M. Lamar is a New York based artist whose captivating performances have him singing on fierce piano with a gripping countertenor voice and addressing complex and at times uncomfortable themes such as slavery, the sexual aspect of lynching and their legacy. After being in various punk/goth bands and a church choir, while being classically trained, he dropped out of Yale University years ago to pursue his solo musical project and since then he has released two critically acclaimed LPs.
Speculum Orum – Shackled to the Dead is his new album and to promote it he recently played a show in Berlin. I caught up with M. Lamar at Südblock during the first leg of his tour to discuss the state of America today, black dicks, white supremacy and how he sees art.
How did you come to the decision of dropping out of your art school to pursue music?
I should say that I completed my degree in Fine Art. I went to graduate school, I went to Yale for a year where I did mostly sculpture. And I dropped out because I knew I didn’t want to be part of the bourgeois art world. And I also realised that I didn’t want to make visual art. I was going to New York to do shows and perform music in some way and along the way I was taking private voice lessons and music theory but that was just for me. I am actually part of the same festival in Stockholm as Penny Arcade and it’s funny because she is talking about the things that sort of happened in the mid 70s to 80s, all these professional artists who were determined to make money.. And I realised I really didn’t want to do that. And so I dropped out of Yale and moved back to San Francisco.
Were you trying to rebel against your upbringing or family?
No; if anything I was rebelling against society, in general and I was trying to find my people. I went to school in SF undergraduate and then went to Yale; I dropped out and then returned to SF with my people; I moved in with this sort of punk rock, goth, trans crew. That’s when my life really got going when I rejected the whole professional artist thing. I’m from Alabama originally and my mother, who is a teacher, was the first out of ten children in her family to go to college so the longing within that context was to create these very bourgeois children, who would go on to be doctors or lawyers. My mother was very disappointed because my sister also became an artist. So dropping out of Yale was me completely rejecting that longing and was also me finding my own way.
When did you got into black metal?
I came out of this goth, punk thing. I remember at first there was this boy I had a huge crush on and I don’t know how I ended up in his car and Cradle of Filth was on the stereo. And as horrible and commercial as they are now they were probably my introduction to it around 2001. It was the voice that really got me. He was doing his high singing and it really turned me on, and when I was in bands I wanted to do this high singing with this sort of heavy music.