Category Archives: Interview

A Protest Music Interview: The Sprawl

Kurt Vonnegut once said: “If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.” Something about the city of Indianapolis was woven into his being and impacted his art greatly. Now, a new generation of artists in the form of political, post-grunge band The Sprawl have now sprung up from the same city roots and they just released their debut album Cancelled Future.

I spoke to the band members and got their take on the city’s music scene, how artists there use their voices and talents for activism and how so much is broken in the society around them, and, in turn, how all that weaves into their music.

Halldór Kristínarson: On your Bandcamp page it says that The Sprawl is angsty rock n roll. What are you anxious or upset about regarding where you live and the people you share your country with? What is it that motivates you to pen down a lyric and make a song?

Nate Dirck (guitar/vocals): Hi, thanks for taking the time to reach out and interview us! Right now is a very interesting time to be making art because with the pandemic and all, we’re starting to see the normal hum-drum of current events translate to day-to-day desperation in a very real way. All of us are entering adulthood during the worst global crisis of our lifetime and there’s a persistent feeling that the world we were raised to function in won’t exist much longer. So I guess the short answer to your question would be, well, everything. We’re anxious and upset about current events but also about rent, the shitty jobs we work, and generally navigating life during what is an incredibly difficult time to live in. Most of my lyrics are inspired by my own experiences and observations but I try to use the mundane nature of day-to-day life as a way to understand widespread social problems.

HK: Following up on the previous question, how do you experience the music scene in Indianopolis in regards to artists using their voices for good or in protest?

ND: Indianapolis is definitely the kind of place where social problems tend to be very in-your-face and hard to ignore so there’s naturally a lot of protest activity among people in the art community. I’d venture to say the vast majority of our peers in the music scene use their art to speak on important issues to some extent. Indianapolis is in a very conservative area so those of us who exist outside of that culture tends to be quite vocal about how we feel.

Drew Hampton (Drums): I think it’s sort of an action-reaction consequence between conflicting groups. The high concentration of conservative political beliefs in our immediate area leaves us and a large number of others feelings constricted in our beliefs. I think many would be surprised to learn how activism-centric our scene is. So while Indy’s scene is relatively small, I agree with Nate that a sizable portion of it is like minded folks like us who just needed a place to vent their protests. 

HK: You recently released your debut album, Cancelled Future, which is an incredibly tight and catchy album that Shouts HQ’s have been blasting non-stop in the past days. Can you tell a bit of the creative and production process behind creating this band’s first piece of work?

ND: Hell yeah, so glad y’all are enjoying it! It’s interesting because we actually had no intention of putting out an album right away. Most of these songs accumulated from failed attempts to be productive during the first part of the pandemic. After we ended up with like eight songs we just said “fuck it” and decided to write a couple more to make a full album. This was a lot different from other projects I’ve been involved in where everything is usually thoroughly planned out before going into the studio. It was cool to be part of an album that sort of came together in real time like that because I (like most people in 2020) was struggling quite a bit to make ends meet while these songs were being written and it definitely had an impact on my lyrics. In fact, a good chunk of them was written on the notes app on my phone while my supervisor wasn’t looking at this really shitty overnight job I was working at the time.

June Smith( Lead Guitar): Thank y’all for blasting the album, we really appreciate it! As far as my portion of the creative process, I’m very lucky to be in a band with Nate. They write most of the material and give us free reign to put our own spin on the songs. I play in a few other bands, but I use The Sprawl as an outlet to push outside of my comfort zone. I’m a rhythm guitarist in my other projects and Nate gives me song ideas I would honestly never think of! It’s always a fun challenge to figure out the most suitable way to add to their songs and not distract from their core. It’s also been great to co-write some material like “I’m Not a Democrat I’m a Nihilist”. I show Nate a riff or two and they usually run with it, finishing the song with twists and turns I’d never expect. I’m also very influenced by our local music scene.  The solo for “Safe Word” was inspired by watching some of my peers perform noise sets.

DH: I too am lucky to be in a band with Nate who is such an excellent songwriter and like June said, gives us a lot of freedom to be creative. I’ve had the privilege of playing in bands with Nate consistently for what is approaching a decade now. This puts me in a super favorable position as a musician and songwriter because Nate is incredibly aware of my capabilities, strengths, and limitations. I think this allows Nate and I to push my limitations and help me reach for things I never would have thought possible because I have someone who knows me so well to push me. From a production standpoint, I reached out of my comfort zone on this record. I went beyond the drum set to write some glockenspiel parts that I’m really proud of, and I’m happy to say that I plan on writing many more. 

HK: One of your songs speaks of nihilism. Can you elaborate on how the process is behind creating songs with a certain social justice message but mixed with the idea of human existence being meaningless? 

ND: I think the song you’re referring to is “I’m Not a Democrat, I’m a Nihilist”. That title is a reference to a comedian named Eric Andre who said that in response to a conservative pundit who mistook him for a Democrat. The Democratic party is considered to be the primary representation of the left in American politics even though their actual ideology skews right. There’s been an increasing call for American leftists to establish an identity independent of the Democrats so the title is meant to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek nod to that.

I’m glad you brought that up though because that contradiction is one of the things that drives the overall narrative of the album. The album starts out with an emphasis on social justice messaging but grows more existential and introspective with each song. The point I’m trying to make with that is that social justice rhetoric might as well just be nihilism if it’s just being used to identify problems in the absence of real organization and action. A lot of my lyrics on the album are really just me venting frustration at the lack of meaningful progress despite the endless amount of discourse we all engage in.

DH: I would like to add that the whole idea of being a Nihilist as opposed to a Democrat evolved into a deeper meaning for me. Often we on the far-left get called skeptics, critics, negative, and of course, nihilistic for feeling like our system is completely broken and that the most fastidious solution would be to simply start from scratch on practically everything. However, from my perspective, we are some of the only people who acknowledge that the way things are transpiring, a lot of people are being left behind, or much, much worse. From my perspective, we’re some of the only people who really care about all the people being hurt or even killed, and I find it ironic that we get called cynical for insisting something needs to be fixed, or more accurately, replaced, while those who often hurl these names and insults at us care less about the problem than we do. If feeling so strongly that things need to change somehow makes me a nihilist, then yeah, I’m not a democrat, I am a nihilist. Actually, it seems more accurate to say that our opposition are the nihilists, not us. Perhaps I’m reading too far into it, but all good jokes have an underlying truth, right? 

HK: What is your take on artists using their work for activism? Should these two things be intertwined or seperated in any way?

ND: I feel like it’s hard to make art in an open and honest way without talking about social issues because a lot of what gets labeled as “political” is really just peoples’ lived experiences. I always find it funny when people suggest those kinds of things should be off-limits as if that’s not what art is meant for.

DH: Nate and I have had some recent conversations on creating politically slanted art and my personal struggle with finding where I/we fit on that spectrum. We’re gearing down the overtly political messages in our songs and moving towards societal and existential problems that surround us instead. This might seem simply semantic, however, the difference is important. Our songs used to be political to the core. Many years ago, we wrote what was pretty much a Donald Trump diss track at the start of his political reign. I’m glad to have helped create that track because it helped me to where I am today, however, I don’t ever see myself creating art of that nature again. I’ve been incredibly lucky to grow up and live as a straight, white male in America, which pretty much means I’ve been on easy street. So what do I really have to say or add that the people who are actually affected by these people and problems can’t? It feels disrespectful to say, “I can more accurately describe your experience than you can.” I don’t mean to speak for the other members of the band in that regard, as they have not necessarily had the windows-down cruise I’ve had in life, but I personally feel like being a part of art describing things that legitimately impact your life is not only ethically correct, but I think the end result is better. 

To boil it down, art should be used for activism, and we’ll probably write a couple more politically overt punk bangers before our time is through, however it is absolutely paramount that we, and others in similar positions to us, lift artists up who have important things to say from beyond our perspective, and acknowledge that sometimes the most powerful voice you have in a privileged position is to allow someone else to say something. I know I could do a lot more in that regard, and I’m trying to work on that. To clarify, I am not talking down to anyone, I’m describing the recent change of heart I’ve had where I’ve personally come to regret some of the art I’ve created for ethical reasons. Art and activism is a really, really tricky subject, especially for people in positions like me, and to be honest with you Halldór, I don’t have a simple or easy answer. (Obviously 😉 )

JS: I’d just like to add that even if music isn’t  political, it’s still important for us as artists to create an environment geared towards activism. Especially in a conservative state like Indiana there are not many “safe spaces” for all the groups that experience oppression.  We are lucky to be around people that want to hold each other up , and create spaces where everyone can be comfortable. 

ND: I think it’s also worth noting that not everything has to be overtly political to be a valuable part of political discourse because damn near anything somebody could write a song about has social ramifications when you think about it.

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

ND: I just hope these songs are something people can relate to.

HK: Are you following any like-minded bands that you’d like to give a shout out to (and introduce to Shouts readers)?

ND: As far as immediate peers in Indianapolis, Chelshots and Pat and the Pissers are two bands that I would recommend to anyone who digs our stuff. I also just recently got introduced to a band from northern Indiana called Tigershark Don’t Quit who make really good music in the same kind of vein. I also want to take the opportunity to shout out our label Sauna Suit Records ( https://saunasuitrecords.bandcamp.com/ ). I would absolutely recommend digging through the rest of their catalogue if you enjoyed Cancelled Future. Beyond the local level, I’ve been really into this punk band from the east coast called Drug Church lately and they definitely informed my lyrical approach on the album.

JS: Definitely check out Sauna Suit. I help them with whatever I can and am loosely a team member! Both of my other projects are located there The Sick Boy Method and D.R.L.N. if you enjoy what I do in The Sprawl I’d recommend checking them out!

DH: In our local scene, Anti-Feds and Dope Sweater are probably the best Indy has to offer in terms of punk and punk-adjacent music. Across the pond, a band named Squid just put out a record called Bright Green Field that we’re in love with. 

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

ND: We’re almost done writing an EP that we hope to release by the end of the year and we’ve definitely got another album in our future along with a few one-off singles here and there. We’re also planning out some tours for 2022 right now. If you’d like to see what we’re up to, be sure to check out our assorted social media accounts @TheSprawl317.

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

The Sprawl: Stay hydrated and don’t trust the government.

Fostering Communities of Anti-Abuse: A Conversation with Kris Harper

For many of us, music—listening to, discovering, writing, playing—is inextricable from the meshwork of other things that form our core values and identity. Inextricable from every other outlet we find that moves us, in some unique way, toward a deeper engagement with this world. It often matters little the style of music, the stance or tone of lyrics or performance, or the aesthetics of the sound and dynamic movement—you simply know by feel when you have been struck by an artist whose music evokes a deep and vast web of consciousness, experience, and interrelatedness; a web of community, ancestry, pride, trauma, suffering, language, the earth and its scales of time. And you can’t help but be ensnared. Perhaps this seems lofty. Sure, but it is only because, as an artist curating the work of other artists, I am drawn toward some other plane of consciousness when I find, am struck by, and give in to music whose gift of immersion offers me a new world to experience with the senses, and also a newly informed sense of how to navigate this world. How to be in these diverse communities, in this body, with this blood and brain, with the gifts that are its ethical considerations, anxieties, privileges, burdens, opportunities for growth.

Recently, I have had the extreme privilege of connecting with such a musician whose work spans genres and styles with as much sincerity as musical dexterity, with as much humility as urgency. Kris Harper, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, and vocalist, from amiskwaciy on Treaty 6 territory, which in English is called Edmonton, Alberta, joined me for a virtual discussion about his past and current musical projects.

From 2017-2020, Kris played guitar, sang, and wrote lyrics for nêhiyawak, a genre-bending three-piece act whose debut record was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, one of Canada’s biggest music awards. With him were Marek Tyler on drums and Matthew Cardinal on synth and bass. Kris has since been collaborating with Jason Borys, together composing, among other stunning recordings, the soundtrack for the documentary miniseries “Voices on the Rise.” Also with Jason Borys and Courteney Morin, Kris contributes to a rich tapestry of ambient music under the banner Ag47. In their most recent project, Ag47 supplies the swirling, meditative backdrop to a man named Mr. William Quinn, a nêhiyaw elder and artist, as he gives a sweetgrass smudge and orates about his life, experience in residential schools, and, among other things, the urgency of passing on ancestral knowledge to younger generations. Kris also collaborates with bUDi, a.k.a. Nick Dourado, who has made music with Aquakulture, Fiver, Beverly Glenn Copeland, Kathleen Yearwood, and many others. bUDi’s new record, /WORLD/GO/DUH/, on which Kris contributed to the mix, was released a little over a month ago. I am humbled and delighted to share our conversation with the Shouts! community.

Nathaniel Youmans: nêhiyawak’s first and only album, nipiy—the nêhiyaw word for “water”—was shortlisted for the 2020 Polaris Music Prize. At times the lush shoegaze sound (or, rather, “moccasingaze,” to salute a growing genre tag used by contemporary Indigenous musicians who are forging distinct, compelling, reverb-drenched musical paths rooted in Indigenous identity and worldviews) sweeps listeners away to the vaulted halls of post-rock. Yet, there is such a driving, grounding urgency in the chime and propulsion of rhythms, such evocative emotion in Kris’s vocal aerobics, such a sense of larger community in the band’s sound, that there is never a dull moment on this amazing album, except at the moment it ends and there is no more. nipiy is difficult to place with shorthand descriptors of genre and style—one of the many ways in which Kris’s work reminds me that English is an insufficient linguistic and cognitive framework. This is a concept our conversation often returned to. On Indigenous language and cultural preservation, on his approach to music, on fighting erasure and decolonizing our minds, Kris spoke at length.

Kris Harper: I myself grew up in a home where my mother spoke nêhiyawēwin, but I was never spoken to. It was like when my mom would switch to nêhiyawēwin talking to relatives on the phone and such, she would kind of turn away. It was always a strange thing, because within my mom’s family, among her siblings, she was the only fluent speaker. Funny enough, I grew up in an environment where my mother was working for the government and my father was a carpenter, so I went to this other family’s house in the mornings from the time I was about eight months to five years old. They were Iranian, so I ended up learning Farsi as a child and learning all about that language. More recently, I took some university classes in 2013 and have done all kinds of reading and learning about linguicide. I’ve also taken some nêhiyawēwin courses and am still learning how to write syllabics.

A lot of nêhiyaw people will still refer to themselves as “Cree,” which comes from a French word. The name for the band nêhiyawak was very intentional: we went to our parents, who would all be considered elders. We said we have these songs, and they’re all trying to share experiences that were for the most part personal but of course rooted in indigenous issues. We asked them if there was a name that they thought would fit. It was Matthew’s father who said we should call it “nêhiyawak.” That is the word for all nêhiyaw people, and it’s also a word that a lot of people have a hard time saying. We wanted to put that word in people’s mouths so they will be forced to deal with it linguistically. A lot of that inspiration too, personally, was from The Ethiopians. That band in Jamaica pretty much went to their Rastafari elders when they were looking for a name for their band. These are old words with much deeper meanings than anything in English.

NY: Kris and Jason Borys collaborate on gentle, soothing electronic soundscapes for the documentary series “Voices on the Rise,” which follows Eli Hirtle, a nêhiyaw man based in Victoria, B.C., on his journey home to reconnect with his culture and language. It is a beautiful and highly-relevant miniseries that puts in very clear terms the deep crisis that can result from the separation from one’s heritage, language, ancestral words and knowledge of and upon the earth itself. Kris elaborated on this story of revival and reciprocity, and his role in this kind of work.

KH: It’s been a cool process to get these conversations building with other creative people, like in “Voices on the Rise.” Eli’s been in Victoria for quite some time, where we met. I didn’t know there would be this story about Alberta and language revitalization, but he came to me right away and asked if I’d be interested in doing the music. Jason Borys and I were already working on a recording, and I was like “for sure!” It’s really amazing that when you watch “Voices On the Rise,” you’re seeing this nêhiyaw artist and creative, Eli, going back to this community in Alberta, but then on top of it, there’s us from here as well, making the music. It becomes very holistic.

I’ve heard from Reuben Quinn, an elder from here who is featured in the documentary, that our language loses about four words per year, and almost everything else is becoming short-form. You see it happen every year. Our language actually links to the stars, and there are concepts and notions less understood by any other framework that can’t afford to be lost. Reuben offers nêhiyawēwin classes through this place called Center for Race and Culture. There have been people from Australia and from all over the world taking these classes. This is another great way that technology lets a global community kind of peep in on deep, heavy–duty conversations.

NY: I am grateful for the way in which you talk about where you are from: amiskwaciy on Treaty 6 territory—in contrast to the almost comical “Edmonton, Alberta,” a city named after a London borough and a province after a British princess with no ancestral ties to the land. A prime example of how naming is essentially synonymous with claiming in a colonizer mindset. But such a reductive name falls so incredibly short of articulating anything about the complexity of lived experiences in such places. I guess what I am really interested in is something like “psychogeography,” especially how language shapes our positionality within a wider world of relations, ecosystems, and power structures. We could dissect this forever, I suspect. What are your thoughts?

KH: English absolutely has come to be echoing in this region, so there is always a conscious effort for me to talk about names, like “kisiskâciwanisîpiy,” which is the North Saskatchewan River. This is an old, old word, and it would have likely echoed in these valleys for thousands of years. Then after a while those words are never being used anymore. All this work couldn’t help but be about language revitalization, even within our own lives. This is important because there are so many words that don’t have an easy meaning in English, which speaks to how Indigenous languages can be broken apart and were broken apart by colonialism and residential schools, for example.

I want to mention, too, that on the track “kisiskâciwanisîpiy,” we timed that track to the river itself. Not every part of the river flows the same. Here, it’s about 90 bpm.

I have often felt scared or hurt or put off in Alberta and the prairies in Canada when I hear them being called “empty prairies.” You often hear the way people talk about them as just that—like they’re sitting there, empty, with nothing there. But you go out there and you feel that wind and you hear the birds and you know that at one time, if you would have stood there, 60 million buffalo would have just churned you into hamburger and you wouldn’t even know what happened. And, of course, there have been people there for such a long time. This is totally about erasure, whether people know it or not. Taking part in these linguistic tropes is actually doing violence. Working against this has always been my intention with the “moccasingaze” stuff, and it has only gotten deeper, not in a little way, but in a way that says, “Let’s not accept this anymore. Let’s put all this aside.”

There needs to be a deeper want within our community as a whole. This would include all people in our community. I feel like this is where we’re at: on one hand, indigenous rights have been taken away and indigenous people have experienced so much erasure and genocide and linguicide, and on the other hand, our very understanding of who Indigenous people are, we have to admit, is colonized. We’re still talking about the same key figures in a story that seemingly lines up, if you accept the European colonial history. But if you question it at all it becomes really strange. For instance, on a status card in Canada, it says “Certified Indian.” You are a “Certified Indian.” There are members of my family who have much more melanin than I do, who have been off reserve for generations. These people are not even allowed to call themselves Indigenous. Obviously, no one questions the fact that they are, but when it comes down to paying for a dental bill? Nothing. This idea of “certified,” this stuff isn’t really there. Neither is the “Nation.”

What we’re being shone a light on is the fact that this is one story: all of these nations and borders. We didn’t create that. Somebody else did. We are not the enemy. This should be about uplifting and always trying to challenge these status quos.

We’re in a cool spot where we can talk about these issues in art and music, even though the reality is that a lot of our world is still something that we could refer to as “garrisons,” or “war camps” in some cases. These names could more accurately sum up the legal jurisdiction these places continue to have over Indigenous people. They can assist in us understanding the deeper consequences of how it is that the oppression of Indigenous people plays into all our lives and how we can break out of it. It’s not easy, but, again, I think we are actually at a beautiful point where we can not only learn these things, but embed them into our work as artists. It’s important to see how we can break out of a colonial mindset especially by supporting other creatives.

nêhiyawak from left to right: Marek Tyler, Matthew Cardinal and Kris Harper (photo retrieved from the band’s Bandcamp page)

NY: All of these projects exude tremendous consideration, generosity, compassion, and respect. The many collaborations Kris is a part of seem inherently meant to be out in the world because they are so rooted in both personal and communal experience that they have such a multifaceted ability to reach the listener/viewer on multiple interpretive and emotional planes at once. There is absolutely a conscious effort toward a frequency-shift discernible in Kris’s work. He elaborates:

KH: A lot of us are just using music for healing. For a lot of people, a lot of my friends—the concepts of addiction and trauma have been really soothed by the ability to have an outlet, one that you can be very addicted to but in a way that is only giving, only about healing and building.

With Nick, I met him in 2018 or 2019 at the Folk on the Rocks music festival in Yellowknife. Ever since, there has been this ongoing conversation about music and focusing our work and energy on supporting communities of anti-abuse. Essentially, looking toward communities who are open and receptive not only to re-determining their colonial history, but also getting down to the basic question of “how can we live with less violence in our lives. Period.”

I also think that all of this stuff is about vibrations, truly, and the intentions of human beings and lifeforms. The fact that we’re putting our intention into any of our language and movements in this world allows us to continue to do this honest work without forcing ourselves into what is actually a colonial concept of understanding language. We do have to get there, but there are no shortcuts, so we have to be pretty patient with ourselves and this world, and how it’s opening and changing and how people are looking at it. Language aside for a moment, the vibrations within bUDi’s record—that stuff is as meaningful as any words, to me. There is so much being said in that work. Really, every recording, with Nick and Jason and nêhiyawak, I’ve just felt so cool with because they have all felt so honest each time.

I’ve always dreamed that, with a band like nêhiyawak, or any kind of group, it would be amazing to have a situation where the band is nêhiyaw and all the management is nêhiyaw—or, let’s just say Indigenous, because there’s something about having all the moving parts working as a team, and I feel that that whole team should not just be people from inside the industry, but the actual community. Let’s just say your managers are a group of six or seven elders, and they really decided which shows were good for you to play. And they get, say, 15% off all the shows? That would be great!

Part of this, too, is breaking out of the individual. The idea of the “individual” has to be crushed to a certain degree because the fact is, the tastes and interests of so many individuals have been so horribly repugnant in the historical record of humanity that to me it doesn’t seem worth it. But more than me, this is about everyone. We all share this thing called consciousness that supposedly some of us are “up on” and some of us are “less on”—whatever, we all share it. Everything we’re doing is what we’re doing together. And I’m glad there are folks like you who call me up and take the time to ask sincere questions. It’s cool as hell!

Cover photo by Levi Manchak

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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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