We always hear about how important it is for an artist to push the boundaries of what’s possible within a medium or genre, but what does that really mean? Painter and musician Michael Rider might have a clue for us! Born and raised in Richmond, VA, Michael’s interest in music and art began at a young age. After high school, Michael moved to New York City to pursue their studies in music and fine art.
Michael just released the fourth single, ‘Breakthrough’, of their third album, “Temptation.” They have labeled themself as a Dream Pop Singer-Songwriter, and use painting in conjunction with music to realize their artistic process.
Michael identifies as a non-binary person, and we had the opportunity to chat with them to not only talk about their amazing new single, but to also learn more about their experience in discovering this new identity they’ve discovered about themself.
Being a Dream Pop Singer-Songwriter writer: Michael’s Artistic Process
What does it mean to be a “Dream Pop Singer-Songwriter,” and how did this label come about?
Dream Pop was something that I came up with. It’s centered around the idea of texture being as important as melody. That texture and atmosphere are just as telling of the music as any other thing, like the lyrics, or the instrumentation. It’s also traditionally more of a rock genre.
I’m not too invested in it. I’m still trying to find my footing in terms of genre. My music is very intuitive in terms of how I’m feeling at the time I’m writing the music. It’s also kind of automatic writing – something that just kind of flows consciousness, and that pertains to dreams, and this idea of the subconscious. Maybe I take more of a literal definition, but my music does have a HUGE emphasis on texture and ambiance. So yeah, that’s why I say “Dream Pop.”
It’s so nice that you used adjectives like that. We listened to some of your music, and as you were describing it, we could instantly visualize exactly what you’re talking about. Your music does have a texture to it, and it’s interesting to think of music having texture. It’s not always about a bunch of “wee-woos”.
Oh yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s like color or something. It can be just as potent for sure. My background is in art. I went to school for visual art and painting. I think that comes a lot in the way that I see music. It attributes painting with sound for sure. I feel like they’re sister arts, for sure.
Your website states, “Michael attributes their process to making music as painting.” Could you expand on that a little bit?
Like I said, I find that the two processes are very similar. I feel like when I’m making music, I’m using the same principles of art and principles of painting; and then visa versa when I’m painting. I started out singing, and being in theater – as one does when they’re young. Once I came into high school, I took art classes. The one thing that I didn’t like about theater was that I was given a role, but I loved music. With taking art class, I learned what it was to be an artist, and to create your own thing; which is something entirely different. So I kinda combined the two things, and that’s what I’m doing now. This kind of painting or creating with music.
They’re also, of course, very different. I find that it’s always refreshing, if I’m stuck making music, to paint afterwards. Music has always been my passion, because I feel that it’s a more exciting time for music. I think there’s a lot of really interesting things that are happening. With panting, it gives me a different perspective. I also love musicians that can do both of them. A Prime example is Joni Mitchell, who throughout her career, flip flops between painting and music.
The Story behind, ‘Breakthrough’
Congrats on your new single ‘BREAKTHROUGH’ – Can you tell us a little about the origins of the song, and the story behind it?
I wrote BREAKTHROUGH thinking about all the people in my life that suffer from depression. I was dating somebody that had depression, my sister has depression, my cousin, all these close people; my best friend as well. They all suffer from depression, and I felt a need to make a song about it. It could be a metaphor for prevailing and pushing through challenges or barriers. That’s why I wanted to write it. Just kind of like an homage to all the people that I love in my life…I just wanted to give an anthem to them.
Depression is a really tough thing, and I think the reason it’s so tough is because sometimes we get very comfortable being in it. Our daily life is affected by depression, and we compromise a lot of our capabilities and our energies to the hardships; to the heaviness of not wanting to do anything, or just being in that funk.
The music video takes place with you at the bow of a small sailing boat out to sea. Now understanding Dream Pop means adding all that texture, we put it all together that the song does feel like you’re sailing on the ocean. Can you talk about where this imagery came from, and why you decided to move forward with it?
That was a great example of a “life imitating art” kind of thing. My friend has a sailboat in Norfolk, and he was very kind to invite me. Upon being in the sailboat with him, I said, “we HAVE to make a music video!” So we did. We made it, basically, right there. I think this idea of water, for sure, is like…it’s a very wavy song. So that has a literal correlation.
My dear cousin wasn’t a fan of the video. She said that it gave the opposite effect. She felt that I needed to have an empowering video. That I was constrained by the boat, and that I wasn’t able to go anywhere, and just encapsulated in water. However, I completely respect that reading of the video.
I kind of like it though. The song is not about trying to break mountains. I think it’s more about coming to an understanding and an acceptance of what’s going on. Accepting the environment of where you are, and making the best out of it. I think that’s kind of the similarity of being out at sea, and being on a sailboat. You have to accept that you’re at the mercy of the water. Not that you can’t navigate the waters; we have to prevail and continue to be proactive about these things – absolutely!
Getting to know Michael a little more
What is your hair care routine, because Honey – it is GORGEOUS!
Oh my gosh, thank you! I appreciate it! I’m Irish, but I’m also Mexican. I don’t know – I’m just very blessed to have naturally thick and straight hair. That is totally a blessing. I’m pretty sure that it’s the Mexican side of me? Who knows…
My hair care is pretty rudimentary. Basically, I just use Dr. Bronner’s, the all-in-one soap. I’m pretty sure that it’s just a soap, but some people use it on their hair. I try to not put too many crazy products in it. Sometimes I’ll use Johnson’s baby shampoo. I actually don’t own a blow dryer, I just let it dry on its own.
Honestly, that’s really it. I’m all about using what you have naturally there. Everybody has something that they need to take advantage of, for sure. I’m really grateful to have thick and straight hair, so I just grew it out really long.
Many people are still unaware of what it means to be genderqueer, or why some people “choose” to identify this way. We were hoping you could share a little of your story with us.
I’m also gender-indifferent, which basically means that I’m accepting of what people call me, and people say both. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but at the same time it kinda does.
First and foremost, like you and a lot of people, this is all still pretty new to me. Even though being gender non-conforming, or queer, or non-binary – all these things have always existed throughout time, it’s just been in different incarnations. Society has always had a place for people that weren’t in the binary. I came to this epiphany, actually, when I realized that I hadn’t really dated any gay men. I kept finding myself being more attracted to “straighter” men; more masculine men, and I think they like me for my femininity. I enjoy being feminine! I want to look beautiful, and I realized that there was a real purpose to my femininity, and I’m embracing that. It really was just a survival need. I needed to attract my mate.
Obviously some people aren’t going to accept it. For me, if I wasn’t going to accept this part of myself, then there was going to be a part of me that wouldn’t be able to grow. I think ever since I’ve called myself non-binary, I’ve been able to really come into myself in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to if I was thinking about this idea that I was born in this body, and that was how I was going to be identified. Those things are completely separate, and I think that we have to make that distinction. I think that we all have to embrace both feminine and masculine, and everything in between, because I think that just makes you a better person. You’re able to make better decisions, and empathize with people more.
That’s really sweet – we really appreciate you being so open with us, and sharing your story a little bit. We know it’s not always easy to talk about.
Yeah, It’s hard. It’s not an easy thing. For many years, and all of history really, there’s always been colorful people. We’ve always been constricted to thinking either black or white – you’re either one or the other when there’s so much nuanced in between. I think it’s kind of a physiological switch that we have to be cognizant of, but that’s not what describes us. It’s a real switch. I think once you start thinking about that, you start to question other things.
Michael’s Thoughts on the Industry, and the future of Music
We always like to ask young artists where they see the future of music going. What trends do you see becoming more popular as music continues to grow and change?
It’s such a big question. First off, I think that it’s such an amazing time to be a musician. I don’t think we need labels or people telling us how to get from point A to point B in our careers. I think that artists can do things themselves – which is amazing, because of the internet. We have that capability. I think that the whole role of being a studio artist is also going to change. Artists are going to be more hands on with the creation of the music, and that’s also why it’s exciting.
There’s less of this idea of going back to the middleman – artists are going to have more of a touch to their music. I think kinda like how painting was back in the day – where artists would be in their own studios painting. I think the same thing is going to happen with musicians. People that make records will have studios where they live, and they’ll have a much more intimate process with their music. That’s going to be a great thing, and that coincides with this idea of post-genre, and that people have the capability to listen to anything. It’s really exciting! Obviously there’s cons to that as well. I mean, labels will always exist, of course, and I think rightly so. I think there has to be some kind of establishment or industry, but I think it’s all going to be for the better.
I think now with Covid, that’s changed the world. I think it will really change everything for a long time. This idea of the musician being self-practicing, but also the idea of touring. Musicians touring is so rough. I’ve been very grateful to have gone on a couple tours, and even though I’ve had a great time, I’ve met countless musicians that have been completely burnt out from it, and that just don’t tour because of that. Or they begrudgingly tour, but don’t have a good time.
I think that there just needs to be much more room for artists to make their own income, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with being self-substantiated, and making your own work. It’s a really exciting time for musicians, but it’s also a really crazy time as well. I think there’s a lot of roads that are all heading into one destination.
Do you think there are music trends that are dying, and going out of style?
As long as people make music or make art, there will always be discussions around it. It’s probably for the better I think. As the labels or the gatekeepers become less prevalent or all knowing, then I think that will also change for people talking about it, or holding the dialogue for music. I think there will be more room for everyone, which will be good.
Photograph by Lucas Dylan Photograph by Tessa Strong
Looking Forward to the Future
What are some things about the music industry that you would like to see change?
There’s a few things. I’m an independent artist, so I can’t talk too much about the insider knowledge, just because I’ve never truly been a part of it. Obviously I think there needs to be more women that are producers, and that work in the infrastructure of the business. I think also, that being said, more trans people would be a VERY huge step. I’m grateful just to leave it at women, and hope for more trans people, and more people that are outside the spectrum.
There’s a lot of things that could just be better. I think if there is going to be a music industry, then there’s going to have to be change. I’m hopeful that it will change. I’ve not been able to really reach where I’ve wanted to reach in certain places, because I am non-binary, and I’m different, and not a straight man singing about sex and rock and roll and drugs. Going back to this idea of the artist having more control, I think that it’s really important for the industry to have a place for people like me. I am a voice, and I’m a part of a community of people that need their voices out there, because it’s a huge percentage of the population. All these people that are not in the confines of what a straight man is talking about.
What’s your dream venue for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity sold out show?
Oh my gosh, I’ve never thought about that. The first thing that comes to mind is probably Radio City Music hall or Madison Square Garden. It would be an arena in New York, for sure. I will also say this too, that one of the biggest rock venues in Richmond is a venue called The National. I would love to sell out a show at The National. That would be amazing, because that’s my hometown.
Photograph by Tessa Strong
Photograph by Danielle Hope Diamond
Any last words you want to tell us?
If you’re reading this or listening to my music, I really appreciate it. It means the entire world. Literally the only reason – I mean, obviously I HAVE to make music, but there’s such a validation that comes when people actually give a sh*t. So whoever is reading this is amazing, and I respect them very much!
We just want to thank Michael for being so open with us, and talking about their journey with art, depression and discovering their new non-binary indentiy. Do you have anyone in your life that is suffering from depression, or discovering something new within themselves? Feel free to tweet us @TheHoneyPop.
Be sure to be on the lookout for Michael’s new album, “Temptation” due to be released soon!
Featured image source: Michael Rider on Facebook