One of the regulars featured here at Shouts comes out of Western Australia. Charlie Mgee is the driving force behind the band Formidable Vegetable and a green force himself. We recently interviewed him as the band just released their 3rd full length album.
Charlie believes in making music that matter, that informs and that educates. It is protest music but it is also so much more. It is inspiring in a broad sense of the term.
Some days ago, Charlie made his way to Perth in a vegetable-oil-fueled truck to give a TED talk about music, memory and permaculture, among other things. Check it out and check out Formidable Vegetable’s new album – it’s quite brilliant.
Charlie Mgee is not flying anywhere, anytime soon. Not because of fear of heights, the man seems not afraid of much seeing how he lives in a vegetable oil fuelled truck-house, but because of the irony as he puts it. As you’ll learn below Charlie is a man that puts his money where his mouth is.
Charlie leads the musical collective Formidable Vegetable and sings his lyrics for the band as well. After having studied permaculture he wanted to share the knowledge with more people and through music. Hence the existence of this quite unique band.
On 15th of March Formidable Vegetable drop their 3rd LP and so I figured it was time so see what Charlie had been up to since our last interview.
So, how have you been since the last time we spoke?
Flat out! Just this past few weeks I’ve been demolishing a house (free wood for the future Formidable Veg HQ!), planning water harvesting & ponds for our little patch of land, converting my house-truck to run on waste vegetable oil… oh, and getting ready to release an album!
Formidable Vegetable has a new album coming out. What sets this album apart from the first to LP’s (if anything)?
This one is a bit more “grown-up” sounding… in parts – actually, its part grow-up (songs about wanting to find a sense of home) , part childish fun (songs about composting toilets that don’t flush).
The first album was inspired by the permaculture principles – this one is inspired by the three ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share – hence the title – Earth People Fair.
You mention that the album is inspired by the permaculture ethics. For those not familiar with the subject, what is permaculture and how to you translate the concept into music and performances?
Permaculture is a way of designing things more in-line with nature in order to help us build resilience in the face of things like climate change and peak fossil-fuels. It’s pretty much a set of helpful tools that can be used to design homes, gardens or entire farms – or even less visible stuff like personal decision making or community structures.
I studied it a few years ago and thought that it was way too important not to be limited to a few people, so I wrote some songs in the hope of spreading it round a bit!
Is your music your tool for activism or do you separate the two in any way?
Music is definitely my main tool for activism. Apart from being ‘active’ and trying to do permaculture related stuff in my own back yard (ponds/gardens/house demolitions etc) I think it’s a great tool for spreading the message and hopefully inspires other people to take action, too.
This week I’m playing at the School Strike for Climate and next month I’ll join a convoy to protest the massive Adani coal mine being planned near the Great Barrier Reef, which will be a great way to integrate with other forms of activism.
What are some other musicians, activists or even politicians that are fighting for nature and harmony that you’d like to give a shot out to and recommend to our listeners to follow?
Pete Seeger is probably my favourite musical activist of all time. He did so much for the environmental movement in the US.
Bob Brown is the former leader of The Greens party here in Australia and is the one leading the convoy to protest the coal mine. He’s a legend as well.
I saw in a recent FB post that you decided not to tour your music outside Australia for now. Can you tell our readers a bit about this decision?
I just thought it was getting a bit too ironic doing so much international travel when I sing about climate change and fossil fuels. I still have a long way to go before becoming fossil-fuel free (not just with transport, but food, business and a whole lot of things), but cutting international flights out of the picture is an important step I think.
If anyone knows of a sailboat heading to Europe, maybe I’ll try and make it back that way!
What’s on the horizon for Formidable Vegetable?
More school shows and smaller house-concerts & garden parties from the back of my veggie housetruck. I want to scale down, not just in my life, but also with my music.
It’s ironic, as obviously I want many people to hear the songs as possible, but doing smaller, more intimate shows – especially in the context of a permaculture farm or garden – I feel can have a greater impact on the people who come. I guess for everyone else, there’s YouTube!
Thanks for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
Find Formidable Vegetable’s music on Bandcamp and the group’s webpage. Cover photo by Patrick Latter.
From Western Australia comes the fantastic Formidable Vegetable Sound System. This collective uses ukuleles, horns and the idea of permaculture to funk some awareness into all of our lives. Halldór threw a few questions at Charlie Mgee, one member of the collective and we at Shouts thank Charlie kindly for participating in this project.
First off, for those not familiar with your project, who is Formidable Vegetable Sound System, and what is your mission?
Formidable Vegetable Sound System is an experiment in eco-swing-funk with mashups of ukulele, horns, violin and electro-beets solely aimed at pounding simple solutions for sustainability deep into your consciousness! Our mission is to make the world realise that ‘Permaculture’ has nothing to do with curling your hair.
In this world filled with apathy and senselessness do you feel alone making the music you make? Or is there a scene out there of like minded artists?
I think there are a lot of artists who are expressing ecological ideas through their music. Maybe we are just more blatantly obvious about it and don’t use as many metaphors. I often feel alone in this crazy world, but I think that’s just a natural byproduct of being a fringe-dweller at heart and not necessarily a reflection of reality!
How important is it for artists of all disciplines to use their voices to raise awareness? Do you think it makes an impact, especially coming from underground groups (as it so often does)?
Artists (especially famous ones) have some of the most powerful voices in the world, which ought to be used more for raising awareness about important issues and educating people. It’s a shame that there’s such a corporate industry surrounding music, as it is mostly geared toward making as much money as possible, instead of what I believe is the real purpose of music, which is creating change.
Do you have other projects or work relating to bettering the world besides the music?
After 5 years of galavanting around the world, I’m finally back in my yard growing a garden again, which makes me very happy. I’m also currently trying to build a tiny home out of recycled materials on an old fire truck that runs on vegetable oil, which ticks a lot of my boxes!
What’s on the horizon for Formidable Vegetable Sound System?
I’ve become more and more excited about writing songs for children and have even taken 2 years off to study education with the aim of doing more of it. Hopefully this gives me inspiration to write more educational music that can be used as a teaching tool for young people to learn about sustainable living in an uncertain future.