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- Posted on Mar 16th 2010 12:55PM by James Meyers
Can you explain what you'll be doing at SXSW?
I'm going to be playing some shows, but I'll also be appearing on a panel about revolution and protest music along with Wayne Kramer from the MC5 and Bill Ayers, the activist. I'm not really certain what we'll be talking about, but I'm sure it will be about protest music and political activism and revolution.
How did you get involved with this project?
The panel moderator or the guy who was putting the thing together contacted me. I'd never been on a political panel befor,e so I just figured what the heck, I think I can talk about those subjects.
What are your biggest influences both as a musician and as an activist?
Woody Guthrie is the biggest influence both politically and as a musician. He was such a brilliant songwriter able to be an activist but also a voice for people who were from the mainstream or Main Street. He addressed topics that affected everyone from politics to love. I've been working with his daughter, and there are still just boxes and boxes full of his songs that no one's ever heard. He was beyond prolific when it came to writing. I've been working on a Woody Guthrie tribute that mixes his songs along with some spoken-word performance and mixed-media presentation. When I was younger I was into jazz, old country music and folk, and that all influenced me at the beginning.
What are your feelings about current music? Are there any new bands that you enjoy?
I don't go out of my way to track down new stuff because I have this huge juke box in my head that's just full of music from my whole life. I was getting into hip-hop for a couple of years, and before that some of the grunge bands, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I like the White Stripes, except for that bizarre third album. John Mayer does some good stuff. I can't get into Coldplay or any of that stuff. A lot of modern pop is very pleasing, but I don't understand the lyrics.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
I don't think I could ever be embarrassed to enjoy any kind of music, as long as I like it or it makes me happy. I'm not posing with music, you know? I like Frank Sinatra, the early stuff, and I guess people consider that elevator music. My friends all hate rap and thought I'd lost my mind when I started getting into that stuff.
You came of age in the psychedelic '60s. Do you still have any vices?
Cookies. Chocolate chip cookies.
You were one of the highlights of Woodstock -- what would be in your festival survival kit these days?
Well, nowadays you can't bring anything through the gate, so you need to bring cash. Actually, money isn't even practical, so bring a credit card. Other than that, food, water and friends are essential.
Are there any artists you're planning on seeing at SXSW?
My daughter manages Harper Simon, Paul's son, so I plan on seeing him, for sure. He's really great, has a nice country flavor, and I love his song' Berkeley Girl.' Of course Wayne Kramer and Bill Ayers. And it should be no surprise that Billy Bragg and I have a strong connection through Woody's music. I know Tom Morello from a movie we were both in. He's a great guy and Rage Against the Machine were a solid protest band.
What would be your advice to young musicians?
You just gotta keep on keeping on. Develop your own sound your own viewpoint. Remember, there are very few artists who are created by the music business; everyone else has to work really, really hard at it. Try to make as many connections as you can, both in the business end and the musical side. Find people you can trust. Most likely, you're going to have to do it on your own. The more you put into it, the more you'll get back.
How do you feel about the impact of the Internet on the music business?
I think for musicians it's a wonderful tool. It's become a vital thing for any musician to have an active presence on as many formats as you can reach. It's all a part of the DIY, do-it-yourself thing I was talking about before. I don't know how you could spend less money to reach more people. For musicians it's great, but for music execs maybe not so much.
Can you tell me about your Florence Nightingale tribute?
It all started around 1980. I was playing a benefit for Vietnam veterans, which should be no surprise. I met a nurse who shared her experiences over there with me. Despite all the work I've done with veterans, I realized I had never really thought that much about the role that the nurses played. I had ignored them, sorry to say. I started to think about it every day for days. I started doing some research on the history of nursing and just became fascinated by Florence Nightingale. She was one of the most famous women in the world and predicted correctly that one day she would be remembered as if she were a fictional character. I've got some songs about her, a couple musical scripts I've been kicking around. I'm not sure what will become of it, but it keeps me out of trouble. I may even play a few of those songs in Austin; I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
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