Tag Archives: anti-fascism

A Protest Music Interview: Lee Brickley

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.”

Lee Brickley quote photo 2

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.”

Lee Brickley quote photo

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:

 


Ryan Harvey (interview)

Ryan Harvey has been writing and performing protest music since the turn of the century. But as he explains in this interview he considers himself an activist and an organizer first and musician second. Furthermore, Ryan is also journalist, so naturally I was thoroughly excited about picking his brain about activism, journalism and music and the blurred lines between them as that is what the Shouts project is all about.

 

For those not familiar with your work, who is Ryan Harvey?

I am a song-writer, folk-musician, activist, and journalist from Baltimore, MD, USA. I have been a carpenter/builder for over a decade to subsidize my music and touring life, and I recently launched a small, politically-radical “label” with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine et al called Firebrand Records. I say “label” because we aren’t exactly just a label, we’re also evolving as we venture further into the modern music industry and try to find a way to play a positive role for the artists we work with. It’s certainly a challenge and we’ve made mistakes for sure, but, again, we’re a pretty tiny thing right now.

How did you get into making music?

I first got into punk through a neighbor from childhood, thankfully, the Dead Kennedys was one of my earliest bands that I got into. That led to many good things, including Rancid. It was actually through Rancid that I first heard of Billy Bragg, from their song “The War’s End.” I then got into Billy Bragg, and through him I heard the name Phil Ochs. Once I heard Phil Ochs, I bought a guitar (literally, that week) and began writing political folk music. I had played bass as a kid, trying to be in a punk band, but was new to the guitar. That was in 2000 and was really involved in the anti-capitalist wing of the “anti-globalization” or “global justice” movement.

I’m still very much a punk and punk-listener, but I can be found listening to hiphop, Arabic instrumentals, first-wave Ska and Calypso, or Latin American leftist folk-music just as easily. Politics-in-song really speaks to me, but any musical form that grows from a cultural struggle or serves as a foundation for survival amidst hardship tends to find my ears.

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Have your political and social surroundings always been a driving force for your music?

Yes. I was pretty young when I got politicized by the world around me. It was 1999 and the world was on fire with rebellions against neoliberal capitalist institutions and trade agreements. My early songs were all from that movement, and George W. Bush soon got elected. So I was writing songs in the aftermath of 9/11, the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and then from within the anti-war movement. I worked really closely with a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War and founded a group called The Civilian-Soldier Alliance that tried, together with the veterans, to organize active-duty soldiers to resist the wars. I wrote a lot about that (my albums “The Violence of War” and web-release “Soldier By Soldier”). I have tended to see myself as an activist/organizer first and a musician second (or third).

More recently, I have been writing a lot about the post-2011 world, the Arab Spring revolts, the refugee crisis, etc. My trio with Kareem Samara and Shireen Lilith grew from these songs. Kareem is Palestinian and has more immediate family roots in Egypt (they were refugees from 48, driven out by the earliest Israeli terror-gangs). Shireen’s from the Netherlands with roots there and in Turkey, and back when I was writing a lot of the songs we sing together she was one of many Dutch squatters helping Iraqi refugees with public square protests. I was traveling through Europe (including a stop in Iceland) to learn about the recent protests and uprisings and to share my songs when we all started making music together. We all were acutely aware of the situation both in our regions and in the world at large, and we were inspired and injured by many of the social uprisings taking place. So, we wanted to try to capture this new world political situation and its spirit in song.

 

How willingly do you feel people are receiving political music these days? Especially if you perform at non-protest venues?

It’s strange. The world is extremely political right now, especially certain places where I’ve performed (like Egypt and Greece). Other places (especially parts of the US) are sadly quite contained. But honestly, I think so much music today is political, because the generation that is listening to so much of the new music is political. Performing in Europe, for instance, and singing about the refugee crisis, is something that almost everyone understands, because the situation is simply impossible to ignore. Here in the US, those songs don’t carry the same weight. Singing songs about the US outside of the US is already interesting to the listener, because I’m bringing stories they aren’t always really aware of.

Compared to me singing my songs ten years ago, the soil is a lot healthier, let’s just say. But, with the new leftist-surge has also been the far-right. So, healthy soil can grow different plants…

What do you hope to achieve with your music?

I have always written songs to change the world, and I intend to continue doing that. Changing the world isn’t one big goal, it’s a million little goals. It can be an individual, a behavior, an emotion. I have changed people’s lives as my life has been changed by the music of other people, friends and people I’ll never meet alike.

I also aim to educate, to use my performances as a professor uses the classroom, but without all the grading and homework, but for real, I learned about the Vietnam war through Phil Ochs, the depression through Woody Guthrie, and the Falklands War through CRASS. I learned a lot about post-colonial struggles through Zeca Afonso, Victor Jara, Bob Marley, and so many others.

Education, like music, ignites my heart, and I want to pass that flame on. If you can write a song that makes the listener want to learn more about the subject, you’re doing a good job, and that’s what these artists did for me.

What advice do you have for young protest musicians who want to get their voice and message out into the cosmos?

First off, just start writing and singing. I sucked when I started, and I’m really not a very good singer. I’m not even a very good guitarist honestly, I just have like two styles really that I sort of coined, and that’s what I’m good at. But I wrote like 5 albums before I was even half-decent at holding a note.

The trio 2
Kareem, Shireen and Ryan

Looking back, I write a lot as an observer, like a journalist passing through a significant area and feeling that burning need to attempt to make sense of their snapshots to other people. If you have 10 people that will listen to you, then write for those 10 people. Think about your audience, who do you want to be singing to? Who are you singing to? Be aware of these questions. I have always written songs with an audience in mind, and that has changed my songs. When I was singing acoustic a lot with no microphone and often at protests, I was writing louder, faster songs. Recently, I’ve been able to tap into some softer, more vulnerable parts of my voice and emotions because I’ve been performing in venues with better sound systems. This has allowed me to write different songs on different subjects as well.

Also, innovate! Do some new shit. I see a lot of young dudes who really try hard to look the part of the “folk singer” and sing songs about their “hard travels.” In the folk-punk world, it’s even more monotonous. To be real, we don’t need another Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie. We need new folks with new songs, singing about the life they are actually living. Be honest. If you are just an observer of other peoples’ struggles, that’s ok. Sing a song as an observer. Be yourself and be honest. Bring new musical influences to the genre, expand it, re-define it. Of course, it’s also ok to play the old styles and enjoy them, but don’t become trapped by them.

The world is changing rapidly right now, our job is help those we come in touch with to understand those changes, deal with them emotionally, and prepare themselves to fight to ensure those changes happen in a way that radically alters power and improves the lives of the majority of the world’s population. That’s a big job, but it happens in small parts. If you have ten folks in a basement, that’s your job tonight, to bring those ten people to a different place than they were when they came down the stairs. Tomorrow, repeat.

And remember, there’s a lot of us out there doing the work, so be humble, but don’t ever think you’re the only one out there.

 

One main focus of the Shouts project is the research into journalism vs. activism and the objectivity line between them that often gets blurred. Seeing how you are a journalist involved in political activism, can you tell us your take on the subject?

Oh, what a subject! I mean, I could write a book about this (if my ADD allowed such focus). I have done journalism since 2006 or so, and was first published I think in 2008. I have written about political music, I’ve done investigative journalism, I’ve done many interviews, photography, and I’ve made some videos.

Ryan in Lesvos
Ryan in Lesbos, Greece.

I also use music as journalism. And as activism. I think the lines between art and journalism have increasingly blurred both with technology but also with this generation’s ways of processing information. We have perhaps returned to the days of the traveling music bringing news from town to town, or the Calypso artists using the theatrics of performance to spread subversive ideas among the people. Only, it’s happening through the internet really, really fast.

In recent years, the political space has opened so much, to where mainstream artists are kind of looked upon as uncool if they don’t have some edgy political track. That’s got its downsides too (like really watered down ideas often passing as political radicalism, or folks thinking there is not protest-music until a big artist does something), but, all-in-all, we want to change culture and pop culture is an indicator of where we’re at.

 

Besides the music, journalism and activism, you co-manage a record company. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yeah, it’s a weird thing to go from being a very “anti-label” artist to suddenly coming out with a record-label with a really famous musician. But that’s just a sign of the times isn’t it? We need to do big things and small things, and I’m doing both.

Firebrand hasn’t been a big success story as a label, which in a way is a good thing. We haven’t seen the numbers we’d like to see to be able to really offer radical artists a fast-lane to getting bigger, which sucks. At the same time, we’ve been real about what we’re doing. We don’t like big labels and we don’t really like how they’ve operated in relation to artists. Tom and I are both artists, so we see the music world differently. Over our first few years we’ve signed contracts, we’ve scrapped contracts with artists that wanted to pursue either new labels or wanted to go back to being indy. That’s fine, we see no problem here honestly, though I wish we could be a better home for folks. The truth is, we haven’t gotten there yet. We’re still an experiment, and we’re still regularly discussing how to take a better shape.

This year we’ve got some new music coming out from my trio, Son of Nun, and Built for the Sea, some fresh ideas and really, really good tunes.

What would you sing about if all of a sudden everyone just got along and was kind to each other?

I don’t think that will happen but, I don’t know if I would sing nearly as much as I do. I like singing, but I don’t just like, sing for no reason. The political intentions of a song are usually my motivation. But there’s beautiful songs about life, love, loss, growing, and the general complications of life that I am drawn to. Life will never be a simple story, so there will always be songs about living.

To flip an old Bertolt Brecht quote, in the good times, we’ll sing about the good times. And we’ll probably sing old songs to remind ourselves of the harder moments and how we survived them.

 

What is on the horizon for you?

My trio with Kareem Samara and Shireen Lilith is my main focus right now. We’re combining Arabic and American-style protest folk music together over international political themes for our first album(s), of which we’ve already released the first part (“Thin Blue Border – Vol. 1”).

Volume 2 is already finished and is getting mastered soon, then it’ll come out too. Part 2 is a real departure from what I have been producing, it’s got a lot of different instrumentation on it. Our friend Carl Restivo produced both Eps in LA, and we recorded with friends in London and Amsterdam too. So we gathered some flavors from different places in that process. Kareem and Shireen have added such distinctions to the songs, I think we’ve really developed something new. And we’re hoping to take our music to totally new places for whatever we do after that.

I’m also hoping to do a more folk-punky album again soon solo, with a bunch anti-fascist songs on it I’ve been writing. We’ll see what I do with those…

 

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

I think that’s all! Thanks for reading and thanks to Shouts – Music from the Rooftops! for giving me and many other radical artists a platform to speak about what we do.