A Protest Music Interview: Saffron A

There are different ways to both react and deal with trauma. Saffron A is a young musician from Brantford, Ontario, who chooses to put her experiences into song. Sad songs are as common part of popular culture as anything, but there are deeper levels of personal experiences that are getting their taboo sticker torn off by a new and brave generation.

As Saffron explained to me via email it felt natural for her and impossible not to create songs about some of the traumatic events in her life. In addition to her ‘normal’ touring and connecting with her audience she participates with organisations, such as Take Back The Night, giving talks and singing her songs at various empowerment events.

Check out her latest EP’s, both out this year, on her Bandcamp page.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Saffron A?

I am a feminist solo artist, and I play the tenor guitar and octave mandolin. My music sits where emotion and intellect intersect, focusing on themes of sexual assault, mental health, trauma and empowerment!

Has your music always been political or made in protest?

My music hasn’t always had this focus, but it has developed through lived experience. My earlier work was more experimental and explores the facets of human relationships. I would argue that I still do those things in my current writing, but with more precision and social awareness.

“At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. “

Your recently released an EP, titled Resistance, which is a follow up to another EP, released earlier this year, called Resilience. You describe the first EP as “a collection of songs which focus on the initial response to experiencing sexual violence.” What made you decide to put these intimate feelings into song and how do you describe the process of both writing and then performing such songs?

It all started with the song Resilience. I wrote it after my assault as a way to process my experience, and released a demo of it to share with my friends and family. At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. Writing has always helped me understand myself more and process my life and feelings, so it was only natural to process this trauma through song. When I started performing Resilience, the response I received during the song and after the show was profound. I knew that there was more I had to say in connection to this piece, and I had to form a full picture of my experience. That’s when a lot of the writing for this project began.

What’s interesting is a number of songs on the Resilience EP were written previously, but they fit with the narrative so well. With the Resistance EP, I wrote all of those songs from a place of frustration and unrest. At the time of writing Resistance I was finishing my Justice Studies degree. Having personal experiences with facets of the Canadian justice system (the police, court) and being further traumatized when seeking help motivated me to dig in and write Loud and Clear, as well as Priceless Advice. Break and Enter, as well as Flashes speak more to my internal response to external trauma. The title track Resistance is my battle cry to keep fighting and continue to live despite the injustice. Performing these songs is unique every night and they feel like they have a life of their own.

How have people been receiving your music, especially when you play live?

I’ve been cutting my teeth touring this summer, and these shows have shown me how important my music is right now. A blanket statement is that people are challenged and moved by my work on a personal level, but it goes deeper than that. My shows have felt like a collective energy exchange of emotion, and afterwards folks thank me and share their own stories with me privately. I am honoured to be apart of these dialogues and inspire people to think critically about our society and how desperately things need to change.

Recently you both performed and gave a talk at two Take Back The Night events. How did that go and what other activist activities or events do you participate in?

It was amazing to get to speak and sing at the Take Back The Night rallies in Halton and Humber College. It is an honour to be a part of the community in this way and to connect with different populations in public spaces. I also have been a guest speaker at the Transforming Trauma Into Triumph conference by The Gatehouse, which took place at the Toronto Police College. That was an important accomplishment for me, and a great event to be a part of.

Can you tell us about your instruments of choice, the octave mandolin and tenor guitar, and how it came to be that you use them for writing your songs?

I started playing the mandolin, and I’ve stayed within the bounds of instruments that are tuned in fifths! My dad custom built me an electric tenor guitar which changed my whole sound, and then he crafted an electric octave mandolin which was another game changer. They are my signature pieces that set me apart.

You got a new single out, Priceless Advice, which readers can hear above. What can you tell us about it?

Priceless Advice is featured on the Resistance EP, and it deconstructs the messages people socialized as young women are given to keep themselves safe. These “helpful suggestions” come from parents, the police, friends, the media. Society puts the responsibility on women not to be violated instead of teaching men not to violate others.

Where you are from, do you feel there is a strong scene of artists like you that use their voice to spread either political, intimate or protest messages?

I’m from Brantford, Ontario, and there is a small but mighty activist scene. The music scene itself is not welcoming to bold women, but groups like Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent are cool to collaborate with. Another barrier is that there are few spaces for people to have concerts, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting anyone to see me play in those venues because I can’t ensure their safety. Brantford needs safe accessible art spaces, but there is a gap.

What are some of your musical inspirations? Do you follow other contemporary artists that also use their voice responsibly?

For me personally, Janis Ian is my favourite songwriter of all time. Her brutal honesty and vulnerability in her work is inspirational. I’m also influenced by the versatility of Jack White. More politically minded bands like The Clash, Hole, Nirvana and Bikini Kill push me to be blunt in some of my writing. 

Riot grrrl bands have been having a resurgence, so The Shiverettes and Peach Club are so needed. They’re bringing important messages to the forefront!  In the world of popular music, Lizzo is a gem, and her messages of self love and empowerment bring me to my feet.

Some of my friends in the Canadian music scene like The Lifers, Annie Sumi, Missy Bauman, Scott Cook and Piper & Carson are also important voices. They make noise and speak their minds, but also leave people feeling safe and cared for at the end of their sets. They share their own social commentary in a way that people listen and don’t feel alienated.

What is on the horizon for you?

In short, more music, more touring, more adventures! I’m excited to share what I’ve been writing and I look forward to bringing my songs to new places and spaces.

Lastly, thank you very much for participating and for your music. Is there anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you for giving me a platform to share. Consent is everything! Support your local music scene and empower marginalized voices! If you like any of my songs, please share them with a friend and follow my journey on social media!

Check out more about Saffron A’s work on her Webpage ı Spotify ı Facebook ı YouTube ı Instagram

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