By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Los Angeles producer Blaire Michael has released the music video for her new single with San Diego rapper Lew Salem called “Start With You,” co-directed with Nico Turner (Cat Power, Vincent Gallo).
The song pays tribute to the notion that the push for true change starts from within, especially when one can feel powerless because the world is sometimes too overpowering. The duo hopes to inspire people to show more kindness, understanding and compassion.
Michael’s debut LP will feature several vocalists and showcase her production stylings, inspired by the likes of Diplo, Timbaland and Quincy Jones.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with the two about “Start With You” and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe California to someone who has never been there before?
Blaire Michael – I would describe it as an all-you-can-eat sunshine buffet where the avocado trees overfloweth, the Earth rocks you to sleep and you can say things like, “I can go surfing and skiing in the same day,” but never actually do it! (Laughs) I am from Memphis, Tennessee and I really enjoyed growing up in the South, but California has been very sweet to me. I would find it hard to leave.
Lew Salem – California is super chill and polite for the most part. My hometown of San Diego is a literal paradise year-round and while I’ve found some tough contenders, it’s the one city I could see myself settling down in for sure.
Music Bugle – What made you guys want to work together?
Blaire Michael – Lew and I had met at a recording studio when he was showing his songs to the engineer. We didn’t get to really chat until the next time I saw him was at the studio opening party. He was standing there wearing his single, dangling lightning bolt earring reminiscent of a young George Michael and I remember thinking, “Okay, this guy is talented and also has style. We have to be friends.” Ultimately, it was his vocal skills and work ethic that made me want to collaborate with him. He is so in his pocket as a vocalist and incredibly dedicated to his craft. Plus, he is just a generally great and respectful guy and an awesome friend, so it works across the board!
Lew Salem – For me, it was a combination of mutual fandom and respect. We ended up becoming friends and about a year later after meeting, would release our first collaboration together. I really respect her musical ear and approach to arranging a song and she trusts my lyrical ability when it comes to crafting a story. The end result is a dope friendship and even better music! (Laughs)
Music Bugle – How did “Start With You” come to be?
Blaire Michael – “Start With You” had been sitting on my hard-drive for about a year waiting for me to give it the attention it deserved. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the topline, so it was gathering dust. As the quarantine for COVID-19 dragged on, I felt drawn to the song. It had this feel-good, summer vibe that felt like an escape from the monotony of self-isolation and the uncertainty of life. I hit up Lew and asked him if he would be down to write some inspirational lyrics and he delivered this magical, uplifting topline. Lew and I tracked our vocals in our home studios, I mixed the track and then sent it off to be mastered by Wes Osborne at Violet Lantern Mastering. I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out.
Lew Salem – Of course, I was honored to be presented with the opportunity. It took me a little bit of time, especially with the quarantine and then when the protests hit, I just put a pause on everything. After a while, I was finally ready to get back to the track and the rest was history.
Music Bugle – What was it like making the music video for “Start With You”?
Blaire Michael – Making the music video was an intense, incredible experience. “Start With You” was not only my directorial debut, but also my first time being the talent in a music video. My partner, Nico Turner and I were just sort of musing over the idea, but once my vision started to come together – this sort of time warp between the 1970s and the present day that hints at the dragging monotony of isolation during COVID-19 and the parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter – we knew we had to do it. Lew suggested we use Future’s Past, LLC, an amazing P.O.C.-owned film production studio in San Diego, to shoot the video and they were awesome. Nico and I basically ate, slept and breathed this project for a month. We co-directed and ended up editing the music video together. I think my favorite parts of the experience was working with such an awesome team, watching Lew completely slay all his takes and seeing how Nico used her editing magic to make me look like a good dancer! (Laughs)
Lew Salem – Making the music video for “Start with You” was a lot of fun, honestly. Blaire and Nico really blew me away with how much attention to detail they put into the set design and direction of the video. The production team at Future’s Past did an awesome job at bringing everything to life in a polished way. To date, it’s been the biggest music video production I’ve been a part of and I can’t wait for everyone to see the final result!
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Blaire Michael – Well, I now know what is hiding in the depths of my psyche, so that’s new! (Laughs) In all seriousness, I think the most tangible impact has been on the time and care I put into my personal relationships. COVID-19 has really put emphasis on the importance of friendships and chosen family. I was in complete isolation for a month in March after showing COVID-19 symptoms. Phone calls and video chats with my friends were my saving grace.
Lew Salem – Personally, I’ve been kind of middle of the road. Prior to the pandemic, I had shifted to being more introverted in regards to going to clubs and bars and stuff, so when it hit, I wasn’t too affected. I mainly devoted my free time to going on walks and just becoming reacquainted with my neighborhood. It was nice exploring new areas that I had always driven past and I recently got a bike, so it’s helping a lot with exercise. Mentally, it’s been a bit different. It’s really tough and at times, bewildering to see so many people flat-out ignoring social distancing or denying that COVID-19 is that big of an issue. I personally make sure to wear a mask whenever I go out, especially if it’s to any type of gathering. Even if it’s only keeping one person from getting sick, that’s worth it to me to keep practicing social distancing measures.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Blaire Michael – I listened to a lot of the band Metric in my teen years and one particular line from the song “IOU” has always resonated with me – “When she wishes, she wishes for less ways to wish for, more ways to work toward it.” I have it written on the wall of my studio. Building a career in music production and as an artist is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. This line reminds me that the magic is in the work and keeps me moving.
Lew Salem – (Laughs) I don’t really have a specific quote, more like a mindset, which is “balance.” I don’t really like extremes in anything and feel that finding balance is the key to longevity and living a full life. There’s times to play it safe and then there’s times to go out on the ledge. My personal challenge is differentiating between the two and overall, just spreading love and joy in anything that I do.
Music Bugle – If you had the chance to chat one-on-one with one of your musical influences, who would you choose?
Blaire Michael – For me, it’s Grimes. She has been a sort of northern light for me as a female producer in the industry. When I realized I wanted to be an artist after years in academia, I knew no one. I thought I would never be able to create the music I wanted to make. Then, I started reading about how she taught herself how to produce and engineer and was inspired to take my career into my own hands. I started teaching myself music production and fell in love. She is also 100 percent herself – whether you like it or not – and that inspires me to follow my own unique creative voice.
Lew Salem – If I had the chance to chat one-on-one with one of my musical influences, I’d probably pick Tyler, the Creator. He didn’t necessarily influence me sonically, more so in his mindset and approach to carving a lane uniquely his own. I love that he did it in such a way that he kind of has the best of both worlds – getting the success while still being at the helm of the ship. I really wanna thank him and exchange ideas about where art is heading next.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt the music industry?
Blaire Michael – I feel like it is a mixed bag. It can definitely be a great way to find your people, build relationships and share your projects, but for the D.I.Y. artist without a social media team, it seems like it can sometimes add another hoop to jump through when you really just want to be making a beat or writing a melody. I try to find ways to make it part of my creative expression.
Lew Salem – I think that social media in the music industry is a major double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s connected artists to their fans in more intimate ways than ever achieved before. On the other, it’s created this thing where artists aren’t seen as human and can result in such massive amounts of negativity being directed to them. It took all the scammers, schemers and haters and just magnified them. It’s blurred the lines between what’s real and what’s fake and I feel that we’re long past the point of turning back, so at this point, it’s just trying to see the truth for yourself. It can be tough, since there’s a huge business in perpetuating certain ideas or attitudes that are ultimately detrimental to the average person, but it’s worth it to try and maintain a healthy life.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest struggle lately?
Blaire Michael – I think the exhaustion of trying to keep moving forward in the face of the ongoing uncertainty and – necessary – social upheaval in the U.S. has been a real struggle. So much needs to change in our country, especially when it comes to racial justice and it’s easy to feel powerless sometimes. Luckily, there has been this amazing outpouring of activism and supportive resources. I hope our song and its message – that meaningful change started within – will also help offer an uplifting infusion to the cause. If it makes a people feel more inspired to make positive changes within themselves, that support a better world, we’ve done our job. It has already done that for me.
Lew Salem – My biggest struggle lately has been just trying to see the positive side in what’s going on in the world today, since we’re surrounded by so much sadness, loss and negativity. As a Black man, it’s been especially tough simultaneously losing heroes like Kobe, Nipsey and Chadwick all in just over a year, as well as seeing such blatant injustice on a constant basis against Black men and women. My goal at this point is just trying to remain here, alive and thriving, so I can serve as an example for the next generation behind me.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you feel the need to escape?
Blaire Michael – In a pre-COVID world, I go to Joshua Tree. Something about the desert just clears my mind, but right now, I escape into music. I open my computer and start making a beat or sonic landscape and everything else kind of softens.
Lew Salem – It’s cliche, but music is also my escape1 (Laughs) Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of meditation music, especially while working, to help clear my head out and ease my spirit. That and going out and exercising daily, whether it’s a walk or riding my bike. I’m a bit of a fitness nut and the closing of the gyms was definitely a challenge to keep up my routine from home. Some days are good, some days are bad, but I make sure not to beat myself up too much about it. Lastly, meditation has been a huge help in just slowing everything down and focusing on recharging the spirit, which is definitely something I wasn’t doing before the pandemic. It can be tough to tune out, but I definitely recommend trying it!