Emcee Lynx

Posted: March 10, 2011

interviewed by Chris Richards, February 2011

Emcee Lynx is an independent hip hop musician from the San Francisco Bay Area of California. He is currently working with Beltaine’s Fire, a folk-rap fusion band, and they are set to release their third album titled “Anarchitechture” this summer.

Lynx has given away his music for free online since 2001 has never made money off it, instead prefering to use his albums as fundraising tools to support movements for social change. He’s played hundreds of shows, been on over a dozen compilations and mixtapes all over the world, and had the Anarchist Black Cross and other similar groups doing support work for political prisoners reprint & sell his albums as fundraisers in Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Indonesia, Chile, Spain, France, the UK, and the USA.

Greetings, Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what you do?

I’m an independent musician, poet, writer, theorist, poli sci nerd, husband, brother, uncle, news junkie, hopeless romantic, dreamer, and revolutionary.  I’ve always been better at agitation then organizing so that’s where I put most of my energy.  I write songs about the world I see around me in all of it’s splendor and squalor.  Bertold Brecht said that “art is not a mirror you hold up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”  So like the song says I hammer in the morning, I hammer in the evening, all over this land…

So far the revolution has completely failed to materialize but I keep hoping, and every so often I see glimpses of it.  I think there’s an incredible number of people in this country who are ready for revolution, hungry for change.   They just need the tools to make it happen.  My job as a revolutionary is to help them find those tools.

What Goals do you have with your music and its impact on the world?

Well, there are the things I’d like to see happen and the things I can actually make happen.  When I was younger all my goals had to do with revolution and social change and I spent a lot of years feeling disappointed and depressed because the change we need just wasn’t happening.  I’d like to think I’ve finally gotten over that and now I’m trying to keep my goals focused on things I can accomplish on my own.  So for now I’m putting most of my energy into booking for my band and getting us the press coverage we need to get the music out there.  I feel very confident in our songs and in my lyrics and feel like if I can just get us heard the music and the message can’t help but spreading.

As far as my goals as a songwriter, I try to speak on real things.  It’s really easy when your trying to write new material to fall back on things you’ve already said – especially for someone like me who’s written over 150 songs and put out 8 albums in the last ten years.  Capitalism sucks?  yup, said that.  Corporations are killing the planet?  Said that too.  A broad-based directly democratic movement based on direct action and local control is essential in order to save our planet from an ecological collapse that will probably result in the extinction of our species and has already resulted in the extinction of thousands of other species?  Yep, said that too.  I even wrote a song with a 12-step plan for building that revolution a couple albums ago.  So unless I’ve got something new and insightful to say about a specific topic I try to steer clear, I really don’t want to devolve into one of those songwriters whose lyics are all filled with the same “conscious” or “revolutionary” catchphrases.

So instead I’ve focussed my writing for the new album on more personal issues.  We’ve got a song on Anarchitechture (the working title for the upcoming third Beltaine’s Fire album) called “Left Coast that looks at national politics and the case for californian independence from the perspective of a touring band.  The title track is a poem I wrote while taking architecture classes in response to a professor who tried to greenwash the ecological impacts of clear-cutting to feed the construction industry.  “Bail Out” is a song about some of the things in this world of ours -that really ARE “too big too fail”, unlike the corporate profiteers who robbed us all blind under Bush & Obama.  And then there’s “loose, loud, low” and “Quit my Job” which were both inspired by a crappy job I spent most of last year working.   At this point in my life my goal is to speak honestly and truthfully from my own perspective and I feel like I’ve achieved that with these songs.

What message or messages are you trying to instill in your audience and listeners?

Live your life because it’s yours.  No one else has the right to claim it or blackmail you into spending it working shit jobs to make them rich.  Modern Capitalism is sharecropping, writ large, and Visa is the Company Store.  We have the choice to buy in and let them own us or do with less, stay debt free, and have the freedom to get out and live our lives.

We only have one life, there’s no heaven waiting for good little boys and girls who do what the nice boss-man / cop / politician/ priest / etc says.  I refuse to spend that life working for someone else.  I’m gonna live for me & fight for my dreams.  I encourage everyone else to do the same.

I trade security for freedom, it’s highly recommended / while ya’ll do just the opposite – it cannot be defended

What first led you to the decision to utilize your gifts as a musician as a tool for expressing your personal views on environmental, social, and political issues?

It’s always seemed to me that there’s not much point in standing on a stage and talking if you’re not gonna say anything.  I grew up on folk music and hip hop, the politics were always there.  Over the years the details of those politics and how I see the world have shifted quite a lot, but the essentials are all still the same.  I didn’t ever “decide” to use my music as a tool to advance a political agenda.  The two are part of the same basic impulse – to speak out, to be heard, to make a difference.

Ideally, what experience or impact would an audience member take away from your live show?

I want to blow people’s minds.  I want them to feel so torn between the urge to get up and dance and the urge to stand still and listen and focus on the lyrics that they have no choice but to come back again and again.  To my mind it’s really important to have both sides of that equation because different people experience music differently.

When I listen to music the first thing I hear is the lyrics and my mind focuses in on what the person is saying.  If I’m not down with the content I can’t enjoy the song, no matter how catchy the beat is.  At the same time, there are artists who have great content but their delivery and / or music lags behind.  Bands like that I’ll listen to their songs once or twice, hear what they have to say, and that’s it.

The folks I keep coming back too are the ones who combine great storytelling with great music.  And, in all humility, I feel like Beltaine’s Fire has finally achieved that.  After 6 years as a band and a bunch of lineup changes I think that right now we’re a stronger band with a better sound then we’ve ever been before.  So when we play a new venue I want the audience to get the full package – to be able to get up and dance and get lost in the music or to listen in close to my words and hear something new that will change the way they think about something.  Music without content is just noise, content without music is a classroom.

Do you have advice for other writers, musicians, or artists who are creating politically focused art?

Don’t give up.  This world is fucked up and our economy has its priorities completely backwards so artists starve while bankers that create nothing live in luxury.  That shit is depressing and it’ll get to you if you let it.  Don’t let it.  You’ve got to want the music so bad you’d be making it even if every show was just you and the bartender looking at each other.  And you’ve got to be willing to get out there and promote yourself like a madman so that when it’s showtime it’s not just you and the bartender.  If I’d done a better job wit hself-promotion in the last decade I’d probably be a lot better known then I am now.  I didn’t because of a range of excuses and it’s one of the few things about my music career I regret and something I’m working hard to fix.  Don’t make that mistake.  No one else will promote you if you won’t.  So get out there and do it.

Other then that, I’d just say what I always say to younger musicians when they ask – speak your passion.  Be who you are and rep that so hard and so fully that the audience leaves with the pictures your words paint burned into their brains.  Anyone can write a “political” song and most political music, frankly, sucks.  I don’t know how many variations on the same generic folky “peace song” filled with cliches about coming together and unity and the power of love vs the power of greed I’ve heard over the years.   Fuck that shit.  That type of songwriting is boring and lazy and the end result is forgettable drivel.  If you’re going to be an artist you have to make art that comes from the deepest places in your being.  If you’ve seen it on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt it’s probably not a good lyric.

What personal lifestyle choices have you made which reflect the views and opinions expressed through your music?

I’ve spent most of the last decade working in, organizing & agitating for, and writing songs about movements for social change.  I don’t have any credit cards and I try to keep my debt as minimal as possible & make double and triple payments on my student loans whenever I can.  Debt is a prison and as long as the bankers have that chain around your neck they can use it to control you – it’s hard to take a week or a month off to go on tour or go to a mass protest if you’ve got  bills to pay at home. So as much as possible I try to live as simply as possible and limit my financial commitments.  I bake my own bread.  I get my groceries from the farmers market and my garden as much as I can. I ride my bike  and when I need to go further then I can pedal I drive an old car I bought with cash.  I volunteer at the local community radio station and am working on a local news website with several other writers to provide a platform for discussing things going on in our community.  I know my neighbors and we all know that if there’s a problem any of us can ask the others for help.  And I’ve got a duffel bag full of sports gear that I can wear under my clothes for protection from police violence just waiting for the next action.     I write, I perform, I network.  I’m doing everything I know how to do to topple this monster.

Is there any hope for success?

Yes.  How much hope is an open question.  But there is hope.

How important do you feel it is for artists/writers to communicate and discuss these topics and themes via their art and writing, as opposed to spending their time developing sustainable personal practices?

Everybody needs to figure this one out for themselves but  I don’t thing the two are at all opposed.  Living debt-free makes it easier to go on tour or go to an action and spread the message.   Cooking your own food from local organic ingredients makes you feel better and gives you more energy to create.  Riding a bicycle and walking instead of driving everywhere keeps you healthy and you need that physical endurance as a performer – being on stage in front of an audience is exhausting,  A lot of folks don’t realize this but it’s HARD work, if I’m not sweating like a pig by the end of the set I’m not doing my job.

As far as the importance of writing on and discussing social issues in music, I very strongly believe that an artist should write about what moves them.  People who aren’t really invested in and haven’t done their homework on social issues will not be able to write good songs about those topics because they have no clue what it is they’re writing about.  If you live revolution, write about it.  If you don’t then you should probably stop and think about why it is that you want to write a song about a topic you’re not willing to invest more then just words into.

For more info on Emcee Lynx please visit the website: