Hi! Well, I had a great meeting today with some student animators at the City University of New York, in the South Bronx of NYC, who are going to make an animated video for my song “Organize” last night I went to a curator friend’s exhibition on the incredible Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, at the Brooklyn Museum. So, personally, I’ve been great. But reading the latest headlines, not so good.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “They Warned Us”?
My new release, Six Songs of Protest, is deeply inspired by the protest music of the late-60s and the early-70s. “They Warned Us” was the first single, but the song that really launched the project for me is called “Organize,” which will be out in late February. It’s inspired by Gloria Steinem and really set the tone for the whole release. Once I had committed to the idea of an all-protest-song project, I started listening to A LOT of old, classic songs of resistance. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”, and many more. I started to realize that all the issues I wanted to address in these songs had already been dealt with by these great artists, not to mention Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, etc. So the idea behind “They Warned Us” was very simple, all the problems we’re facing now, we also faced years ago. And all this stuff I want to address now was addressed decades ago. Marvin, Nina, and Dylan, they warned us years ago about the scenarios we find ourselves dealing with today. Nothing has changed.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
The 2016 presidential election inspired “Organize,” and everything trickled down from there.Not just “They Warned Us,” but “Earthquakes and Hurricanes,” about climate change, “The Ramble,” about gay rights, and the rest of the EP.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
I’m not planning a video for “They Warned Us,” but I’m super-excited about working with these animation students to create one for the next track, “Organize.” We’re taking Bob Dylan’s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as the inspirational starting point, and taking it from there.
The single comes off your new album Six Songs of Protest – what’s the story behind the title?
The album title is super-literal. I considered naming it after individual songs, or lines of lyrics within certain songs. But in the end, I thought, “Let’s be direct. I’m putting out six songs of protest. Let’s call it Six Songs of Protest.”
How was the recording and writing process?
The writing process took a while. I was in no rush to get this thing done, no deadlines or anything, so I took my sweet time. Once I was in the studio with the musicians, the whole thing was a dream. I’ve been really lucky to have assembled a small group of killer players over the years. So, there’s a lot of agonizing as I write the songs, but once these guys and I are in the studio, it’s total pleasure.
What role does NYC play in your music?
I love this question but it’s a tough one to answer. I think my identity as a proud, lifelong New Yorker influences every aspect of my life. I write a lot while walking through Central Park, so that’s a geographical role on my music. My day job is as the creative director at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center, and being immersed in the life of this incredible artistic institution has inevitably affected what I do in my own music. New York is one of a small handful of the most inspiring cities in the world – along with Mexico City, Paris, Rio, Rome – so I’m sure it informs what I do in ways I could never articulate.
With so many things to protest – how did you go on picking the themes?
It’s so true. With so much to protest, this could have been a double album. I always think that deciding what to write about is totally organic. The universe tells you what to address. The album covers the current administration, the environment, and police brutality. All of these issues just cropped up in my mind and demanded to be written about. I didn’t do a lot of active “picking” myself.
With so many negative things happening in the world – how did you go about putting together the dark aspects with the most positive at the end of the tunnel?
I think self-expression is always a good thing. So, if your subject matter is dark or negative, it doesn’t really matter. The expression and the creativity makes the work positive, even if the topic is bleak.
What else is happening next in Matt Dobkin’s world?
Well, I’m about to polish off the Bulleit Rye Manhattan I made for myself when I got home, and in a few minutes, I’ll take the dog out for his last walk of the night. After that, we’ll see!