The past few years have witnessed a hip hop resurgence across New England. And every city from New Haven to Providence, Burlington to Portland seems to have at least one up-and-coming rapper making their presence felt.
In Portland, Maine, that’s Myles Bullen, who brings a style that separates him from his contemporaries — heartfelt, genuine and chock full of prose, while he’s either performing with a ukulele for an intimate vibe or over some cool beats.
On April 29, Bullen will be appearing at the State House in New Haven with local folk-rap staple Ceschi Ramos, fellow Portlandians The Bumbling Woohas, and German hip hop artist Traashboo.
Ahead of his show, I talked to Bullen about his inspirations and influences, about turning trauma into art, and about a new album he has out.
RD: Your approach to hip hop is unique in how you lean more toward spoken word while having a soft, emotional tone to your delivery. What inspires and influences this way you rap and write songs?
MB: I would say the things that inspire me to write songs are my knowledge of trauma and formed communication. A lot of the stuff I write about is my life, experiences, philosophies and ideas but how I communicate them is what I’ve learned from other poets, singers and songwriters. I’ve learned from drug addicts and the types of people that I’ve surrounded myself with my whole life, they kind of taught me how to communicate. I’ve never really changed the way I communicate to try to emulate anything that isn’t authentic to my own lived experience.
RD: Back in February you released your latest album, Mourning Travels, a sequel to your previous album, Healing Hurts, that came out in December 2020. In what way do these two records share a common thread?
MB: I just went through a really fucked up couple of years while losing a lot of people, grieving, losing friends, losing my dad and my grandfather. Then losing my connection to the world, not being able to tour and do shows which is kind of where I express myself the most and where I have some sort of cathartic release. When all that was taken away I was really sad for around half a year, I was really depressed and after that moment of downtime I started writing a lot. I wrote over 60 songs and poems. I started recording in my bedroom and sending things off to collaborate with other people. I made a lot of art mostly centered around grieving and feeling uncertain about a lot of things and questioning my identity, who I am and why I do things.
Instead of putting out 60 songs, I decided I would put out seven and kind of trickle away at it. Healing Hurts became this sort of travel log while being stationary, it’s like what am I observing while I can’t move? I used to write while I’m on tour about all the experiences I’m having and having this kind of ongoing motion. When I’m still, what do I observe? Healing Hurts is about grieving, sort of talking to myself as a therapist and having lots of different conversations about more healthy ways of digesting trauma.
RD: While making Mourning Travels, what did you aim to do differently to make it stand out from your previous releases?
MB: With Healing Hurts, I had a couple of guests on it for a few features but it was mostly me. It was mostly me playing my ukulele and singing sad songs, which I had never done a record like that ever. All of my records pretty much have been heavily collaborative while working with lots of different people that inspire me where I’m not necessarily even the center, I’m kind of in a group. My albums have been very mixtape-centered with a ton of features because that’s how I like to create, in community. Healing Hurts was not that, it was very isolated with a couple features but it was mostly me.
I guess Mourning Travels is like taking on the same sentiment of Healing Hurts but adding more colors, textures and more depth because of some of the people I chose to collaborate with sonically. Some of the voices bring out different parts of the story that I couldn’t do on my own. I would say Healing Hurts was very impulsive and Mourning Travels was a little more thoughtfully executed.
RD: The music video for “I’m No Meteorologist” off the album has you doing your own version of a weather report that has a bunch of various colors and animations. It reminds me a lot of the music videos that Michel Gondry has done for The White Stripes, Idles, Chemical Brothers and other acts. Who worked with you on the video and was there a collaborative vision behind it or was it all what you had in mind?
MB: I’m very proud of that collaboration. My friend Ellis Ducharme is behind a lot of the visual stuff I’ve done, he’s one of the first people I’ve worked with that had a solid idea for how I wanted to be represented visually. I’ve been working with him for years, it’s going on five years that he’s been a collaborator with me. He filmed it, we both workshopped the concept of the film and where the story was going, we were just going to do it as the two of us but I felt like there was something missing. I then reached out to my friend Josie Colt who had done the animation for “Swallowing Bruises” which was a very successful collaboration between the two of us.
I trust both of them with their vision where I could be like “Hey, I’m doing this thing and whatever you do over it, I trust you.” With all of the animation, there were maybe a couple things that I referenced but it was all Josie. They kind of took the creative power on the animation side and Ellis took the creative part on the cinematography side and I just showed up, so it was cool. It was cool to collaborate with them and some of the actors in that film are my close friends, like Maya [Williams], Sam [Spadafore] and Dan [Moon]. Then you get a little bit of Dustin [Larochelle] in the extras so after the song is over there’s some bloopers at the end and you’ll see a guy on a couch standing and playing electric guitar.
Dustin is one of my really good friends who goes by Laughing Animal. He co-produced the track with me so having him being added to that was really special for me.
RD: I love the video, I think it’s great. You have this new album out and you’re going to be playing a lot of shows, including some in The Netherlands this summer of all places. Do you have anything else going on this year that you’d like to mention?
MB: I’m doing a lot of touring, I have five months of touring booked that started last month and I won’t be done until August so I’m pretty focused on that. I just put out a new song with Dope Knife who’s an amazing rapper, it’s a new single called “It’s Not All Sunshine”. That was fun, it was something that we did a long time ago we recently released. I got some stuff with SB The Moor coming up, a bunch of stuff with Jesse The Tree and we’re going to be putting out a record together at some point. The touring has taken up a lot of my brain these days while trying to push these two records, do them justice and make sure that I’m pretty focused on them for the next couple of years.
Photo credit: Violette Media