Since the 2016 election, the subject of Donald Trump and the shitty state of the country has inevitably come up numerous times when this writer has been interviewing musicians. In many cases, it’s just too weird not to ask. Some might say that an artist’s political opinions and affiliations should remain private, but they’re wrong (unless the artist wants them to remain private). But when we’re dealing with people who write music touching on current affairs, we have to discuss it.
Here’s what new riot grrl Solvej Schou said when asked about writing music during what are undoubtedly tough times for women:
“I know that going to marches and being surrounded by people, there is a collective anger and frustration. I went to the first women’s march in 2017 in Washington DC, and it was incredible. I grew up going to marches, and I think music can bring people together in the same way that marching in the street brings people together. I have the privilege of lighter skin, even though my grandmother is Jewish and went through the horror of the Holocaust and losing her whole family — her six year old son who would have been my uncle was killed in the gas chamber and her siblings were killed and she survived, and my mom was born in a relocation camp — but I have the privilege of that lighter skin and I grapple with that and with what people in this country experience. The diccrimination that you face having a different background. I grew up in Los Angeles which to me is a beautiful ocean of difference. My America is one of diversity and difference, and there is beauty and so much soul in that.”
Steve Albertson of post-punk band the SP’s said that he’s been a borderline anarchist since he was very young, reading things like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.
“I’m from Chicago and there used to be a place there called the A-Zone, an anarchist collective. They’d have punk rock shows there, and also zines and things like that. Our Illiterates records have a bunch of political songs on there too. But this current climate is the worst of my life. George Bush started wars that are going on even now. But now we have this goofball who’s letting people be pieces of shit nazis. I have these far left political leanings, but with everything that happened with Trump my optimism with people has diminished. I used to believe in the best in people, and now people feel like it’s ok to be shitty to people. I just hate it.”
Teri Gender Bender of indie punks Le Butcherettes said that, growing up in a Latino family, none of this feels new to her.
“My mom would come home every night after being sexually harassed by her boss. My dad would come home, and they wouldn’t say anything. It’s a ‘suffer in silence’ culture. If you say anything, you’re just making a show. It’s very internalized and my family would take it out on each other. It’s made me have a subservient personality. That came from school. It’s just boiling over now. Building everywhere. And it’s yuck.”
L.A. punk queen Alice Bag could see a positive side, saying that, while all the crap is frustrating, it’s mounted to the point where that frustration is going to yield some action.
“I feel like, for years now, people have been saying that we already have equality. It’s now evident that we do need people to step forward and call themselves feminists. We won’t tolerate things like pussy grabbing, and the sexual harassment that is so common, women and men don’t even really feel like it’s an exception. It feels like it happens to everyone and nobody is doing anything about it, until now.”
And very recently, Neneh Cherry described the world as a nutbag with turmoil and brimstone. A lot of that sentiment came out on her new album, Broken Politics.
“I feel like so many other people, quite helpless and confused, obviously also quite upset. Angry sometimes, or sad. The writing and making music, the creative thing, is where I can start to look at some of the things that I’m feeling, that sometimes I’m not even conscious of. We always absorb things — that’s being human. Things go in and you feel things but you don’t always have the time to be with those emotions to sort them out. So I guess writing the songs, all of a sudden I’m thinking about something that I hadn’t really had time to be with. For me, songwriting is a form of storytelling and I think of course it’s coming from a personal place. It’s hard to evoke or express empathy, to be inside a song, if you don’t feel it. But I like the idea of taking the songs, trying to explore from other perspectives but still using my own. So Broken Politics ended up being a collection of songs that are exploring what it is to be human and to be in the world right now. The broke-ass element of that is there’s very little thought paid towards the goodness for mankind. It’s all just about wheeling and dealing, and these horrible guys that are running the world. Fucking egos.”
Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses gets the last word, viewing his band’s shows as a “bubble of unity” during these turbulent times.
“We’re in Muslim countries, and people have devil horns up rocking the fucking out. Music is a universal language and it brings people together. The news is selling ads and we’re falling for it. This too shall pass. It’ll change into something else — we’ll be pissed off about something completely different in two years.”
I guess we’ll have to see if he’s right. What we do know is that, despite what the right wing tells us, musicians (as well as actors, authors, etc.) should absolutely not keep their mouths shut about politics. They often have fascinating insights, and this writer will continue to ask the questions.