Sometimes, coming out can actually help your career. Or at least that's been the case with Derek Bishop, an openly gay singer-songwriter whose recent debut album, Resistance is Beautiful, is now available on iTunes.
According to Bishop, he didn't reach his creative peak until after he came out of the closet at 29. Before that, he says he mostly stuck to supporting roles in bands. Now, Bishop is finally achieving his full potential, regularly churning out songs and honing his own musical style — a bubbly, fun amalgam of electro-pop, blues, and probably 10 other styles which are difficult to pinpoint.
We caught up with Bishop to find out more about what helped make him the artist he is today.
Out: Tell us what it was like growing up gay in rural Virginia.
Derek Bishop: I remember in one of my [Virginia Tech] journalism classes, the professor brought in a gay organization so we could interview what he called a “hostile interview.” The people in it had all been disowned and abandoned, so they were all supposed to be sad and bitter. And of course if you’re in a college that’s almost in the mountains of West Virginia, then the people who are doing the interviews in the class are kind of rednecky...and I was one of them. So we’d never seen a group of 12 gay people in front of us...and that was what “gay” was to us after that. So I guess I just assumed in the back of my head...that I wasn’t going to do one of those cover-up things. You know, like date girls. I did that in high school. Essentially I decided I was going to be asexual...That way I wasn’t hurting anybody, and I wasn’t stepping on the toes of anybody.
Do you think coming out helped your music career?
I think that early on...I wrapped the idea of “performing” into the same framework or fabric as “being gay,” because both of those give you attention. As a kid in a small town, you don’t want attention if you’re gay or if you’re different. You just kind of stick to the plan and you don’t want to be special or anything, because you don’t want to be bullied or picked on.
I think I carried that with me. I was still in the closet while I was the background piano player [for a band I was in.] After coming out, I was like, “Why am I everybody’s background piano player? I’m writing songs all the time, and I’m just making sets of them and sitting them there with dust on them...I’m not doing anything with it.” It was kind of like having the blueprints or floor plans to a house. You know you have that great house, but you still have to build it.
Did that experience help you write your newest album?
Yes, my new album is based on all of that. It’s all about denying [yourself] and not wanting to reach your full potential. Some of the songs are about being gay and being afraid to come out, and other songs are just about sitting on your butt and being afraid to make something of yourself. It’s a good CD for people who are feeling stuck.
Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
Sometimes great things come from being drunk. You know, I’ll get motivated to redesign my bedroom or something, and it will end up being really cool. But I have all these notes lying around which I write [when I’m drunk]...and they’re actually good ideas. I’ll just write them and put them away...and then I’ll find them and be like, “That’s a great line...I’m going to write a song around it.”
I saw an interview with someone—I think it was Stevie Nicks—and she said, “You don’t need to be drunk or on drugs to be creative. You need to be inspired.” Which is true! But for me, the only time I feel inspired is when I’m in the moment and I don’t have my list of things to do swimming around my head. That blocks me. And sometimes, the best way for me to get relaxed is to have a couple of glasses of whatever.
Sometimes I make these hour-long voice memos [on my iPhone], and I have to kind of parse through them the next day to find something viable. I almost wish I had more of those nights...Like, I kind of wish that every night was like Midnight in Paris, where you’re truly inspired because you’re just like, “This is amazing.”
Do you play any other instruments besides piano?
The accordion, but it can really drive people batshit. I haven’t even pulled it out yet [in my new Morningside apartment.] There’s somebody who practices the trumpet at night, and it just sounds like this New York jazz night. It’s so good. So I’m not about to get out my accordion and go *WONK* *HONK* *HONNNNK* and ruin it.
You seem to have pretty eclectic musical tastes. What are some of your influences?
My parents had an amazing album collection, and I would listen to a lot of disco...which was all being played by real people. Like, you could see a Donna Summer concert and there would be 40 people behind her playing...and that was so exciting to watch. I loved the feel of the music, and the beat—I loved the danceability—but this was stuff with real people. And you can’t copy that. So I do appreciate older styles where there’s humanity pulsating through the beats and the rhythms, and the arrangements.
So what I wanted to do with this album was recapture the music that I was inspired by, and get the sounds of the songs that I liked. We used old keyboards from the 1960s, and things like that. We didn’t actually go as far as to use old microphones from the '60s or amps from the '70s, but we used as much as we could get our hands on while sticking to a budget.
What else do you like about that era?
Vinyl! I wish I had the money to release everything in vinyl, because I want to design a cover that’s 12 x 12, not 4.75 x 4.75. I come from a background of graphic design, so I want to make big, tangible art. But it’s not just about [my ego.] It’s not like I want people to be holding 12 inches of myself. Wait...
On that note, check out the video for Bishop's first single, "The Last Word," below. For more information about upcoming shows in NYC, head over to his website. And finally, if you want to see his latest video, click over and watch it on YouTube.