INTERVIEW: White Owl Red

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Union Fight Song”?

I wrote this song a while back during the occupy movement.  I was inspired by the radical participatory democratic process that was occurring in those camps, throughout the country.  The song also came out of a period when I was writing while living in Portland Oregon.  I was going to this great open-mic at the Red and Black café that focused on songs of the working people.  There is this great history of the union movement at that café.  It is associated with the International Workers of the World, the original union’s union.  I also have a background in Political Economy and Social Change from my undergrad work at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I’ve been exposed to great detailed histories of the efforts of working people to fight for the good things in life, like child labor laws, the weekend, 40 hour work weeks, and such. If you like those things, thank a union organizer.  If people are interested, I highly recommend Howard Zinn’s book ‘A Peoples History of the United States’.  So much of our history has been purposely erased to make people believe we have no power.  If you like this song, you might like the song Shiny Drones off of my first album, Americana Ash.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I think I was listening to NPR about the occupy movement in Michigan where the Governor was trying to shut it down.  It sort of inspired the chorus.  The rest evolved naturally.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Already made one.  It’s on youtube and getting a lot of likes and shares.  I made it with old super-8 footage, I’ve been collecting over the years, with the concept of making music videos.  It’s a fun process to see them evolve.

The single comes off your new album Existential Frontiers – what’s the story behind the title?

I live in California but grew up in Oregon and Washington, which always seemed like the edge of the US.  This land used to be called the frontier a hundred years ago.  Where is the frontier now?  In the sixties it became outer space. Later I think that frontier became inner space, or the human potential movement.  There is something in the American mythos that longs for some kind of frontier to explore.   I’m curious where that frontier is now.  My sense is that it is a combination of how we combine wisdom with technology. Tech is moving so fast and disrupting our world at a rate of change that is unfathomable.  Climate Crisis, genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, are all set to disrupt our world in huge ways and it’s happening now. We live in complex systems nesting within complex systems.  No one can predict the unintended consequences of the impact of our tech. That is what this song is about.   We are on the edge of a new frontier, and existential frontier.  If our wisdom doesn’t catch up with the tech, humanity may eventually destroy itself and our planet.

How did the recording and writing process go for you?

When I get a line for a song, I sit down with my guitar, start strumming and see what comes forth.  The songs tend to evolve in about an hour.  Then I scrub them up over time.  Writing is mostly about editing. The basic idea is usually there.  As for the recording, I get together with Gawain and we start to layer it up in the studio, it’s a lot of trial and error at that point.  We do some stuff, I listen, then go back in and record some more layers. I never know how a song will come out until it’s done.  For example, on the song More, More, More, I ended up scraping the entire song down to the bare bones and starting over.  The first version was much faster and had some very different lyrics on the verses.  It was originally recorded for the Naked and Falling sessions.  I like this version much better.  It captures more of the soulfulness of the song.

What aspect of the 60s did you try to capture with this album?

I don’t set out trying to capture any aspect of a time period on my albums.  I just try to write good tunes.  Having said that I am a huge vinyl collector. I listen to a lot of music from the 60s and 70s.  It’s really interesting to hear how things began.  I love country and blues and rock and singer songwriter stuff.  Then again I like to listen to a lot of different music and those varied influences show up.  I think the song that captures a 60s Dylan vibe the most is Wishing You Well.  I didn’t set out to write it like that, it just came out that way. I mean a lot of my songs are pretty much folk songs at heart.   A good bare bones folk song can translate into just about any song genera depending on how you produce it.  I think the key is to write good lyrics.

What made you want to touch on the themes of the Wild Wild West?

I’m curious what gives you this sense?  I’m wondering if you read the quote by Bobby Moore from his review of my album. He makes reference to the Wild West Mythos, and wrote that my songs have a “post-modern attitude that doesn’t toss out the Western music baby with the dated cowboy trope bathwater”.

I interpret what he was saying in that review is that I’m writing Country and Americana music that is not relying on the cliché tried and true lyrics of the genera.  My take-away was that he thought my songs have original lyrics that are relevant to contemporary life.  I mean there is no Lone Ranger coming to save the day and no silver bullet for our current problems.

Any plans to hit the road?

No time soon.  I like where I’m hanging my hat at the moment and the weather suits my clothes.

What else is happening next in White Owl Red’s world?

I’m looking forward to seeing how the next batch of songs flesh out in the studio.  I’ve almost got another albums worth of songs lined up.  Hope to have another LP out next year.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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