Singer/songwriter/producer Paul Michael releases his debut album Pain & Love on all streaming platforms today. His beautiful queercentric electronic opus features collaborations with other LGBTQ+ vocalists like the R&B artist Janockeil as well as the London based synth-pop artist Zhero. The Queer Reviews editor spoke exclusively with Paul Michael about his inspirations and musical heroes.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Pain and Love are words that we often associate with one another…Tell us a bit about what inspired the themes of your debut album and if there’s an autobiographical element.
“Great question, music has always been a way to process my thoughts and emotions. I often write songs about my own desires or anxieties. Like so many others who grew up in the Southern United States, I struggled for long time with the crippling fear of people finding out I was gay. For me, Pain & Love is an album about deciding to be open, to be vulnerable, even if it means there could be suffering.”
For those who haven’t listened to Pain & Love yet how would you describe your style?
“I’d say my sound is if you mixed Years & Years with RÜFÜS DU SOL. I’m such a sucker for pop, but I also listen to a lot of house and downtempo.”
How would you say your sexuality manifests in music?
“I’m a pretty positive person, but I think I still have some repressed rage in me. I like writing music that would make the homophobic people in my life uncomfortable, while still keeping things a little bit playful.”
Who did you collaborate with in terms of production, guest vocalists and co-writers?
“I had a chance to work with New Jersey based artist and R&B singer Janockeil on the track Real Fantasy. He has an incredibly powerful voice and I had been following his work for a while before we started working together. I had some initial ideas with the lyrics and then Janockeil helped write the rest. Another artist I’ve been excited to collaborate with is Zhero, who is currently based in London. Zhero makes these incredibly personal and sometimes dark synth-pop tracks. We ended up co-writing a song called Best High I Know, it’s a unrequited love song about a chance encounter with a stranger. I try to collaborate with other queer artists and both Zhero and Janockeil have been amazing to work with.”
Who are you your musical influences or who do you most admire musically?
“It’s hard for me to pick just a few! Olly Alexander from Years & Years is my idol, but I gravitate towards other gay pop artists like Sakima or Link Lauren. I also grew up on artists like The Postal Service and Depeche Mode so I feel like I inevitably drift towards that sound.”
Do you have a favourite LGBTQ+ movie, TV series, book, artwork or piece of music and why?
“One of my favorite queer performance artists is Cassils. They make really engaging work about the representation of bodies within culture. There’s one performance by them that sticks out in my mind called Becoming An Image, where they attacked a large slab of clay in a completely dark room. A group of photographers takes pictures and illuminates the scene in flashes as Cassils punches and kicks the clay. Cassils is making really important work regarding the representation of queer bodies and is definitely one of my favorites.”