Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are highly political and solely my own, which is why I have identified the interviewer as myself and not the whole of Aural States. Aural States as an entity is politically neutral…like Sweden.
As I walked into El Rancho Grande, that lovely community-invoking coffee-house on Falls Road in Hampden, I see strewn across the table lots of construction paper. Surrounded by people cutting furiously and laughing. The cutting is for hand-crafted posters advertising Hope Night, an Obama benefit night of music, community and activism. It is an immediate realization of the ideas inspiring the night.
And they’re just getting started…
I took some time out last night to chat with Andy about this Sunday’s event, how it developed, and more specific reflections on the nature of politics and music…
Greg Szeto- So…what happened exactly?
Andy Stack- For the benefit? We (Andy Stack & Caleb Stine) actually were walking right around here (Hampden)…we were at the Golden West hanging out and to be perfectly honest were pretty inebriated so the emotion was at a heightened level when we actually saw the sign. It was right on the corner there (W 36th & Falls).
Apparently, the guy who did all those Obey signs? He’s been using that technique, painting directly on poles, the Obama ads. So somebody had scribbled all over his forehead “Muslim,” which you know, just stopped us in our tracks.
We pulled out our keys, scraped it off and wrote our names on there and “we’re voting for Obama.” It felt like all we could do to combat that sentiment. We kept walking, continued talking about it. We wanted to have something we could look back on and say we were putting our money where our mouth is. As Caleb has pointed out, we don’t have any money, any real capital aside from lots of friends and the ability to fill a room with some people. So we decided to look into it since we felt like there hadn’t been a lot of similar events around here this election season.
GS- Which is a bit odd, since Baltimore has its fair share of activist and grassroots organizations. But the urgency I’ve observed in other areas isn’t quite as present here (probably because it is shipped off elsewhere, to where things aren’t as stable).
AS- Yeah, I mean maybe because Maryland isn’t really a battleground state. Also, a lot of venues voiced possible ideological concerns…and when you enter into fundraising territory, there is a tax issue involved.
But we ended up with the perfect venue. Metro is a really warm room and we were able to get a permit to close down Lanvale Street as spill-over space. I have no idea what to expect, but should 500 people show up, we won’t have to totally turn people away. Sarah is totally in the same boat with us. She’s excited to donate her space and really helped with the organization of it.
I dunno, this wasn’t something we were planning on but when we ran across this poster…it was in a point that a week and a half ago the campaigning seemed to be taking a malicious turn. The epithets being tossed out at rallies. Realistically, that’s not abnormal I guess. But having a race factor going on does change things. It seems to be more charged than I ever remember in my short span of political awareness.
The overarching idea of putting this whole thing together was meant to go beyond a fundraising slant, a political event. It’s more a gathering, a chance to denounce the negativity that’s come about. A chance for everyone to get together before the election and appreciate how historic a time this is. The fundraising is secondary to the community feeling.
GS- For the average person that walks into the event, what do you want them to take away from it?
AS- Well there’s gonna be films, a speaker either from the Democratic party or the Maryland for Obama campaign. At this point we haven’t confirmed who yet. We’re trying to make it as multimedia an event as we can. We have tons of friends who are artists who are also politically minded who are going to put together some event-specific artwork. There’s been talk of paintings to be sold with proceeds going to the cause. One friend is making Obama cupcakes…I don’t know what kind of media that counts as.
GS- The tasty kind.
AS- Yeah! There’s obviously a political cause here but ultimately we’re hoping it feeds into the sense of community and people can come away from it more energized for the election. Like they are really together in the name of hope and change, essentially all the stuff Obama has been standing for.
GS- Now for the tougher questions. While you or I may identify with Obama, there are many who do not. How do you feel the sense of community is affected by the event for these people? When something like hope is…
AS- …politicized? Like I said, there’s an obvious political slant in that we’re donating money to a certain candidate.
GS- At some point did you ever think about trying to make the event something more independent or neutral?
AS- I did not. I don’t think either of us really did. I think we both feel that the reason the event has taken the position it has…is that this is not the time to take the middle ground. I am not behind Obama on all of the issues. I think McCain has great experience, has a really good career in public service. But I think that the stakes are too high for every issue. On those issues where I feel like, the next 10 years could be the deciding time to take action, I think Obama falls uniformly within my views.
In that sense, I guess you can’t win em all and you have to take a stand at some point. I think ideally we’d love to be inclusive and make it a non-partisan hope night. It’s not like hope is a Democratic value or something like that. I’ve had some folks who I’ve known for years, or family, who have sent me responses like “Nobama” and that kind of thing. And that’ll happen. But ultimately, I think we’re trying to bring more people together and I think it’ll accomplish that while supporting Obama.
GS- In what ways has Obama really exemplified the idea of hope for you?
AS- Well back in primary season I got to see him speak at 1st Mariner and the energy he is bringing to people across the socioeconomic ladder. That energy was just really powerful.
You know, it’s pretty easy to live in a bubble. We’re able to afford our coffee here. We have our electricity and our jobs. We’re not gonna totally die if we’re in need of medical attention. But this country has really lost a lot of the pride that we had, specifically our clout in the world. Some people obviously have rhetoric down more than others and I think it’s gonna take someone with that charisma, someone monumental to break through what’s been happening these past 10 years.
We’re actually going to be overseas for the election. We’re in London on election day. I’m really excited, a little nervous, to see the response that happens.
GS- I think that’s a sentiment echoed pretty much everywhere.
AS- Yeah I gather from what I read and the news blurbs from over there that basically the entire world is holding its breath for Obama. I think it’ll be interesting. This election being so close is gonna be a great conversation starter for people over there. I’m really curious to test the waters and see what people think about the direction this country’s gone.
GS-Yeah, I firmly believe that injecting a bit of hope into this country’s outlook is sorely needed. Pragmatism is one thing, but without any hope and dreaming, there is just stagnation to be had.
AS- Yeah, and hope with no pragmatism is no better than no hope at all. I’ve just felt really empowered by this election cycle. That there’s really a chance for all the stuff that’s infuriated me in basically my adult life to turn around and begin moving in the right direction.
I’ve talked to people about the 60s. My parents, friends who are that age. They say it’s really the same. I, in my own…solipsis is it?
AS- Yeah, in my own solipsistic way, I feel like it’s bigger than the 60s. There’s so much more to lose, the whole infrastructure is so much larger…
I don’t want to make it sound like McCain is the worst option. I’d rather have him than Huckabee or Romney. I would’ve preferred McCain over George W Bush eight years ago. And there are certain things with Obama that I disagree with. But ultimately, the choice is for who I think is going to take things the most in the right direction…
GS- As far as your music is concerned, has any of this creeped in? Is the sophomore Wye Oak effort going to be a politically charged protest album?
AS- Nooo I don’t think so. Those kinds of things…
GS- How do you feel about that? People who criticize musicians for using their medium of expression to communicate political views?
AS- I think that’s a pretty short-sighted attitude. I think there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.
GS- Would you consider writing a set of politicized songs or have you felt inspired to since organizing Hope Night?
AS- I don’t think consciously. There are songs I’ve written that have hints at that kind of stuff, but it’s not like I consciously want to do that. To use the cliched example of Bob Dylan, there’s a universality in his political songs that make them relevant. Maybe more now than when they were written. I guess that’s kind of the right way.
Songwriting is such a mystery. Honestly, I haven’t been doing that much; Jenn does the bulk of it. But for me, it’s so mysterious. There’s so many experiences and messages that come together, synthesize. There are obviously political songs but I don’t think we’d ever write them…or at least that we’d admit they’re political songs. So no, we’re not going to put out a Hard Rain record or anything like that.
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