We’ve always believed in the positive power of music. They say seeing is believing, and we saw it firsthand when we we first started busking in NYC in 2009. What started as a way for some struggling musicians to earn an extra few bucks turned in to a sort of social experiment in positivity, as we crafted our sound to elicit the the most viscerally joyous reaction out of the most jaded audience – Manhattan rush hour commuters.
We found early on that the enthusiasm and joy we got out of playing music was contagious, and being the hams that we are, we fed off the energy from the assembled street corner congregations of teachers, lawyers, beggars, teamsters, hustlers, teenagers, grandmothers, and even occasionally the cops who inevitably showed up to shut it down when our impromptu sessions became a “safety hazard.”
So while that positive energy has also been a vital part of our approach to making music, we’ve recently been making a concerted effort to speak up and sing out directly about the issues of our times; to be active participants and motivators for the changes we’d like to see. From the blessings and curses of free speech to the nefarious discrepancy between the haves and have nots to systemic injustices and mismanagement of resources, we’re simply faced with too much to not at least try to use our music, words, and actions to make a dent in all the negativity and discord. We’re not inventing the wheel here folks. Questlove has recently called for artists to “be a voice of the times we live in,” and the legendary Pete Seeger spent a lifetime championing noble and heroic causes through song, and we feel indebted to them and the countless others who have valued content over commercialism.
As an homage to Seeger, we’ve been playing his iconic song “We Shall Overcome” at some of our recent shows. That song in particular really resonated with us, as it’s a message of universal optimism and positivity that’s not tied to one specific cause. While it is most closely associated with the Civil Rights movements, it feels just as vital in the context of Ferguson, Paris, Liberia, Kabul, or Bed-Stuy. We were surprised to have a member of the audience send us a message saying that this song, being performed by an all white male band to a predominantly white crowd, or really any crowd, could be taken as highly offensive and inappropriate. This fan laid out an eloquent and thoughtful explanation, and though she may have taken issue with our intention or execution of the song, she explained it with the utmost care and insight. That message was honestly worth more than the positive feedback and appreciation that we also received for the performance. These problems are vastly more complex than can be fixed with a melody, no matter how beautiful. But if it gives us and our peers a thoughtful way in which to discuss them and hopefully come to a better mutual understanding, then we’ve done our job as artists of our time. If fixing the issues is the goal, then raising them is the first step.
So we’ll continue to be honest and thoughtful and learn to speak our minds in our music. We’ll strive to make art that is both timely and timeless. We may step on some toes, and we hope that you’ll tell us when we’ve gone too far and when we haven’t gone far enough. If you speak up, so will we.