Mal Blum has an amazing laugh, the kind of warm laugh that makes you start to chuckle along as well. And with Blum’s delightful sense of humor, there’s no shortage of laughter while City Paper chats with Blum on the phone from their home in New York City.
“Spooky things happen when I’m around. I always felt different than other living people, and one day I saw a ghost on TV, and I thought, ‘That’s a possibility, I could just be a ghost.’ I haven’t quite figured it out, so I’m using paranormal as an umbrella term,” jokes Blum, a nonbinary transgender musician, who uses they/their pronouns and who is often quizzed about their identity.
“I have ADHD, so I will derail this conversation,” promises Blum playfully.
We only digress a bit to talk about one of Blum’s loves besides being a musician — watching television. Currently Blum’s Twitter name is Mal ~sad boy juliette barnes~ Blum, in homage to Juliette Barnes on the television series Nashville.
“When I’m home, I watch a lot of TV. I guess when I’m depressed, I watch a lot of television — mostly reality shows, lots of kitschy stuff,” says Blum. “I hate to admit it, but I have gotten into the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise.”
Blum grew up in a household where Billy Joel was their mother’s musician of choice, while their father favored the Beach Boys.
“I don’t consciously listen to both of those bands all the time, but I will say I still do love Billy Joel and the Beach Boys. I think they are amazing songwriters,” says Blum, adding with a chuckle, “I kind of identify with both of them. Billy Joel’s a Jew, and Brian Wilson is mentally ill.”
Blum is a folk-meets-punk-meets-pop musician whose art is representative of their experience, both as somebody who is nonbinary transgender and mentally ill. As a result, it’s hard not to feel like the music they write is an intimate conversation between friends, a confession of heartaches and fears.
And Blum is also quite accessible via their social-media accounts, namely their hilarious and honest Twitter feed. But being so unguarded leaves the door open to let a lot of folks in. Luckily, Blum finds that being so open isn’t too risky.
“Some of my [musician] friends who maybe have less interaction with their fans on social media still deal with the same level of intrusion — that one [out] of every hundred people who will step over a boundary, which is about the same for me. I don’t know if it’s about access. But if you’re making yourself a figure for mental health, it’s true that people can project things on you,” Blum says.
On this next tour, Blum will hit the road as Mal Blum and the Blums, the first full-band tour in a few months after a string of solo outings.
As a band, the Blums’ energy is vibrant and fun, transforming raw and vulnerable songs into celebratory parties of survival and joy.
“[Performing with] the band definitely helps. I can tell you after a few months of solo touring, it gets a lot darker without the band,” laughs Blum.
“To be honest with you, the reason I started to make music as a teen was because I wanted to connect to other people like me, because I felt so weird. And it’s a cliché, but it’s true for me,” explains Blum. “[It’s] the reason you can have fun … with … the deep sadness, that’s the humanity of it. There’s joy and there’s humor and there’s sadness.”
Humor is a big component of Blum’s coping methods, something that thrives when they get to be on the road with their best friends, playing rock gigs.
Ask Blum about their writing process, and they’ll be frank.
“It’s not very disciplined, if I’m being honest with you,” says Blum. “I write mostly when I need to get something out.
“I’ll have periods where I’m writing a lot, and some in which I’m not writing at all. But as I get older, I’ve been giving myself that allowance.”
Mal Blum and the Blums have recently completed an album though.
“I never think I do anything good. I am really heavily self-loathing and self-doubting, and I think it’s good, so that should tell you something,” says Blum. “I feel like we finally hit our stride as the band. Audrey [Zee Whitesides] moved to second guitar, Ricardo [Lagomasino] is on drums, Barrett [Lindgren] is on bass. We produced it ourselves, wrote the parts together.”
The album was recorded with Joe Reinhart, of Hop Along, at The Headroom recording studio in Philadelphia.
“It was so nice to be in Philly, not New York, because it was a little more relaxing,” Blum says. “There are more rippers on this album, and we let [guitarist] Audrey go loose on some of them. There are some mellow songs, too.”
When CP asks if Blum ever anticipated being a full-time musician as a teen, as they sat in the car listening to folk and blues on the radio with their dad, they responds with a definitive yes.
“That’s what I wanted when I was a teenager. I told myself, ‘I’m gonna hit the road! Sell CDs out of my car!’ I don’t think I really knew what went into being a touring musician,” Blum laughs. “But I’m lucky that I get to make a career out of it.”