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No Bird Sing

28 Apr

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754

Rap won’t save you, but No Bird Sing‘s sophomore release Theft Of The Commons might just get you to a place where you think about saving yourself and others. Joe Horton’s vocals, Robert Mulrennan’s guitars and Graham O’Brien’s drums come together on a record that bears listening to in it’s dynamic entirety, a fiery and personal reflection on freedom, loss and humanity which feels, by virtue of it’s musicality, simultaneously heavier and lighter than the subjects at hand. Before their official CD release at the Cedar on Friday, CakeIn15 caught up with Horton to talk about the violence of caplitalism, the empowerment of music and the gratitude of knowing Eyedea.

CakeIn15: First of all, are, as you say in “Basquiat Loves Company”, our bodies “made of stars”?

Joe Horton: Yes! [Laughs] It is, in fact, literally made of stars! Everybody’s body is made out stars. I think that knowing that things burning light years away inside of stars are the same, literally the same component materials that make us up and when we die, eventually our sun’s going to go supernova and collapse and that stuff is going to go on to other stars that are going to go supernova and form other lifeforms, and so to think that any individual entity is that important is laughable. It’s good to remember that as a person.

C15: Let’s talk about the title of the record, Theft Of The Commons. That’s a weighted title, going at modern economic theory and ideas of human freedom. Why choose that and is it a premise for the record?

JH: It is for a lot it. I wrote the record last summer and a little bit in early fall and I was really pissed off. I was reading a lot of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, I was reading a lot of philosophy, like J. Krishnamurti and Alan Watts, folks like that, Jean-Paul Sartre. The more knowledgeable I felt as a human being the more frustrated I felt that our society is being run in a very counter-productive way for most people and most people don’t see or realize that they have power to change that, that they are complicit in their own slavery and complicit in the theft of their own goods. I feel like the biggest problem that’s facing the average everyday human being, even the ones that are committing the crimes is the theft of our common interests. Specifically like water, oil, things like that, the privatization of that is ridiculous, there’s no excuse for private ownership in my mind at all, it doesn’t matter. Private use is one thing, but private ownership is a whole other thing and to me, that’s a fallacy that’s perpetuated by people who just want a better lot than what other people have and that’s just not ok to me. So I was very frustrated by it and also feeling infantile in my approach to it, like I was going up to Macho Man Randy Savage and going, “I don’t like the way you talk to people!” Because I couldn’t do anything about it, you know what I mean? Physically, the system, so to speak, would snap me in half and spit me out. I don’t really feel that I have a voice outside of music, but on the flipside of that I feel super empowered to have that voice. I feel powerful when I do that and so to me this record was all about feeling powerful and confident in the shit that I was saying and not being apologetic because it’s not politically correct to say that capitalism is the biggest system of violence that’s ever been levied against human beings. That’s not politically correct and most people would take issue with that but owning that that is their problem and not mine was a big part of what the record’s about.

C15: With the idea that private ownership is ridiculous, what are you doing with this record to get it out other than just selling it in stores?

JH: At this point I don’t know that we have many options. We’re not like a bigger band, like Cloud Cult, who have a bigger fan base so they can do some things that are unique in the way that they approach marketing their record. For us, at this point in time we, ironically enough and maybe even hypocritically enough, have a very capitalistic approach to pushing the record, and that’s why we want people to buy it. Not because we have any ambitions of touring the country in a bus that has, you know, a water fountain and strippers, but because we really want to have a sustainable career in music. So that’s kind of how I see it; we have to press this record, we can’t afford to do anything fancy with it, so it’s in a jewel case which is waste that we don’t want, but next time, and each time, we’ll have more and more and more control over the process, and that means financial control really, on how to get it out.

C15: Talk to me about how the recording process for Theft Of The Commons was different from the last record and about how it stands up as a whole.

JH: That process starts with writing. We wrote these songs with the thought in mind that we would record them live and not have them pieced together. That said, this is a polished product, it’s not like a “No Bird Sing Live” record, and I don’t think that a “No Bird Sing Live” record would be something that I would be particularly interested in putting out in the world, so there are layers on it, but the music was written to be played live. Guitar, drums, vocals. The guitars and the drums are married on all the tracks, literally, so if we loved this drum take but hated that guitar take there’s nothing we could do about it, we had to take them together and I think that lends a certain level of organic…, the record is more organic. Even the loops and things that we added on later, they weren’t pieced together, they were performances. If you here me singing something I’m singing the whole thing, as difficult as that is for me to do sometimes, that’s a whole take. Again, not saying that there isn’t a little spit-shine going on, but all the loops are performances by Bobby. So we really wanted that to be the overall feel, so going away and recording it in a barn, first of all, just going out of town to record, you’re in a different headspace the whole time. We recorded it in this barn in Buffalo, Minnesota and we had no distractions and so we really got to focus on creating something cohesive, that cohesive vibe. We played with mic placement to get the sound we wanted to get. On the last record we did a lot in post, this time we did a lot of configuring to get it to sound like we wanted it to sound.

C15: Here’s something I think about- we have a great arts & music scene here in the Twin Cities. What is something to your eye or mind you could see improving?

JH: I think the number one thing and one of the things I am going to take on as a personal quest for myself is to use my platform for the greater good. I think that there is a lot of great music going on in the scene, but occasionally it seems like it’s coolness for coolness’s sake. And that’s something that may seem judgmental coming from me but it’s irritating to get that sense from people that that’s what’s going on. I would love to see, and there are people like Guante that out doing activist things and Chris Keller, Kristoff Krane, is a great example of somebody who at every show is like, “Hey, love everybody who you see,” and really pushes that agenda. I think that’s something that I wish I saw more artists and myself, I put myself in that group, of having this platform and using is to help the people that are listening to your music, because the reason people are listening to your music is because they feel a connection to you, like they know you in some way. And you have a really powerful responsibility there, that you can say to them, you can influence the choices that they make for better or for good. I don’t necessarily think that it’s somebody’s responsibility to do that, but any time you can do that it’s a positive thing.

C15: You dedicated the record to Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen. Is there anything about him now that stands out about him that you take with you, or that you want to share?

JH: This has come up in most of the interviews that I’ve done and I knew it was going to and I was in a position of like, “What do I say?” I remember when I was writing a statement, that Kathy [Averill] asked us to write, when Rhymesayers was releasing a statement from people, and she asked, “What do you want to say” And I remember sitting there for an hour and I wrote one sentence, and the sentence was, paraphrasing here, “Mike was always himself, he taught me to be more like myself.” And she asked me, “Is that all you want to say? You can have as much space as you want.” And I was like, “No, that’s what I want to say.” I think I would echo that sentiment, because I would not be the person I am without Mike. I feel like I am more myself for knowing him and for having someone who you look up to in your peer group, somebody that you see on a regular basis and every time you see them, urging you to be more empathetic and urging you to be more introspective in the way that you examine yourself, urging you to challenge your pre-conceived notions about the world and see other things, urging you to see your conceptions of the world as tools and not as chains. Having somebody like that in your life is invaluable and my music is better, I’m a better human being and a better person, a better teacher, a better boyfriend, a better everything because of that gift that he gave me. It’s been six months now and I have been through every extreme emotion and what I am left with is this overwhelming gratitude. I am so grateful I was in his circle of folks and he was in mine. And that little Venn diagram that overlapped was a beautiful thing and continues to be a beautiful thing, because all of us that are still making music are making music in his name, so it’s fitting to me that we dedicate the record to him. Weirdly enough, and this is easy for me to say now, even if he hadn’t passed away he would have been the first thank you on the line because he meant so much as a person and a human being.

City of Music– “Eyedea & Friends Freestyle Part One”

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