NX MEET: Summer Payton

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 28, 2022

Summer Payton
Summer Payton  

EDGE and Lexus NX Beat have partnered to profile six of today's hottest LGBTQ+ recording artists. Click here to see the full video featuring Summer Payton and Glass Battles, and read the EDGE interview with Summer below.

Bisexual R&B artist Summer Payton is a producer as well as singer-songwriter and indie recording artist. Her debut album, "Golden Hour," which dropped on Christmas Day of 2020, brims with powerhouse talent, from the smooth production to the genre-spanning influences on the disc's twelve tracks and her stunning vocals.

Hearing her work, it's no surprise that Payton was last year's recipient of Citibank and Music Forward's LGBTQ Emerging Artist Award.


EDGE: Your genre is R&B. Is that a genre that's been more open to LGBTQ+ artists? Or would you say you are pioneering the way?

Summer Payton: Historically, I don't think it has been that open to LGBTQ artists. I think there have been members of the community who had been in the genre, but maybe not necessarily out. I would say my generation is a part of the pioneering class of people that are trying to live in their truth openly, in their art, talk about their sexuality in a free way, and just try to make that more of the norm.

EDGE: For you, is that in order to be able to sing about your authentic feelings, or because you feel like there needs to be a social needle that needs to be moved?

Summer Payton: I think there definitely is a social needle that needs to be moved, because most people treat being straight as the default. I think the social needle definitely needs to be moved where that is not the default, and so that people are free to talk about their feelings, to represent who they love, so that there is more representation across the board. There are plenty of fans and lovers of R&B music that are LGBTQ, and I know that everybody wishes that they could listen to music and have artists that represent them.

EDGE: You identify as bi. How has that identity informed your work?

Summer Payton: It's important to my work because it's made me more conscious of being inclusive in my songs. I write a lot of songs about love or about relationships, and being bi has made me more conscious of what it feels like when you listen to a song and it's so specific, because the person says he, he, he, or says she, she, she in the lyrics.

In my own music, as I was coming into my comfort with my sexuality [it was a matter of] not making the pronoun so specific. I use "you" and "I" a lot so that it can be felt by anybody, and that anybody could put the person that they love in that picture of that song if it represents them, and they don't have to feel that twinge of, "Oh, this doesn't represent me."

EDGE: You're a producer as well as a singer and songwriter, and your debut album, "Golden Hour," dropped at the end of 2020. Did you produce that album yourself?

Summer Payton: Overall, I produced it. Six of the songs on there, I produced the music myself ,and the other six were a combination of other producers.

EDGE: Listening to "Golden Hour," you seem equally comfortable on hip-hop infused tracks like "Keep Up" and "Need to Know" as you are on pop-sounding tracks like "IV" and "Golden Hour" or power ballads "When We're Through" and "Moment." Do you have a preferred mood or delivery, or do you like it all?

Summer Payton: I like it all. I'm very much influenced by hip-hop and a lot of the tracks that I choose are influenced by that. I'm very influenced by, obviously, R&B, and I'm also very influenced by Gospel, which is where some of the power ballads come in. I value being versatile, and that I'm able to do different things in my voice to sit on those different tracks. What comes the most naturally to me is probably the more ballad stuff, the slower songs; I'm a musician, and a lot of my initial songwriting process happens at the piano. So, it's usually the more heartfelt ballad or emotional song that comes from me sitting down at my piano, and that's probably part of my truest artistic expression.

EDGE: You wrote "Golden Hour" during the pandemic. Was it a therapeutic experience? And did the situation around the writing lend a particular mood to the final work?

Summer Payton: It definitely was therapeutic to finish the album during that time. Some of the songs weren't started or written in the pandemic. I think the only ones that were new, like that I actually wrote in the mind space of being in the pandemic, were "Out of Character" and "Moment." But working on the album and finishing the songs, recording the songs, rewriting some things was definitely therapeutic, because it was a passion project. It was something that I kind of shut out what was happening in the world and just honed in and focused [on].

One of the things that came to me early in the pandemic was, I had time to sit there and look at my career and what I've done and what I hadn't done, and I realized I hadn't really gone for it like I would want to. Like, if the world ended tomorrow, would I be happy with what I had put out [into the world]? And the answer was no. I didn't have much of anything. I only had a single here, a single there. I didn't really feel like I had shown the world who I am as an artist, and that bothered me. I wanted this album to be a reintroduction of who I am to the world.

EDGE: There's such a range of styles, deliveries, emotions, and sort of tonalities. Were you going for a range to show all the different kinds of stuff that you could do?

Summer Payton: When I first started thinking about putting it together, it was a concern for me because I was listening to what I thought was my best work and listening to the songs that I thought presented me the best, and I was like, "Okay, they don't sound alike!"

[Laughter]

I'm hearing the range of sound, and I'm like, "Are people going to get it? Are they going to feel like, 'Oh, I don't know where to put her. What is her sound?'" I tried to push all of that away because I wanted to focus more on the messaging and not necessarily making it all sound cohesive. When I'm choosing music that other producers are giving me, I never know what's going to move me — but if it does, it does, and it doesn't always have to fit in the box of what somebody thinks Summer is.

And then when I'm producing music, everything I produce doesn't sound the same, and I don't force myself to sound the same. But I took comfort in knowing that what does sound the same across everything is me. There are just certain Summer signature things that are going to come across in any song, like how I do my vocal arrangements and some of the things that I'm talking about. So I focused on making sure every song was something that felt true to me and was a representation of me.

EDGE: Did you feel there was also an overall theme to the album? Because listening to these songs, they all feel like they're being told from the perspective of someone who's not going to let herself be undervalued.

Summer Payton: I for sure think there were overall themes in "Golden Hour." The whole purpose of doing the album was taking the step and going towards my career and not being afraid — just working hard for my dreams and deciding this time is my golden hour. That is the overall message: "Make your golden hour whenever you want. You decide. You go for it. You don't wait on anybody else to do anything."

At the same time, I'm also acknowledging all the things in life that happen that go along with that, loving relationships being one of those. I've been a person that, you know, my love life hasn't been the picture-perfect story, and I felt like I am a voice for people who don't have those picture-perfect stories, and they have complicated situations. And that's okay, but it is important to value yourself and reflect on things that are going on, reflect on your self worth and reflect on, you know, what is happening in the situation.

So, I tried to write songs that can address that something might not be exactly how I want, but I think the self reflection part of it is the most important. If you reflect on what you've done, you can make sure you move forward differently in the future. It's okay to have been where you were. You just learn from it.

EDGE: As a producer, have you had a chance to work with many other LGTBQ+ artists?

Summer Payton: Not as much as I would like. One of my best friends is an amazing trans man and trans artist, and we've worked together a little bit. We went to school together and we both went to the Clive Davis program. One of the things that I want to do more is to get more into the LGBT community and create and collaborate in that space.

EDGE: Did the experience of working with your trans friend help you grow as an artist in your own right?

Summer Payton: I would say so, actually. The more you see other people doing it, the more it inspires you to keep going and to live more true in yourself and not live to make other people comfortable. When you do that, it unlocks something in your art that was blocked off before. I'm very appreciative of that.

Follow Summer Payton at her website, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, and on YouTube.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.