A moment of rhythm and blues with Bleau McCray-Morel

FLINT, Michigan — An array of breakfast plates, chili’s, cups of water, tea, and hot chocolate are slowly laid out for us inside West Side Diner on South Ballenger Hwy in Flint. Four of us, myself, the photographer Moniruj and his girlfriend, and our interviewee, winner of the first-ever Signal Boost competition, Bleau McCray-Morel, take up the backend of the diner, seated in plush red leather upholstered chairs and booths. It’s a little after three in the afternoon but the gloomy Michigan winter weather and our peculiar food choices make it feel earlier. 

The atmosphere between us is inviting but a little awkward. Although this is not Bleau’s first interview, his energy feels cautious and nervous. In between bites of his food, he mentions that he doesn’t like talking about himself and sometimes reverses the flow of our random mixture of introductory conversations from him to us. And yet, he answers every question I continue to ask him despite such reservations.

Born in Flint but raised in Davison, Bleau comes from a biracial family—his father is African-American, his mother is European-American. While his mother enjoyed music, his father’s successful musical career allowed Bleau to experience music and dive deep into its waters. After high school, Bleau’s plans consisted of things outside of music, having learned how to play the drums, guitar, bass, and a little piano. But an opportunity to play in a few local bands with some new friends, and a submission opportunity for Signal Boost, slowly changed his life and direction. It is now in this state that he sits down to talk about life, music, and his incredible win.

"I like to think I’m kind of interesting, but honestly, I like to play music, go home, play Super Smash Bros., and practice." - Bleau McCray-MorelFlintside: Congratulations on your Signal Boost win. I think I can speak for everybody when I say you were a breath of fresh air. So, what got you into music?

Bleau: “I believe it’s my dad. I don’t think I would be interested if I didn’t grow up where I grew up. My mom didn’t play but she was always bumping stuff. My dad was always playing and bumping music, too. When I was younger, my dad tried to get me to do anything other than music. He was more worried about how I would do and how the world would receive me.”

Flintside: You sang a song that felt reminiscent of Blues and R&B. Are those your favorite genres?

Bleau: “I grew up playing Blues. The Blues can be a little more in your face but I also like R&B. I listen to a lot of European cats [like Tom Misch, who] influenced a lot of how I played when I was in high school. He and Eric Gales are another good one. He’s a freak. [Eric Gales] plays the most complex ridiculous stuff. I’m hoping that I’ll get my music together and start playing at some local bars. I always see it as if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

Flintside: You mention that life hasn’t changed much since then. Did you expect it to?

Bleau: “No. I did it for the experience. Winning it was a plus. If you saw my face, I thought [Jo Ikigai] won, and when they called my name, that was out of left-field for me. I was raised like you don’t have to broadcast everything. After I graduated high school, I was like, I’m going to start getting my s*** together. Now, I got people that hit me up that I ain’t talk to. So I experienced that but I feel weird talking about myself.” 

"I always see it as if you’re going to do it, do it right." - Bleau McCray-Morel Flintside: At the start of our conversation, you mentioned that you don’t like talking about yourself several times. Why is that?

Bleau: “One thing I’ve had a hard time learning, cause this is a business, is learning that I’m trying to sell myself as the thing that I’m marketing. You gotta sell a story. I like to think I’m kind of interesting but honestly, I like to play music, go home, play Super Smash Bros., and practice. How I practiced for Signal Boost was by playing Halo. I’d play the game for an hour or two, and while it’s loading up, I’m sitting in my beanbag [chair with my guitar] in my hand. I think doing this has helped me be able to be around different kinds of people. That’s something I’ve experienced a lot. You don’t have to be best friends with everybody but you at least gotta be able to converse, laugh, and vibe with people. Not everybody is on the same time but you can at least get through what you got going on.”

Flintside: But in the midst of that, you still hold musical aspirations. Can you share what that looks like for you?

Bleau: “I would like to have a household name where I can put music out. Honestly, I would like to make music so I can take care of the people I need to care for and myself. I don’t need a lot but if I wanna go somewhere, like England, I can go to England. If I wanna come home, I got my own house, car, and food. I want to enjoy my life. [However] I feel if you don’t have adversity, then the good parts of your life don’t mean anything.”

Flintside: So, being in music, what’s one of the moments that stick out to you?

Bleau: “[Bernard Terry] was the first studio I ever been to. He was very interesting. Every experience I had with BT was pleasant. I remember after the first time I met him, a week later, he called me to say, “Hey, young man. You have a lot of potential to have a long career if you keep your head on straight.” I was surprised, and I took in stride before he called me again. I don’t like people hyping me up but it was nice to have a legend who doesn’t have any reason to lie to me, [say that].”

Flintside: With Signal Boost and this interview, how do you feel putting yourself out there for the world to see?

Bleau: “I think the stuff that has happened now has helped me. I have shown myself I can do it. A year ago, if I wasn’t playing with these guys and doing what I’ve been doing now, I probably wouldn’t have done Signal Boost. So, I owe a lot of people where I’m at as corny as that sounds.”

To stay up to date with Bleau McCray-Morel, follow him on Instagram.  

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.