Joe Strummer famously screamed those words in 1982 on The Clash's "Know Your Rights," and nearly 40 years later artists that idea is still echoing through artists writing and performing today. Strummer was always acutely aware the world around him and the rampant injustices around every corner. It's unfortunate that the same racism, sexism, and bigotry that The Clash repuded are still rampant today. On top of that, we face the existential crisis of failing climate and leaders who won't face it head on. But while we no longer have Strummer, we do have artists who are determined to "cut the crap" and face injustice head-on – even climate injustice.
To be a band or musician in 2020 is not an easy task. Artists are already stretching themselve thin to survive in an industry that's increasingly difficult to navigate. Trying to be conscious of your carbon footprint in a field that all but depens on you jumping in a van and driving around the country can feel insurmountable. And yet art thrives and challenges the status quo, giving a hardy "fuck you" to the voices who say the issues are too big to address (or even worse, those who deny they even exist at all). Throughout history, art has always been at the forefront of social change and paved the way for new ways of thinking. That's one thing that hasn't changed in the 21st century.
While world leaders struggle to get their shit together, artists are finding ways to their part. Whether they're a well established touring machine or DIY artists just starting to cut their teeth, musicians across the globe are doing their part to change their ways to protect our future and using their platorms to call attention to the issues at hand. KEXP reached out to many of these artists and record labels to get their perspective on how they do this. Whether it's touring on bicycles, fueling their vans with veggie oil, or writing songs and albums that reflect the need to protect our planet, artists are pushing forward this vital message.
As we celebrate our Clash For Climate themed International Clash Day, read through how artists are approaching sustainability below and find out how you can do your part as well.
Do you want to wait for the climate clamp down? Or are you going to take up the mantle that these artists are throwing down?
- Dusty Henry
Grammy-nominated synth-pop duo Sylvan Esso have been using their music and public profile to talk about climate change for a few years now. Their 2018 single “PARAD(w/m)E” disguises bleak observations of a post-apocalyptic world beneath jubilant beats and an infectious chorus. “Yeah, there's nothing left to ruin / We finally got free,” sings frontwoman Amelia Meath. “How's that for manifesting our destiny.”
“We wrote the music and lyrics and melody at the same time together in the studio,” Meath tells KEXP of her collaboration with partner/producer Nick Sanborn. “I think it was because we'd been hanging out in L.A., and whenever I'm in L.A., I always think about doom. It's like doom and apocalypse are pretty close in Los Angeles because there's no water there and it's a desert that's been turned into a playground.”
With their relentless touring schedule, the band struggles to find ways to hit the road sustainably. “We're in the midst of trying to figure out how to do that in a way that is not disruptive,” Meath explains.
“There's this new trend of people being like, whatever. Like, it's already here and it's fine if I use it, because I'm not going to change the infrastructure of everything,” she reflected. “But that's a really easy, nihilistic way of thinking about things that lets you off the hook. And I don't think that's the way to do it. I think we should be practicing sustainability just for the sake of either reminding others about it or trying to remind ourselves.”
— Janice Headley
Transcription by Jim Causey
When Meg Duffy aka Hand Habits was penning their sophomore album placeholder in 2017, L.A. was in flames. Themes of smoke and heat radiate from the track “wildfire.”
“California / Only one who knows / How to burn without desire / Like wildfire,” Duffy sings
“I had never experienced a wildfire environment before,” they tell KEXP. “I remember seeing ash on my car. It’s scary, and really made me think about what I can do to help.”
As a means of giving back, Duffy partnered with label Saddle Creek and Bandcamp to debut a new project in November 2019 titled wildfire covers. The EP features five different artists, including Angel Olsen and Tara Jane O’Neil, performing their own version of “wildfire.” 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Amazon Conservation Association.
“I definitely think it [music] can be used as a tool for change,” Duffy explains. “Whether it’s climate change or political, that’s something that comes up in history a lot. If you’re a music listener you really feel activated by music, and can feel like you belong with other people.”
“When people are dedicated fans, they want to feel closer to the artist. They sometimes align with their views. I think that’s a really powerful tool that musicians can have.”
— Aarin Wright
Transcription by Jim Causey
When asked by KEXP for some ideas and initiatives regarding green touring, Tres Leches founding member Alaia D’Alessandro noted there are so many things the band would love to do, but like many groups who exist primarily on the local and regional level, they simply can’t afford many of the environmentally friendly modifications.
“The way I would see that possible is if there were — one, like cars that were accessible, that used green energy — [for] bands that are at our level that we could rent for an affordable price or borrow and we could use clean energy vehicles to travel across the country,” she explains. “Unfortunately, those things don't really exist. There's not like, government-run programs where you can just, you know, grab a car that's not going to hurt the environment and to rent a car — that costs, like, around three thousand dollars each tour that we want to do.”
D’Alessandro adds she would love to share a van with other touring groups, but the insurance on the van would essentially become unaffordable.
Still, the band does whatever they can to reduce their carbon footprint.
“[We] share drum kits and equipment with other bands, so that kind of cuts down on weight so you can use less gas to get to the gig,” she says. “Whether it’s touring or across town — or some artists can bus, if you are willing to share a drum set or share your bass amps. All they gotta do is carry their guitars on their backs — so that's definitely one thing that we've always done with the band is share equipment with other bands [that are] backlining.”
The band also buys locally-sourced food when touring or at home, either from farmer’s markets, co-ops, or restaurants, as it contributes to supporting local business in order to reduce the carbon footprint required to import groceries and food products and sustainable farming.
D’Alessandro closes by saying, “I think there's definitely small things that you can do as a touring band. And I do think that the biggest thing that you can do as a band to combat climate change and these issues is to make music that draws awareness to kind of how we're treating each other as human beings on this planet. And hopefully that encourages people who can put that change into effect to take action.”
— Martin Douglas
Transcription by Jim Causey
In 2019, Vancouver indie-rock label Mint Records started providing carbon offsets to bands on the label. The organizations artists can use to buy offsets essentially calculate how much carbon those artists are producing on a tour based on travel distances, then they’ll collect money for green initiatives in other places in order to “offset” the carbon being produced by the touring artist. Being a Canadian-based label gives Mint and others a certain advantage to provide such a contribution.
Dyck explains, “We don't put it in the profits, for the record, that's an overhead expense for us. And I mean, British Columbia has had lots of forest fires due to climate change. We're lucky enough that we have funding for music stuff in Canada. So we can kind of afford to do this sort of thing, even though they're not funding carbon offsets. But stuff like marketing and promotion are partially covered.”
Dyck notes the label is trying to promote the idea of a carbon offset program to funding organizations in Canada, saying, “Maybe they should be including carbon offsets as an eligible expense because then we're all going to do it and just helps incentivize it.”
— Martin Douglas
Transcription by Jim Causey
Over the years, Massachusetts emo/indie-rock band Piebald has garnered somewhat of a reputation for being a pioneer in the world of eco-friendly touring, but according to frontman Travis Shettel, that status came — pardon the pun — rather organically. “We had a really good friend, Mike, who had been doing veggie oil conversions for himself and for other friends that we knew and just other people. And somehow, like well, we talked frequently and we had a diesel van.” Older model diesel vehicles can fairly easily be converted to accept vegetable oil as fuel, so in 2004, guitarist Aaron Stuart and [Mike] took the band’s van and converted it.
Not only was it a way to reduce the band’s carbon footprint, but according to Shettel, “The first tour was amazing because of how much money was saved.”
Though the first van Piebald converted already had very high mileage — they would later convert an old airport shuttle van but realized it wasn’t built to drive long distances — they managed to get three or four years of use out of it. Friends, especially friends in other touring bands, were very enthusiastic about the idea of a van running on vegetable oil instead of gas. Shettel explains, “They were really excited about it because we were talking about how great it is and how much money you save and how you’re going to do and go behind — like maybe go back there and even order food, and just, like, you take their grease for no charge. They just want to get rid of it. [...] I know most bands or people that we ran into excited that we were doing something different, excited we were doing something better for the world than just driving around.”
— Martin Douglas
Transcription by Jim Causey
Way back in 2006, the same year Al Gore released his groundbreaking environmental film An Inconvenient Truth, a little known indie folk band called Blind Pilot attempted something few had done before: nixing the car and touring the west coast of the United States by bike. Starting in Bellingham and ending in San Diego, the Portland-based band strapped their gear on rolling planks behind them and peddled down the coast to share their tunes without leaving a carbon footprint.
"It seemed like a crazy idea at first,” frontman Israel Nebeker recounts to KEXP. “But the more we thought about it, it was perfect. Without having to preach, we could inspire people to ride their bikes more and hopefully help the planet. It was a combination of our favorite things: music, camping, adventure, and making strangers into friends.”
When asked whether climate change is important to him, Nebeker expressed, “I can’t think of a more important issue for the future of humanity. Unexpectedly to us, the bike tour did take on an environmental implication and sometimes drew the political ire of people for that reason.” He recounts glass bottles being thrown at them and a terrifying instance where a truck attempted to play chicken with the band.
“But, with those very few exceptions, the most remarkable thing to me was the overwhelming realization that everywhere you go, people are trying to do good,” Nebeker continued. “Sometimes that good intention is led in opposing directions, but the more people we met, and the more discussions we had with people on opposing sides of the political spectrum, the more I understood that opposing viewpoints are all held by people who deeply want to do good in the world.”
For those considering attempting a bicycle tour, Nebeker has outlined some pros and cons from his experience:
Best shape you’ve ever been in, after about two weeks.
You see everything, and can stop for a view or a flower or just to breathe whenever you feel like it.
By the time you reach the show, you already feel like you’ve done good for yourself and been incredibly productive with the day.
The shows feel like a bonus, rather than the work.
You’re incredibly vulnerable.
So many flat tires. They become your nemesis.
You eat everything all day long and your body still demands more. And depending on the quality, food costs more than gasoline.
With carrying all your gear, you can only cover about 60-80 miles per day, so you have to resign yourself to playing shows that feel rickety and small and just for the fun of themselves.
You’re incredibly vulnerable.
“If you have a sense of adventure, do it. Without question it’s my favorite mode of touring. After the first week or two your body will adjust and you’ll be amazed what you can do. Hiker-biker campsites are where it’s at. Single wheel trailers work great for carrying instruments. Book ahead in the big cities, but try to play every night, even if it’s at a last minute house party or a campsite.”
If touring by bicycle is just too much to take on, Nebeker has some other advice such as composting, recycling, and cutting back on the junk food packaging in green rooms. He also suggests helping environmental causes by hosting advocacy groups at a table in the lobby of your shows. “But the biggest environmental impact from touring is overwhelmingly by the cars carrying people to and from the shows,” he says. “One good idea is to give ticket discount incentives to people who bike to the show. You can also organize bike parking.”
— Jasmine Albertson
For artists just starting out, the options for green touring can feel slim. Sure, Coldplay can easily sit out a tour and still live comfortable lives, but for most upcoming bands touring is the biggest (and sometimes sole) way of making money and getting their names out there. For the past few years, a massive number of DIY bands have been booking their tours almost entirely through a Facebook group called DIY Tour Postings. Made up of almost 30,000 members, bands from around the world (but primarily the United States) help each other connect with bookers, promoters, and house venues they would never have access to otherwise.
KEXP reached out to the group to see what artists on the DIY level are doing to help mitigate their carbon footprint and found some small but effective ways to do your part as a DIY artist. Standards, a math rock band from Los Angeles, has done roughly 10 tours and has decided against touring in large vans with terrible gas mileage. “We always use the more gas efficient vehicles and try to use efficient routes to burn as little gas as possible,” says frontman Marcos Mena.
Cleveland duo Factual Brains take a similar vehicular route with touring. “Being a two-piece, we've made active strides in trying to get our setup as small as possible so it will fit comfortably into a Kia Soul, making it much easier on fuel.” explains drummer Alec Shumann. “It'd be way more comfortable in a van, but that seems like such a waste of gas.”
Beyond the fuel efficient transportation, Seattle’s Salt Lick is concerned about the garbage and waste that builds up while touring. “What I've done to save waste on tour (or in general really) is bring a dish kit: medium Tupperware that can be used as a bowl and to save leftovers if you go out, a travel mug, water bottle, and silverware,” details frontwoman Malia Seavey. “Then also bring a little dish washing soap and clean it at venues, rest stops, hotels, or people's houses when needed. It can also save the van from the inevitably lost/stinky takeout container! Hah”
— Jasmine Albertson
When I spoke with Zander Yates about his ideas on green touring, we spoke for nearly an hour about subjects like blockchain, virtual reality performances (along with streaming services like YouTube and Twitch), locally sourced groceries, and a wealth of other topics regarding what we could be doing to better serve the planet we live on. Yates mentioned hip-hop and electronic musicians already being pioneers of green touring, because so little equipment is needed to put on a good show. He also said he has been stepping away from Tres Leches a little in order to work on environmentally-friendly ideas for musicians, like creating a network of music venues who participate in backlining (in layman’s terms, venues that have gear for musicians in-house) so that musicians can take public transportation or don’t have to use big vans to tote heavy equipment.
“I'm trying to organize something to create some kind of fundraising concert, series or concert or something to raise money for equipment for high quality backlines for local venues,” Yates explains. “Because I think they'll be really good. It would create a really robust local economy for musicians to come here and perform either. If they're on tour or just local bands to be able to perform at a local venue without having to bring their gear. And it would also lower carbon emissions in a small way because granted, in the grand scheme of things, bands touring probably doesn't actually take that much carbon compared to things like cargo ships and agriculture and and all these massive things that we all kind of have have set up our economy around us, kind of relying on for survival.”
“The weird thing is a lot of the popular venues don't tend to do that,” Yates says. “The reason being a lot of musicians when they get to the mid-tier or higher, for obvious reasons, they get very particular about their sound. You know, I mean, like generally speaking, a mid-tier-level band is going to be less likely to want to show up and and play on a strange drum kit that they have never seen before out of fear of something going wrong with the sound of the drum kit, not sounding a way that fits with their music. And that's something that I think is tricky.”
About the subject, Yates concludes, “But at the same time, I do believe in creating ripple effects. And if you can do everything that you possibly can within your own space, then. Especially if you're an artist and you influence people and, you know, you can kind of create these chain reaction events. You're in it because it's like if you can profit off of something, even if it's not financial profit. If you can just profit off of something socially, you can just make it cool then that thing's gonna take off.”
— Martin Douglas
“I don't think shaming is a very productive way of inspiring change,” says Icelandic singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur. “But leading with a good example and motivating people to do good is probably, for me at least, a thing to do.”
It’s this mindset that prompted Knútur to be that good example on one of his most recent tours. Knowing the influence artists have with their audiences, Knútur sought to bridge the gap between fan and artist while also doing something helpful for the planet. In every city he played, Knútur pledged to run five kilometers with an open invitation to fans to join him. It was a chance to bring to community together outside of a venue or dark bar. Then they took it a step further with Knútur and his fans all pledging one euro per kilometer ran to donate to a forestation cause of their choosing.
“It's a small thing, but people don't realize you only need like six or seven bucks to cover [the emissions of] a transatlantic flight and back,” Knútur says. “ It's not so hard. It's the sheer volume of the thing. Everyone isn't doing it. And we've been flying for 70 years.”
Knútur doesn’t think you need to be an arena-filling artist to inspire change in your fans. He says that he came to the realization that for artists like himself, who have between 10,000 to 100,000 followers, being able to inspire even 100 of their fans to make a positive change then that will make a difference. On top of that, Knútur gets to connect with his fans, building strong bonds and learning about each other’s lives during these runs. Already he’s seeing results in combating his own carbon footprint through this project.
“I think this tour I actually ran so many times that I offset I think all of my former tours in Europe. It was like 25 tours in Europe that I've done. And I think I just did them all in that go. That was pretty cool,” Knútur says. “Now next time I'm gonna be offsetting someone else's tours or just my vacations. It's easy. And it's a wonderful way to connect with people. I met so many awesome people as we were running and they told me about their lives. It's very inspiring.”
— Dusty Henry
For 11 years, experimental electronic goofball Dan Deacon has been traversing the world in a souped-up school bus fueled not by gas but vegetable oil. In a 2009 press release sent out to all the major outlets, Deacon asked fans to bring five gallons of veggie oil to his shows in exchange for a spot on the guest list. Those who brought completely clean oil got a +1. All they had to do was email some guy named Geoff. It worked.
“This was actually really successful,” Deacon explains to KEXP. “So many news outlets picked up on the story that restaurants would contact us asking us to take their oil. Fans would bring it to the shows in buckets or barrels, sometimes just to see the bus and learn about how it worked.”
The catch 22 that Deacon has with his veggie-fueled bus in 2020 vs. 2009 is that, overall, companies have become more environmentally conscious, making it nearly impossible to get waste oil anymore. “Now, it’s reused, repurposed, and recycled much more often than 10 years ago,” determines Deacon. “Most places that were once throwing it away now partner with a company that collects the oil for future uses.” Which he recognizes is a good thing.
Whether he’s able to continue fueling his bus with veggie-oil or not, the experiment underscored the ethos that he’ll continue touring with. “To me, it just creates a more holistic community atmosphere for the entire touring crew that helps to inform other choices that we make collectively.”
— Jasmine Albertson
At 19-years-old, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez boasts an impressive resume of climate activism. He serves as the Youth Director of Earth Guardians – an organization founded by his mother Tamara Rose that trains youth to be leaders in environmental, climate, and social justice movement. In that role he’s spoken at the United Nations multiple times, was awarded the U.S. Volunteer Service award by President Obama in 2013, and is currently one of seven plaintiffs in a case against the U.S. government for neglecting to take action against climate change. On top of that, he’s also a musician – releasing his debut rap album Break Free in 2018 – and authored the book We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet in 2017.
All of that is impressive on its own, but Martinez’s work is still not done. Having participated in the climate movement since he was six years old, things have only become more urgent.
“I think the framing has changed a lot since I was a little kid because it's not some distant fight that is like, 'We need to stand up for future generations!' We are the generation that is getting wrecked right now by this crisis,” Martinez tells KEXP.
He continues, “This is not some far off distant problem. This is not just an environmental issue. It's not just about the earth and about our trees and about species. It's about our politics. It's about our economies. It's about our access to clean food. And water is about our access to jobs. It's about the way that all the different issues and in our community and in our world are all very interwoven and the climate crisis underscores that every step of the way because of how it ties together racial and economic injustice with environmental injustice.”
The uphill battle to combat climate change is daunting, but Martinez encourages others to not give up. Martinez stresses that doing your part doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a frontline activist like those portrayed in the media – you can help just as much being at the front of the march as you can helping organize or run communications behind the scenes. He also says it’s about finding the community you connect with on these issues.
“Find your people, find those around you that are your allies that will support you in doing this work. They can help have these difficult conversations with you. Like, how do you leverage your privilege to do the work that other communities are too vulnerable or too uncomfortable to do? How do you find your place where you feel good about the work you're doing in here?” Martinez says. “This should never be at a place of guilt or shame, but this should be at a place of power and hope and inspiration. The action we take is the only true way to combat that despair, that hopelessness and the apathy that is so real in this work.”
While Martinez has done his activism at such a visible level, he looks at his music as an example of uniting your passions with the movement. For Martinez, it’s not something to be doing begrudgingly. instead, it’s a chance to bring love and excitement to connect with others.
“What my music has taught me, is that is it the most effective way for youth, for anybody to get involved, this is through doing what we love,” he says. “I think too many people view the work as like this intense job and chore. When in reality it should be an extension of the things that we care about the most, things that make us come alive. Because what we are fighting for is for what we love, fighting for the things that make us come alive.”
— Dusty Henry
When Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in September of 2017 the island’s music scene was among the many communities devastatingly affected. Raquel Berrios, a Puerto Rican artist and member of the band Buscabulla, witnessed fellow musicians struggling to get by.
“The economy really made an impact to musicians,” she tells KEXP. “People weren’t going out. Tourism stopped. Some places didn’t have energy for three months. For musicians that tend to already live on the edge and live paycheck to paycheck it was pretty bad.”
In the wake of Maria, Raquel, along with bandmate Luis Alfredo Del Valle and singer Ani Cordero, co-founded the Puerto Rico Independent Musicians & Artists Fund, or PRIMA. Through 500 dollar emergency grants raised via donations and benefit concerts, PRIMA sustains the independent music community of Puerto Rico post climate disasters. The money provided valuable resources to individuals after the storm.
“Some of them did [PRIMA] to cover equipment that got damaged. Some of them covered their rent. Some of them even say they bought food,” says Raquel. “As things got a little bit better, some of them were actually able to fund parts of their projects that had been stalled.”
As Puerto Rico faces the aftermath of a new disaster, high magnitude earthquakes which shook the island in early January, PRIMA is once again accepting emergency applications from local members of the music scene.
“We really don’t want anybody to leave,” says Raquel. “We really want people to stay, and in a way that’s why it’s important to support them.”
She continues, addressing high profile artist’s role in supporting local scenes. “I mean everybody, at least in Puerto Rico, I feel like every artist should put in their little grain of sand. Our country really needs us at this point. It always has, in a way, but I think now more than ever.”
— Aarin Wright
Before pursuing music full-time under the moniker Salami Rose Joe Louis, Bay Area songwriter Lindsay Olsen worked in environmental research. Having studied earth and planetary science in college, she worked as a lab technician with an eye toward becoming a chemical oceanographer. Though she’s since left that field, her scientific still informs her art – particularly in how we engage with climate change.
“In this most recent album, that's where I felt like I really brought it all back,” she says. “I really wanted to bring up some of the complicated and interesting issues of science.”
Last year Olsen released Zdenka 2080, a sci-fi concept record set on an Earth reeling from the effects of climate change. The planet’s elite create a device to harness the power of the sun under the guise of mitigating the effects of global warming, but in reality they’re just using the energy to fuel a spaceship to flee to planet. Olsen describes the album as a rallying cry against corporate greed, a pertinent topic in our very own earth.
When asked if she feels like artists should use their work to draw attention to larger issues, Olsen says that she thinks “that is a huge responsibility of artists and it's something not to take lightly. Just like the platform that you create.”
She adds, “Part of the album, I have to admit, was talking to myself. Trying to convince myself to be intentional about the things that I create. Versus putting fluff out that I'm not thinking critically about.”
While the story of Zdenka may seem bleak, Olsen says there’s an overlying sense of hope in the record, and hope is a concept she thinks we need right now to address the existential issues of climate change.
“Just like with all of our smartphones and all of the imagery that we're taking in, it's huge that we think about the ways it's going to affect us and our motivation,” Olsen says. “I think that like I prefer that we would look at the stunning magical aspects of nature and how we want to nourish it and keep it alive, versus like the sort of – I mean, this might be controversial – versus the dying polar bear, because I think that we've become desensitized to the kind of just sadness and it makes us feel hopeless.”
— Dusty Henry
As a self-proclaimed “radical Indigenous queer feminist,” Portland-based artist Black Belt Eagle Scout (real name: Katherine Paul) has been proudly using her public platform as an artist to speak out on the issues that are important to her. “I see that there is a lot of potential for that visibility to really impact people,” she told KEXP in a recent interview. “So that people like me can have more visibility and representation.”
One of those issues is climate change, which, in the Indigenous community, is a concern ingrained in their people since childhood. We spoke with KP and Alaska-based artist Chantal Jung, a fellow Indigenous artist. The two just recently collaborated on the music video for the track “I Said I Wouldn’t Write This Song” off Black Belt Eagle Scout’s 2019 LP At the Party With My Brown Friends. “It's a collage work that basically shows the beautiful Alaskan scenery and all of the animals,” KP told us. “And everything is supposed to call attention to the fact that climate change is real.” Jung continued in a press release: “The video features Northern imagery that shows aspects of Inuit life, including cloudberry picking, animal relatives, and Arctic landscapes. People often forget that our livelihoods are extremely connected to the environment, including the animals and plants that live among us. This video is meant to bring awareness of the land, the animals, and the people who protect the land.”
KP elaborated in our interview, “I think I've just always been taught that we, as Indigenous people, are close to the land and have had a really, I guess, intense and also respectful relationship with it since time. And I have experienced that personally being connected to the water in the Pacific Northwest. And it's just a teaching that I've learned from my parents and my grandparents, that we will always love this land, that we will always take care of it.”
Jung agreed. “My mom is Inuit and from the north, so a similar Arctic kind-of environment. And my whole life, every time we went to go visit home, the climate was always an important factor. And we're always one of the first ones to experience any kind of changes that are happening before it even goes south. So, climate change has always affected us in so many different ways from eating food to it being too cold or being too hot or too many mosquitoes being in certain areas. Climate change affects us so drastically that it can't really be disconnected from the person as much as a lot of people make it seem. And so, to me, it's important to recognize that it's a collective effort and it's a communal thing that is just part of life to really take care of the earth and climate change goes along with that.”
KP continued, “And, you know, as an Indigenous person from the Coast Salish territory where Seattle is, you know, we see that. We see what has happened to the land and what has happened also further since colonization. So, we want to be able to protect that and to keep nourishing what is Mother Earth. And I think that one of the things that is really important, in my opinion and for non-native people to understand, is that I think non-native people need to listen to Indigenous people and need to listen to our knowledge and really take us seriously.”
One of the issues both KP and Jung have intimate knowledge of is the effect climate change is having on the Arctic coasts, an important ecoregion located on the north coast of Alaska. “I just want to raise awareness about the coastlines that are receding at really high rates and and how much that affects our animals and our people,” KP shared. “If we don't make change now, there's gonna be a lot of heartbreak. It's happening now.”
“It is a very unique situation because a lot of our communities are on islands or more secluded,” Jung explained. “And, so the effects are just more drastic. And we experience climate change really intensely and a lot of times are able to tell ahead of time like, ‘hey, this is happening.’ And, again, to reiterate, to just listen to us and make sure to be informed of all the issues that come along with that. As an example, we up north and the east side in Canada have experienced a lot more avalanches and longer snow periods, which affect the animals coming later or just not taking the same path as they usually do, which then affects also the food sources, and then having to rely on imported foods, which then creates more trash. So, it's like there are different things that people, I feel like, are just not aware of if they're not used to going to the north or not used to being on the coast in the more Arctic area. So, again, just education and learning more.”
— Janice Headley
Sustainability has long been at the core of Illiterate Light, even before they formed the band. Guitarist Jeff Gorman and drummer Jake Cochran met at James Madison University where they both found themselves pursuing certifications in permaculture – a holistic method of growing food and designing systems. As a part of their curriculum, they spent a semester apprenticing on an organic farm. After graduation, they received a phone call from the owner of the farm – offering to put the farm in their care.
“We talked it over and within about an hour, we decided to run the farm,” Gorman says. “We spent the next kind of two or three seasons just diving into agriculture. We wanted to learn how to how to grow food and we got hooked on permaculture probably through the course that we were taking.”
At the same time the duo got the phone call, they were already in the middle of what was dubbed the “Petrol Free Jubilee Carnival Tour.” With other friends and musicians, they’d set out with one of their previous projects on bicycles along with bike-powered generators to play shows across the Shenandoah Valley.
“The concept was 'let's tour, but do it in a way that we're not actually using the fossil fuels that we're writing these songs about the cost of oil and war and a culture that's kind of addicted to gasoline and power,” Cochran says.
Beyond just being good for the environment by cutting down on their emissions, the bicycle tours became a source of community both for the people traveling together as well as the folks they’d meet along the way.
“The biggest thing we took away from the bike tours was just that the community came together and made something beautiful happen and everybody involved was touched and changed by those moments,” Cochran says.
Since then, the band formed Illiterate Light in earnest and had to make the call to get in a Subaru and tour across the country. While not ideal, they saw the challenges of not taking the approach they’d seen their mentors and fellow artists take to get their music out into the world. But Illiterate Light isn’t giving up hope – currently exploring a partnership with Oakland-based company Rock the Bike that makes pedal powered devices that work with everything from blenders to PA systems.
“Jeff and I, when we heard that, it was just like, 'oh my gosh, somebody is doing it! This is real,'” Cochran says. “It just encourages even more to make that leap ourselves.”
While it doesn’t yet seem feasible to jump back on their bikes for a cross-country tour, the band is looking at bringing bike generators with them on upcoming tours to play smaller events and get members of the audience to jump on the bikes to help power small shows and campus performances.
“We're willing to change if we can find people that can help us piece that puzzle together,” Gorman says. “We're trying to be really open-minded about different ways to do this. The gears gotta start turning and we have to really change our ways.”
— Dusty Henry
Ahead of our Clash For Climate event, the teen activist talks about his work with Earth Guardians, speaking in front of the United Nations, and his music career.
KEXP talks with the organizers behind Pickathon and the Capitol Hill Block Party to discuss ways to have a more environmentally-friendly music festival.