With a voice as rich as their name su ests, this ris­ing Amer­i­can singer-song­writer is one you need to keep an eye on.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Mar­cus Branch Words Lewis Cor­ner

Af­ter un­veil­ing their stun­ning de­but sin­gle Bad For You ear­lier this year, the Amer­i­can singer­song­writer talks the chal­lenges new artists face, and the is­sue of femme-sham­ing from within the com­mu­nity.

Ear­lier this year, New York City-based mu­si­cian Mer­lot un­leashed their de­but sin­gle upon the world. Bad For You is a slice of lus­cious R&B an­chored by Mer­lot’s smooth and soul­ful tones, serv­ing as a strik­ing in­tro­duc­tion to them as a record­ing artist.

But fans of the song may be won­der­ing when the next batch of mu­sic will be com­ing along. “I’m work­ing on a project in Los An­ge­les right now and will ac­tu­ally be liv­ing there till the hol­i­days,” Mer­lot tells Gay Times. “I’ll be­gin drop­ping con­tent in Jan­u­ary and through­out the year. I’m so ex­cited about it.”

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the new ma­te­rial, here Mer­lot speaks about the chal­lenges new artists face, the is­sue of femme-sham­ing – par­tic­u­larly within the gay com­mu­nity – and what needs to hap­pen to make sure queer nightlife spa­ces re­main vi­brant and safe for ev­ery­one across the LGBTQ com­mu­nity.

Bad For You is an in­cred­i­ble de­but sin­gle – how have you found the re­ac­tion to the track since you re­leased it ear­lier this year?

Thank you so much! I’m over­whelmed at the re­sponse it has got­ten so far. It was so close to my heart, and I re­leased it all on my own with­out any man­age­ment or la­bels, so I was ner­vous to see if peo­ple would even hear it. I am so grate­ful for ev­ery­one who reached out, and ev­ery­one who posted about it. It’s like a dream come true.

What was it about the song that made you want it to be the in­tro­duc­tion to you as a record­ing artist? I re­ally thought the song em­bod­ied the style of mu­sic that I wanted to cre­ate, and I thought it would sum up the essence of what to ex­pect from my artistry in the fu­ture. I had made about five other tracks on top of Bad For You, but this was al­ways my fa­vorite one. I thought that if I en­joyed the track and could dance to it, hope­fully ev­ery­one would en­joy it too and see the work I put into it.

The ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­sic video is stylish and strik­ing – what’s the mean­ing be­hind the sex­u­alised im­agery that plays through­out?

The video was for me and the direc­tors (brothers San­ti­ago and Mauri­cio) a col­lec­tion of por­trai­ture. We wanted to high­light di­verse bod­ies and char­ac­ters in ways that were rem­i­nis­cent of the old New York club and en­ter­tain­ment scene, while still not forc­ing any­one to have to “act”. We took our time with the cast­ing so that ev­ery char­ac­ter felt au­then­tic, and so ev­ery­one felt com­fort­able in their role. I loved the idea of in­clud­ing the nu­dity be­cause, in sim­ple terms, I love the sex ap­peal it gave the video. I am fas­ci­nated by the hu­man body and wanted to show­case it in a sex­ual, yet taste­ful way.

You are a multi-dis­ci­plined artist in the sense of how you ex­press your­self through fash­ion, as well as through your vis­ual con­cepts – how much does your mu­sic in­form your vis­ual ex­pres­sion and vice versa?

In a way, I would say they don’t nec­es­sar­ily in­form each other but are al­ways just hand-in-hand. My mu­sic is an ex­ten­sion of my­self, my per­son­al­ity and my vi­sion. I would say the same about my vis­ual ex­pres­sion and style. I fig­ure as long as I’m be­ing hon­est with my­self with my style and my mu­sic, they’ll al­ways mesh and seam­lessly work to­gether

Who are your biest in­flu­ences when it comes to your mu­sic?

My bi›est in­flu­ence in mu­sic came from early Mo­town, then Anita Baker, John Leg­end, Frank Ocean and Azealia Banks. I was also in­spired mu­sic videos of Erykah Badu and Missy El­liott, and while they still in­flu­ence some things, I now usu­ally look to the pop charts and ra­dio hits a lot more to stay in touch with grow­ing trends and pat­terns. I’m also grate­ful for the queer artists that came be­fore me like Mykki Blanco and Big Free­dia, who were a light for me when I was in High School.

As a new record­ing artist, what are the biest chal­lenges you cur­rently face?

I never knew how ex­pen­sive mak­ing mu­sic can be! Un­til you find that per­fect deal and have a great team around you, it’s re­ally hard to man­age your money and your time, es­pe­cially while try­ing to main­tain a day job. I’m blessed now to be in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion, but in the be­gin­ning it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

You’ve pre­vi­ously said you want to “defy so­ci­etal norms of the gen­der bi­nary and sex­u­al­ity” in your work – have you ever been met with re­sis­tance against that within the mu­sic in­dus­try?

So far, I per­son­ally haven’t met that re­sis­tance, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hap­pen all the time. I’m grate­ful to be work­ing with peo­ple who sup­port my vi­sion and ap­pre­ci­ate the story I want to tell, but up un­til re­cently, be­ing a suc­cess­ful, openly queer artist was un­charted ter­ri­tory. I’m hop­ing to change the nar­ra­tive and bring even more light to queer suc­cess sto­ries – we can never have enough.

When it comes to chal­leng­ing the gen­der bi­nary and sex­u­al­ity in art, who are role mod­els that you look up to?

I look up to peo­ple like Fred­die Mer­cury and Grace Jones who were so unapolo­getic in their iden­tity through­out their ca­reers. Again, I also look up to Mykki Blanco and even some­one like Ze­bra Katz who cham­pi­oned through the hip-hop genre which is of­ten per­ceived as es­pe­cially ho­mo­pho­bic.

There is an is­sue with femme sham­ing from within the LGBTQ com­mu­nity – pri­mar­ily amongst gay men – have you had any ex­pe­ri­ence of dis­crim­i­na­tion from within the com­mu­nity be­cause of the way you present your­self?

I to­tally have had plenty of femme sham­ing from the gay com­mu­nity, but I have to ac­knowl­edge that I wouldn’t la­bel my­self as a gay man at all. I’m non­bi­nary and queer in gen­eral – sort of gen­der­less and not ex­clu­sively at­tracted to men. I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced this nearly as much with the rest of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity even though it is still there, but I also wouldn’t ex­pect to find se­cu­rity and so­lace in the sin­gu­lar “gay” com­mu­nity be­cause I re­ally only half-be­long. I do think we have a long way to

go be­fore femme sham­ing (rooted in misog­yny) is erad­i­cated.

In re­cent years, the UK has seen some iconic queer spa­ces shut down be­cause of ris­ing rent costs, and less peo­ple from the com­mu­nity so­cial­is­ing in those spa­ces – is this some­thing that has hap­pened in New York City?

I hon­estly haven’t seen this hap­pen re­ally in NYC, but to be fair I’ve only lived here for three years. I’m aware that since the early 90’s, a ton of queer spa­ces have shut down and the par­ties have all just been moved. While there are many gay bars (es­pe­cially in Brook­lyn) that I hold near to my heart, there is an im­bal­ance be­cause a lot of iconic queer par­ties are usu­ally held at venues that are oth­er­wise “straight venues” any other night of the week. But the spirit of queer party-go­ers still ap­pears to be alive and well in NYC as far as I can tell.

What do we need to do to en­sure queer nightlife re­mains vi­brant, alive, and most im­por­tantly safe for the whole of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity?

I think first and fore­most, we need to make sure that we are re­main­ing di­verse in our line ups. Are we hir­ing peo­ple of color to host? Are we hir­ing trans DJ’s? Is the en­tire flyer just men? If we are too lazy to be in­clu­sive, then nightlife be­comes shal­low, and a place where peo­ple are afraid to truly be them­selves. Far too of­ten I’ll see a flyer for a “queer” party where ev­ery host, DJ, dancer and pro­moter is a white cis gay man. The queer com­mu­nity is so col­or­ful and rich with unique peo­ple from ev­ery walk of life, so I urge party plan­ners to make space for ev­ery­one.

Fi­nally, what’s next for Mer­lot?

I’m ex­cited to con­tinue on in the fash­ion and mu­sic world, and to ex­pand the level of op­por­tu­ni­ties that can be given to queer peo­ple of color like my­self. I want to break the rules and chal­lenge the sys­tem, and most im­por­tantly, re­main un­apolo­get­i­cally and un­wa­ver­ingly true to my­self.

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