Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Tibetan Artist Yungchen Lhamo Sings for a Better World

This interview by Mike Fiorito was originally published on the Atwood webpage and republished here with the author’s permission.

There are some singers who invent a genre to suit their uniqueness. Yungchen Lhamo is one of those artists. Born in Lhasa, Tibet, Lhamo crossed the Himalayas to Dharamshala, India, with her son strapped to her back. She then moved to Australia, where she recorded prayers of meditation, which developed into her first CD, Tibetan Prayer, which won the Australian Recording Industry Award (ARIA) for best world album in 1995.

Performing throughout the world, Lhamo was then signed by Peter Gabriel to his recording company, Real World Records. She released her second album, Tibet, Tibet, on Real World Records in 1996.

Lhamo has since gone on to perform at Carnegie Hall with luminaries such as Philip Glass, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, and others. Lhamo also performed at the 1997 Lilith Fair festival with Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Jewel. Around this time, she was invited by Laurie Anderson to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London, sharing the stage with Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, and Lou Reed.

I had the honor and privilege to talk via Facetime to Lhamo at the end of March 2021.

“How did you learn to sing?” I asked.

Dressed in a traditional yellow Tibetan robe, holding prayer beads, smiling as she spoke, Lhamo described her earliest recollections.

“Where I grew up, life was extremely hard for all of us, especially being raised by a single mother back then. We prayed all the time. One day, as I was singing a prayer, my grandmother asked me, ‘where did you learn that song?’ The conversation went something like this:

What song, grandmother?”

“The song you’re singing,” my grandmother said.

“I just made that song up.”

Do you want to be a singer?” she asked.

“No, I want to grow up quickly and become either a nun or a man,’ I said. My grandmother’s jaw dropped upon hearing this. “Why do you want to become a man?”

“I want to be able to carry firewood and water, and help the elderly,” I said.

“If you want to help people, you must sing. This is your gift,” my grandmother replied.

Then one day, I was singing ‘Ari-Lo,’ which would be a song on my second album Tibet, Tibet. “How do you know this song?” my grandmother asked.

“This is a song I made up,” I replied. My grandmother and mother were now both in tears. This was a very moving and magical moment for all of us.

“You need to sing to the world,” my grandmother said.”

Yungchen Lhamo © courtesy of the artist

And singing to the world is what Yungchen Lhamo has done.

“Where did you meet Peter Gabriel?” I asked.

“I met Peter in London after I toured Australia when I was performing for the Dalai Lama. I hadn’t yet made an album. But I was told that I needed to make a CD. I didn’t have the concept of singing something to then sell it. Even now, I don’t believe myself a singer. For me, singing is an offering. A prayer. However, listening to my manager, I quickly made the album Tibet Prayer, which, to my surprise, won the equivalent of the Grammy in Australia for Best World Music album. But this also meant that now I had to travel the world to perform. I would be representing Tibet and bringing our music around the world. And so, I went. And since then, it’s never ended.”

“Why did you decide to go with Peter Gabriel’s label?”

“I chose Real World because Peter insists on having music from around the world. Because of Peter, people know about other cultures. Peter looks beyond the music, to the culture, and the story behind the song. Peter cares deeply about the world. Not just about making hits. And he’s a good friend. He’s made the impossible possible. I had every obstacle in front of me. I am a woman, I don’t speak the language, I don’t have a big band, I perform spiritual songs and I don’t have a stage show. But Peter believed in the music and this has made all the difference.”

“Do you consider yourself a Tibetan artist?”

“There are two main types of Tibetan music. The first is the traditional Tibetan folk songs and operas, which I learned when young, but my own music is not Tibetan in that sense. The other type is the Tibetan Buddhist chanting of prayers and mantras and my songs tend to reflect something of that tradition.”

“The industry labeled you World Music?”

“You know, when I first heard this term World Music, I thought it sounded silly. Isn’t music something that’s meant for all of the world?”

“It’s a term that describes how narrow the music industry can sometimes be,” I said. “I hear everything in your music. That’s what makes it so special. I hear blues, jazz, classical and folk. Yes, I hear prayers too, but sung like I’ve never heard before. Besides, isn’t all singing a form of prayer?”

“I sing for the world – not just Tibet. I don’t look for the music – sometimes you make connections – you make creative contacts. I play with people, not just the instruments or styles from which they originate. I mostly sing acapella but since I’ve worked with musicians from other cultures, each of my albums after Tibet Prayer has a different feel. For instance, on Coming Home, I worked with French producer Hector Zazou. My second album, Ama, was produced by Jamshied Sharifi, an Iranian American. My third album, Tayatha, was produced by Anton Batagov, a Russian pianist and post-minimalist composer. And finally, on my current album Awakening I worked with Spanish producers Julio Garcia and Carmen Ros. No doubt each album reflects the culture and musical traditions of the different producers and musicians that have worked on them.”

“How did you meet Peter Rowan?”

“I met Peter Rowan in 2015; we were playing on the same bill at the Leaf Festival in North Carolina. Peter then asked me if I wanted to play with his Bluegrass group at the Lake Eden Arts Festival, also in North Carolina. The Lake Eden Arts Festival is traditionally a Bluegrass only festival, I was told. ‘They might resist something new,’ Peter said. I must tell you; we were a hit. People gave us a standing ovation. Then that autumn I toured with Peter for his new album, The Old School, and we have collaborated on and off since then. I am working with him again right now on a new song and plan to meet up with him in California in April. One can say that Peter sings Bluegrass, but his music transcends that category.”

“You’re a true World Music composer,” I said.

We both laughed a little.

Yungchen Lhamo © Ernie Paniccioli

I told Lhamo that I’ve been a huge fan of Peter Rowan since his collaboration with Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Vassar Clements on Old & In the Way and have continued to be a fan.

“Your new LP, Awakening, is spectacular. I love all the spiritual aspects of the songs, but I hear so many emotions and influences. “Home is Wherever You Are” for instance, reminds me of an Appalachian song. I hear that high, lonesome sound in your voice. It’s layered with longing and sadness. What inspired this song?”

“I hear music and it finds its way into my music. I don’t try to copy. It just happens.”

Perhaps Peter Rowan’s influence found its way into the feel of “Home Is Wherever You Are.”

Like all Yungchen Lhamo’s albums, the songs on Awakening are incredibly varied. And while the title song “Awakening” is a prayerful invocation, Lhamo’s ribboned voice winding around a violin, the song “Monkey Mind” comes more from the blues tradition.

“Loving Kindness” has a Flamenco influence and features singer Carmen Linares. The song “Sun and Moon” is sensuous romance. Lhamo’s voice whispers through mysterious landscapes, taking you on a visionary journey.  Flung far across the globe, closer to Lhamo’s roots, the song “Four Wishes” is reminiscent of Chinese music.

Lhamo is like a sponge who takes everything she hears and incorporates it into her music. You will hear her voice sound as delicate as the wind; but you’ll also hear her voice boom like it can carry across mountains. At the heart of all her music is prayer, but tuneful prayer.

I then asked Lhamo about her One Drop of Kindness Foundation.

“At One Drop of Kindness Foundation, people can volunteer, bringing their specific talents. Whether they’re writers, designers, or teachers. We’re just asking for people to give their time. Elderly people willing to teach Tibetan children. One week, thirty minutes. In the future we will have a place so that children can go to learn dancing, singing and prayer. This is open to everyone. Like the One Drop of Kindness water signature logo suggests, all it takes is one drop of yourself. My wish is that if we human beings appreciate the world around us, this makes us healthy and makes the world a better place.  One drop of water accumulates.  Many drops of water make an ocean.”

Since it was established in 2004, the One Drop of Kindness Foundation’s projects have brought music, hope, health, and happiness to many people in Tibet, Nepal and India, in the USA, and in Ireland. Initial projects included providing single mothers, children, and the elderly in Tibet with clothing, shoes, prosthetic limbs, and educational supplies.

In addition, Lhamo has brought her music to countless homeless shelters, classrooms, retirement homes, and community spaces throughout the USA, Asia, and Europe. For example, her 2015 show in Kingston, NY, “You Are Beautiful, I Am Beautiful,” was reviewed in Newsweek Magazine.

Lhamo also makes jewelry, which she started doing during the pandemic. “If you purchase my jewelry, it goes towards the foundation.”

“What’s next for you?”

“While I’m trying to find a label for Awakening, I’m working on another album now called In Grass Valley.

We talked for a while longer, discussing the importance of trying to do the right thing in life, to be a good person. I really didn’t want to hang up. I showed Yungchen my guitar and we even played a song together. It was delightful. I told Yungchen that she’s like water, and can fit into any shape.

If Yungchen Lhamo is considered World Music, it’s because her music contains the entire world.

(Cover photo by Ernie Panicciolo)

Native Eyez | Intikana, Social Justice Activist, By Mike Fiorito

This article is written by Mike Fiorito and originally published on the Star Revue webpage. Check out more of Mike’s writings via his webpage.


I met the rapper Intikana through a series of mutual connections; some from a New York based Taíno community and some from musicians we both know. Born and raised in the Bronx, Intikana went to P.S. 76, M.S. 135, then to Dewitt Clinton High School.

As a professional recording artist, Intikana has collaborated with legends such as Dead Prez, Keith Murray, Murda Mook, Chris Rivers, Abiodun Oyewole (The Last Poets), Vaughn Benjamin aka Akae Beka (Midnite), Dinco D (Leaders of The New School), and Vordul Mega (Cannibal Ox). His EP “Native Eyez” was nominated for three Native American Music Awards (“Best Music Video”, “Best Rap Recording” & “Best Historical / Linguistic Recording”).

I had the fortune to speak to Intikana on a Saturday in mid-June.

“You have a long family history in the Bronx?”

“My grandparents moved from Puerto Rico to The Bronx in the 1950s. My Mom was born and raised in The Bronx. My dad was born in Queens but raised in The Bronx,” said Intikana. His voice was gentle. A born lyricist, you could hear the wisdom in his words.

“I know you are of Puerto Rican descent. Have you ever been to PR?”

“When I was a kid, I spent summers in Puerto Rico. Borikén is actually the original Taíno name of Puerto Rico. When translated, Puerto Rico means ‘rich port’ which is how the colonizers viewed our island. A port that was rich in gold, natural herbs, and spices.”

The Taíno were the first Indigenous people to encounter Columbus. The Europeans have had a long history of committing atrocities on the island. Intikana often writes about the island’s history of social injustice. He also acknowledges the experience of social injustice on other Caribbean islands and extends this awareness to social injustice found around the globe.

“What town or city did you stay in on the island?”

“I spent my early childhood summers in Cabo Rojo which is a small town on the west side of Borikén. When I was there, I stayed with my grandparents. Their home was right next to the hills or what we called los montes. My early experiences there taught me a lot about the importance of the natural world.”

“What was it like growing up in the Bronx?”

“It made me who I am. I will always love my city. Someone once told me where you’re from feeds you. Growing up in the Bronx fed me. It taught me survival. Taught me about life.”

“What was the neighborhood like?”

“We lived in the northeast section of the Bronx. Between the 5 train on Gun Hill Road and the 2 train on Burke Avenue. My mom and I resided in the basement of my grandmother’s house. It was a very family-oriented neighborhood. There were many Caribbean people, Haitians, Dominicans, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, many of whom owned homes. Our neighborhood bordered the Eastchester projects.”

“When you say, the neighborhood taught you how to survive, what do you mean?”

“It taught me how to be strong in challenging situations. I experienced a lot in The Bronx. When I was a kid, my father was in prison. I was thirteen when he came home. On the weekends, I used to stay with him in the Mill Brook Projects in the South Bronx. One day, we went to the park with my family. While there, a little boy had hit my sister in the face and made her cry. My dad was upset and confronted the boy’s father. The guy said something threatening to take things to another level. In response, my father punched him. The guy dropped to the floor and we walked away. When leaving the park, the guy got up and pulled out a gun. Then he started running at us claiming to be a cop. He pointed the gun at my dad, my uncle, and then aimed it at my face. Suddenly, the officer emptied the entire gun, shooting multiple bullets. Luckily, I was only grazed on my arm. It wasn’t a direct shot. However, the man shot my dad. One bullet struck my father in the leg which thankfully went in and out. The guy with the gun turned out to be an off-duty corrections officer. He was sentenced to a year in jail for reckless endangerment. Not a year for shooting my dad but rather a year for endangering the lives of everyone else in the park.”

“I can only imagine how traumatizing that was.”

“That’s why I say The Bronx taught me about survival. I’ve known friends who were murdered and have witnessed a great deal of senseless violence. Every year in my middle school, we used to paint new murals dedicated to students who got killed. There was one friend of mine who I went to class with. One day, he was late to school and, unfortunately, never made it. He and his entire family were murdered early in the morning. I remember showing up to the wake. There were about eight closed caskets.”

“Did these experiences inspire your interest in rap?”

“Definitely. But let me take a step back. I was close to my grandfather. He was a deep-thinking man. He taught me how to play chess and reflect on my approach to everything. He got extremely sick from diabetes when I was twelve. When I went to see him in the hospital, he didn’t recognize me at first. Slowly, he began to remember who I was, but the nurses forced me to leave the room. This was an immensely powerful experience for me. My reaction to the emotion was to start writing about it. Also, when I was going to high school, rapping was a way for me to verbally defend myself. At first rapping was a way for me to find my voice, but then it grew into something that helped me to discover myself. Music also kept me focused. Eventually, I started to get more into poetry. I also learned more about theater and film. I wrote a play called Penumbra, which included music, poetry, and monologues. Penumbra also had dancers and live musicians. I toured the play around the country in places such as Alaska, California, Chicago, New York, Utah, Colorado, and as far as Ecuador. My friend Bamboo MC helped me find the title Penumbra. Penumbra means a shadow of a shadow.”

“Who were your inspirations? What kind of music do you listen to?”

“When I was younger, I was engrossed in Hip Hop: Nas, Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and many others. I did my homework. I studied all the artists. Then I checked out older albums. At seventeen, I interned at BMG, the record label. There I helped with promotions for “The Neptunes present… Clones” album by Pharrell and Chad Hugo. I spent a whole day with both managing the line for autographs at their in-store event. For a young kid, these moments were life-changing. This would all prove to have a positive impact on my networking and collaborations.

I also spent time at the Apollo Theater. That’s where I got to meet Sway. I broadened my interests, studying jazz, blues, soul, roots reggae, and bomba, which is a form of Afro- Borikén music. I was so hungry and kept growing and learning. There was an artist named Vaughn Benjamin who founded a group called Midnite and later changed his name to Akae Beka. He was a significant inspiration for me. His intelligence, style, and overall mission was powerful to me. We collaborated on a song called “Meditation” which features Stic of the legendary Hip-Hop group Dead Prez as well as Aza Lineage from Kingston, Jamaica. Only months after releasing the song, he sadly transitioned (died) in 2019.

Through music, I’ve been able to travel and see the world. Which is such a huge blessing. In South America, for example, I participated in important Indigenous ceremonies. It was during this time that I received my spiritual name, Intikana.”

“Can you tell me about your songs that involve your Taíno origins?”

“I wrote a song called ‘Native Eyez’ which is also the title track for a project I did in 2013. It was created to raise awareness of native culture and its connection to the street. How the arriving conquerors replaced the nature world, the jungle, and the forest, with the concrete jungle. I then did music videos for this project. The mission was to showcase and highlight our global interconnectedness as Indigenous peoples. Not just for Taínos but for Indigenous people everywhere. I also did a music video with an artist from Australia named Provocalz. The song is called ‘Survivors’ and is part of a native music project called ‘Only Built for Koori Linx.’ The song speaks about how much Indigenous people had to endure simply to survive. My interests in social justice have inspired me to keep learning, to remain a student.”

“What other Indigenous songs have you written?”

“I also wrote a song called ‘Crouching Gallo Hidden Coqui’ which was produced by Xen Medina. It has a very direct, strong tone.”

Gallo means rooster in Spanish, symbolizing masculinity in many Caribbean/Latin American cultures. The coqui symbol is particularly important to Taíno people. It is a singing tree frog native to Borikén. Both roosters and frogs appear in Taino stories throughout the Caribbean and are recognized as major symbols in Borikén culture.

“In addition, I recorded a song called ‘El Pueblo Esta Muerto’ which is on my album ‘Sovereignty.’ I originally wrote and recorded the song for News Beat Podcast which is produced by Manny Faces. In this song, I talk about the history of Borikén and about the island post-earthquake. I wrote another song called ‘Culture Shock’ featuring M1 of Dead Prez. It was filmed in Africa, Cuba, Guatemala, Borikén & The Bronx. These songs are very revolutionary in nature. They’re concerned with oppression and with the suppression of the original cultures of our people.”

“What has your Taíno culture taught you about your perspective of the world?”

“My culture motivates me when there’s no motivation. I remember why I’m doing the work. It’s not for some artificial purpose. I have a bigger mission. My work inspires me to learn about history. For instance, when I read Columbus’s journal, it made me want to cry. Columbus wrote in his letters that the Indigenous people were gullible and naive. In his letters to Spain, he wrote that the Taíno were easily able to memorize prayers and could easily be conquered. And, because of the Taínos’ generous nature, the Spaniards were able to colonize the island fast. It hurt me to read this. The impact of colonization still affects Borikén today. Since the time of the Spaniards, foreign anthropologists have selectively filtered what we know about our own history. We are conditioned to see ourselves through the eyes of people who hate us.”

“What are your future plans?”

“I am working on a book. The working title is Native Eyez: Lyrics & Curriculum. This will be the first in a series of books. This book will serve as a resource for educational institutions, professors, teachers, students, and families. My intention is to raise awareness and understanding of native history within the Afro-Indigenous diaspora. The idea is to have it exist as a teaching guide that can be used in the classroom. I hope it will inspire people to think deeply and explore issues concerning injustice, struggle, and movements of resistance. I pray it can assist in liberating minds and help those interested in reclaiming their own identity. This book is a culmination of many years of hard work, research, study and learning. I am hoping to sign with a major publisher who values and respects the vision. I have a few in mind. If not, I’m willing to self-publish. Either way, I intend on leaving my mark in this world. I believe that this book will exist long after I am gone.”

“Are you working on a music project?”

“Not at the moment. I have a lot of music that I’ve recorded and would like to release a new project soon. However, I’m in the process of reinventing my own soundscape. So, I’m remaining patient with this next release. No name as of yet. Nonetheless, I will more than likely release a few new singles as well as music videos to keep feeding my audience.”

“It’s exciting to imagine what kinds of projects you’ll be working on twenty years from now.”

“My goal is to keep moving forward, to speak up for oppressed people everywhere. Every day, my vision gets bigger. And I’m grateful for that.”

Contact info:
Intikana: http://www.intikana.net
Mike Fiorito: http://www.fallingfromtrees.info

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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.