Cover photo taken from Raye Zaragoza’s Bandcamp page.
Recent wildfires in California have been some of the more devastating in the states’ history. Anyone interested in helping can donate to several organizations that are on the ground like American Red Cross and California Community Foundation. New York Times recently made a list of organizations one can donate to.
There are often some artists out there that use their voice to reach more people in order to spread the dire word. After all, we all have to what we can and what our talents direct us to do. Raye Zaragoza is one of these artists. As a resident of California state she feels the fires and for her neighbors. In 2017 she published Red Moon, High Tide with Madison Malone in support of organizations offering aid to victims of the then ongoing La Tuna Canyon Forest Fire. Now she is directing all profits from the song to the current fire relief efforts.
When an armed young man decided to take 17 lives away from their families, in what we now know as the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in the United States, the tragedy hit strong and personal with musician and activist Tina Mathieu. As a former alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and a published musician, Tina now writes more and more protest songs as well as participating as an activist in the country’s fight for gun reform and voter registration initiatives. In this latest Shouts protest music interview Tina tells me about her recent protest songs, her upcoming debut solo album (which drops in December 2018) and how she recognises her talent and uses her voice for those who don’t have one.
First off, for those not familiar with your work, who is Tina Mathieu?
“Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this amazing platform. My name is Tina Mathieu and I am an alternative soul singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. I am also an activist involved in America’s common sense gun reform and voter registration initiatives.”
When did you realise you could use your music to make a positive impact?
“Early on in my songwriting, I tapped into the ability to tell the truth in a way to which people could relate. To me, relating to someone is extremely impactful. It’s what music and lyrics are all about. I’ve always been drawn to and soothed by emotional, introspective songs. I tend to write about my relationships, heartache, anxiety, injustices, etc. I think my music has had a positive impact in a way of letting others know that they aren’t alone in their pain or sadness. Especially In this current climate of America, I have turned to my music as a way of expressing what many of us are thinking and feeling and it has been beautiful to see it bring people together.”
Your debut album A Safer Place is set to be released in December 2018, but you’ve been working in the music industry for longer than that. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process behind this debut solo album and how the process might have changed since you started out?
“I spent the early part of my music career gigging around New York City as a solo artist and as a member of the indie pop rock band, Under the Elephant, before moving out to Los Angeles a few years ago. Finding the right producers and musicians who understood my vibe was really important to me. Once I surrounded myself with the right people, my sound really began to evolve into what it is now.
My biggest influences are 90’s alternative and R&B artists like Sade, The Cranberries, Erykah Badu and Alanis Morissette. I decided to lean into those instinctual vibes and create the music that comes most naturally to me. A Safer Place started to take shape after the devastating reality that my marriage was ending. Feelings of anxiety, abandonment, sexual trauma and depression were very real for me. The only way I could cope was to write it all down and sing about what I was feeling. The whole process was extremely cathartic and ended up becoming a beautifully dark and emotional body of work. I’ve recently released two singles from my upcoming album; a hauntingly uncomfortable tale of infidelity, RING OFF, and the most recent, a vibey reminder to break unhealthy cycles, TOUGH LOVE. I’m so excited to share the album as a whole. It’s been a long time coming!”
Being based in one of the more abundant and diverse music scenes out there, Los Angeles, how do you feel people are receiving your protest music?
“I’m pretty new to the protest music world. I wrote my first real protest song in February 2018 after the shooting at my Parkland alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My song, One Step Closer, came as a surprise to me. It poured out of me in minutes after watching Emma Gonzalez’s emotional cries of “BS” as the March for Our Lives movement was born. With the way the country is today, writing protest music has become a big part of my process.
I recently released a live video of my newest protest song, America the Beautiful, which questions the apocalyptic nature of the issues that plague the USA right now. Singing these songs at rallies, protests and marches is very emotional. I cry pretty much every time, whether it’s before, after or even during my performance. I’m usually sharing the experience with people who feel similarly. Whether that’s angry, sad, frustrated or helpless, they look to me in hopes that I’ll move them in someway. It’s a big responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
However, performing my protest music at artist shows is much different and sometimes almost more important because I’m playing to mixed crowds. I find that audiences are surprised by it. Most people go out to see music to forget about our country’s problems so often my call to action is unexpected. The MOST rewarding part is when the songs actually hit them in a way that makes them feel like they want to be involved in making a change. If just one person hears a song of mine and because of it decides they want to pop their bubble and be a more involved citizen, that’s a huge win, not only for me and them but for us all!”
Is there a strong scene of like-minded musicians and artists using their voices in a similar way?
“YES! There are so many amazing musicians and poets on the activist circuit. It’s a beautiful thing to see artists creatively channeling their hopes and fears to inspire and comfort one another. With issues ranging from sexual abuse to the destruction of our national parks, I have heard incredible musicians share their personal experiences and move a crowd to tears. I love being inspired by artists who use their platforms in a socially conscious way.”
You recently released the single One Step Closer. Can you tell us what it is about and why the subject strikes close to your heart?
“As I mentioned earlier, I’m a former student of MSD High School in Parkland, Florida. For those in other parts of the world who may not know what happened there on February 14th 2018, I’ll fill you in. On Valentine’s Day of this year, a troubled, young white male entered his former high school armed with military style weapons and an abundance of ammo and wreaked havoc. He brutally murdered 17 individuals, 14 of those young, promising students. The trauma this caused to my beloved hometown is indescribable. The ripple effect of the pain has reached people not only all over the country, but the entire world. Unfortunately in America, mass shootings are happening just about EVERY day and it could only be a matter of time until your community is next. Our gun laws have very little to do with safety, protection, and common sense and have everything to do with money, power and privilege.
The NRA (National Rifle Association) currently has the wherewithal to control our elections with money, thus bribing politicians to keep gun laws in the interest of their pockets. People with violent histories, mental health issues, and even people on “No Fly” lists have full access to legally own military grade weapons in this country with little to no background check or wait time. For those who care about the safety of our citizens, this makes little to no sense, but if you follow the dark money it all becomes very clear. Money and power are at the crux of most, if not all, of America’s biggest issues.
I wrote One Step Closer for the March for our Lives movement, which advocates for common sense gun reform, but really it can be applied to so many issues that we face. Leading a country to make major changes can be an extremely daunting task. In a time when we are constantly being fed distractions and lies from our administration, it is so easy to feel defeated. But with every march we attend, every vote cast, every civil conversation we have with someone on “the other side”, we are One Step Closer to making a difference in America… and in the world. We can never stop speaking up, no matter how hard it is.
I’ve comforted gun violence survivors. I’ve hugged the parents of these dead children. I’ve laid on the ground in protest pretending to be a dead body. I’ve spoken to scared school children to remind them that they have a voice and they aren’t alone. I have decided to devote my life to this cause.
I released One Step Closer with a music video created by fellow MSD alumni that captures moving footage of the brave and inspired people who took the streets to March for Our Lives all over America, along with a memorial for the victims. Proceeds from One Step Closer go to the March for Our Lives Action Fund. You can download, stream, and add it to your protest playlist and be a part of the change we are all creating!”
On your webpage you state that you use your “music and voice to speak up for the victims who no longer have a voice of their own”. There is a striking resemblance here to some codes of ethics of journalists. In journalism its an age old dilemma; the balance between journalism and activism. Do you find it tricky to balance between art and activism or is it blatantly obvious to use the music in this way?
“96 Americans die every single day from gun violence. There are 17 people from my hometown who no longer have a voice or a vote. I speak and sing for them. There are plenty of artists who have strong political opinions and choose to not bring it into their music because it could “turn people off” or they may lose fans. To each their own. For me, it’s blatantly obvious to use my music platform for something bigger than me. The balance isn’t tricky at all because I’m not a journalist. I’m an artist so I get to infuse my perspective. My music is all about truth, whether that’s being cheated on in a marriage, children dying at the hands of our country’s twisted policies or the racism that is sewed into the fabric of our everyday life. Truth is truth. Speak it. Share it. If people are uncomfortable with that, it says much more about them than it does about me. Luckily, I am able to shape these messages into digestible pieces of music that we can all sing along to!”
Do you follow other current protest musicians? How about some older inspirations?
“I definitely have some favorite musicians, some of them great friends of mine, who use their platform for socially or politically conscious activism! Some of my favorites are Milck, Pussy Riot, Raye Zaragoza, Anthony Federov’s Voices for Change and Tennille Amor. I love artists like Charlie Puth, John Mayer, Andra Day and the Dixie Chicks who seamlessly interweave bigger messages into their mainstream pop music. I created a One Step Closer: Protest Playlist on Spotify that highlights all of these artists.”
What’s on the horizon for you?
“These next few weeks and months will be very busy for me. I just released America the Beautiful and it is making a huge impact! I will be performing at voter rallies, college campuses and election parties to remind people why it is imperative to vote in our upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 6th… and to stay involved thereafter! I’ll also be in the studio putting the finishing touches on A Safer Place EP. I’ll be continuing to volunteer for NextGen America and Moms Demand Action. And of course, since the news cycle never stops, neither does my brain, so I’ll be writing, writing, writing!”
Thank you for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
“Thank you so much for creating this platform! The fact that my protest music reached your ears across the world, which led to me sharing this message with your audience means more than you’d know. I love that there are so many like-minded people around the world who actually care about humanity and justice for all. As world citizens, we need to continue to shine a light on those who are willing to stand up and speak loudly in the face of the injustices of the world! I’d love to connect with anyone reading this and listening to my songs. Music is such a personal experience and I would love to get to know the people I’ve touched or inspired. To connect with me, follow me on Instagram at @TinaMathieuMusic or visit my website, TinaMathieu.com.”
Last August, a debut album was released called Songs For Rojava. The songs are all dedicated to “freedom fighters around the world” and a special focus is directed towards the Rojava revolution. The musician and activist behind the album is a self taught singer-songwriter, writer, activist and, more specifically, an anarcho-communist. All this led me to believe he’d be a perfect fit for a Shouts interview. Hit the play button above for a protest music soundtrack to the interview!
Who is Lee Brickley?
“I’ve been a freelance writer for the last five years, but my real passion has always been songwriting. After teaching myself to play the guitar at age 12, I started writing my own music almost immediately. Since that time I’ve written thousands of songs on many different subjects, but in recent years my music has taken a political slant, and that has thankfully put me in a position where I now have somewhat of a fan-base and am able to release my music publicly.
If you’re asking about my political views, I’d call myself an anarcho-communist, in that I believe it is possible for society to organise in variations of a commune-like structure without an authoritarian state at the helm. This is why I find Democratic Confederalism (the system currently in full swing in Rojava) to be of particular interest, and thus, why I chose to release my latest album that attempts to educate listeners on the Kurdish struggle and the Rojava feminist revolution.”
When did realise that you wanted to send out a message through music?
“I think I realised it was important to write songs aimed at educating, amusing, and encouraging social change when I was very young. Even as a 12 year old with my first £50 guitar in hand, I attempted to replicate the greats like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. I might not have quite understood the significance of their lyrics back then, but their songs spoke to me more than any others.
It has only been during the last couple of years that my songs have begun to get attention, and I believe that is because conditions have deteriorated across the world, and the international working class is closer to revolution than at any point during my lifetime. I write songs about worker’s revolts, I write anti-monarchist music, and I despise the class system. The number of people who agree with me seems to increase every day, and so, as a songwriter, my natural instinct is to create a soundtrack for the revolution.”
Has your music always been political?
“My music hasn’t always been political, and I have hundreds of songs about other subjects. I just think the current political situation globally should encourage all artists to turn their talents towards the issues at hand. We’ve had decades of freedom to dream and create art in all forms on all subjects, but the planet is in a terrible state, psychopaths are in control of nuclear arms, and 99% of people on this Earth are nothing more than slaves. I think it’s time artists and intellectuals did their part, just as the Kurdish, British, and Internationalist volunteers do in Rojava.”
What is your connection to Rojava? How did you learn of it? Why is it important to you?
“As I said, for me, the ideology behind the Rojava revolution is highly appealing. It’s not perfect, and it never will be – nothing is. However, it’s an ideology based on real democracy, freedom, and equality between races, religions, sexes, and minorities. Whatever happens in the future in Rojava, the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan and his ‘Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation’ writings are some of the most rational, compassionate, and empowering I’ve ever come across.
I want to see an international revolution in which the people of the world remove the current banking system completely, redistribute wealth, eliminate the oil and gas industries in favour of renewable energy sources, remove all monarchies, aristocrats, and those born into positions of power. I want to see a bottom-up structure of organising society where people make the decisions that directly affect themselves, and upper-structures are only there to implement the will of the people. I see this happening in Rojava, and so it’s something I must support. And I encourage all others to do the same.”
How is the music scene where you live, in terms of activism and protest? Do you feel alone in using your voice how you do or do you have comrades around you doing similar things?
“There isn’t much of a music scene for political music where I’m based, and so most of my releases etc happen online. However, I am planning a tour for 2019 which will see me play around the UK, Ireland, and Europe. I should be announcing some of the dates for that tour in a few weeks.”
How do you feel people are receiving protest music these days?
“Due to the state of the world at the moment, and the fact that politicians are clearly only focused on keeping the peace while dictatorial corporations pillage and rape the planet – I think people are now looking to protest music more than at any point since the 1960s. Which is good news for me because it means more and more folks out there are listening to my songs, but I’d imagine those in positions of power are getting rather concerned. And they should be concerned.”
What’s your take on musicianship vs. journalism? Many protest singers used to write about very current topics, like a journalist, and some do still to this day. Do you think the media is not doing its job today?
“Despite the fact that my song called “Ocalan” repeatedly gets removed from Facebook and YouTube even though the lyrics are historically accurate and simply tell the life story of Abdullah Ocalan up until his imprisonment in 1997, I still think I can get away with saying things in songs journalists wouldn’t dare to write in their propaganda mainstream news articles. But even I appear to be treading a thin line. There are more and more people being arrested in the UK for supporting the Kurdish struggle in one way or another all the time. And there have also been some arrests of songwriters for releasing music on other subjects.
So I don’t necessarily blame the journalists for not having the balls to write articles that go against the official propaganda line of the state. They risk being classed as a terrorist and getting arrested just like me. The only difference is I realise that I have nothing to lose but my chains, and they’re wrapped up in their ever-so-important lives.”
What about activism versus art? Should they be mixed? Do you ever get feedback or criticism regarding that?
“There are a lot of people out there who think musicians and songwriters should keep out of politics, but those people shamefully underestimate the power music and lyrics can have over a human being’s perceptions. When the mainstream music industry is filled with songs about sex and getting wasted; what happens? We get a society filled with teenage mothers and drug addicts. People who listened to that music and took inspiration from it long before they were experienced enough to make a rational decision on the matter. Music is incredibly powerful.
If you want to start a revolution, raising an army and asking the IRA for information about their old gun-smuggling routes simply isn’t enough. Not this time anyway. If the people of the UK and other countries around the world are to rid themselves of their authoritarian rulers, they must be united in their efforts. Art and music are essential tools for educating the masses, showing them the reality of their situation, and teaching them how to free themselves.”
Do you partake in activism outside the music?
“Yes. I regularly attend protests for issues I think matter. I also write articles and blog posts, and sometimes I’ve been known to engage in a bit of guerrilla art.”
Who are you musical heroes? What about current protest musicians? Anything you are following or can recommend?
“My musical heroes have to be people like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash, but there are really too many to mention. As far as current protest singers, I’d like to mention a couple of people that everyone should check out. David Rovics has been writing and releasing protest songs for what seems like forever, and he really is a master in the game. Seriously. There’s also a guy from the UK who’s blowing my mind at the moment called Joe Solo. Check out his song Start a revolution in an empty room.”
What is on the horizon for you?
“I am about to record another eight songs that I will release under the title of “The Working Class Revolution EP” ahead of the tour of the same name I am currently in the process of planning in Europe. I still have lots of room available to book extra shows, and the tour will run from April 2019 onwards. If there is anyone out there who would like to arrange a show, please feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to discuss and send all the information.”
Thank you very much for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
“No problem! And yes, there is! I give all my music away for free to anyone who asks for it. It’s possible to buy it online, but I upload it to YouTube, Spotify, and other places so anyone can listen for free. I also happily send out MP3 files of all my music to anyone who sends me an email asking. The reason for this is that I want to make sure as many people as possible hear and enjoy my songs, and I completely understand how tough it is out there at the moment financially. So if anyone wants all my music for free, just email me 🙂
Likewise, anyone who wants to support my music and ensure I can continue to write political songs, record them, and distribute them for free to the masses can make donations however big or small [insert: Lee’s PayPal site].
Thanks for the interview!”
You can also follow Lee’s work through his social media and the event page for the online concert here can be found below: