Category Archives: Interview

A Protest Music Interview: Evan Greer

“There is no such thing as a-political art. There is art that challenges the status quo, and art that doesn’t.”

– Evan Greer

This time we got somewhat of a legend here at Shouts. Evan Greer has been moving around both the music business and the activist world for quite some time now and she recently released a new album titled she/her/they/them .

Out of Make Shift Boston, a co-working space, she works as the deputy director of the nonprofit Fight for the Future, she is a friend and active supporter of Chelsea Manning as well as a hard working independent musician who has spent 300 plus days on tour in a year and more recently while parenting along the way.

It’s been 10 years since her last album and now, through Don Giovanni Records, a new piece has finally come to light. I contacted Evan to learn about her new album as well as her thoughts on music and activism and how the two are as she puts it “inextricably linked”.

10 years between albums is quite some time. Can you tell us why the long time between the albums and what you’ve been up to in that time?

I wish I could claim that I was just toiling away in the studio for all those years trying to nail the perfect guitar sound. But the truth is that I just got really busy! I’ve always balanced my music with my activist work, and for many years when I was working as a full time artist, I had to tour about 300 days a year to make ends meet.

Even after I had a kid I kept touring pretty relentlessly, but eventually I had to slow down a bit and so I put more focus into my activist work, becoming a campaigner at Fight for the Future, an activist group focused on Internet freedom and opposing government surveillance.

I’ve also been organizing a monthly queer dance party in Boston, providing a landing pad for other touring trans and queer artists. Getting into the studio and recording an album just never quite made it to the top of the list for years, but I’m so glad that I finally did.

In a recent interview you said that for you “music and activism have always been inextricably linked”. Many people believe the two should be separated, that the arts shouldn’t be political. Shouts is about exploring these two things just as well as the idea of journalism and activism being linked. What’s your take on all of this?

The whole “just stick to music” narrative is based in a false concept of “neutrality.” There is no such thing as a-political art. There is art that challenges the status quo, and art that doesn’t. We’re living in a deeply unjust world with ongoing and active state violence, growing white supremacy, and we’re on the verge of a climate catastrophe.

The choices we make about what type of art to make in this moment in history are political choices, whether we like it or not. That doesn’t mean that every single piece of art needs to be an overt form of protest — it just means that we shouldn’t pretend that art is somehow detached from society or our collective human experiences.

Six Strings is very straight forward, deeply honest and uncomfortably sad. Do you play this song live and if so what kind of emotions does it bring out on stage? 

“Uncomfortably sad,” is the review I was looking for with this tune 😉 I do occasionally play it live. When I do I actually introduce it as a bit of a comedic song. It’s a snapshot of one of those moments when you just feel so, so down, when everything feels pointless and you can’t see your way out of the hole.

I don’t feel that way most of the time, so it’s kind of neat as a songwriter to have been able to create this piece of art that captures how I felt in one of those moments. It’s a good way to remind myself and others that when we get to that place, it will pass. In some ways it’s a song about resilience, because in the end, we move past it.

The song also made me think of the guitar as a living creature – do you have a special guitar, the one you’d bring out of a burning house and if so, why that one?

I have a trusty Taylor that I’ve dragged all over the world, played at hundreds of shows, and that I’ve had to rescue from teargas filled streets at a protest at least once. I love that guitar, but honestly I’m pretty utilitarian about musical instruments.

I’ve never really been a gear head. I’ve done a lot of touring in both the US and Europe by bus and train, and I often don’t bring my own guitar with me — I’ll work with the show organizer to borrow a guitar in each city, playing a different one every night. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re pretty beat up. I kind of like the challenge of finding each guitar’s voice.

For me the focus at a show is always about the connection with the audience, not about creating the exact same sound every night. 

Children’s Song is a humorous, yet very powerful song, and it could just as well have been called ACAB. Why do you think there is such a problem with the police state today in your country?

Modern policing in the United States is an extension of hundreds of years of structural white supremacy dating back to slavery. The primary role that the prison system and police violence plays in our society isn’t public safety, it’s social control. I try to teach my kid that this is not about individual police or whether they’re good people or bad people, it’s about the system itself, which is designed to uphold unjust power structures.

Going back a bit, your tour diary from 2015 is an absolutely brilliant read and hugely inspiring. How important was it to tour Europe with your friends and kids? Is this the new standard for future tours?

Parenting is punk rock. There are lots of musicians out there raising kids. But often this isn’t really visible. Our pop culture conception of touring artists is that they’re all in their 20s and party hard after every show. Touring with our kids, and documenting it so other parents can see, was a cool way to push for more visibility.

Can you tell me how the creative process was different while making/recording this album from 2009’s Never Surrender? What did Taina Asili and Gaetano Vaccaro bring to the process?

I’m totally not a studio musician and I never really have been. But when I write songs I hear them with full instrumentation and studio polish. My live versions are my best attempts to approximate that with just myself and a guitar. Going into the studio has always been stressful for me — something about the permanence of recording music makes me feel like I’m never going to get it good enough to match that thing that I heard in my head when I first wrote the song.

But Taina and Gaetano’s expertise helped so much. They’re brilliant musicians and amazing friends. Sometimes the role they played was very concrete: adding harmony vocals, electric guitars, and bass.

Other times it was more like therapy — helping me figure out what I wanted when even I wasn’t sure. In the end, the album is special because it’s different from what I heard in my head when I wrote the songs. It’s a living breathing project that evolved over the course of a few years, with help from an awesome array of guest artists that shaped the sound.

A question I often ask political rappers is how they balance between the message and the flow. Do you ever experience a conflict between the words you want to use and how they fit into the song?

Yes this can happen. One thing that’s been helpful for me is to realize that not everything I want to express politically needs to be a song. I’ve started writing a lot more opinion pieces for outlets like The Guardian or Washington Post, or scripts for short videos, or infographics and other types of creative projects.

If you could have any artist, living or dead, featured on your next album who’d be your top 3 picks?

Hah. Tough one. Honestly it was a huge deal for me having Chris #2 from Anti-Flag and legendary riot-grrrrl cellist Bonfire Madigan play on she/her/they/them. Let’s go with: guest feature from Janelle Monae, guitar shredding from Sister Loretta Tharpe, and Keith Moon on the drums.

When you need someone else’s music to inspire your fighting spirit, what do you listen to? Any active, contemporary protest musicians, or not, that you want to throw a shout out?

Too many to name. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of indie pop punk stuff like Worriers, Potty Mouth, Sad13, Aye Nako, etc. I’ll also never stop loving stuff like Rilo Kiley and Sleater Kinney. When I need political inspiration I’m all about Ana Tijoux, Shadia Mansour, Calle 13, La Santa Cecilia, Chumbawamba, Saul Williams. I’ve also been loving the other artists on my label, Don Giovanni Records, like Mal Blum, Screaming Females, Bad Moves, and Waxahatchee. And then I just listen to a ton of radical artists from my broader community like Taina Asili, Climbing Poetree, bells roar, Sihasin, and Anjimile.

What is on the horizon for you?

The future is always unwritten. For the foreseeable future I’ll likely continue to balance my music with full time activist work, so I’ll probably still put out new songs here and there and do some occasional shows and short tours, but I’m not likely to be back on the road 300+ days a year anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

For me music has always been an outlet for work that I wanted to do. The longer I make music and do the work, the more I see how the pieces fit together.

Protest Music Interview: Awkword

Not a lot of people can claim to have created a 100% for-charity global hip hop project. Awkword can. If there is someone else who has made that kind of effort to unify hip hop lovers and activists around the world please tell us in comments. We haven’t found their work yet.

Perhaps because of the size of his last major project it is understandable that Awkword is focusing most of his time on his family at this moment. He got a new single coming out though, so I hit him up with a few questions about the legendary, 2 disc, global collaborative effort that is World View as well as the new single and his extra curricular activism.

First off, for those who are not familiar with your work, who is Awkword?

Well anyone who follows the work you do should know about me by now. I’m the creator of World View, the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project. I’m a reformed fuckup; passionate, empathic, lifelong antiracist activist; sociologist focused on homelessness and the politics of public space, mass incarceration, and race in America; Hip Hop Ed speaker; Protest Music songwriter, rapper and executive producer; Buddhist Jew; sober addict; faithful husband, and proud father of two talented adopted daughters; New York City resident turned Upstate New Yorker; underground Hip Hop influencer; journalist; director of marketing and public relations; and still-starving artist.

How and when did you get into writing rhymes and making hiphop music?

As long as I can remember, I had a pad and pen with me wherever I went — for observations, free association, and poetry. As my musical tastes shifted from punk rock to rap in my early teens, my poetry transformed into raps, and over time I learned how to structure the written raps as songs; soon I was freestyling everywhere and recording my songs in friends’ makeshift home studios.

Were your lyrics political since day one?

My very existence is political. The powers that be don’t want me here. I’m a pro-Black, anti-war, working-class Jew who wants to shatter the status quo. So, in that way, whether I’m writing about my own struggles, experiences and emotions, or about something more explicitly political, everything I write — and have always written — in the context of this unequal society is inherently political.

You mention Chuck D as a major influence for you. Do you remember the first Public Enemy track that educated you or made you think that this world was not working so well?

I knew that human beings were fucking up this planet, and each other, well before I heard a single lyric from any Hip Hop, punk rock or ‘60s/‘70s rock song — and I can thank my incredible activist mother (RIP) for that. But what Chuck D taught me was that rap music could be used to educate, inspire and empower the youth. ILL BILL taught me that I could do it myself.

Do you feel there is enough rappers making conscious lyrics? How is the protest music scene in NY in your opinion?

Just like with anything else, there needs to be a balance. No one is one thing, and as such we need different soundtracks for our various moods, experiences and phases. If all rap music were ‘conscious’, listeners would be bored, the genre would not be the most popular and trendsetting in the world, and far fewer artists would’ve made a good living from it.

As would be expected, I’d prefer certain mindsets and habits not be so prevalent in the music — the misogyny, homophobia, and glamorization of drugs, for example. But nowadays I’d say there are more artists overall who are speaking their truths and speaking truth to power — and for that I’m thankful and hopeful.

Do you follow at all protest musicians in other genres?

I love music. In particular, jazz, blues, swing, classical, ‘70s and ‘80s punk, ‘60s and ‘70s rock and folk, indie rock, and some rap you’d never expect. But I’m inundated with politics, conspiracies, rantings and righteousness from all sides every day. So now, for the first time in my life, music is reserved mainly for exercise and relaxation. Other than my homies Outernational, Prophets of Rage and the White Mandingos with the god Darryl Jenifer, I’m not too familiar with what others are doing outside of the few fellow political rappers I know.

Can you tell me about your 2014 album ‘World View‘ and the idea behind it? You got serious names to collaborate with you on the album, among others KRS One. What did that mean for you to get these people to be a part of the project?

On February 3, 2014, I released the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project, featuring representatives of 16 countries and every continent (except Antarctica). The purpose was/is to connect us worldwide through Hip Hop culture and rap music, and leverage both to give back to the very neighborhoods that birthed them.

The 38-track double-disc album touched on topics from mass incarceration and police brutality to rape culture and toxic masculinity, and from imperialism, racism and white privilege to drug abuse, depression and suicide; was mixed ‘old school mixtape style’ and mastered by Surf School’s John Sparkz; and was released through DJ Booth to international critical acclaim from the likes of Complex, Hot New Hip Hop, The Source, VIBE, Okay Player, Hip Hop Wired, Hip Hop DX, Genius, Hot 97, Prefix Mag, and many more. It also led to that life-affirming co-sign from Chuck D himself. I executive produced, and rapped on every song.

Features include: Jadakiss, Joell Ortiz, Sean Price, KRS One, Slug of Atmosphere, ILL BILL, Jasiri X, Chino XL, Reks, Daytona, Beretta 9 of Killarmy, Viro the Virus (RIP), Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, Poison Pen, SHIRT, Awol One, Pacewon of the Outsidaz, Block McCloud, Shabaam Sahdeeq, C-Rayz Walz, and Chaundon.

Producers include: Harry Fraud, Domingo, Fafu, Steel Tipped Dove, numonics, Vice Souletric, Tone Spliff, Tranzformer, Amin Payne of Australia, Dominant 1 of Malawi, and The White Shadow of Norway. It took me five years to put it all together.

And I got two special videos out of it: the now-classic “Bars & Hooks”, shot in and outside a Mercedes Benz tour bus in Brooklyn with my friend Harry Fraud and the late, great Sean Price; and “Throw Away The Key”, sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union, some of which was shot in front if a police station in the East Village of Manhattan.

What about your more recent single, ‘I Am’, can you tell us about that? It seems like there is some seriously hard work involved in such a global collaboration?

I realized after World View that the continent of Africa — being the birthplace of all this — needs more and better representation, so I reached out to producer Teck-Zilla, French DJ J Hart, and some of my favorite artists from throughout the African continent to join me. The purpose of the song and video are to show what it’s like to be ourselves, living in each of our countries. Hence the title “I Am”. It’s a beautiful collaboration, and I was honored to have the opportunity, and to see it featured by MTV in Africa.

Shouts! is all about discovering and sharing protest music. Do you have recommendations of protest music or socially conscious artists, something you are listening to these days?

My peoples Jasiri X, Killer Mike and Rhymefest.

It also seems to me that people sometimes shy away when the talk goes too deep into politics. You mention in your song ‘The World Is Yours’ that the mainstream media won’t play that song. Do you feel people are open minded to your activist hiphop?

Society at large? No, of course not. We in AmeriKKKa elected Donald Trump to be our president. Plus, the 1% wants to keep the 99% poor and ignorant, and sadly most of the 99% is all too comfortable staying that way. Let’s be honest, a lot of my records really knock. The instrumentals and hooks are catchy, the drums hit, my lyrics are smart and witty, and my vocals are strong and flow proper. It’s not the type of music that will overtake the pop charts or compete with the money behind the songs getting corporate radio spins. But my joints are played at protests and do quite well on the college radio charts. That’s my audience.

Many artists throw out there a protest song or two, but while keeping their original image intact – an image that is not that of protest. You on the other hand put the focus on the protest and the activism on your profiles. Can you tell me about that strategy?

It’s not a strategy, it’s being real. I am many things, rapper being one of them. But as a human being I am fiercely invested in the fight for justice, equality and the protection of our earth and animals. While not all of my music is overtly political, I am a Protest Music artist, so that’s what I’m going to put out. People either love me or hate me — but it’s always been that way, for as long as I can remember.

What about extra curricular activity? Do you partake in activism outside the music?

Activism — along with Hip Hop — enabled me to channel my anger, empathy and passion into something positive. As a Jew, who was targeted for my religion and bloodline, whose ancestors were tortured and murdered during the Holocaust (and before and after), I always related on a deep level with people of color, the poor, and all those oppressed in our straight white Christian male-dominated society.

My mom (RIP), a lifelong activist herself, was my role model; and she connected me in my teens with the Anti-Defamation League. That was the beginning.

Awkword holding a photo of his mom

I went on to co-chair the Student Activist Union at Vassar College, co-founding its Anti-Sweatshop Union and Prison Reform Group. I helped lobby congress, and lead marches and plan/implement direct actions in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, NYC, Albany, NY, Georgia, and elsewhere — to free Mumia, appeal the election of George W. Bush, and fight the US bombings in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and the US training of rightwing Latin American militants at the School of the Americas.

Meanwhile, I volunteered at Green Haven maximum security prison, soup kitchens, alternative to incarceration centres, elementary schools, and teen centres, leveraging the power of Hip Hop Ed to inform, inspire and empower.

Today, though, I focus mostly on raising my daughters to be thoughtful, confident future leaders, and living my life daily like a Buddha.

What is on the horizon for you?

Raising my daughters to be powerful women, and living a drug-free life (now at 106 days). My next song, “SOBER”, is in the works. It’s produced by AJ Munson.

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Thank you very much for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Fuck Nazis!

Fuck Donald Trump!

A protest Music Interview: Fénix Castro from Yuca Brava (VIDEO)

In Puerto Rico people have a saying that goes something on the lines of: “Just ask, ’cause we have it.” Or so says Félix Castro, a buddy of Shouts and member of the rap-rock, protest fusion that is Yuca Brava. The saying refers in this case to the music scene in Puerto Rico which is vibrant, powerful and colorful, to say the least.

One of the first interviews I did for the Shouts project was with Félix about his political rapcore group. This was when hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico was in very recent stages. In that interview Félix voiced his concerns about the recovery and USA’s involvement. As he explains in the interview below that is still on his mind and part of his upcoming music.

The band is due to release a new EP and Félix himself is about to drop his debut solo album as well. So I rang him up and asked him how he’s been doing since our last interview and what we can expect from the two upcoming albums which are due soon.

Check out the interview below and follow Félix and Yuca Brava on BandcampSpotifyFacebook.