The day I speak to Michael Blume on the phone is the day Aretha Franklin has died. The Queen of Soul, American icon, influenced millions with her empowering, gritty, celebratory vocals and dedication to civil rights activism, Blume himself among them.
The singer-songwriter has been known to do his own take on Franklin’s rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” inspired by her soulful voice but also fighting for equality. “The way I feel when I listen to Aretha…that feeling is the feeling that I want to create with my music,” Blume says of his own his own R&B-soul-gospel-pop-inspired vocals and lyrics. “I want to carry on the work that she led us in for so long not only as a musician but as an activist and as someone who used music to talk about civil rights and justice.”
Blume sees his work as progressive R&B, in that he hopes to use his position in the genre to advance others’ senses of self-love and understanding while also looking at the world, at love specifically, through a queer lens. He examines the nature and necessity of love, if it’s something he naturally wants or if it’s been fed to him, the ways he saw love presented to him as a young gay boy and the shame he’s felt that has affected his self-worth. “Those kind of…nuanced questions and investigative viewpoints are not in mainstream R&B,” he says. By sharing the importance of self-love, he also hopes he can take steps to reduce the hate in the world. “I believe that peace and justice and equality, which is what I’m fighting for and want to see in the world, I think a big component of that is gonna come when we all make room to love ourselves and celebrate each other for how different we all are,” he says.
Blume’s most recent EP, cynicism and sincerity, in particular is a celebration of these differences. “The new EP is more like I’m me and you’re you. Nobody can be better at being you than me, no one can be better at being me than me, and that’s awesome. Everyone is so different and that’s amazing. I’m inspired by that,” he says. By Blume’s own admission the new EP is less in-your-face and more philosophical than his previous EP, 2016’s personal When I Get It Right. “The first EP was a lot about me dealing with my shit and me wanting to say to the world I’m gay and fuck you if you don’t like it and I’m sucking dick!” he says. Which is great, he says, but he feels he’s expanded his message this time around.
Blume has also expanded his own process of self-reflection, he says, especially after realizing he needed to love himself to thrive creatively. Since moving to New York in 2013, Blume has hardly stopped working. In the last few months, he’s prioritized taking time for himself, meditating, spending time with friends, and creating sources of happiness beyond work, something he says he didn’t do until about a year ago. He already has seen an improvement, and hopes to challenge himself further possibly by moving to a new location and starting from zero.
Interestingly, Blume only first decided to do music full-time while he was pursuing a degree in Latin American Studies at Yale. With the university’s internationally renowned a capella group The Whiffenpoofs, he performed all over the world and in the last year and a half of his degree decided he’d follow a more musical path in the Big Apple. Or, as he says, “I’m an artist, I’m Michael Blume. I’m fucking moving to New York. I’m doing this.” He had a job as a personal assistant and an SAT tutor and worked on his music for two and a half years before his song “Manufactured Love” caught the attention of a record label. He then began making music full-time and has been doing so ever since.
As he continues to work, Blume aims to raise himself to the bar set by Aretha. “I look at someone like Aretha Franklin, I have so much work to do. A lifetime of striving for improvement,” he says, and mentions he’s constantly working toward improving himself as a singer, pianist, musician, songwriter, and bandleader. Eventually, he hopes to tour nationally and internationally with his band in its fullest form–at its largest, it’s 11 pieces, though depending on the venue he has performed with as little as three other people.
He also hopes to continue to collaborate with people who inspire him in all walks of life, be they fellow vocalists from whom he’ll take voice lessons or even drag queens: RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Peppermint and Shea Coulee both appear on the remix of his track “R U Mad.” While Blume sees his own work more subdued than drag, he finds there’s a great deal of overlap between the two, specifically in terms of the boldness of self-expression both share, as if to say “‘Bitch, this is me, I’m gonna fuckin’ do what I fuckin’ do, and I’m gonna live my best life,’ and that’s dope,” he says. Blume is also interested in working with “public figures who are doing dope shit for the world, trying to be architects of our future and pushing towards justice and equality and peace,” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at whose campaign fundraiser he will soon be performing.
Blume ultimately sees himself as a teacher for whom music is a way to educate others. A recent Kehlani quote resonates with him in particular, in which the artist said “I’d like to think I’m a teacher…music is a side hustle” on Instagram. “Obviously music is my fulltime job and I love it, but it does feel like the tool I’m using to pursue a bigger message and a bigger goal,” he says. “We’ll see where my journey as an artist and a teacher takes me.”