Starting his musical career as the bassist for the Boston-based indie rock band RIBS, an act that quickly rose to national prominence and opened for The Joy Formidable and Queens of the Stone Age, the Atlanta-born multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Blake Fusilier grew up having a similar experience that I did as a child, teenager and young adult — of not quite fitting in with your contemporaries. As a teenager while many of his peers aspired to sign to LaFace Records and SoSoDef Records, Fusilier picked up the violin, dreamt of being the black Itzhak Perlman and was obsessed with the work of Edgar Allen Poe. And of course, like odd teenagers everywhere — especially very odd, black teenagers — Fusilier quickly learned that when you’re a square peg, you can be equally hated and ridiculed. Around that time, the Atlanta-born multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer had begun writing his own material.
As RIBS started to achieve national attention, someone asked Fusilier about his experience being black and gay, and at the time, the Atlanta-born artist began to realize two very important personal truths — that he had been running away from those questions for most of his adult life, and that the world’s perceptions and assumptions of him and about him were spiritually and emotionally exhausting. And from that point forward, Fusilier decided that he wanted and needed to make music that would not only drain those questions about his experience and those of others of their power, but to also make them permanently irrelevant. As Fusilier explained in press notes, “I have this theory that if people knew who we really were in their minds, we probably would all have a lot more respect for one another. This applies to everyone: friends and acquaintances and bandmates. I think it’s our duty to ourselves to make sure that those around us have a chance to allow others to see our glorious, true selves. I finally feel like I’m beginning to live by those words. The songs I’m wrapping up have been floating around for years. I had been anticipating the moment when people could actually hear even 20 seconds of my potential.”
The early response so far to Fusilier’s work has been wildly positive with one critic describing his sound as being a synthesis of James Brown and Nine Inch Nails — although his latest single “Make You,” immediately brings to mind the work of Prince, Jef Barbara, Boulevards, and Gordon Voidwell as Fusilier pairs his sultry and sensual cooing with a slick, hyper modern production featuring a sinuous and propulsive bass line, tambourine-led percussion bolstered by stuttering drum programming, arpeggio synth chords, a funky brass sample and a deeply infectious hook. And while being a sultry, club banger the song possesses an ironic and withering sociopolitical commentary that ridicules and obliterates racial stereotypes in a fashion similar to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.”
Certainly, when we have a presidential administration that has emboldened supremacist and racist groups to flourish and be as hateful as they once were, having a wider variety of black voices, frankly discussing their unique experiences — and helping to tear down racist assumptions. But it also should serve as a powerful reminder that pop, dance music and funk have long been full of sociopolitical messages; after all, music, art and comedy are some of the best weapons against autocratic, power hungry governments.
As for the video, the Atlanta-born multi-instrumentalist, producer and singer/songwriter explains “I look at my body and what little I know of my family’s story and can’t help but think that I am a most American thing. I’m talking about the mixture of marriages and what I can only assume to be rapes amongst oppressors, the enslaved and the original inhabitants that gave me my coarse hair, jawline and skin and this name, ‘Fusilier.’ The ‘Make You’ video is a very public exorcism of my inner turmoil knowing that people will always see in me themselves and the other, friend and enemy, lust and aversion.”