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Music Blog

Alex Ebert on the Uprising Summit

by Austen Diamond
- Posted // 2011-02-24 - As part of the Uprising Summit—to raise awareness and money for Tim DeChristopher’s trial—Alex Ebert (of Ima Robot and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) will be performing a fundraising concert on Sunday (Urban Lounge, 9 p.m., $10). Ebert spoke with City Weekly about the event, political music and himself.For more information of other events this weekend, read Jesse Fruhwirth’s blog.

How did you become aware of Tim DeChristopher, Bidder 70, and this trial?
My dad is friends with George and Beth Gage, who are doing a documentary about Tim. They wanted to use some of my music initially, and the more I learned, the more interested I became. I met Tim when he was giving a lecture somewhere in California.

Why did you want to become involved in this charitable for DeChristopher and Peaceful Uprising?
Hits close to home is the perfect way to say it. It is home; home being the Earth. It’s important to be considerate of the earth. While everything in life can seem to be somewhat transient and everything and everyone is disposable, somehow that notion doesn’t seem quite right. The other way is to put some love into things, where you live and the people around you. For instance L.A. is terribly polluted, especially the air, especially the part of town I live in. It’s the ever-present reminder of what we are doing to ourselves.

Have you ever performed at a rally or political event before?
Coming to Salt Lake City is my first time participating with anything political, environmental or issue-based. It’s really exciting. I don’t think I would have been ready or wanted to, in an authentic way, before this.

It’s not a broad topic; it’s not like everyone agrees that we should or shouldn’t be drilling in Utah. Everyone wants a nice Earth. The way I see it is that there’s two ways: Everything is fucked anyway; this is the way of the world, kid, so stay on top. The other side is: Yeah, it’s fucked up, but we can change it and make it better. This world can be fashioned and live in the right flow of things to make that utopic vision closer to reality. To do that means certain sacrifices of the modes of living now.

Anyway, it’s cool man. It will be interesting to come out and do this. For me, it feels like the right thing to do and something I look forward to doing more of.

Turning a focus to your music. What’s an Alex Ebert solo gig like?
I’ll have a guitar strapped to my body, which is highly unusual. It’s not like I have a band coming with me. I reached out on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to play along. Steve Goblibe [spelling?] reached out and he says he has a bunch of friends that are going to come—some guitarists, a bass, percussion It’s going to be a humble, chill, easy, funny sort of thing. I’m not going to represent the Alexander album [released February 7, 2011]. This is just me coming out and supporting. I like the idea of playing with locals because it feels more communal.

Over the past decade it seems rock and folk music has been apolitical, in comparison to its anti-war heyday during the ‘70s and ‘80s. What gives with this musical and cultural shift? I think that it might be a round bout way towards something that is possibly a bit more positive. I think that at first, there a general feeling of cynicism, after the dream was over and then came the next wave of nonchalant disaster and self-destruction. The politics of punk rock where not about bringing down the system, but about bringing down yourself, to sort of prove your power in that way. If you can’t change the system, you can show how little control the people in power have over you by showing how much you care about life. That’s how I took it.

It went from that to something that was a bit easier and bit less aggravated—that thread in in the ‘90s. At the most political, there was gentle coffeehouse politics. Then grunge, which was a throwback to the punk rock self-destruction. In the 2000s, there was a shift to neutrality, on the whole, to get back to the art of it and the personal qualities of it. I think it was refreshing in some ways to some people. When music is all about social and political awareness, it is personal, but it’s not as relatable as it could be.

There’s music, that in some ways, a politically motivated person would see as bland but could have a political impact just by spreading joy to the people listening to it. I do think that flipped into a little bit of a tendency towards willful ignorance. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, just necessary for some stage of life, to not look at the gnarly shit going on, but cultivate your own life force. Because it can get sad, if you’re only looking at the injustices in the world. It’s only natural once you cultivate a self-assuredness, a, ah, self-knowing and you get back on a more neutral plain, it’s natural to become aware—not so desperate but aware—and have participatory and personal musical leanings.

From what I know about your past, it seems like the way you described the transition in political rock mirrors your life.
I have my life to base the words that I’m speaking through. I think that, I feel that, looking back and objectively speaking that I, well, there are things that I was going through while growing and living that are reflected in society, in particular, in American urban society. I think that’s usually natural. People living on Earth are in step. I guess, yeah, I’m relating it to my life.

I was very apolitical growing up. I didn’t care about anything except for the art of Hip-hop. The most political I got was that I was across the board anti-authority. That’s part of the reason why at age seven, I was attracted to gangsta rap. I went through an interesting round-about. I got into spiritual self-fulfillment when I was, 17, 18, 19, 20, then I totally ditched that and started self-destructing. Then I got off that but went into a entirely non-magical intellectual mode. My story is a big clusterfuck of happenings.

My answer previously, why music has gone through little phases—they are not polarized, they’re just different. The ‘60s was highly political, but also about love. Then some self-destruction and being lost and the whole movement seemed to disappear. It didn’t, obviously, but the general swing was it went the other way. There was a time in the late ‘90s where being politically minded in your music was just lame. Then right after 9/11 when anything political was nationalistic and patriotic and super-the-other-way. Not socially conscious towards equality but towards American spirit.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just look it up and see how it strikes you and hopefully gain some kind of inspiration and in the future to follow through with an ethical impulse. But it may or may not be quote or unquote be acceptable to the powers that be. But it is the only acceptable thing you can do. It will hopefully be an empowering example.CW

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