something I’d dreamt of. I have such fondness for that time in my life now, who I was then. Years later, I think the dream of NYC I held onto has melded with a much more grounded reality for me now, but I still think about when I was 21 and it felt like truly anything was possible. Sometimes, I still feel that way — like anything is possible.
You recently released your new single “6 Jaguars” and have said it’s a reflection of the American Dream that you grew up envisioning. What can you tell me about the song and the message you are trying to portray with it and how views of the American Dream have changed over the years?
I think the song, what I wanted it to be…first of all, I wanted it to sound big and glittery and like a fantasy in it’s own way. I feel that Rich and I achieved that, but then I also wanted it to be really catchy. I knew I wanted to make sure that the lyrics were packed with loads of meaning or things that could be taken as double entendre or whatever because I almost wanted people to like, if they heard it they might feel inspired to sing along. And maybe they don’t quite get what it is about it that they are drawn to, but then they listen deeper and realize there are layers. As far as the American Dream concept goes, I just just think that as I’ve watched our country over the last four years under this administration, I’m not shocked by a lot of what’s happening as a black person who has experienced different kinds of discrimination. I’m not shocked, but it is shocking at the same time. There is a permissiveness and a kind of hatred…it feels like it has a different face this time or whatever. From where I stand, I feel like the idea of an equal opportunity American Dream seemed more attainable when we had Obama. Now it feels so obvious that there are things in place that are designed to keep certain people away from achieving their dreams. I think I was really looking at the immigration crisis at the border and thinking about how can it be that people can spend their whole lives here or raise children here and just because they don’t have the right documentation they get to not only be thrown into camps at the border, but then separated from their families, creating a lifetime of toxic stress. Then basically their idea of what it means to achieve a life worth living in America is just completely torn from them. That just got me thinking about how the American Dream is only for a chosen few and the 99% vs 1% and all of that stuff. I just wanted to put all of that into a song. The song itself, and the thing that really got me to write it, was an early flight I had taken to Dallas and I was sitting next to this businessman and his wife. He was going on and on and bragging about his wealth and how he literally had, according to him, 6 jaguars in a remote location near his fancy 3 story townhouse. It got me thinking about wealth disparity because this happened at the same time as a lot of this stuff with the immigration crisis first emerged and the ICE raids were happening. I just thought about how it was so disjointed and what if I made a song that embodied that perspective. Would it help people see how disjointed it is, you know?
What is it like to be a part of the LGBTQ community in today’s political and societal climate, especially as a person of color. What achievements do you feel have been made over the years and what issues do you feel still need to be addressed?
Ummm…that’s so hard to say because I feel like I have my experiences and want to be careful not to speak on behalf of the whole community because we obviously don’t all share the same experiences. I think what I can say is that I don’t think we can claim a type of freedom and equality until we all have that. Until we all have freedom and equality. Until immigrants are treated like human beings. Until wage inequality is addressed. I don’t know. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m running for office or anything like that (laughs). I just think as a person of color, I’d say that I can recognize that things have changed for the better over the past 10 years but then I think what the last 4 years have kind of shown us is that there are certain things that move forward and then a lot of things can get reversed. I just think there has to be a continued, collective interest in making sure that the value of marginalized communities is recognized, not just in government but in corporate workplaces and all over. I guess I’m generally saying that I feel a sense of freedom as an American but I also know that it’s so complicated, because I think about how my ancestors were slaves.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and with the shutdowns, mental health is being thrust more into the spotlight. I know dialogue has gotten better surrounding the issue in recent years but do you see that improving even more once this is over? I know you have talked about your own struggles with mental health, so what have you been doing to address those issues for yourself during the quarantine?
For me, this time has actually been a weird gift in a way. Obviously what’s happening is terrible and my heart goes out to people who are really, directly impacted by this and all of the essential workers on the front lines. You kind of really see what makes this country what it is and that’s what we see. That’s what’s there, you know? These people are risking their lives to make it better for others. That’s exactly what this country is and a lot of us get to just kind of sit in our houses. I feel like I’ve had a lot more time to reprioritize the things that I care about, and reconsider the things I care about. I think I’ve realized that as much as it’s important to have a sense of purpose through things like work and whatever else, I think happiness is the most important thing. I think that for me, I’m just realizing more and more how that just has to come first in everything I do. I don’t know how that will apply to each and every situation that I deal with. I’m not a person who can just fake my way through things really, a least not anymore. I’m not somebody who wants to do that either. I’m staying as connected as possible and talking to friends everyday. I sometimes have FaceTime and Zoom fatigue but I still talk to people everyday. I go out on walks and obey social distancing guidelines and have masks that I wear and stuff like that. I think the big secret maybe is connection. I also try to spend some time meditating and praying. I’m a spiritual person and try to mix those things up. I write about the world that I hope to see and the world I hope to see after this looks like one in which we’re all connected to truths that are maybe bigger than our own. Maybe there’s more shared compassion. Maybe we’re operating from not a place of how to make the most money or how to get this thing or that thing, but how sustain our communities in ways that are more holistic and uplifting and not draining and spiritually and emotionally taxing. I’m just thinking about how it can start with me. Hopefully I can spread that out.
What’s next for you? What do you have coming up?
I’m thinking about doing some kind of quarantine video things that I want to make to help promote the album. Mostly I’ll really just be finishing up the album. My goal is to have it out sometime in July or later this year. We’ll just see. I am getting close to being ready and feel like I’ve written everything I wanted to write for whatever this cycle of songs winds up being. I don’t know. That’s kind of my main thing. Recording in quarantine has actually been really fun and interesting and challenging, but I’ve been able to do it and still work with my producer. We’ve just been going back and forth and having Zoom calls and stuff like that. I’m just excited to put the album out and just see what happens. I think I’ll just feel proud of myself for doing it and for actually saying I wanted to do it and then doing it!