Fusilier: The WL Interview

Purveyor of: Post-funk, post-R&B.
File next to: Nine Inch Nails, James Brown, Prince.
Playing: WL18 Night 3, Sunday, Feb. 18 @ The Garrison. Get your tickets here!

Fusilier’s energy is as electric as it is political. Né Blake Fusilier, the post-funk, prog-soul songwriter makes music that escapes simple categorization. His art ultimately showcases and draws upon his dual identity as a black, gay man, calling out society’s stereotypes and unconscious biases. Plus you can totally dance to it. He spent the last few years moving around the American Northeast, before eventually settling in New York – where he has continued developing his progressive sound. Wavelength’s Isaac Nikolai Fox caught up with Fusilier ahead of his show at Wavelength Winter Festival 2018 and got the inside intel on living on the road, the imagery he uses in his music videos, and his projects for the coming year.

You were raised in Atlanta, before moving to Boston and then eventually New York, where you’re currently based. Which of those cities feels the most like home at this point?

I’m not someone who ever feels at home anywhere. I prefer life on the road because I just experience new things and meet cool people without having to pretend like I actually belong wherever I am. New York is a really welcoming city to all kinds of misfits. So when I’m not consistently reminded of its status as a monument to consumerism, I love it – though I’m sure I sound like I’m from Atlanta musically. I get really envious when I hear the stuff coming out of there nowadays. It seems like the land of the free Black artist.

There’s a really striking, powerful shot in the video for “Make You” where you’re seen simultaneously in whiteface, as your regular self, and then also in blackface.  Do you want to break down what that shot means to you in the context of the video and the song’s themes?

“Make You” is essentially about what kind of person one chooses to be. It’s a very confrontational song, so I wanted to present myself through the Freudian concepts of id, ego and superego in the most confrontational way possible. I used to think I had a grip on which character corresponds to which concept, but I think if I’m being honest I have a perverse fascination nowadays with how confounding my Blackness is in the indie rock circles I’ve been in since living in Boston, so maybe that’s the id. I keep waiting for someone to talk to me about the video, but people tend to just compliment the video with some dog whistles like “soulful” and “sultry” peppered in. No one actually wants to deal with the confrontation. It’s all so performative. It’s funny that you call the middle personality my “regular self”. I don’t know if that’s true. Even that’s a performance. I’m still calibrating.

In your bio, you talked about how you were once asked “you’re black & gay – how does it feel to have two things wrong with you?” You said that that hit you really hard; do you want to talk more about the specifics of that incident, and why it was so pivotal for you?

I don’t think anyone would find the actual specifics of the situation interesting, but that’s kind of the point. These kinds of things are said off-the-cuff as jokes and then we’re told to not be so sensitive when we react negatively. I chose to highlight that incident because it was a bit of a red pill moment for me. When I realized that I’d never be invisible no matter how hard I tried, I became conscious of what I’ve since learned is called the “white gaze” and how political my very presence is in certain spaces. I think I decided that I was gonna drop the facade and be an unapologetically political and outspoken artist because even my silence was gonna be exoticized.

And since your last release via Brassland in 2017, you’ve been mostly on tour and keeping quiet with releases. Can we expect any new projects from you in 2018?

I’ll have some songs out very soon. I think it’ll include music that’s a little more relatable on a human level because it’s more directly personal. The songs I’ve released have been more philosophical, but I don’t know if anyone has a sense of who I am on a human level. So I’m writing a lot about the mistakes I make in love and about my childhood and how one goes from honor student to rejecting the validation of the institution that gives the honors. It’s all mind control, man.

How would you describe your live show to someone who’s never seen you perform before?

I’ve been getting into live looping – bass, guitar, percussion, and voice. I love the idea of people watching how I write music. It’s a condensed look at my writing process and hopefully, you’ll be able to see how excited I get when a new idea hits me. The feeling is electric.

— Interview by Nikolai Fox