LA-based gay musician and writer M. Tennyson today releases his first song, "Easy," off of his debut EP Boy Untitled, a five-song album that serves as a companion piece to his illustrated book of poetry, A Wanderer's Love Letter to the Universe.
Tennyson completed the book of poems in a 30-day writing challenge celebrating his thirtieth birthday. It takes the reader on a hero's journey of personal evolution through five phases: stagnation, recognition, action, victory and evolution.
"'Easy’ represents the beginning of my journey. My relationship with my family was the greatest representation of stagnation in my life and a natural starting point for the arch of the Boy Untitled story," Tennyson explains. Growing up in a highly religious household, the artist found it difficult to reconcile his faith with the often homophobic views found in Christianity.
His first single explores the difficult nature of varying forms of love—he'll be releasing each of the five songs on the record over the course of the next month accompanied by poetry and illustrations from Love Letter.
Take a listen to Tennyson's debut premiering exlusively today on Out, then read our chat with him about growing up Christian, finding inspiration for songs, and the camaraderie of other queer artists below. "Easy" will be available on all streaming services Friday, March 9.
OUT: Tell me about the songwriting process for "Easy"—what was the initial inspiration?
M. Tennyson: The first inspiration for ‘Easy’ came - like a lot of my music - in the shower about a year ago. I sing constantly, especially in the shower, where I'll riff on nonsense and make up melodies. I first heard "setting a fire to the room, watch it burn, pushing love outside your heart, never learn" and I immediately jumped out and recorded it to my phone.
The chorus of ‘Easy’ came first and is most significant because it crystalizes something that I've felt my entire life, but have never been able to put into words: ‘In the shadow of His light, you can't see me’ captures my feeling of living in the shadows of a misinterpreted God and misguided faith. In my parents' home, salvation was at the center of every discussion. During my childhood, their faith told them (as they told me) that something was wrong with me because they thought I might be gay. Today, it is this same context that prevents them them from seeing and loving me as I truly am.
Once I finished the chorus, the verses came pretty easily. Each one dots across my memory as a child and young adult: Lying awake in bed at night wondering why I felt different. Being told I could be whatever I wanted... except that. The day I came out. My heart hanging in dead air, ears ringing and trying to breath through the moment while chaos swirled around me.
Was it difficult reconciling your faith with your sexuality?
Many of my close friends have advised that I step away from my family or cut them out completely. Growing up gay—and by that I mean my gay education since coming out at 23—I've often heard that this tough approach is the only way to make discordant family members truly understand the stakes of our disagreement. To me, it was never that simple. I love my family. I always will. I've come to learn that my job isn't to try and change them (or anyone for that matter), but to live my life authentically and trust that the truth I radiate will effect people positively. So when a friend asks about my upbringing and gets angry on my behalf, the only thing I can say is that ‘our love isn't easy.’ It will likely never be easy, but I've made the choice to keep loving them; to shine some light on this world and trust that they will one day see me, my husband and my life a little more clearly.
How does your queer identity influence/ impact your work?
In the most obvious way, my queer identity is the starting point of this EP. It's about my struggling to find unconditional love in a family that values heteronormative, "Christian" behaviors over their own love for their son. Since coming out (and in response to this upbringing) I became deeply involved in the queer art scene in Los Angeles. I started INSTALL-LA, a public art consulting business, in 2012 as a platform to find resources and an audience for emerging queer artists, producing events all over the city. I served as the Art Programmer for LA Pride from 2013-2015. I spent my formative years as a young gay man digging into the club kid scene and figuring out how to get into the dressing room of Mr. Blacks in Hollywood. Under the name CoMa I worked with my creative partner Coy Barton putting together looks, stomping around in heels and using every surface (gogo box, burger joint counter and cross walk) as a stage on which I could publicly explore my faggotry—my own blend of masculinity and femininity.
I've spent the last ten years of my life committed to producing and collaborating with other queer artists. I'm a proud member of the Savage Family, led by Love Bailey and I'm using this EP as an opportunity to go even further into my personal exploration. As I mentioned above, one of the larger themes of Boy Untitled is about evolving beyond the need to find a perfect ending. For me, that's manifested in my letting go of the need to have a perfectly defined identification.
Is poetry writing a very different process from songwriting? How so?
For me, the two are very different. Much of my poetry is stream of consciousness. I sit down and begin to write. As I get into the flow, I think less, type faster and ride the wave. I'm typically an emotional writer; that is, I'll write when my feelings become thick and heavy.
Writing music on the other hand, is more like working on a puzzle. When writing from scratch by myself, I usually start with a melody and a word or two that I find inspiring. I'll sit down and start mapping out chords, using garbage lyrics to find the meter of the song. Once I've locked in the melody for each section, I'll figure out the sentiment and then go to work piecing the words together in a way that fits the flow. Unlike the poetry, which feels safe and easy, music requires a lot more trial and error on my part.
I grew up as a musician. I was a classically trained pianist at the age of four and a professional singer at the age of nine. By 18, I ran away from music because the pressure to succeed was too much. For the next 12 years, I told myself that I could not write music because I could not do it technically, let alone perfectly. "Easy" is the first song that I ever wrote fully.
Who would you like to collaborate with down the line and who are your biggest influences?
There is a long list. But the ones that are coming to mind right now: Bob Moses. I remember hearing "Tearing Me Up" for the first time. I was around a campfire with a group of friends and it played in the background. Eventually everyone stopped talking and by the time the final chorus swelled, we were all transfixed. I want my music to have that power. That song inspired me to finally sit my ass down and write. Good or bad didn't matter anymore. I just committed to getting something on paper and, now, I'm releasing my first single. Marina and the Diamonds. I've been a fan of Marina's since "Radioactive" and I've seen her three times now over the years in LA. Like a good gay, I have a love for pop, especially indie-pop. Marina is an incredible writer and uses the genre in such a thoughtful, evocative way. I also love the way she uses her voice and would love the opportunity to duet together.
Tonally, the biggest influences for me right now include Rüfüs dul Sol, Bob Moses, Jamie Woon, Years & Years, Sofi Tukker, James Blunt and Troye Sivan. More personally, I'm incredibly lucky to have so many talented musician friends—established and emerging—who are on the same journey as me, finding their way and stepping into their light. Marley Otto of the Colour Coast, Justin Michael Williams, Bebe Huxley, Jake Shears, Adam Lambert and Rocky Heron have been particular sources of influence and support. Whether that has been helping me build the courage to recognize myself as an artist or listening to a endless amount of mixes, these people have lifted me up in their own way and I truly believe that when one wins, we all win. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of mutual support and resonance in our community of musicians.