Being homeless for the first time at the age of 8 is perhaps, and hopefully, not something too many people can relate with. That was the reality for Stray, a young singer songwriter who just released her first album.
The protest music piece was recorded by herself on the farm where she now lives free from abuse and where she helps others get through similar things.
Halldór: First of all, for those who are not familiar with your work, who is Stray?
Stray: First homeless at the age of 8, I once roamed the streets alone like a cat, rummaging through the bins. At 21 I bought my first guitar at a flea market and started teaching myself to play. I sing about social, environmental, and economic justice in my music.
Halldór: You describe yourself as an artist who uses her voice to talk about issues that both have personally affected you as well as other things you deem necessary talk about. Why do you think music is such a great way to get political messages across?
Stray: The personal is political, I was homeless on and off due to severe abuse, couldn’t seek shelter at any of the local churches because I’m gay, and couldn’t afford apartments by myself due to poverty. So I was often trapped and choosing between an abusive home life or a homeless life.
These are traumas that I couldn’t talk about with people, both because trauma often makes us speechless, but because it had been dangerous for me to open up to people, and I also didn’t want to upset anyone else. You partially keep your trauma secret to nurture others.
So music was the only way I could speak about what I was going through. Music tells untold truths, and protest music speaks truth to power, so they’re a perfect medium for political expression.
Halldór: Your debut album was recently released. Can you tell us about the creative and recording process of the album and the inspiration behind some of the songs?
Stray: These songs are my voice for when I had none. I wrote them during a time when I was terribly isolated. I had officially escaped from my abusive family, ending all contact with them, and was also escaping a different toxic environment.
I moved with all my savings to a broken down farm and started rebuilding myself from the ground up. This album tells that story. I believe Lost & Found, Burning Bridges, and Skeleton Key are the soul of the album. I recorded everything myself on the farm, turning a small bedroom into a little studio.
Even though the writing and recording of the album was done entirely alone, I now share my studio space with others, so that they don’t have to face the same financial obstacles I did along the way. I call it the Marginal Music Collective.
Halldór: Besides your music, which obviously is a tool for activism, what other activism do you partake in?
Stray: I believe in direct action and mutual aid. We can’t rely on hierarchical institutions to save us, many of them maintain the status quo or do more harm than good by entering communities and “saving” them by telling them they know “better”.
As a working class person myself, I grow food for the working class and homeless on my farm and share it with others for free and for donation. I volunteer with Food Not Bombs protesting environmental injustice, poverty, and imperialism, while feeding people.
When friends have been abused at home or were homeless, I’ve taken them in, knowing personally what it’s like to go hungry and go it alone, I refuse to allow that to happen to others.
Halldór: According to your Bandcamp profile you sound like a superhero, feeding people at your farm by day and recording protest music by night. Can you explain more about your farm and the life you live there with other people?
Stray: hahaha aww thank you! I founded Forest Moon Farm as a sanctuary for marginalized people and rescue animals. It’s a permaculture farm designed with environmentalist and organic principles and the garden is full of circles and spirals in accord with nature. I live here peacefully with two other people.
People come and visit to learn about organic gardening and permaculture, get free food, do yoga, and eventually when we can afford to rescue some animals, spend time with animals in nature. We even have a few acres of forest for nature walks.
“I’m Burning bridges cause I can’t afford the tollsfrom ‘Burning Bridges’ (2020)
It lights the way for all us beaten souls
I’ve had to dive in to avoid the patrols
And just keep swimming cause underwater is all I know”
Halldór: What musicians inspire you? Are you following other contemporary protest musicians that you want to give a shout out to?
Stray: My musical heroes are Janelle Monae, Fiona Apple, Taylor Swift, India Arie, and Ani DeFranco. I adore Blunted Lip by Laura Kerrigan, she has a beautiful voice, heartfelt lyrics, and a hilarious twitter full of queer pride and personality. I also love SoulSpot, they have great vibes and their singer and music are unbelievably smooth.
Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?
Stray: I’m doing a series of house concerts this summer, writing my second album, and I plan on adopting some goats!
Halldór: Thank you very much for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
Stray: Food, Housing, and Health Care are Human Rights!
Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer, and animal rights activist. Currently based in Cuernavaca, Mexico.