Blackbird Raum

Posted: March 10, 2011

interviewed by Chris Richards, April 2010

BlackbirdRaum is a band from Santa Cruz, California, where they have become a prominent part of the downtown street life. They are well known for their influence on Gypsy Punk but are generally considered to be the founders of a new genre. Influenced by American String Bands of the 1920’s and Modern Anarcho-Punk, their music brings together rhythms of olde-tyme music with lyrics that reflect the sense of impending collapse of the current civilization that pervades much of green anarchist culture in modern times, as well as criticizing the human and environmental destruction caused by current civilization.

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

C: Blackbird Raum uses American folk instruments and techniques to make what is essentially punk music. Our lyrics attempt to reflect our anarchist values, without feeling like a musical essay. We AREN’T pirates, alcoholics, or gypsies.

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

C: I’m not greatly optimistic about any music’s role in the destruction of “The Great Lie”, but it is my personal goal to make music that validates a certain intuition: that the entire industrialized manner of living is without ecological or spiritual merit. There has to be a voice (musical or otherwise) that says, no, their value isn’t what’s valuable. This is a personal, rather than social, impact, mostly because that’s what I believe is usually possible to achieve through music. Perhapsthe bygone composers of Irish rebel songs would disagree with that, but I’ve yet to reach their heights.

M: I also feel that making a personal impact on our audience is both possible and valuable. But it has been awesome to see our band contribute to larger goals and projects, especially through the zinedistro we bring on tour and through playing benefits.

D: Our band now has enough draw that we can pull people or money to various causes that we want to support. $6 at the door isn’t really a lot of money to pay for a good show, but $800 might mean more to the defense fund for Native political prisoner John Graham. We’ve gotten to a point where we can throw a show that pays touring bands, fixes the window broken during our set, and still gets enough money to send half a year’s worth of radical books and literature to prisoners. That feels really positive. We also have done shows where, by mixing it up, we can cross-pollinate audiences in a cool way. Recently we played a set right before Ramona Africa gave a short talk, and having our fans see her speak, and her fans hear us play was amazing.

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

M: I don’t know if i am trying to instill a message. When i was growing up, listening to music that i could relate to emotionally was essential to my health. I get excited to make music that people who share similar frustrations with the world can relate to, and be inspired by. I want people to feel like they aren’t crazy for thinking something is wrong. I also get excited to expose people to ideas they haven’t heard of, as well as hopefully providing some inspiration for people who are already radical.

Z: It’s totally ok to be pissed, or to be sad, about the world. The desire to live in a totally different world is healthy and real and cannot always be sublimated by Second Life or World of Warcraft, it sometimes needs to be expressed in fits of screaming.

What do you see as a connection between art and social change, and more specifically, your music and activism?

Z: Music, especially music that is fun to dance to, is a lot like most activism – you go somewhere with your friends, expend a lot of energy, feel good about yourself, and in the end nobody else really notices. On the other hand, art can play a big part in informing ‘cultures of resistance’, where, if you look at groups that have stuck together and kept up their fight for decades or centuries (IRA, indigenous resistance to the US), people who are still fighting and not snitching and hunger striking to death in jail are the people who have a shared culture, and that includes art and music.

C: When someone comes up to us and says “My life is dedicated to stopping the wolf killings in Montana, your music means a lot to me”, I feel I am doing something worthwhile, that it’s hugely valuable to have someone out there who isn’t just singing songs for people to do homework to. Clearly most of the kudos we receive isn’t of this nature. It would be the highest honor to make music in perfect concert with the broader scheme of open rebellion. Unfortunately, it often feels as though many of the anarchists in this country are against each other more than they are against ‘the culture’: spiteful cliques battle against people who are too much like them for comfort, with shit talk, ridicule, and ostracization as arsenal. This state ofaffairs depresses me deeply and I constantly try to avoid this shit storm. Hopefully those who can see through this smog will stick it out long enough to share what they have learned, and something will be built out of this after all.

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

C: As Derrick Jensen says, everyone has to use the skills they have to defend their community (both human and bioregional). For better or for worse, the main thing I know how to do is play the banjo and yell.

M: I don’t separate my views on those issues from my feelings about anything else. Music has always been a way for me to express feelings and ideas that are meaningful to me. The fact that our music has radical sentiment doesn’t necessarily mean that it accomplishes much personal expression. It can, but that is something we have to actively put energy into.

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

C: I want people to feel emotionally cathartic, mournful for the state of the world, and like they just had a fucking blast. Crowd surfing is important.

Z: Fortunately, we get to travel around the country making connections with radical people from different backgrounds and scenes. A lot of people come to our shows, and they may not all know each other, despite their potentially similar interests. If some of them can meet, that’s great. Also, I hope people have a good time. Dancing can be a really good way to get some exercise, and also it is good for the emotional health, as long as you are not making people feel unsafe, or like there isn’t room for them to dance as well.

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

C: The ability to create compelling music, and the ability to articulately express revolt are two difficult, and entirely separateskills. I hope we succeed at combining these, though I know at times we’ve been clumsy with it. I would say: bother to learn your traditions, both politically and musically, then break from them in whatever manner.

Z: “who feels it knows it”

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

M: For me, it feels good to have my lifestyle reflect my values as much as possible. But while those things are positive for my personal well being, I don’t feel they contribute much to larger political, social, and environmental struggles.

Is there any hope for success?

M: I have no idea whatsoever.

Z: If the answer is no, would we stop fighting?

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?

Z: I don’t see these as opposed, definitely keeping that shit bottled up is a seriously unsustainable personal practice, you’ll go crazy.

C: I save water by refusing to brush my teeth, this ‘green’ strategy works in absolute unison with touring in a band.

Big thanks to Blackbird Raum for continuously using their voice through music and beyond. Please support them in anyway you can!