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When I was younger and wanted to listen to artists who were openly gay, the options were pretty much limited to a handful of women who were blazing the trails in clubs and on the road.
Ladies like Ani DiFranco, Ember Swift and Melissa Etheridge were largely the only openly-gay voices readily accessible to most. In recent years that trend has started to change significantly with more and more openly gay males entering the musical arena and producing work that rivals that of their female counterparts.
The advent of online communities such as MySpace also made the spread of gay male musicians more possible. By now everyone is familiar with performers like Rufus Wainwright and the Scissor Sisters, but now more than ever there are many openly gay musicians in almost every genre who have true talent and who produce solid work consistently that discerning listeners may never get the opportunity to hear on most radio or video programs. Out & About Newspaper recently took the time to track down four of the hottest gay male artists working in the industry today to talk about their careers and the latest works they have produced.
Singer/songwriter Eric Himan has been doing the modern day troubadour thing since he was eighteen. He made his name in the independent gay market by doing the hard work of hitting the road and doing whatever it took to expose his infectious folk-pop a la Ani DiFranco to as many people as possible. His music was engaging without being simplistic and thoughtful without being condescending. When Eric Himan was on stage you felt like he was singing just to you. He was that real. Having just released his fifth studio album, the appropriately titled “Everywhere All At Once”, Himan seems to have reached a crossroads in his career.
“When I was 18 all I wanted to do was travel around and play my songs and get the word out about my music so that people will buy my CDs,” Himan said in a phone interview.
“I take a lot of pride in the fact that I'm gay and coming from a military family. I've learned to sort of create my own family on the road. At the time there weren't a lot of guys out there doing that. It was mostly women. So now that I feel like I've done a lot of really cool things, my goals have changed. I'm not sure what my new goal is yet.”
Eternally ambitious, the tattoo-armed Himan is constantly planning what his next step is but he admits that his goals have shifted since falling in love with his partner of over a year now.
“Before I was just another guy who went wherever I wanted, and there I was,” Himan explained, “I never felt a pull to a particular place that felt like home, but then all of a sudden I had this person who has sort-of become my home. “
“Love is hard already,” he continued, “It's a real challenge and when you do what I do there are a lot of questions that come up. It's kind of like the future has changed so this CD kind of came out of trying to figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do from here.”
Regardless of the direction that Himan takes from here with his work, doubtless it will remain as open, honest and introspective as it always has been.
Composer Luke Parkin may just be releasing his second significantly distributed album as a recording artist but many would be shocked to learn that it is actually the 69th full composition the prodigious 27-year-old Parkin has produced. American born, Parkin currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and is already planning the follow up to his most recent release “Things I Didn't Know I Loved,” a two disk collection of compositions inspired by the works of 20th century poets. The collection is a beautifully resonant representation of Parkin's flawless ear for music drawing from varied classical traditions to create a cohesive musical soundtrack of sorts to 20th century poetry.
“The album as a whole runs over 103 minutes, so I knew that it was going to be a big project at the outset,” Parkin said during our phone conversation, “I was actually originally going to include an extra 29 poems in the collection but the record label told me to forget it.”
Parkin already has a whole series of projects in the works for the future including an upcoming collaboration with Paul Oakenfold vocalist Moira Campbell, who will be providing vocals for Parkin's high-octane club compositions and production work.
“The goal with that release is just to have fun,” said Parkin. “It will definitely be a bit of a departure and it may somewhat confuse some reviewers who have become used to my more serious projects. For composers like myself sometimes in order to find your voice demands that you represent yourself as an ecclecticist: Someone who has a kind of mastery of different idioms that come together to represent itself as a complete work.”
Clearly, for someone like Parkin music isn't just something that he does--it seems to be more of a way of life. It drives him now as it has since he was a child and it is nothing less than the impetus for his entire creative self.
Like Eric Himan, singe/songwriter Gregory Douglass is a modern day troubadour who has been on the road since his first album hit the presses at the tender age of 18.
Now at 25 he has six albums under his belt and is keeping the flame of independent music alive and well by traveling the country and delivering powerful and personal performances of his introspective, emotive piano-driven music. Douglass draws much of his inspiration from more eccentric performers like Tori Amos and Kate Bush, but to classify him as a male clone of such is a disservice to the talent of this handsome young man. Douglass brings to his music a dramatic presence that is distinctly his own alongside of a power that demands attention. Douglass is currently on the road supporting his sixth album “Up & Away.”
“I tried to be as artistically open as I could with this record,” Douglass told me as he was driving in the rain through the middle of nowhere to his next tour destination. "I try to make every album revolve around where I am in life at the time. I have had to make a lot of decisions in my personal life and career this year. A lot of these songs are kind of reflecting on the past five albums while acknowledging where I am now in life. I feel like I've built a nice foundation career-wise and I'm really proud of that. Now that I'm in the midst of it all, I'm curious to learn what happens next."
Relative newcomer to the music scene is Brooklyn resident Robert German, who recently released his collection of 12 missives detailing the ups and downs of the experiences he has had in and around his neighborhood.
Appropriately, the album is called “Sirens of Brooklyn.” The title is apt in more ways than one as German is possessed of a hauntingly skilled voice that calls to the listener from dark corners and blind alleyways encouraging them to step from the light into what might be an exciting adventure of dangerous proportions. German shifts and morphs his voice on several of the tracks to mimic the sounds of stringed instruments and horns in a jazz-scat sort of improvisational style that evokes a time out of time.
“I don't think of my work as being something for everyone else in terms of being commercially successful,” German said during a phone conversation, “I feel like a lot of music has become very packaged and produced in a way that has to fit within very defined parameters, especially in pop music where the vocals are so filtered that they no longer even sound like human voices. I really love the idea of the human voice as a musical instrument because you can do so much with it in so many amazing ways.”
No matter if they are just starting out or finally reaching a crossroad in their careers all of these artists have already made marks of significance with their personal journeys. Look for more from all of them because no matter how much their individual lives and music may differ, they all share at least one thing in common: Music is a compulsion that keeps them awake at night and it is not a mistress easily ignored.