Cover photo credit: Schultz Media
When an armed young man decided to take 17 lives away from their families, in what we now know as the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in the United States, the tragedy hit strong and personal with musician and activist Tina Mathieu. As a former alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and a published musician, Tina now writes more and more protest songs as well as participating as an activist in the country’s fight for gun reform and voter registration initiatives. In this latest Shouts protest music interview Tina tells me about her recent protest songs, her upcoming debut solo album (which drops in December 2018) and how she recognises her talent and uses her voice for those who don’t have one.
First off, for those not familiar with your work, who is Tina Mathieu?
“Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this amazing platform. My name is Tina Mathieu and I am an alternative soul singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. I am also an activist involved in America’s common sense gun reform and voter registration initiatives.”
When did you realise you could use your music to make a positive impact?
“Early on in my songwriting, I tapped into the ability to tell the truth in a way to which people could relate. To me, relating to someone is extremely impactful. It’s what music and lyrics are all about. I’ve always been drawn to and soothed by emotional, introspective songs. I tend to write about my relationships, heartache, anxiety, injustices, etc. I think my music has had a positive impact in a way of letting others know that they aren’t alone in their pain or sadness. Especially In this current climate of America, I have turned to my music as a way of expressing what many of us are thinking and feeling and it has been beautiful to see it bring people together.”
Your debut album A Safer Place is set to be released in December 2018, but you’ve been working in the music industry for longer than that. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process behind this debut solo album and how the process might have changed since you started out?
“I spent the early part of my music career gigging around New York City as a solo artist and as a member of the indie pop rock band, Under the Elephant, before moving out to Los Angeles a few years ago. Finding the right producers and musicians who understood my vibe was really important to me. Once I surrounded myself with the right people, my sound really began to evolve into what it is now.
My biggest influences are 90’s alternative and R&B artists like Sade, The Cranberries, Erykah Badu and Alanis Morissette. I decided to lean into those instinctual vibes and create the music that comes most naturally to me. A Safer Place started to take shape after the devastating reality that my marriage was ending. Feelings of anxiety, abandonment, sexual trauma and depression were very real for me. The only way I could cope was to write it all down and sing about what I was feeling. The whole process was extremely cathartic and ended up becoming a beautifully dark and emotional body of work. I’ve recently released two singles from my upcoming album; a hauntingly uncomfortable tale of infidelity, RING OFF, and the most recent, a vibey reminder to break unhealthy cycles, TOUGH LOVE. I’m so excited to share the album as a whole. It’s been a long time coming!”
Being based in one of the more abundant and diverse music scenes out there, Los Angeles, how do you feel people are receiving your protest music?
“I’m pretty new to the protest music world. I wrote my first real protest song in February 2018 after the shooting at my Parkland alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My song, One Step Closer, came as a surprise to me. It poured out of me in minutes after watching Emma Gonzalez’s emotional cries of “BS” as the March for Our Lives movement was born. With the way the country is today, writing protest music has become a big part of my process.
I recently released a live video of my newest protest song, America the Beautiful, which questions the apocalyptic nature of the issues that plague the USA right now. Singing these songs at rallies, protests and marches is very emotional. I cry pretty much every time, whether it’s before, after or even during my performance. I’m usually sharing the experience with people who feel similarly. Whether that’s angry, sad, frustrated or helpless, they look to me in hopes that I’ll move them in someway. It’s a big responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
However, performing my protest music at artist shows is much different and sometimes almost more important because I’m playing to mixed crowds. I find that audiences are surprised by it. Most people go out to see music to forget about our country’s problems so often my call to action is unexpected. The MOST rewarding part is when the songs actually hit them in a way that makes them feel like they want to be involved in making a change. If just one person hears a song of mine and because of it decides they want to pop their bubble and be a more involved citizen, that’s a huge win, not only for me and them but for us all!”
Is there a strong scene of like-minded musicians and artists using their voices in a similar way?
“YES! There are so many amazing musicians and poets on the activist circuit. It’s a beautiful thing to see artists creatively channeling their hopes and fears to inspire and comfort one another. With issues ranging from sexual abuse to the destruction of our national parks, I have heard incredible musicians share their personal experiences and move a crowd to tears. I love being inspired by artists who use their platforms in a socially conscious way.”
You recently released the single One Step Closer. Can you tell us what it is about and why the subject strikes close to your heart?
“As I mentioned earlier, I’m a former student of MSD High School in Parkland, Florida. For those in other parts of the world who may not know what happened there on February 14th 2018, I’ll fill you in. On Valentine’s Day of this year, a troubled, young white male entered his former high school armed with military style weapons and an abundance of ammo and wreaked havoc. He brutally murdered 17 individuals, 14 of those young, promising students. The trauma this caused to my beloved hometown is indescribable. The ripple effect of the pain has reached people not only all over the country, but the entire world. Unfortunately in America, mass shootings are happening just about EVERY day and it could only be a matter of time until your community is next. Our gun laws have very little to do with safety, protection, and common sense and have everything to do with money, power and privilege.
The NRA (National Rifle Association) currently has the wherewithal to control our elections with money, thus bribing politicians to keep gun laws in the interest of their pockets. People with violent histories, mental health issues, and even people on “No Fly” lists have full access to legally own military grade weapons in this country with little to no background check or wait time. For those who care about the safety of our citizens, this makes little to no sense, but if you follow the dark money it all becomes very clear. Money and power are at the crux of most, if not all, of America’s biggest issues.
I wrote One Step Closer for the March for our Lives movement, which advocates for common sense gun reform, but really it can be applied to so many issues that we face. Leading a country to make major changes can be an extremely daunting task. In a time when we are constantly being fed distractions and lies from our administration, it is so easy to feel defeated. But with every march we attend, every vote cast, every civil conversation we have with someone on “the other side”, we are One Step Closer to making a difference in America… and in the world. We can never stop speaking up, no matter how hard it is.
I’ve comforted gun violence survivors. I’ve hugged the parents of these dead children. I’ve laid on the ground in protest pretending to be a dead body. I’ve spoken to scared school children to remind them that they have a voice and they aren’t alone. I have decided to devote my life to this cause.
I released One Step Closer with a music video created by fellow MSD alumni that captures moving footage of the brave and inspired people who took the streets to March for Our Lives all over America, along with a memorial for the victims. Proceeds from One Step Closer go to the March for Our Lives Action Fund. You can download, stream, and add it to your protest playlist and be a part of the change we are all creating!”
On your webpage you state that you use your “music and voice to speak up for the victims who no longer have a voice of their own”. There is a striking resemblance here to some codes of ethics of journalists. In journalism its an age old dilemma; the balance between journalism and activism. Do you find it tricky to balance between art and activism or is it blatantly obvious to use the music in this way?
“96 Americans die every single day from gun violence. There are 17 people from my hometown who no longer have a voice or a vote. I speak and sing for them. There are plenty of artists who have strong political opinions and choose to not bring it into their music because it could “turn people off” or they may lose fans. To each their own. For me, it’s blatantly obvious to use my music platform for something bigger than me. The balance isn’t tricky at all because I’m not a journalist. I’m an artist so I get to infuse my perspective. My music is all about truth, whether that’s being cheated on in a marriage, children dying at the hands of our country’s twisted policies or the racism that is sewed into the fabric of our everyday life. Truth is truth. Speak it. Share it. If people are uncomfortable with that, it says much more about them than it does about me. Luckily, I am able to shape these messages into digestible pieces of music that we can all sing along to!”
Do you follow other current protest musicians? How about some older inspirations?
“I definitely have some favorite musicians, some of them great friends of mine, who use their platform for socially or politically conscious activism! Some of my favorites are Milck, Pussy Riot, Raye Zaragoza, Anthony Federov’s Voices for Change and Tennille Amor. I love artists like Charlie Puth, John Mayer, Andra Day and the Dixie Chicks who seamlessly interweave bigger messages into their mainstream pop music. I created a One Step Closer: Protest Playlist on Spotify that highlights all of these artists.”
What’s on the horizon for you?
“These next few weeks and months will be very busy for me. I just released America the Beautiful and it is making a huge impact! I will be performing at voter rallies, college campuses and election parties to remind people why it is imperative to vote in our upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 6th… and to stay involved thereafter! I’ll also be in the studio putting the finishing touches on A Safer Place EP. I’ll be continuing to volunteer for NextGen America and Moms Demand Action. And of course, since the news cycle never stops, neither does my brain, so I’ll be writing, writing, writing!”
Thank you for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
“Thank you so much for creating this platform! The fact that my protest music reached your ears across the world, which led to me sharing this message with your audience means more than you’d know. I love that there are so many like-minded people around the world who actually care about humanity and justice for all. As world citizens, we need to continue to shine a light on those who are willing to stand up and speak loudly in the face of the injustices of the world! I’d love to connect with anyone reading this and listening to my songs. Music is such a personal experience and I would love to get to know the people I’ve touched or inspired. To connect with me, follow me on Instagram at @TinaMathieuMusic or visit my website, TinaMathieu.com.”
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.