This interview was conducted as part of the interview series LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history.
VINCINT wants you to dance and cry and hold your best friend at his show. He wants you to feel something, he says, always writing with a live audience in mind. And it shows on stage. VINCINT's one of the most dynamic and engaging performers you'll see, not to mention one of the most talented vocalists working today.
To celebrate the release of his debut EP, The Feeling, the singer/songwriter VINCINT sat down with the LGBTQ&A podcast to talk about carving out his own path in the music industry, learning how to be a "confident bitch" in Catholic school, and how despite his intentions, his EP ended up being made up entirely of love songs.
Jeffrey Masters: All of the songs on your EP are about love. How intentional was that when you set out?
VINCINT: It wasn't intentional at all. I planned to write about anything other than my love life. And then my love life became the focal point of the entire piece.
I'm dramatic and it makes perfect sense to me that I would write about only my love life because I'm selfish and I get that.
JM: Are they about a specific person or relationship?
V: It's about different relationships, friendships and relationships. It all kind of molded together as I was in the writing process because I wrote each song with a different producer and writer.
I wanted to make sure that it was mine and no one else's, because usually when people hear other things, they're like, "Oh, we should do that because that sounds similar. We can make it a story."
And I'm like, "No, no, I'm the story. Just work with me. Go along on the journey with me."
JM: I like how obvious it is you're singing about a man in the chorus of "Please Don't Fall In Love". It's not coded or hidden.
V: I wanted to make sure that people understood that, Yes, I'm a gay man, but also these experiences happen for everyone. Hearing, "Please don't fall in love with someone else when you left me," I don't know, it ripped me apart and I wanted that to be the statement.
I wrote it with the boys of Fly By Midnight. I was just very sad that day, and I'd been trying to write a song for the past two days before and it was just not going well. My mind would wander into why my relationship failed and I just couldn't get it done.
And I walked in and I'm sitting with the boys and I'm like, "Ugh. I just hope he doesn't fall in love with anyone else." And Justin goes, "Say it again." I said, "I just hope he doesn't fall in love with anyone else." He goes, "Beg for it." I said, "Please don't fall in love with anyone else." It just worked and worked and we just poured it all out.
JM: From there, it became an upbeat pop song, not an emotional ballad. Why make that choice?
V: I love to go to shows and cry my eyes out, but I also want that moment of release. I don't want to be stuck in my depression the entire time. I want to hear the heartbreaking message, go on the journey of reliving it, getting through it, being okay at the end while dancing at the same time because I want to move around.
JM: Are you always writing with how you'll perform it in mind?
V: When I write my music, I always see the stage. I always write for a live audience because that's my bread and butter. I love being in front of people and singing and seeing how the music affects them.
Seeing someone in the crowd listening to "Please Don't Fall in Love" and crying and dancing and holding their friend is the best feeling ever. And so that's where I go when I write songs. I want you to come to my show and feel something.
JM: There are only a small handful of other black queer musicians in mainstream music. Does it feel like the music industry knows what to do with you?
V: I've gone to the meetings before and they listen to the music and think, "This is amazing," and I'm super happy about it. Then they see me and they go, "Oh, how do we market this?"
They see me: gay, blonde hair, nails done. They see a problem as opposed to an incredible marketing tool, because first and foremost, people love the image, yes, but they love the music more than anything else.
I think when I go into rooms and people are a little bit apprehensive because I am boisterous and happy and loud and I don't come and sing about how much of a struggle it is for me to be alive and I'm not sad all the time. And so for them it's like, "Oh my God, how do we market this if it's not sad? How do we market this if it's not only about him being black?"
And it's like, no, it's music. I promise people love it. Just come to the shows. It takes all of us queer, black men who are in the spotlight right now banding together and being like, "Hi, you should see us," because most of the pops that you listen to on the radio, we wrote. Most of the concerts that you go to, we choreographed. What you see is us. You just don't want to see us until it's time.
JM: You've said that because you're black, people expect you to sing R&B. Is there also a similar expectation that because you're queer, people in the industry expect you to do X?
V: I guess they expect me to be a bit more flamboyant than I am because I'm pretty feminine and masculine. I think they expected me to be a little bit more outrageous because apparently every gay person in the world is outrageous and we all dress in rainbows every day of our lives. And when you do, there's nothing wrong with that.
That's beautiful and keep doing it because it needs to be seen. But for me, when I'm onstage, I'm a performer and it's a full out show and I'm giving my all and I'm dancing and I'm being crazy and I'm being eccentric me. And when I'm off stage, I'm in my house in my hoodie, on my couch, eating donuts, being happy.
But still, I think it's that expectation of, "Yes, he is a queer artist so therefore it's going to be these outlandish things and over-sexualized content." And it's like, all gay people aren't over-sexualized.
JM: How much do people in the music industry care that you did the TV singing competition, The Four?
V: It's so funny. I had been selling out shows before the TV show and I was so much against it because I don't think that being on singing competition shows is good for anyone's confidence or ego or mental health. But before I was on the show, I couldn't get into the big sessions that I wanted to because no one knew who I was.
And literally, after the first episode came out, my manager called me at the time. He called me and he goes, "You have seven sessions with all the writers you want to write with." I said, "Funny how that works," because being seen means more than talent and that's kind of the way it is in music sometimes.
JM: You also lucked out in that you had a song that went viral from the show.
V: I got extremely lucky because I was on the last episode primarily and I had a big song, and I told them, "It's not going to be, 'Let's make fun of the gay contestant on the show.'" It's like, "No, I'm a contestant on this show and you're going to watch me sing my ass off and then I'm going to go."
JM: Are you still independent?
V: I am. I am unsigned.
JM: I didn't know if that changed after the show.
V: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Deals are weird and I want to make sure that I sign the right deal.
JM: And hopefully your EP will lead to the right deal?
V: I think what most artists misunderstand is that you have the power because they can't do anything without you. And it's just, tea is tea: you can't sell music without the music.
And so I've been approached by people and it just didn't feel right. And I spoke with my manager and I said, "This is something that's really important to me. I want it to be right. It has to be right." I can't sign my life away and then I've given control away to 30 other people. I have to be in charge.
JM: You grew up Baptist but went to Catholic school. How was queerness treated in those environments?
V: I mean, religion is just in and of itself a stressful subject for me because there's so much good and beauty in it and there's so much darkness, as well.
Going to Catholic school was stressful because theology was one of the main courses that you take from Kindergarten to 12th grade. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school. I got lucky in my middle school because I was also taught by nuns who were compassionate and they understood that these kids need love and not a patriarchy that is driven by rules and segregation and damning people for who they are, who they love.
I had this one teacher, Sister Nancy, and I still talk to her today. She's a wonderful woman, but she taught me that who I am is beautiful. I'm getting emotional. Wow. She just let me be myself and it was the best thing I could've ever had because it taught me confidence. I'm a confident bitch.
She taught me confidence and I will never forget that.