I recently had the distinct privilege to talk to indie powerhouse Mal Blum.
Nicole Scott: Your last record You Look a Lot Like Me was released through Don Giovanni. What’s it like working with them compared to your experiences with your previous albums?
Mal Blum: A definite relief to have someone in my corner to help with making release decisions, and mail order… I think that more people probably heard this album quicker than my previous releases. I have to deal with my control issues/not being able to obsessively check how my sales are doing to measure my self worth, which is healthy. And I like being on a label, not feeling like as much of a lone wolf out there.
Also, I’ve been meeting more sensitive, bearded, punk people at our shows since the release. Which is either a coincidence or something about Don Giovanni attracts the sensitive and bearded (the punk is a given since it’s a punk label).
NS: Any music recommendations? Anything been on repeat for you constantly as of late?
MB: Yes! PWR BTTM all day long. Stuff that has been on repeat this month: Mountain Goats, Jenny Lewis, Alabama Shakes. New stuff that I like that just came out: Thao (with the get down stay down), Beyonce, Chance The Rapper. And I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. I’m actually probably more qualified to give you podcast recommendations than music recommendations.
NS: Apart from being a strong force in the indie music world overall, you are a confident voice in the queer music community. How do you feel this community will progress in the future, and how do you feel like you have made a home in it?
MB: Thank you. Well, the honest answer is that, as far as making a home in the queer music community, I don’t know that there is one. Which might sound contrary coming from somebody who lives with three other queer musicians who I love like family and who I have made a literal home with. But as far as a singular queer music community existing, much like the queer community at large, it is actually comprised of factions and individuals and one niche doesn’t necessarily overlap, agree or collaborate well with another.
I have actually met many other queer people in music that I don’t feel a community connection with. We live in a culture that thrives on misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and white supremacy, and the music industry has been aggressively dominated by decades by the people who embody these things. We all swallow this culture and work within this culture, and just being queer sadly doesn’t absolve people from perpetuating it, especially in the microcosm that is the music industry.
That said, when I find musicians who DO feel like my queer community, I am grateful. I am grateful to not be alone and to be playing music in a time when I can see at least a few other bands that remind me of me getting good opportunities. As far as how queer people in music might progress, my hope is always that with increased visibility, with more and better representation, and better opportunities, maybe we’ll all begin to hate ourselves less and value work by queer artists more. I am grateful to feel like a shift is happening now. But you read interviews with queer artists who speak to a shift happening all the time, I’ve been reading interviews like that for years and yet it never quite shifts entirely, does it? And increased visibility can have its drawbacks too, as we’ve seen, right now in legislation and violence targeted towards transgender women. So, what do I know?
NS: Tell us something about your music making or writing process that might surprise us.
MB: There are some things that are too personal to write about and if I try, it makes for bad writing. Also, I’m very undisciplined and often go weeks without writing if I don’t feel up for it.
NS: You recently played at SXSW! Describe your experience there. Any upcoming tours we should expect?
MB: Yes! This year was actually our first year officially playing. It was actually my best SXSW experience so far, because I prepared for it mentally and made a plan ahead of time about how I was going to take care of myself.
The good is that you can see like, every band you’ve been meaning to see all year for free, often in the span of like 3 days and within a 10 block radius of each other and it’s basically like music summer camp in a lot of ways. The bad is that it’s an incredibly stimulating and physically and emotionally exhausting environment for even the most confident musician, and it can make you feel incredibly insecure. It is sad to visually see the homogeny amongst who is officially sanctioned or given opportunities in music. Most of the “buzz bands” mimic the larger industry in that there is always a lot of disingenuous branded bullshit, way fewer bands fronted by women – if they are, it is disproportionately white women with a specific body type- even fewer bands fronted by queer people, and almost none by trans people. Also, I always always always get ill after SXSW, every year (stress related?). This year it was mono and it knocked me out for a month.
Kicking around some tour ideas for this year, haven’t confirmed anything yet but I’ll let you know!
NS: How do you feel your sound has evolved over time?
MB: Drastically. I mean, I started as a child, writing like, folk songs and now I’m kind of an adult person in a rock band. But if you’re not changing, you’re not growing and when I stay the same I start to get restless and self-loathing. I’m like a shark, if I stop swimming, I die. I’m also like a shark in that I don’t mean to hurt anyone, I just mistake humans for food sometimes.
NS: All of your albums have such a genuine tone – an unrelenting honesty covering a variety of subjects. What would you suggest to writers who feel scared or apprehensive to express themselves or be vulnerable in their art?
MB: Thank you very much. I would suggest trying to write without critiquing it, some free form stream-of-consciousness writing often helps if you’re feeling stuck. Just decide to judge it later. Maybe there’s a new project or medium that feels less vulnerable for you, too – like maybe if you’re a poet, you could explore vulnerability within short stories, sometimes it’s easier to try new, scary things in unfamiliar waters. I won’t tell you to rip off the band-aid and stop deflecting or hiding behind elements of your work, because I still do that and it would make me a hypocrite.
NS: What’s your favorite thing about your music as a whole?
MB: I am a bad person to ask, because I am quite self-deprecating. So, I suppose its resilience despite myself.
NS: What does the future hold for you?
MB: Rewatching Buffy The Vampire Slayer and almost to season 5, so there’s that. I’m writing a new album. More therapy. My “Saturn return” is next year, so maybe drastic change.
Listen to Mal’s track “Better Go!” here:
To keep up with Don Giovanni Records check their website for releases and other information.