interview: Mal Blum
words: lauren rearick
photo: em dubin
Mal Blum is learning how to say no. At least they’re trying to. But like most things in life, doing the difficult task takes time, a lot of time. And as Blum’s first single (“I Don’t Want To”) from their upcoming album, Pity Boy out 7/12 shows, you can definitely turn those struggles, and any of the accompanying growing pains, into a pop punk moment that finds total and complete enjoyment in the always daunting process of personal growth.
Before Pity Boy officially arrives, we chatted with Mal about saying no, trusting your gut, and what this album represents.
Mal Blum: Yeah. I'm not good about saying no. It's never been something I've been good at in my whole life. Sometimes it's more nefarious, and sometimes it's more benign. I wanted to write a fun pop punk song, and the premise would be, I don't want to do this, so I'm not going to do it. It's kind of hard to be like, “How do you make that like sort of fun?” Saying no, it’s not a fun thing, it’s never been a fun thing for me. I feel like the video did a really good job of presenting it in a playful way.
The Grey Estates: Do you think that you’ve gotten better at saying no? Or is that something you’re still working on?
Mal: A lot of things in that album, I want to think of it as a linear process. Like I'm like, “Oh my god, I am so much better at all these things than i used to be.” But, you know, it doesn't always work out that great.
For me, I think, I've come a long way in terms of identifying when I don’t really need to do something. That wasn't a muscle that I had developed for a long time, and being in touch with your own feelings and needs is the first step of that. I think I've gotten a lot better about that. The part I still struggle with is, I'm definitely a people pleaser. It feels hard for me to disappoint people.
The Grey Estates: No, definitely. I having trouble saying no to things all the time. I feel I say yes even when I don’t wanna do things because I don’t want to let someone down. But, then later, I’m like, “I don’t want to do this,” and it makes me regret that I said yes.
Mal: Totally. One of the good effects of learning how to say no is that it makes saying yes so much more enjoyable.
The Grey Estates: What advice would you give someone in learning how to say no?
Mal: I would split my answer in two. On the one hand, I would say if you're watching the video, maybe don't quit your job and ride off into the desert. It might be extreme and there's real life consequences to doing things like that.
In terms of your daily life, what's been helpful is if somebody becomes angry with you for hearing your no, then that's not your fault or responsibility. And I would say that the people that really care about you, they won’t feel personally affronted by you know asserting your boundaries. There is nothing wrong with asserting a boundary. And if somebody makes you feel guilty for that because of it then that person is not being a good friend to you. Thats not your problem. That’s not a problem with you. That’s a problem with them.
The Grey Estates: Would you say then that asserting those boundaries and even just sticking up for yourself is something that you explore throughout the album?
Mal: Yeah, I think a lot of the album is sort of me trying to break these old patterns. And there's definitely songs where I'm trying to stick up for myself or I'm trying to explore cutting people off, and things that don't come very easily to me. It's interesting, I feel like the same themes just repeat over and over again on the album, and in my life, and I don't know if I made any progress.
The Grey Estates: I feel like recognizing it is maybe some sign of progress. At least you know that it’s something you need and want to work on.
Do you feel that you’re a different person now than even when your last record came out?
Mal: Definitely. With every record I'm a different person. This album is definitely a lot more healthy. I want to say, maybe the last record is like, “Oh shit. I'm in therapy and I'm depressed.” This one is more, self-possessed. It has similar themes, but it’s like, “I’m going through the world, and I'm growing and I'm changing.” Hopefully, the songs do the same.
A lot has changed for me. A lot changes every day; My identify shifts, my relationship to myself shifts, my relationship to my friends and family shift. It’s another snapshot of a time, that’s how I kind of feel about my records.
The Grey Estates: We always close our interviews by asking the artist for advice. So, what advice would you give our readers?
Mal: Trust your gut about who feels good to be around and who feels bad to be around. And when your friends are holding up a mirror to you, listen to them.
In so far as relationships, whether they're romantic or whether they're platonic, I think that something that is a good rule of thumb that I have learned as I've gotten older is it shouldn't be so hard early on. And if it is incredibly hard early on, that's not romantic.
I used to confuse difficulty with passion, and adrenaline with excitement. I guess my advice would be to just break up. If I could give one piece of advice to the Grey Estates readers, it would be, if you’re thinking about breaking up with that person, whether it’s romantic or platonic, do it.