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INTERVIEW: M. Tennyson

1. How have you been?

I’ve been really good! This year has been super busy with my two releases and I’m currently rehearsing for a show on June 16th where I will be premiering my full EP.More on that later.

2. Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Spark.”

“Spark” is the second song on the “Boy Untitled” track list, which corresponds to the second part of my book, “A Wanderer’s Love Letter to the Universe.” “Spark” is about that moment of recognition in our lives where we realize, in the quiet of our stillness, that change is truly possibly. While “Easy” is about the paralysis of stagnation, “Spark” is finally seeing that change starts with one step forward, even if we don’t know where that step will take us. It’s not about the destination, but summoning the power to break your current cycle. It’s the very beginning of rebirth.

3. Did any particular event inspire you to write this song?

Unlike “Easy” which was very specifically about growing up in a Christian home and coming out, “Spark” was written, more generally, as a result of many lessons learned during the growth cycle I was experiencing at the time. This EP is about realizing that there is not destination in our journey, but that life is just a series of cycles – life, death, rebirth, and so on. Mid-last year, this particular cycle was deeply rooted in my becoming a recording artist. I was raised as a musician and then backed away from it because of the overwhelming pressure I felt to succeed. Over time, I accepted the false idea that I couldn’t be a musician any longer. It wasn’t until I started writing poetry (which would later become “A Wanderer’s Love Letter to the Universe”) that I had a daily creative practice. This was my first step, the spark that led me to finish the book and start writing down the music floating in my head. The bridge of the song came much later during a time of emotional growth where I had to really confront the shadows in my life. For me, this embodied the message of the the track so perfectly. Once I was able to learn their faces and become friends with those shadows, I could truly move onto the next phase of this journey.

4. How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

Here is a link to the preview of the “Spark” Visual Diary: https://youtu.be/EqpTjswoC64

When I started recording “Boy Untitled,” I had a full vision of what I wanted this project to be. I wanted to create a multi-media, multi-platform experience that tells the story of personal evolution. Creating the book, the EP and the Visual Diary required me to learn a lot very quickly. So the filming process behind this video – as for all of the other pieces of the project – was primarily exploratory and experimental. I’ve worked really hard on constructing a concrete outline that people can follow if they chose to, but more importantly this outline is intended to create a space for me to think freely and do whatever I want. I’m doing my best to strike the careful balance between having structure that feels coherent and remaining nimble enough to allow the process of creative evolution to naturally take place.

For “Spark,” I worked with director and cinematographer Pietro Torrisi on a loose concept for the Visual Diary entries. Each song has three chapters. I gave Pietro one word/idea for each chapter: Perspective. Awareness. Intention. Pietro was then able to come up with a visual concept for each, a key image that we would build a lose story around. We drove out to the Sedona wilderness in Arizona with some friends and hiked 5-8 miles each day looking for locations. Pietro is incredible to work with. Aside from his amazing eye and talent, he and I were really able to lock into a rhythm with one another.  For me, each take was an exploration of my body and the movements I have been workshopping with choreographer Danny Dolan while becoming the character of “The Wanderer” from the book. In these moments, Pietro was able to direct and communicate with me on a level that felt mutual, safe and personal. We really felt the magic in each other and I feel like that’s evident in the final product.

5. What is the story behind the title “Boy Untitled?”

“Boy Untitled” is intended to be a journey through the process of personal evolution. The five songs take the audience from emotional stagnation, to recognizing that change is possible, to taking action and going to war with the self, to victory and, finally, evolution. For me, not knowing who I was or who I was supposed to become created a lot of (self-inflicted) pressure on defining myself. I think a lot of people have experienced this while redefining themselves. I spent so much of my life living from box to box – Christian, then gay-person, the artist, etc.. During the process of writing “Boy Untitled,” I realized that the journey of defining myself requires an excessive amount of energy and it’s really limiting. The Boy Untitled – me – is representative my letting go of the need to be perfectly defined, because this journey has no beginning or end. It’s only breathing in and breathing out. It’s life, death and rebirth over and over again. It’s the never-ending cycle the Wanderer embraces in Love Letter and I embrace by the end of the EP. The victory in this journey is realizing that there is no end point and how freeing/exciting that is. I can be whatever I want to be for however long I want to be it … and then I can change.

6. Is this EP a conceptual record?

By definition, I would say so, but I also feel that each track stands alone with its own message and story. Like I mentioned above, I started writing “Boy Untitled” with a very clear vision of the full story and arc. I hope that people will see this journey. I hope that people will be inspired to follow along and once the entire project is released, to sit down and listen to the EP as a single, continuous work. That being said, being an artist means letting go of any expectations of how people will interact with my work. Maybe one of the songs will shine as a single, maybe none of it will get widely recognized until the whole EP is out, and maybe this project is just a stepping stone towards something larger!

7. How did you come up with the idea for the book … and this soundtrack?

When I turned 30, I told myself that I was going to write an album that year. I grew up as a musician – a concert trained pianist and a professional singer – but I had a lot of mental and emotional blocks keeping me from embracing this part of myself as an adult. I decided to get into a daily creative practice first, so I started a 30-day writing challenge. Each day, I committed to sitting down for some period of time and free writing. I posted each day to my Instagram and branded it #30daysof30. This was mostly to create some accountability for myself. The response to my writing was incredible. At the time, my friend and incredible artist, Love Bailey, was curating the an issue of Glassbook Magazine and asked if I would contribute my work. In doing so, I ended up organizing my 30 days of poetry and prose into a 5-part story. I shared this story with another friend and illustrator, Diego Eduardo. He and I then collaborated on turning this book into a fully illustrated, visual journey. The creative process continued to unfold from there. As I continued to work with Diego, I began hearing melodies. I put those down on paper while cross-referencing the text from “A Wanderer’s Love Letter to the Universe.” I brought all of these ideas to producer, Rush Davis, who got really excited about the project and has shepherded the EP to its completion. This process has been the most beautiful experience for me. It’s been a meditation on trusting and allowing. I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other and learning as I go. At every junction, I’ve been fortunate enough to find someone with a mutually inspiring vision that has contributed to the final product of “Boy Untitled.”

8. How was the recording and writing process?

Again, the writing and recording process has been a huge learning experience for me. I used to think that I couldn’t write music because I didn’t know how to do it perfectly. I didn’t want to put anything out unless it was my absolute best. Part of getting over this mental block was my getting comfortable with being mediocre. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but once I let go of the need to be perfect and embraced the freedom in putting ideas to paper – “good” or “bad” – the gates opened for me to truly create.

A lot of my writing happens while I’m in the shower and while I’m driving. I always keep my phone nearby so that I can record something quickly. It’s usually one line that sticks in my head. Once I get that line down, I’ll go to the piano and figure out a chord progression. From there, I’m able to structure the song. Once I had a bank of these ideas, I recorded a scratch version of “Easy” with a friend. I then took this library of ideas and the test track to Rush who agreed to EP the project. We chose two of the tracks that I wrote and then added three more that were written by producer, Danny Shyman. Rush and I co-wrote the melody and lyrics on those tracks. I have learned so much from working with these two. They saw my vision for the story of this EP and brought it to life. I’m so thankful that my first experience in writing an album was with them.

9. What personal and life struggles did you get to explore on this record.

I think questions 3 and 5 already answer this question. Addendum: “Spark.” Writing “Spark” really allowed me to crystalize and integrate a lot of lessons I have been presented with over the past year. The idea of manifestation – the power to create the life that I want by thinking and speaking it into existence – has been life changing. It’s so necessary to be able to acknowledge those moments where I feel stuck. Looking in the mirror and saying, “Hey, you’re repeating old patterns that aren’t serving you. That’s ok, everyone struggles with this, but now you can move on! – is empowering! The final result of this song isn’t that I’ve “figured it all out,” it’s knowing that I’m now equipped to to make changes in my life whenever they present themselves.

10. Any plans to hit the road.

Right now, I’m currently working on a staged version of the “Boy Untitled EP” which will be performed for the first time at the Queer Biennial 2018 Closing Party on June 16 in LA. Featuring original choreography by Danny Dolan and visuals by various friends and artists, I’m excited to present the EP as a single, theatric experience from start to finish. Again, with the intention of exploring myself as an artist and experimenting with the format, I will continue touring this show in galleries, venues and non-traditional performance spaces here and abroad. You can find out more information on my June 16th performance by going to www.queerbiennial.com.

11. What else is happening in M. Tennyson’s World.

In addition to preparations for June, I am in pre-production for the rest of the Visual Diary for the “Boy Untitled EP, as well as, the animated lyric videos. I’m also working on finalizing the design and layout for “A Wanderer’s Love Letter to the Universe” and am looking for a publishers to partner with for the release.

Listen here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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