“People Think They Have to Struggle to Be Creative:” An Interview with Blossom

Justin Carroll-Allan speaks with the Portland-based singer about the Northwest city and how reading sharpens her game.
By    November 13, 2018

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Portland-based R&B singer Blossom (government name Keisha Chiddick) makes music that seduces and ruminates. Often enveloped by bright production and sun-kissed synths, her lyrics explore fears and vulnerabilities, the pitfalls and pleasures of intimacy, and the other messy bits that make up the human experience.

Chiddick’s songwriting is fresh and comforting. Her 2017 full-length Tease showcases her seamless ability to shapeshift from dance floor anthems like “Get Over It” to low-key bedroom jams like “Dreaming.” The production’s wide and all-encompassing, borrowing from island vibes and nineties-era radio hits. “Loves Coming” sounds like it was designed to play in between Ginuwine’s “Pony” and Aaliyah’s “One in a Million” at a middle school dance circa ’97.

Music is a family business for Blossom. Her father moved the family to Seattle from Trinidad and Tobago to join her uncle’s steel drum band—which she would later join herself. As an adult, she followed a friend to Los Angeles, hoping to find fulfillment in a career as a backup singer, but what she found is that she didn’t want anyone to be the arbiter of what she sang. If she was going to make music, it would have to be hers. That path led her back to Portland, and she’s been grinding since.

It’s hard to discern whether Chiddick’s return to Portland and the city’s subsequent rocket-like rise of Rip City hip hop was coincidence or a result of her elbow grease. She hooked up with Eyrst Music big timer Neill Von Tally and Ripley Snell, and discovered that with those two, they had wizard-like chemistry. The Eyrst crew, along with a handful of other talented folks like Tribe Mars and Mic Capes, are building off the hard-work of Portland rappers like Illmaculate, Cool Nutz, and Lifesavas, Blossom and company have created an inclusive musical community friendly to hip hop—something that didn’t exist even a few years ago.

Last week, in a quiet corner next to the Trejo’s Tacos in LAX, I hopped on the phone with Chiddick to discuss her approach to writing, the importance of community, and how to make your own way. Justin Carroll-Allan

I’m really intrigued by how Clout Atlas :: Dormiveglia came together. From what I’ve read about it, it sounds like you all spent the weekend together churning out this beautiful, dreamy EP. Can you talk a little bit about the creation process for this project?

Blossom: So I met Ripley and Neill at the same time at Ripley’s release party that they did together like almost six years ago, and me and Neill have been making music together ever since then. That created the essence and energy of the type of environment that I like to create and work with because they were the first people I ever asked, “So how do I write songs and make music?” So [making Clout Atlas] was like revisiting a huge piece of nostalgia for me, creating with the two of them. Bringing me back to the first time of making music, and writing with other people, seeing how three people can come up with something together like that. It was pretty great. I often write alone—they’re the only ones I’ve sat in a circle with and collaborated with, so it was kinda just like being home again, you know?

Right. I was curious about that, because your lyrics tend to be so reflective and insightful, in a way I frankly don’t often see very much, and reflection seems to lend itself to solitude. Does that sound right?

Blossom: Yes! And that was so nice to hear.

That reflection seems to be pretty part and parcel to your work. Even the way you described the various stages of your life in an interview with Willamette Week proves your ability to reflect and understand clearly the various forms of your life. I believe you described your various life stages as The Found Years, The Slap Years, The Grounded Years, The Boy Years, Sassy Years.

Blossom: [Laughs] Yes, it is. It’s always funny to when I hear things I say again. I’m like, “you are so obnoxious.”

I don’t find that obnoxious at all! I’m impressed with your ability to reflect and characterize your life in such a mature and wise way. Where does that instinct and ability come from? How did you gain the ability to describe your past so clearly?

Blossom: I think a lot of that comes from reading. I read a lot, and I read a lot. Growing up, I’d get grounded by my dad and the only thing he’d let me do is go to the library and the bookstore and get books. Joke was on him because I loved it. It was like, “Ok, yeah, I’ll go read.” In reading and writing, you learn how to make those little word trees where you put the word in the middle and then write the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? It’s like a word train or a—Oh gosh, it’ll come to me. Anyway, I’ve always read books and paid attention, and in that manner attempted to relate [books] to myself. Also, reading a vast genre of books, like a huge amount of what I call older gentlemen and ladies books where they’ve got the man and woman on the mountain in lust on the cover. So yeah, I think [reading] helped me be able to organize and let me see what my life looked like.

When did making music become the dream?

Blossom: I moved to L.A. with a friend of mine. I went down there, and the only thing I thought I would enjoy was dancing or singing. So I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll sing backup or something like that.” So I found some gigs, and got really invested in that and fell in love with it, but I didn’t fall in love with the content they wanted me to create or the way they wanted me to portray myself as a musician. So I moved back home, and explore what Portland had to offer. My really close friend was doing music at the time, so I asked him, “How did you get started?” And he said, “I just went out into the community and found people that made music.” So that’s what I did. And then I met Neill and Ripley.

Is that friend still making music?

Blossom: He moved to San Francisco. He’s not still doing music on like a publicized level. He’s using it as a passion project right now.

Was it hard to find that community in Portland? And this was what, about 2013?

Blossom: Uh-huh. I don’t think it was too hard. I think it was more so about actually talking about it. You know, you kind of find out things word of mouth. So starting to be like, “I’m a musician,” and having that dialogue for myself made those things come into fruition.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the Portland hip-hop community, which to me seems to be vibrant and ever-growing and is more interesting than anything else that’s happening in the city musically. But that hasn’t always been the case, and Portland hip-hop artists haven’t always felt that way. When Aminé’s album dropped last year, New York Times did a big profile on him, and in it, he said that in 2015 when he was still in the city that the scene was dead, and to make it he had to get out of there. That timing feels a little dubious to me, because Eyrst had just launched the year before, Myke Bogan was starting to get hot, and you were coming up. So I was curious about your take on the health of the community here and how it’s evolved since then.

Blossom: I just think that a major part of it was that there weren’t a lot of people interested in the success of being more than just for fun or something that they just loved to do. I think that the scene itself came off like that to everybody. The musicians were very serious about their craft, but what they were doing and the way they were going about it wasn’t perceived as serious as a community until musicians started involving the community and started making community events more than just, you know, kickin’ it. I think a major part of the success of the city is that artists are taking themselves seriously and working professionally. There’s no more texting your homie to go to their house to record real quick. There’s real shows happening in creative venues instead of just the Roseland or just the Crystal [Ballroom] or just the Hawthorne. People are throwing basement parties and renting venues and warehouses to throw their own shows and raise awareness.

It’s really funny because Aminé’s last Portland show was my second show, and we did it together. We opened for somebody. Me and Aminé were reflecting on that last year cause I went out to Jimmy Fallon with him and we were just talking about how life is so funny because we were both openers, and now we’re both getting to the space where we’re both headliners and to create—and, I mean, Aminé’s twelve times up there. I don’t necessarily disagree with the fact that he, for himself and his art, felt like he needed to leave the city and do that, because it was obviously right for him. That’s because he spent time and took himself seriously to find his path and figure out what his journey was supposed to look like.

Going back to your various phases, how would the songwriting differ between the Blossom of the Grounded Years and the current Blossom, the Blossom of the Sassy Years?

Blossom: You know, okay, now that I’m about to say this out loud, I don’t think there’s much difference in terms of songwriting, I think the difference is maturity. I don’t think I’m a different person, I’ve just grown in maturity and how I communicate, how I interpret my emotions. I still have my old diaries and old stuff I’ve written, and I was exactly the same. I just communicated like such a child. All my thoughts and my feelings were so like…I’ve always been a dreamer, and how I carry myself in my writing is so different from how I carry myself as a person. Which is weird, because I’m so extraverted and outgoing, but the person in my writing is the shyest version of myself.

It’s always interesting when I hear people interpret my music as being really open and strong and things like that, because I feel like I’m being so shy and releasing all the things I probably don’t say out loud or the emotions I keep to myself.

You’re from Trinidad and Tobago originally, and you’ve lived in Seattle and L.A. Which place feels most like home to you? Everyone’s got a different definition of home—how would you define it?

Blossom: I definitely feel like Portland is home. It’s just the changing of the seasons, the moodiness of Portland—that feels like my heart home. Trinidad is where I’m from; it’s my culture. My grandmother passed away in May, and I feel like that took the feeling of home away from there. And really solidified the fact that I feel very home in Portland. I definitely want to travel a lot of other places and take up inspiration, but I think Portland will always be home.

And what is it about Portland that makes it feel like home? Is it the musical community that you’ve built around yourself?

Blossom: One hundred percent. I know home is literally where the heart is, and I’ve created a beautiful place for my heart to be here with my community and people. It also allows me to create a home, and create love, and create a safe space for myself. Which is something I was always worried about. I wondered if I’d be able to do that. Even when I moved to L.A. I was able to find and create a home in different places. You know, my mind and my curiosity wants me to travel, and see other places, but I’ve always been like, “Am I going to feel the some love, or create love, or find love away from home?” you know?

We talked earlier about how community gets started. What artists, collectives, or organizations here in Portland who are helping to create, sustain and grow the music community? Who’s helped to change the culture here for hip-hop?

Blossom: I would say there’s three: Deep Underground (DUG), Young, Gifted, and Brown/Black (Y.G.B Portland), and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). There’s rarely an event for creatives for all ages that those three organizations are not a part of in some shape or form. They include People of Color, and blend the age gap, all for inclusivity. They’re amazing.

That’s awesome. Are you involved with any of these organizations?

Blossom: Y.G.B flew me out to do shows, and for PICA I’ve hosted their gala.

A lot of artists—not just Aminé—think that to make it, they need to move to L.A. You moved to L.A. but came back to become an artist. What would you tell a young singer who thinks they need to move to L.A. to make it—is there a better path to becoming an artist?

Blossom: I support any young person doing anything. I guess I would say, “Do you know where you’re going to live? Do you know how you’re going to eat? Do you have people you’re going to live with?” If you do, you’re going to be successful anywhere. But I definitely think that if anyone’s intentions are to go somewhere and be found—that’s just not how it works. If you’re going somewhere to find something, you’re going to find it. It may not be what you’re looking for, but you’re going to find something. Whether it’s inspiration, or something to encourage you to continue. For me, L.A. made me come back home to find success. That was my journey.

I always tell people to do whatever they want, but are you going to be healthy? Are you going to have some place to live? When I moved to L.A., I was couchsurfing for months. I didn’t have a solid place to be, and that’s not good or nourishing for your creative or your well-being.

People think they have to struggle to be creative. That’s dangerous, and it’s not true.

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