Category Archives: Interview

A Protest Music Interview: Valerie Orth

In her latest music video, Valerie Orth shows imagery from Brazil, Hong Kong, USA. This is not surprising for those who know Valerie because she started out as an activist long before she started using music as a tool for change. Today, with her music, Valerie envisions a better world, and along with her music, she educates the young girls and women of today through the social projects that she helps to manage. Check out Valerie’s webpage where people can join her VIP club called Planet Orth.

Halldór Kristínarson: Your background lies in activism, rather than music, and you have traveled all the way to China for that work, but when did you start making music?

Valerie Orth: Actually I started singing when I was very young – 5 years old. Music has always been in my life. But once I started getting very involved in activism, I couldn’t focus on both. Grassroots organizing around economic and social justice took center stage. I was able to bring back music later, after college. I studied songwriting and formed a band in San Francisco.

HK: Not everyone is receptive to politics or activism in music. Do you consider that when you make songs? Have you ever felt resistance to your music or performances because of the message in the music?

VO: That’s a great question. I got more resistance from inside the industry (certain people I played with, managers, others trying to mold or direct me) than fans. I think my fans were instead drawn to my music because of its message, because of my outspokenness.

Photo by Elizabeth Maney

HK: In your home environment (where you live), are there many musicians using their talents for good, for activism or in protest? Any contemporary, protest musicians/colleagues you want to give a shout out to?

VO: Because of the pandemic, I’ve been temporarily displaced from Brooklyn and am staying with my mom in Maine. But back in NYC, yes, the very act of being a musician is a form of activism, ha, it’s such a financial challenge. And writing authentic music, music that’s really true to the artist, as opposed to what we’re told everyone wants to hear, is almost counter-culture. And being a woman in music – especially a female producer or engineer – whoosh, that is a whole other level of activism.

But women and gender-expansive artists and producers have come together in supportive collectives like Gender Amplified (NYC) and EQ Loves Music (Sweden) that have impacted me and many others. I’d like to give a shout out to all the folks involved in those groups.

See also: Song Of The Day: I Believe We Will Win By Valerie Orth (Video)

HK: Can you tell us a bit about the activist projects you have going on besides your music, for example Beats by Girlz and the podcast you produce? Has this Covid year given you more time for such projects or have you kept busy performing online?

VO: I help run the Beats By Girlz NYC chapter with another great artist/activist/producer, Krithi. We teach music production to youth, which COVID has made extremely challenging, since our students generally don’t have access to laptops and stable internet, so remote teaching is difficult. We just got a grant (yay!) and are continuing to fundraise to get our chapter running again. I co-founded Song Camp, in the meantime, with soul singer/songwriter Michael Inge, to teach co-writing and collaborative production, especially in this time of isolation when kids really need community. We’ve been able to create a creative community for the kids and it’s been amazing. We’re planning on continuing with camps throughout 2021.

Last year, I launched and produced the League of Badass Women Podcast, which was an awesome way to incorporate my feminism and music (I wrote the theme music and also edited each episode). I got to have very vulnerable conversations with very powerful women.

The pandemic has given me more time to sit and do nothing, which has given me perspective. Yes, I released the album that I worked on for nearly 3 years, I produced new music (mashups, in particular, while teaching myself how to mix), and I taught production and songwriting. But I chose not to perform a lot online. In fact, I avoided being online because it felt so unhealthy for me. Instead I took a lot of walks on the beach, with my mom’s dogs. I was never good at meditation, but I think the walking and the dogs cleared my head, and allowed me space to shift priorities in my life, based on what’s most important.

HK: If young girls want to start exploring feminist music, where should they start?

VO: That’s a big question! I believe any woman really being her authentic self is creating feminist music. So it depends what kind of music you like. Ani DiFranco is kinda the mother of feminist music, and she was my idol growing up. But for youth now, there’s not one direction to point to – except maybe themselves! The coolest thing about music technology now is that a young person can start creating pretty quickly, regardless of music or production experience.

HK: You just released a new album titled Rabbit Hole. Can you give us a glimpse into the theme of the album and some of the songs on it? How was the making of this album different from previous ones?

VO: Rabbit Hole is the best sounding album I’ve released, hands down. It was a long process making it, but I’m extremely proud of how it turned out. When I wrote the album, I went away, by myself, for 3 weeks, and wrote a song every day, good and bad. I wanted to see what would come out, the deeper I dug. It was a lot of obsession around a boy, around how social media has affected me personally and changed us all culturally, and around the political state of the world. When I produced the album, it became an even deeper exploration of the disappearing lines in gender, genre, time and cultures, and how technology relates to that concept. My co-producer and I went to art museums regularly in LA, while we were working, for inspiration. I hadn’t looked to other types of art so much to inspire any of my other albums. And that’s one reason the production on Rabbit Hole is much more layered than my other work. Takes several listens to really soak it all in.

In terms of specific songs…. “I Believe We Will Win” is a stand-out song. It incorporates hip hop and folk, politics and togetherness, and voices from over a dozen countries around the world. And it was a satisfying way to tie in my activism with my music. I also love “Tourist In Nature” because there’s something hypnotic about the production, mimicking how I feel when I’m away from the city, and in nature. I wrote “99¢ Dreams” for a stranger I met, and ended up talking to for hours on my writing retreat. She had such a sad love story, and I wanted to take her and shake her and say, “but you deserve so much more!” I realized friends have said that to me, though, and I know others’ words and warnings don’t work on us strong, stubborn women. We need to learn for ourselves, again and again.

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

VO: I’ve always had the simple goal of being able to make the music I want to make, and make a sustainable living from it. Over a decade later and I haven’t quite figured out the financial part of that dream yet! But I’m working on it. And I just want to continue learning, to work with producers who are more experienced than me, to always have a strong and relatable message in my music and to keep getting better – as a songwriter, artist and producer.

HK: What is on the horizon for you, music or activism wise?

VO: Throughout 2021, I’ll be releasing lyric videos for all the songs on Rabbit Hole. As singles this year, I already released the lyric videos for title track “Rabbit Hole” (my favorite video) and “I Believe We Will Win,” (in time for the election). Xavier Li is the motion designer for all of them and is ridiculously talented. I’ll also release covers and remixes and might even release a few original singles… we’ll see! For the most part, I want to stay close to and grow my fanbase. Fans can join the Orthlings! Facebook Group and sign up for my newsletter. And I started a VLO VIP membership club, called Planet Orth, where my fans can subscribe to my music and get exclusive treats through my website. My activism will continue to play out both in my music and teaching.

HK: Thank you for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

VO: Speaking of Bandcamp…. It’s impossible to stress exactly how tough getting your music heard is, as an independent artist. And very few artists get what they deserve financially from their talent and hard work.

Music lovers: When you stream a song on Spotify, an average of $0.003 goes to the artist. When you buy a song or album on Bandcamp, 80-85% of the funds go to the artist.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Bandcamp, which I see as a “fair trade” platform for independent artists like me. And I’m looking forward to coming together with more of my fans there.

Cover photo retrieved from Valerie Orth’s webpage.

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Exclusive Premiere: Debut Music Video From Jamie Holmes

Some musicians make a song or two, consciously in protest, and the rest of their catalog is often something else. Others perhaps get into using their voice responsibly at some point during their career. As soon as young Jamie Holmes was in primary school, he learned about Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” which inspired him to dive further into protest music. Later his learning path led to other legendary protest musicians such as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. The latter he was fortunate enough to meet when he was in high school.

“…in high school, my guitar teacher was Jim Kirkpatrick. He managed to go on tour around America I think with Thea Gilmore, who was supporting Baez! Well, Jim knew how much I adored Joan Baez – I’d listen to her music for hours – so he contacted her manager and asked if I could go backstage! The show was great. Her voice is incredible, and it is the same today (if not better) than when she was still in her 20s. When I went backstage I was super nervous and star-struck, but we had a chat about my own music and what I wanted to do – it was great, and she inspired my guitar playing to become more finger-picked rather than with a plectrum – something you can hear on ‘Green Revolution'”.

The self-declared “proud socialist” told me he wants to make a difference in the world. His debut album focuses on the future, climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the strange year of 2020. The first single off the album has already gotten airplay on BBC radio and it will drop on all streaming services on the 22nd of January. The music video, which features a time-lapse recording of Jamie himself painting, can be viewed exclusively below.

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE
Green Revolution by Jamie Holmes

Check out Jamie’s webpage for all updates on the upcoming debut album and his social media for more info: InstagramYouTube

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A Protest Music Interview: The Black Creatures

According to this band’s public description they are a “darkpop hip-hop musical duo from Kansas City, Missouri pulling elements from sci-fi to tell an interdimensional story.” But these two musicians are so much more than that. They fuse different styles of music together, they cover important things happening in their country and they believe that using their voice in such a way is simply their responsibility as artists.

The Black Creatures just released their debut album Wild Echoes.

Halldór Kristínarson: First of all, thank you for participating. Secondly, you recently released your debut album, Wild Echoes. How did this collaboration between the two of you come to be? And can you tell me about the process of getting this album done during these strange virus times?

The Black Creatures: We ended up becoming bandmates after high school. Despite having some of the same interests, we were just never high school friends. So technically we met through Facebook. Through circumstances, we got on the topic of music making, knocked out a couple songs in a week, and realized there was something that felt really good about the music we were making. It was a healthy outlet for some big growing pains we were trying to work through.

We had a much smaller release locally a little less than a year ago for these songs. We put out the album and asked a housemate to help design a little booklet that went with it. Then we saved up enough money to print and press the CDs and then invited like 10 people privately on Facebook. Around this time a local record label took an interest in our performances and the album and they’ve really been a tremendous help with letting people know who we are and what we do.

We had a whole tour planned and then everyone kind of decided at once that the Coronavirus was actually serious. Which, it still is over here. Anyway with how everything worked out, we finally had enough downtime to get the album mastered, registered… legit. It’s really cool how people are receiving our music. It feels gratifying. We put a lot into what we do.

HK: You made a video to a single off of your latest album, called Wretched (It Goes). I understand the song is about the prison system in the US? How do you personally experience this system on a day to day basis (it seems like it stretches its Wretched tentacles to all parts of the US society)?

TBC: Well, to answer how the prison industrial complex affects us everyday, we have to start with good old American values. The US was originally a big land grab for British colonialism, which was totally based on capital. The settlers got bold and kicked British capitalists out of their harbors and so forth, but they remained unfair to the Indigenous land ambassadors who taught them much of all they knew about the land and kidnapped Africans to do the dirtiest of work.

After people decided that was barbaric, they turned to institutions to maintain the same social castes, giving preference to the methods that gained the most capital. Here, the private prison industry was born. They had to maintain the social castes by any means necessary, right? So they found ways to segregate society into factions of “normal” and “other.” It’s super obvious when you examine the relationship between Black America and the legal system, but we see this with the disabled, the LGBTQ community, poor people, undocumented folks… any community that is seen as invaluable to the status quo.

Kansas City police are also notoriously violent, and there’s some smaller towns just outside of city limits where the cops are really on some deranged, old money racism shit.

And, waking up every day, fear in the back of your mind, knowing your life can change at a moment’s notice is what weighs heavy on us.

HK: It seems like you are not afraid to cover heavy or political topics in your songs. Has your art always been political or even used in protest?

TBC: Not entirely sure what this even means. Every piece of art is made within the context and framing of its artist’s perspective, and every person (artist or otherwise) is affected by politics. So, isn’t all art political? People have totally gone so far as to call our music political, but we’re really not doing anything that different from other songwriters. We are just putting our own experiences and feelings into what we do. Even Taylor Swift kind of does that.

HK: Can you describe the protest or socially conscious music scene in your home city, Kansas City? On a more national level, do you feel musicians (or other artists) are using their voices enough, for change?

TBC: It’s like Angela Davis says, “the personal is the political,” like a lot of people have made music about radical transformation forever. So if you just started talking about racism as a white person, yeah we probably noticed, but it’s hard to say people are not using their voices enough.

HK: Your music fuses many genres. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process and how it came to be that your work mixes all these worlds together?

TBC: We hold the perspective that genres are just a creator’s way of challenging their craft. Ya know, if you want to say you’re an R&B artist you try to utilize all the elements that are believed to be within the realm of other R&B music. So, we take the idea of challenging ourselves and flip it inside out. We want to use recognizable elements from many genres and while that makes something entirely new, it also produces work that’s incredibly familiar. That said, those results come from many different approaches. Sometimes we start with a beat, a melody, a lyric or lyrics, while other times we individually have two halves of a whole song, an instrumental and lyrics, that we bring together to form a whole.

HK: How has this weird year affected your work? Have you gotten into the online concert thing?

TBC: Right before Covid was taken a little bit seriously here in the States we actually had a whole tour ready to go. That ultimately got cancelled. Following that, performing was basically something that couldn’t happen up til recently; we’ve done a few outdoor events as a handful of pop-up, outdoor, quarantined venues had been created. We had done a few online performances! However, while other artists have had the resources and environment necessary to manage them, those are not the circumstances we have.

HK: I noticed you are very active on YouTube, covering literally all sorts of topics in your chat videos. Can you tell me a bit more about the idea of that project?

TBC: There were really a lot of reasons we wanted to get into making youtube videos, and honestly one of them was to really hone in on some self-disciplines. With the Thirsty Thursdays we would alternate on tackling weekly topics in a variety of formats; story-telling, comedy, more music, etc. The 1 Hour Song Challenge, much like the name suggests, challenged us to make a song in just an hour. That forced us to commit to ideas that we would otherwise never imagine holding on to under normal circumstances. We personally really like making things, and so aside from pursuing some discipline, we used youtube as a playground for creative exercise.

HK: Can you name some of your influences, old or new?

TBC: The Gorillaz, Erykah Badu, Prince, The Weeknd, Kenji Yamamota, Kehlani, SWV, Kendrick Lamar, Tech N9ne, noname, mcchris, Toro y Moi, Geoff Barrows, Ben Salisbury, Hans Zimmer

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

TBC: We’ve got a music video coming out later in October so keep an eye out for that 😉

HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

TBC: If this discomfort is new to you it’s time to examine that too. Step out of what is comfortable and into what is right.

Find out more about The Black Creatures on Facebook ı Bandcamp ıYouTube ı Soundcloud

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