Author Archives: matt

Album Review: Oso Oso, “Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters”

Oso Oso, Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters
Rating: 8.0

In James Baldwin’s 1965 novel Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin follows a young American man in Paris as he floats unaffectedly through relationships with both men and women, never finding happiness. This character, David, opens himself up to no one out of fear of losing his sense of safety to “the dreadful human tangling occurring everywhere, without end, forever.” David considers the idea that all people have their own individual garden of Eden—their own mindless, risk-free state of innocence within which they could presumably live their entire lives. Here, they could be unscathed by the person pain that comes along with being vulnerable, being in true relationship with another person. “Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know,” David says, “but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.”

Oso Oso’s debut full-length album, Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters, navigates questions and themes that aren’t really so far from those explored in Giovanni’s Room: vocalist and lyricist Jade Lilitri starts this album’s story after the flaming sword has descended, and after that risk-free state of innocence, that first naïve and sheltered understanding of love, has met its end. “When it all folds in on itself, you gotta cushion the fall,” he sings on the album’s opener, “Track 1, Side A.” The song opens with an anxious build-up, a slightly queasy melody that develops slowly only to come to a halt and make way for a much clearer and more playful riff. Lilitri’s vocal phrasing and go-for-broke attitude on this track at times calls to mind Third Eye Blind; he sings in drawn-out syllables and piercing yelps, repeating the rallying cry, “You gotta not be so scared.” This song serves as an opener to the rest of the album, yes, but also as the closer to something we weren’t invited to witness. In this way, we can call our own Eden to mind, and then buckle in for the rest of the ride together.

The album really takes off on track three, “Another Night,” which finds drummer Jimmy Ristano as well as Lilitri (who plays everything on the record except for drums) firing on all cylinders. It’s a fast-paced pop-punk song that features some of the fiercest vocal delivery on the record, and while it would be easy to zone out to the breakneck rhythm and Lilitri’s harmonies, it’s worth making an effort to keep up with the lyrics: “Found an old photograph of you and me / from a day that we spent laying out on the beach / and with every photo I’ve gotta to look underneath / cause nothing is ever as it seems, you know what I mean? / Like I couldn’t smile, cause I forgot to breathe / too consumed with the thought that we’d have to leave.” Following on this song’s heels, “Where You’ve Been Hiding” is a perfect complement to the previous track’s punch. It’s contemplative and meandering, waiting until well past the three-minute mark to shift into high gear, and then providing one of the most satisfying moments on the record. It might be my favorite song on Real Stories of True People, reminding me at both its calmest and loudest points of Northstar (seemingly one of the only early-to-mid-00s band in this genre that has not staged a comeback).

It’s hard not to look at this album track by track, because each song captures a different feeling or a different experience of self-realization. “Wet Grass or Cold Cement” wrestles with guilt, and the see-saw of feeling liberated versus second guessing what might have been in a recently-ended relationship (“I left and got away with it,” Lilitri says with ambivalence); “How It Happened” bemoans the futility of going through the motions with another person, courting someone out of rote, out of habit, rather than out of desire; “Easy Way Out” and “This Must Be a Place” embrace, at last—if somewhat sullenly—responsibility for living in the present moment (or, more accurately, responsibility for the consequences of not living in the present moment): “And I know what they say / you’ve gotta keep yourself protected / like love’s just some selfish game / where I always let them win.”

Lilitri’s vocals are certainly at the forefront of the album, and for some listeners, they will be the make-or-break element to Oso Oso’s music. The most comparable vocalist to Lilitri in this music scene at large might be Tim Landers (of Transit, Misser, and Off and On), although Lilitri’s range stretches a bit further, demonstrated by the way he harmonizes with himself throughout the album (the harmonies at the end of “Josephine” are a definite highlight). Musically, most of these songs are either mid-tempo head-bobbers or hard-driving head-bangers, and plenty of them make use of power chords and palm-muted verses. This is to say, it’s a pop-punk album—despite the fact that its press release seems to go out of its way to deny this, saying that it “thankfully … never stumbles into pop-punk’s shiftless landscape.” But pop-punk doesn’t have to be an insult, and as demonstrated by the songs that make up Real Stories of True People, it doesn’t have to be directionless and gimmicky, either. Lilitri writes compassionate, insightful lyrics about becoming a caring, self-aware person. I mentioned Northstar earlier, and sonically, parts of this album also remind me a bit of Saves the Day, but Oso Oso’s songs are never vindictive or mean-spirited like Northstar or Saves the Day’s sometimes were. These songs are less about finding blame and fault in others in the wake of suffering, and more about recognizing the habits and tendencies in oneself that contribute to loneliness and a lack of engagement.

In Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin writes, “For I am—or I was—one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all—a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named—but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not. … I succeeded very well—by not looking at the universe, by not looking at myself, by remaining, in effect, in constant motion.” In Real Stories of True People, Lilitri slows down this constant motion, and spends the album looking inward. The final line of closing track “This Must Be My Exit,” after all, is a confession: “I was just running away from getting to know myself.”

This whole thing is a bit of a stretch, you might be saying. And it could be; after all, I already happened to be re-reading Giovanni’s Room when I heard this album for the first time. But I’m not trying to suggest that Real Stories of True People is the modern equivalent of Giovanni’s Room or anything along those lines. I’m just saying that Real Stories of True People contains a lot more substance than the average pop-punk album, and it deserves to be taken seriously, because its themes are nothing less than the human condition itself, and learning how to grow from failed relationships—both of which are relevant to, well, all of us. “People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents,” says James Baldwin. “Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”

Or, as Jade Lilitri puts it, “You gotta not be so scared.”

-Matt Metzler, for AbsolutePunk.net

“We Could Stay In This Moment” – What Anberlin Has Meant To Me

friendship-snowflakeI’m not exactly sure when I discovered Anberlin, specifically. I know that I was in middle school, and I know that it was very cold outside; I know that Never Take Friendship Personal was their latest album at that time. I have a memory of sitting in my mom’s car outside of a library near the building where I would soon go to high school, bundled up in my winter coat and probably two pairs of socks, listening to “Stationary Stationery” on my iPod through a pair of earbuds. Let’s say it was the winter of 2005-2006. I would’ve been in 8th grade, and the things that went through my mind when I was in 8th grade, to the best of my ability to recall that time, probably didn’t stray much from the girl I’d met in fourth grade and “dated” until seventh grade, and who I’d been trying to win back for a year or so without much luck (in a note that she gave me at the beginning of seventh grade, she’d told me to “cry my eyes out”; I still have the note, and now, more than anything, it makes me smile).

Many of the songs on Never Take Friendship Personal simultaneously hurt and healed my fourteen-year-old heart – “The Runaways” and “The Feel Good Drag” produced cathartic listening experiences, but also reminded me that I was alone, and very much dreading the thought of staying that way. Whenever I listen to the title track, to this day, I absolutely need to turn the volume up to an almost damaging level; then, and now, the heavy songs on Never Take Friendship Personal give me a strange sense of warmth when they’re turned up loud, as if the music has the capability to wrap itself around my body and to overwhelm anything outside of me. It allows me to feel, and to do so without being disturbed or interrupted. It allows me to take a cold, hard look inside my thoughts and to process what I find; I guess it gives me the strength to confront myself, no holds barred.

I associate similar memories with Cities, but this time, the setting is my solitary walk to the bus stop at the end of my street on winter mornings, and the cold and dark bus rides to high school where I would shrink away from whoever ended up sitting next to me for the fifteen or so minutes to school. By now, I had some heavier things on my mind. My granddad had passed away only two months into my time in high school, and Cities came out several months later, when I was still trying to figure out how to process his death. I wasn’t thinking about that girl anymore – instead, I was wrestling with the terrifying idea that I had begun to feel attracted to guys instead. I couldn’t even fully admit this to myself, in my own head. It was something that I fought against, something that I tried to diagnose as a kind of illness; those feelings caused me to burrow even deeper into myself, and my insecurities increased almost daily.

cities-deluxeThe songs on Cities – especially “Hello, Alone,” “Reclusion,” and “Dismantle.Repair.,” – mirrored my internal struggle and helped me work through it. Around this time, my dad bought me my first guitar. I never really stuck with the instrument, but “The Unwinding Cable Car” was one of the first songs that I taught myself how to play; with a four-track cassette recorder, I layered the parts on top of one another, spending hours rewinding and re-recording (each time creating little artifacts and defects on the tape itself) until I was proud of what I heard playing back to me. I think, on some subconscious level, I gravitated toward that song because I wanted to learn how to internalize and recreate its message of self-love, of forgiveness and grace.

I could go on for quite a while about the circumstances that I found myself in during the release of every new Anberlin album, but from here on out, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. New Surrender came to me around the time that I had finally begun to accept my sexuality and to stop tormenting myself about my attractions, and songs like “Breathe” and “Burn Out Brighter” helped me find hope of a better future, and helped me find meaning in all the time that I’d spent wallowing in my depression. Dark is the Way, Light is a Place accompanied me during my first few months of college, where I once again found myself alone and tasked with the challenge of finding enough strength and courage to come out to a whole new group of people, only this time, they were friends that I’d just made, so the bonds between us were even more tentative and, I feared, liable to collapse once they learned the truth about my sexuality.

Whenever I had doubts about possessing the courage to be myself, “We Owe This to Ourselves” and “Pray Tell” would remind me that putting things off and hiding in the dark could never bring personal fulfillment or meaningful relationships. On the occasion that I did lose a friend upon coming out to them, “To The Wolves” helped me process my anger and my confusion. Two years later, I found myself at the end of a string of shallow and unhealthy relationships, and Vital helped me take control of my actions and see my behavior for what it really was; “Type Three” and “Modern Age” almost immediately became two of my favorite Anberlin songs ever as they taught me the importance of knowing myself, and recognizing my needs and desires without losing sight of my morals and goals.

lowborn-2Lowborn arrived at perhaps the most transitional and uncertain period of my life so far. I’d just graduated from college, and I’d spent four years earning a degree that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use anymore. I had no jobs lined up, many of my closest friends had moved away, and I remained in my college town waiting for nothing and everything at the same time. “Losing It All” reminded me to be grateful for the companionship of my partner; we’d just moved into our first apartment together, and even though the process of learning how to live with the person I love was a bit intimidating and not always stress-free, it became one of the only certainties in my life, and I made sure not to take that for granted. As I transitioned from my time as a student to my post-grad life, “Atonement” helped me make peace with everything that I had and hadn’t accomplished during my four years in college.

By the time that Anberlin’s final tour swept through Columbus, Ohio a few months after the release of Lowborn, I’d gone through a whirlwind of unexpected changes in my life, most of which centered around finding a job at a Montessori school. I’d gotten a degree in education at the high school level, and I’d been almost certain when I graduated that I did not want to pursue a career in teaching. Ironically, not only had I begun working at a school and enjoying it more than I’d ever imagined I could, but I had begun working at a school that served kids from preschool though middle school – in other words, every single grade except high school. I’d found a sense of peace and calm in my daily life, both internally and externally, that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to achieve. I’d fallen in love with life.

My partner and I drove to Columbus together to see Anberlin one last time; it was our third time seeing them together, the first being their acoustic tour in 2013, and then again on Warped Tour around the time that Lowborn came out. During the drive to Columbus and back, spanning four hours in total, we belted out Christmas carols along with the radio; my throat had been ravaged by a sinus infection, making it all but certain that not a single note I sang would be in tune. We got to the venue a while after doors had opened, and immediately took a spot in the line for the merch table, which wrapped around the entire front room of the Newport Music Hall – up the stairs to the balcony, then down the stairs once again. By the time I finally reached the table, Anberlin had just started playing the opening notes to “Never Take Friendship Personal,” the first song in their set. I hurriedly bought a couple t-shirts, and then we took the stairs back up to the balcony and found a spot near the back.

anberlin-columbus

The past few times I’d seen Anberlin live, I’d been in the thick of the chaos, in the first or second row of the crowd. Being up front is always an exhilarating experience at a show, but as soon as we settled in to our spot toward the back of the balcony, I realized that I’d never seen Anberlin from this view before. We could see all five members of the band, directly beneath the big block letters that spelled out the name they’d been playing under for twelve years. I felt mesmerized, watching them from so far away. When you see a band perform up close, you can’t generally see every member at the same time; you usually end up looking back and forth, taking turns watching guitarists, focusing on the drums for a while and then looking away. This time, for the entire 90-minute set, I marveled at the well-oiled machine that the band had become – not five musicians who happen to be sharing the stage, but one unit, one entity: Anberlin.

When they played “Inevitable” about halfway through the set, a certain line struck me in a new context. “We could stay in this moment for the rest of our lives.” Even though most of the song is about finding your true love, I couldn’t help but feel that some of those lyrics must have begun to take on a new meaning for the members of the band. Playing on a stage together has been their career for over a decade; indeed, parts of them will probably stay in those moments forever, even after they’ve played their last show. “Is it over now – hey? Hey, is it over now?” By the end of the song, the last part of that refrain has changed: “Hey, it’s not over now.” Anberlin will play their last show, and then they will move on, and it will, in a certain way, be over. But Anberlin will also live forever: in every CD, in every photo or video, in every autographed setlist, in every t-shirt or poster, and in every memory that their fans have attached to their music, and to seeing them play live, and meeting them after a show or during a signing. It won’t truly be over – and I think we are all grateful for that.

As for what that line meant for me at that moment – “We could stay in this moment for the rest of our lives” – it hit me immediately that, if given the choice, I think I would’ve been more than happy to spend the rest of my life living in that precise moment of seeing my favorite band perform in the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio, as I sang along to every word despite a sinus infection and a raw throat, with my best friend and true love by my side. And I think part of me will stay in that moment forever, too.

Thank you, Anberlin.


Next year, I’ll be launching a full website dedicated to the band, their music, and their career: an in-depth, interactive biography of Anberlin. Over the past year, I’ve pored over hundreds of interviews – text, audio, and video – featuring every member of the band, and I also had the privilege of speaking to Stephen Christian and Joey Milligan about the early days of the band and their process of deciding to put the band to rest.

Poem: You cut the pill with a knife

from Arrows for when you feel good: Sixteen poems | purchase here


Dream: you cut the pill with a knife to
show me what’s inside,
as if the chemicals could
be seen, be understood by the untrained eye–
and they could. From the casing poured pink
and blue bubbles, plastic orbs, tiny beads,
and I said, “Shit,” and you seemed to take it to heart.

The drugs made you unbearably hot;
you stood in the kitchen in briefs.

You said, “Let’s go into
the bedroom where we can talk,”
so we climbed the carpeted stairs
to the room with the two twin beds.
I put my hand on your back to give you comfort,
felt the heat radiating out through your spine,
and we paused there, nearly nude,
both strung out from this terrible cure;

somewhere in the house, the dog made noise,
so you left to let him out into the night.
I lay there, waiting for peace, and feeling
my mouth go dry.

Poem: Forever is fast

from Arrows for when you feel good: Sixteen poems | purchase here

arrows-cover-redsm
Forever is fast,
flees from me as I sit
in the blue leather chair that reclines,
with an IV in my arm and
pills dissolving in my gut.
Ann forgets to remove the tourniquet
at the proper time, and so something –
my arm, the needle, the tube, vibrates,
scares me shitless and causes a cold sweat,
a lightheaded dive into unconsciousness.
“Oops,” she says, snapping the tourniquet loose,
anchoring my brain to my body again.

Four years for a degree I don’t want,
a half-finished book, poems too private
and lewd, friends who have left or
are leaving, no job, another year’s
worth of rent (half a grand a month x10),
and no will to trade buckets of time for a dollar sign.

For now, I rest,
and wait for the loud beep that means
the IV bag is empty and I can leave.

Interview – Zach Schneider, The Ventriloquist, and Cedarville University’s Threat to Independent Journalism

On April 23, Zach Schneider and a few other students at Cedarville University were standing outside of the school’s chapel, preparing to hand out copies of The Ventriloquist, an independently produced student publication not entirely unlike Brickwork. The Ventriloquist was founded after Cedarville began censoring the university’s official student paper in 2010, and in a video interview with Huff Post Live, Schneider says that The Ventriloquist’s mission is to “publish news, articles, opinions – things of that nature that aren’t able to necessarily get a voice elsewhere on campus.”

Cedarville is a private Christian institution, and attending the daily chapel service is mandatory for students; hence, distributing copies of the journal there had proven to be an efficient and successful practice. In fact, The Ventriloquist had been distributing in ways similar to this for its entire existence – two issues per semester for four years, beginning in 2010 (the April 23 issue was The Ventriloquist’s thirteenth). While the previous twelve issues had been released without much trouble, the same cannot be said about unlucky thirteen.

As Schneider – the journal’s editor – and his friends got themselves ready to distribute copies of The Ventriloquist’s last issue of the semester, they noticed Cedarville University’s president, Thomas White, and Vice President for Student Life and Christian Ministries, Jonathan Wood, begin to approach. Wood approached Schneider directly and told him that he did not have permission to be distributing the paper and began attempting to take the copies from Schneider’s hands; after seizing copies of The Ventriloquist from another student nearby, President White moved toward Schneider as well, who finally allowed his copies to be taken. Schneider followed the administrators and asked if he could have the copies back, since they belonged to him; the administrators told him that The Ventriloquist was being confiscated. Schneider received no prior warning or command to stop distributing until that point. Later, White made an official statement claiming that his administration “did not shut anything down” because the articles were still viewable online, and saying, “What we did was prevent unauthorized solicitation when it was brought to our attention.”

When it comes to why this confiscation happened now, after a drama-free four years of successful distribution, Schneider told Huff Post Live that it almost certainly didn’t have anything to do with the thirteenth issue’s content, as the move to confiscate happened so quickly that the administration likely didn’t even read that issue’s articles. The previous issue, however, featured a front-page story called “The Final Decision” written by Avery Redic. Redic was a highly involved student at Cedarville, serving as Campus Community Director for the Student Government Association and a university tour guide, and having just accepted a position as a OneVoice Gospel Choir leader. But then, he came out as gay, which prompted Wood to remove him from all of these positions on the last day of classes before finals week. Over winter break, Redic withdrew from Cedarville University.

Redic’s article, “The Final Decision,” is a glimpse into how all of this unfolded, and into the psychological effects of the administration’s decisions on Redic himself. “How did I feel?” he writes. “I hated myself. Immediately after Jon’s decision I asked myself these questions and I hated myself for it: Should I have asked God to take homosexuality away from me more often? Should I have cried out more often than I had? Should I have asked for more counseling in high school than I had already received? Should I have been receiving counseling now? Should I have tried dating women, to see if I’d like it? Should I have never come to Cedarville, knowing that this would be an issue?”

Along with Redic’s article, the twelfth issue of The Ventriloquist also featured a piece called “Fear at Cedarville,” written anonymously by a gay student at the university and detailing the psychological ripple effects of the administration’s decision to remove Redic from his leadership positions. These two articles, in Schneider’s estimation, are most likely what lead to the administrative confiscation of The Ventriloquist’s thirteenth issue.

Schneider, who was a senior while these events were unfolding, has now graduated from Cedarville. In his farewell letter on The Ventriloquist’s website, he says that the future of the publication is uncertain. Brickwork extended our support to Schneider and The Ventriloquist, and Schneider agreed to answer some questions via email.

MM: When did The Ventriloquist first come into existence, and how has it changed since then? Was there an event or an issue that sparked the start of the publication, or was it a gradual dissatisfaction – and if it was the latter, what were the main sources of this dissatisfaction?

ZS: The Ventriloquist came into existence in 2010. In 2009, the university began censoring the official student newspaper, Cedars, due to content that they disliked because they thought it was unbiblical. In response, the staff of Cedars pulled the final issue and many of them quit and later formed The Ventriloquist.

Can you explain a bit about how The Ventriloquist is funded, printed, and distributed, and how these processes have changed since the publication first started?

The Ventriloquist is funded by an annual grant from Generation Progress, a journalism organization in D.C. that provides grants to progressive journalism outlets on college campuses across the country. It’s printed and distributed usually twice per semester; we actually just print using Fedex Office. We distribute by having student distributors holding stacks of copies standing in well-trafficked areas (usually outside of the chapel building after the daily chapel service) and passing them out to students. All of this has been mostly the same since the publication was started; our first couple of issues were funded by small, private donations before we got the Generation Progress grant.

In your Farewell from the Editor piece, you say that The Ventriloquist’s mission “is to provide a platform and a voice for ideas and perspectives that cannot find it elsewhere on campus” – what kinds of voices and perspectives have you seen most often silenced or brushed aside on your campus? And what is it about the process of writing, publishing, and distributing these voices that you’ve found to be empowering?

I’ve often seen a number of ideas and perspectives brushed aside at Cedarville. The university has undergone a large-scale shift towards fundamentalism over the past year or two (with a large number of administrators, faculty, and staff departing, often under pressure), and The Ventriloquist has had an important role in publishing the truth about the events of the shift, as opposed to the university’s PR which generally denied that any kind of shift was happening. Additionally, The Ventriloquist has provided a platform for student groups that are in the minority or hold minority opinions; in the past, this has included LGBTQ students, women, students with mental health issues, and students of color. This is especially true with regards to LGBTQ issues and women’s issues (as the university is adopting complementarianism – the idea that men are the head of the household/leaders – as its official doctrinal position).

Distribution of these kinds of voices is empowering because many students at Cedarville come from conservative backgrounds and have never actually engaged in good faith with someone who is a Christian and gay or a Christian and a feminist. It’s also empowering for students on campus to feel like they’re not alone in their struggles – that, if nothing else, there are others on campus going through and speaking out about the same kinds of things.

How has The Ventriloquist engaged in subversion in its mission, and to what extent do you think that subversion has contributed to the success or failure of its mission? What is the place for subversion in independent publishing, particularly when the material being published deals with oppressed voices?

The Ventriloquist engages in subversion insofar as it functions to disrupt the campus hierarchy by giving a place and an outlet for oppressed voices to speak. Moreover, The Ventriloquist often publishes material critical of the administration (or that the administration would like to keep secret) and plays an important role in keeping them accountable. I think that subversion has a important role in independent publishing, but I think the primary focus ought to be towards providing a platform for oppressed voices to speak the truth about the status quo. I think that this often results in subversion – but the goal is not to be subversive for subversion’s sake, but rather to focus on the people who need a voice.

Aside from the recent confiscation of The Ventriloquist’s latest issue, has the publication run into any other roadblocks or challenges over the course of its existence? Have other pieces of writing that you’ve published received backlash from the student body or the administration – and if so, what were these pieces about, and what effects did the backlash have?

The Ventriloquist hasn’t faced any kind of administration backlash prior to the recent confiscation. Students are often divided on issues – each article will usually have both those who vehemently agree and vehemently disagree. In many ways, though, this is the goal – to get students discussing important issues and becoming aware of other perspectives so they can be self-critical and improve their own understanding of the issue at hand.

What do you think will be the most harmful or dangerous consequences of the administration’s seizure of your latest issue, in the long-term picture? Aside from the fact that this issue, which a lot of people put hard work into, cannot be distributed, what else do the administration’s actions communicate?

I think the most harmful consequence of the seizure of The Ventriloquist is that it chokes off one of the major sources of alternative perspectives on campus. I’m skeptical that the administration will turn around and give us permission to distribute next year, and distributing off campus makes it more difficult to publicize and distribute new issues. I think that the administration has already choked off many other sources of critical thought and this represents a major step back for Cedarville as an institution of academic inquiry.

What are some ways that students can respond and mount resistance when censorship like this occurs – whether it happens to you all at Cedarville, to us here at Miami, or to any other group of writers and publishers at any college across the country?

I think that speaking out against censorship is one of the best tools to fight it. Private universities such as Cedarville have the legal authority to censor publications on their campuses; but if that’s the route they want to take, I think that the general public should know about it. Media organizations are generally interested in stories of censorship, especially of students, and I think that media pressure is an important tool. Also, at public schools such as Miami, there are a greater number of legal recourses available.

You’ve said that you’re not sure what the fate of The Ventriloquist will be, since you’re a senior and you’ve stepped down from the editor position. Instead of asking you to speculate what might happen with the publication, though, I’d rather ask what you might want to say to any students at Cedarville or at any other college who are interested in continuing to create and distribute independent journalism next year and beyond – do you have any words of advice for those who might desire to do this kind of work on a college campus?

I would say that producing a publication like The Ventriloquist is hard work but is also incredibly rewarding. The things that we cover matter, and for all the criticism and pushback that The Ventriloquist receives, it’s all worth it when I hear students and faculty tell me that they feel like they have a voice because of the articles that we publish. I would encourage college journalists of all stripes to keep persevering – journalism can be difficult but is also extremely important.

For our readers who might be interested in following your personal work beyond The Ventriloquist, what are you hoping will be the next stage of your own career as a writer and editor?

I’m actually not sure if my career in journalism will have much of an exciting future. I’m a computer science major, not a journalist; I don’t plan on working in journalism after I graduate. However, I am a firm believer in the importance of journalism and I hope to carry the skills and experience that I gained with The Ventriloquist on into other aspects of my future life.

The Ventriloquist can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@TheVPaper on both), and issues of the journal can be read for free online at theventriloquist.us.

-Matt Metzler, for Brickwork

Interview – Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s Have DIY Down to a Science

The music industry is in complete free-fall; this is something that can no longer be denied. Ever since the invention of Napster, the industry as we know it has been attempting to change the way that music is sold in order to align with the new ways that people have chosen to consume music – and mostly, these efforts have failed to produce sales anywhere near pre-Napster numbers. As this decline crawls on, we hear story after story about small bands signing to big record labels, only to find themselves dropped when that record label merges with another, or to spend a few months recording their major label debut only to discover that the label is no longer interested in them after the recording process has finished – maybe their record is released with little to no promotion whatsoever, or maybe it’s shelved and the band ends up in contractual limbo, unable to release their work to their fans.

Richard Edwards of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s knows this all too well; his band went through the major label ringer six years ago in 2008, and since then, they’ve steered clear of the music industry altogether. Margot signed to Epic Records (an imprint of Sony Music Entertainment) in 2007, and got right to work on their sophomore album, emerging with a large batch of songs – some of which the band liked, and some of which the label liked. There wasn’t much overlap. In a spectacular and unique bargain with Epic, the band released two different albums in 2008: Animal! was the record that the band wanted their fans to hear, and it was released on vinyl only, while Not Animal was the record that the label wanted to push, and it was therefore released on CD. After that, the band split from the record label, and since then, they’ve released three albums on their own independent label called Mariel Recordings: 2010’s Buzzard, 2012’s Rot Gut, Domestic, and 2014’s Sling Shot to Heaven.

Margot’s first releases – Animal!, Not Animal, and their 2006 debut The Dust of Retreat – are lush, orchestral, and gloomy, at times reminiscent of alt-country artists like Ryan Adams and Wilco. Following their departure from Epic Records, however, the band lost a number of its members and shifted their sound dramatically; Buzzard and Rot Gut, Domestic are loud, fuzzy, and bruised; Edwards’s words no longer came out softly, but more often took the form of manic shouts and yelps. The band gained some fans, but lost quite a few, too. Those who did stick with Margot through their loud years have now been rewarded with a return to form by Edwards and company, and the band’s best album yet: Sling Shot to Heaven, released on April 22 accompanied by the first-ever Margot film entitled Tell Me More About Evil.

Margot’s lineup on Sling Shot is stacked with talented musicians who have found success in other bands as well their own prolific solo careers, including Heidi Lynne Gluck (The Pieces, Some Girls, The Only Children) and Kenny Childers (Mysteries of Life, Gentleman Caller). Gluck in particular takes these songs to the next level; the harmonies that she and Edwards have crafted on songs like “Lazy” and “Flying Saucer Blues” give the impression that the two have been singing together since birth (these two songs are also highlights on the DVD – the harmonies sound even better than on the studio recordings). Edwards’s lyrics are as oddly charming as ever (“You are the apple of my eye, let’s be a pear”), and perhaps one of the most memorable songs of Margot’s career takes the form of a conversation between Edwards and his young daughter (“Go to Sleep, You Little Creep” – it’s nowhere near as mean as the title suggests, and in fact finds Edwards’s daughter telling him that she’s going to grow up to be a cow and moo at him if he doesn’t pour her a glass of milk right this second).

Edwards answered some questions for Brickwork via email shortly before Sling Shot to Heaven was released.

What was the recording process like for Sling Shot to Heaven? From some of the updates that I’ve seen you post online, it seems like you’re recording and demoing pretty frequently – did you have a lot of songs to choose from for this album, and did they go through a lot of stages?

We had a great deal of songs at the beginning, and like most records, an early attempt to record the thing was aborted. Then more songs were written. Then we started in earnest and kept going until it was done.

While every Margot album has sounded different than the one that came before it, Sling Shot in particular sounds much more reflective and restrained (in a positive way) than Rot Gut; what led to this change? Are there different musicians playing on this album, and is the thematic content of this album different, as well?

I think my friend Kenny [Childers] was very instrumental in that. We played a lot of songs in my living room and he was very encouraging when it came to continuing to write songs that sounded good in that setting. Just us two playing them on acoustic guitar. I wrote a lot of songs because of those early “jam” sessions. It would’ve been a very different record if he wasn’t helping me feel less self conscious about my “softer” side.

You’ve always worked to maintain a close connection between the band’s music and the fans, from allowing people to vote on which image would be the cover for Buzzard, to offering “record club exclusive” demos to fans who helped fund Rot Gut, and selling rare copies of Margot LPs directly to fans – cutting out the middleman, so to speak. What inspires you to involve the fans so deeply in these processes, and what are some of the most valuable experiences that you’ve had while working so closely with your fans? Will you keep using crowd-funding in the future?

I think I’ve always done some online interacting with fans, partially due to an occasional need for instant gratification, and mostly because I have fond memories of bands I liked as a kid who treated their fans like they were part of a club. I got more into doing it after we did Buzzard. It was obvious very quickly that there were some people who were not into going on that journey with us. I felt very sentimental about those who were, and who saw it as a logical next step for us. I still feel very protective of those kids, and grateful. I don’t always feel like interacting on a personal level with fans, but when I do, it’s those Buzzard fans I’m always thinking of. I feel a debt to them. I was in a very “who fucking cares about anything” phase, but they meant a great deal to me. I still love that record like a child, and when I think about it, it’s impossible to separate it from the kids who got it when it came out.

You filmed a DVD to coincide with the release of the new album, which you’re calling Tell Me More About Evil – what inspired the idea for the DVD, and can you talk a bit about the process of filming it? Did you make any changes to the songs as they are performed on the DVD than the versions that were recorded on the album?

I am mostly interested in film when it comes to an art form I “study.” So it just seemed like a good way to learn a little more about something I love. We knew it was going to be a minute before the record came out, and we were still really in a working on the record mindset, so it was also a way to keep working while the proper work was already done. The other idea was to try to do songs in one take, and sort of mirror the way songs like that are recorded in a studio when you aren’t doing a bunch of layering.

What elements of Margot do you consider to be DIY, and what is the significance of being a DIY band in this day and age? Are there, or were there, any bands or artists that inspired the way that you all conduct yourselves as a band?

Almost everything we do is DIY, and yet we are still distributed by a big company, I guess. After those Epic records, I felt, and continue to feel, almost as much pride in owning the records as I do in making them. I can’t see ever going back to giving this thing we made to someone else for hardly any money. It’s not like we even make money on them, but they’re ours. We own this thing that we lost our sanity to make. That’s more and more important to me as I get older, for some reason

What led to the creation of Mariel Recording Company, and how did you come to the decision to create an independent record label as opposed to simply self-releasing your music without any sort of label? What else is Mariel Recording Company involved in aside from Margot releases?

The thing I’m most proud of is our release of Gentleman Caller’s album Wake, which I think is one of the greatest things ever. I guess that was the idea. Build something mainly as an outlet for releasing Margot records, but which can also, maybe, occasionally put out things that are part of our community of friends. I hope we can do more of that.

Margot has worked with Luna Music in Indianapolis for several in-store exclusives, like the Record Store Day vinyl version of Sling Shot and a performance on that day; are there other things that you do as a band to work within and build excitement for your local community in Indianapolis? How have local record stores helped to strengthen Margot’s career? 

I’m not sure, but they’re all friends and seem to be excited when we release things. I’d be very sad if these local record stores went away. I still feel a void after losing Mass Ave. Video. I hope record stores don’t go the way of video stores. Good video shops have been so instrumental in my development as a songwriter and a person. I’m super, super bummed that they seem to be a thing of the past.

Aside from the upcoming tour with Empires and Kate Myers, what is coming next from the Margot camp?

Another record! We hope to start in September.

Sling Shot to Heaven and Tell Me More About Evil are out now, and the band will be on tour through the end of June, stopping by the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky (less than an hour away from Oxford) on May 10.

-Matt Metzler, for Brickwork

Interview – Nina Turner: A Bright Blue Light

State Senator Nina Turner is running for Jon Husted’s job this year, and after hearing her speak to the Butler County Progressive PAC on Tuesday, February 11, and talking to her for a few minutes after the meeting ended, I think she has more than a decent shot at unseating him.

If her name rings a bell, you might remember her from a piece of legislation she introduced back in 2012 that made the media take notice – a men’s health bill, modeled after all the legislation introduced by men that attempted to restrict women’s control over their own bodies. Essentially, her bill proposed that in order for men to receive prescriptions for drugs like Viagra, they must first sign a legal form to declare their impotence and obtain a second opinion from a psychological professional – steps that, according to a press release from the Ohio Senate, “would guide men to make the right decision for their bodies.”

Several times during her address to the Butler County Progressives, she referred to her own “righteous indignation” – a quality which she undoubtedly possesses, as demonstrated in her introduction of that bill back in 2012 as well as her tireless fight against the voter suppression that Republicans are attempting to legislate in Ohio right this very moment.

Here’s what’s at stake: the bills would cut the number of early voting days from 35 to 28 or 29, would totally wipe out “golden week” (the period when voters can register and vote on the same day, crucial to new voters and college students who frequently relocate), and would drastically reduce the state’s absentee ballot program. This is all in the name of preventing voter fraud, despite the fact that an investigation by Jon Husted himself revealed that, out of all Ohio voters in 2012, only 0.002397 percent of them were marked as suspicious.

For Turner, who asserts that the right to vote is the great equalizer in America, and that “the ballot box is tied to the bread box,” this issue is the key issue of her campaign. She assured her Oxford audience that she would be returning to Butler County many times between now and the November elections, because, according to her, we represent “a bright blue light in a sea of red.” She graciously sat down with me after her speech to answer a few questions for Brickwork.

MM: How can college students get more involved in the work that you do for voting rights? I feel like there might be a lot of college students who don’t view it as a serious issue – so what might be some strategies to engage them?

NT: To really talk to college students in their space, and I know that at Miami University, the experiences might be a little different – I know that there’s some wealth at the institution – but when you think about great leaders in our country, like President FDR, or President Kennedy, or the Kennedy senators, for that matter, they did come from families of wealth, and they did have great opportunities, but they understood very clearly that to whom much is given, much is required.

It’s really about meeting college students based on the areas of their passions, and just asking them or reminding them that because they may be blessed economically, or blessed to be able to attend Miami University, now their responsibility to give back is greater. And to me it’s about a sense of purpose. When I think about young people and some of the great movements in this country, and because this is Black History Month I do a lot of soul-searching and thinking back, I think about Greensboro, North Carolina, when those college students, African Americans, had the courage to sit at a lunch counter – those were not people in their thirties, forties, those were college students saying that although we have the opportunity to go to college and better ourselves, we are going to give back for the race, and their way of giving back was to fight in the civil rights movement, to sit at a lunch counter knowing that because of the color of their skin they were not going to be served, that they could be beaten, spat upon – but they did it.

So to me, it’s a matter of reminding young people that when movements happen, when young people get involved, whether somebody wants to be a teacher, an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer – whatever you do to give back to the greater cause, you gotta start that right now. Activism percolates on college campuses. You are the future generation, so the world is only going to be as good as you imagine it, only as good as the next person you help. Especially when you are on a campus of affluence, you have a greater responsibility.

Miami does have a more conservative atmosphere, and part of that is probably because of that wealth; so I’m just wondering what tips you might have for students who want to build and foster a progressive community here, where progressivism isn’t as visible?

It doesn’t take a big group. Small groups of people make the difference, so I would encourage students who are of a progressive mindset to meet on a regular basis, to encourage one another, to come to meetings like this, so that you continue to get energized, and you move forward. You cannot focus on the numbers, the twos and threes and fives, because over time you will continue to build your organization. Draw upon the strengths of organizations like the Butler County Progressives, and other big groups – I’m sure there are other universities in our state where you will find a greater depth of progressives. Start to network with other progressives on other campuses, so it doesn’t seem as daunting as the environment that you’re in.

And lastly, I will say: just because the university may be predominantly conservative, I still believe that there’s a place to touch people’s hearts – you’ve just got to find where they’re coming from, and meet them where they are. Talk about some of the challenges you all face and how it will be a much better place if all of us work together for the greater good. But do not get discouraged – I see the situation at Miami just as how I look at Butler County: you all are on a mission because you’re in a conservative area. This is a mighty county with people who are driven even though they’re outnumbered in terms of people who share their ideologies. Just as at your university, progressive students seem outnumbered, the county is outnumbered as well, but you saw the excitement and the energy in this room tonight.

People are determined to do what they can to advance the greater good, and so that’s what I encourage your peers to do on the campus of Miami University. Continue to advance the greater good.

How can people who read this interview get involved with your campaign?

I would love that, and I know young people are all about the social networks. They can follow me @ninaturner on Twitter, @ninaturnerohio on Instagram, and Nina Turner on Facebook, or they can visit my website at ninaturner.org. I believe in the power of young people, and that one of the reasons people who are seasoned – I don’t really consider myself old – but one of the reasons we work so hard is for the future generation, and it’s your generation that is going to continue to make a difference. And so you gotta get involved right now to make a difference.

-Matt Metzler, for Brickwork

A Response to Michelle Goldberg’s “Sympathy for Justine Sacco”

Blogging for The Nation yesterday, Michelle Goldberg expressed her sympathy for Justine Sacco, the former IAC public relations exec who found herself the target of significant and impassioned online backlash after tweeting the following just before a flight to South Africa last week: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Justine Sacco's tweet

Goldberg writes that the online backlash against Sacco’s tweet was “chilling” because, as it was happening, Sacco was “stuck in the air, unaware and unable to respond or delete her social media accounts.” I don’t think “chilling” is an appropriate word for the situation; unfortunate, yes, but hardly disturbing. Goldberg implies that Sacco, or anyone for that matter, should have been immediately and effortlessly entitled to click “delete” not only on the offending words themselves, but on essentially her entire online presence, in order to rescind her remarks and shield herself from the mounting backlash.

Twitter does indeed allow its users the ability to delete their tweets. But much like those who see somebody being attacked for expressing offensive opinions and cry out “First Amendment!” without realizing that freedom of speech does not also grant freedom from consequences, those who vocalize sympathy for Sacco because she was unable to delete her tweet or her social media accounts immediately after her words began inciting anger and pushback don’t seem to understand that public speech can never exist without accountability.

Goldberg writes, “Once we decide it’s OK to let a mob loose on anyone who’s offended us, the only people who are safe are those who never say anything at all.” First, it’s an outlandish overreaction to suggest that tweets somehow signify “a mob” (and downright offensive to liken them to a “lynch mob” as did Brietbart.com’s John Notle). But if you strip away all the hyperbole and overstatement from Goldberg’s words, the first part of her assertion could be rewritten as, “Once we decide it’s okay to let any number of people react in anger and outrage to people who offend them…” – and, well, I think we have decided that. By the very nature of tweeting from an unprotected account, Sacco agreed to allow – even encourage – any number of total strangers to react to her words however they saw fit.

The second part of Goldberg’s assertion – that the only people who are safe from the mobs are those who never say anything at all – is just as outlandish as what came before it. There’s an easy way to protect yourself from any number of people reacting in anger and outrage to your words: don’t say things that are likely to incite anger and outrage from entire social groups. Sacco’s tweet, on its surface, plainly demeaned Africans, non-whites, and those with AIDS. That’s a lot of people – and that’s only the people who it targeted on the surface, without digging into its deeper implications.

But there are and will continue to be those who stare this fact in the face, deny it, and make claims like, “There’s no telling what could offend someone these days; nobody is safe from being ridiculed and attacked by the masses for expressing any thought they have,” – or, a direct quote from Goldberg, “There may be no way to stop these sorts of digital pile-ons.” Responding to these assertions is even easier than the last one, though – protect your tweets. If you want to share your thoughts with people through social media, and there’s a chance that the thoughts you want to share might offend large numbers of people, consider controlling your audience. Even then, of course, you won’t be totally free from the consequences of your words – but it’s an easy way to lessen the odds of receiving flack from, say, Donald Trump, or of finding yourself the victim of a “digital pile-on.”

Goldberg outlines a laundry list of reactions and consequences that Sacco “didn’t deserve” to experience in response to her tweet – but whether or not she deserved each item on Goldberg’s list is irrelevant. Sacco approached the microphone of the masses, tapped it a few times to make sure it was working, and then said something that pissed a lot of people off. From that point on, those who were pissed off made their own decisions about how to react, some of which were undoubtedly extreme. But framing those who circulated and responded to Sacco’s words as “joining in the cyber-bullying of private citizens” as Goldberg does is an irresponsible refusal to acknowledge the purpose and terms of Twitter in the first place.

Justine Sacco might not be a bad person. But she signed her name next to a racist and xenophobic tweet that, as unprotected tweets are, was broadcast on one of the widest and most public communication networks that exists today. Her words were seen, circulated, and responded to, which is the purpose of Twitter – users display their words directly above buttons that allow other users to circulate or respond to them. And she was fired from her job, not only because her words were racist, xenophobic, and offensive to a wide range of people, but also because the position she held was one that required a professional knowledge of effective communication, which she publicly showed that she severely lacked.

Expressing sympathy for Sacco is not necessarily contemptible, but suggesting that Sacco deserves sympathy because she is a private citizen who was a naive victim of digital mob violence is nearly as irresponsible and ignorant as Sacco’s original tweet.

-Matt Metzler
@mattmetzler | brickworkmag.com

The Problem with Macklemore (Is Not Just Macklemore)

A lot of people are upset about Macklemore. Sure, a lot more people are probably excited about him than are upset, but there has nevertheless been a solid, vocal, and intelligent pushback against various aspects of Macklemore’s music and activism within the past year. I’ve wrestled (and still am wrestling) with my own opinions about him, but I think there’s a conversation built into almost every critique of Macklemore that I’ve read that never quite seems to be addressed head on: the responsibilities and expectations of allies.

Before I get into this conversation, I want to preface my writing with this disclaimer: many of the powerful critiques that I have read about Macklemore were written by black authors, and these critiques contained insight into the history, impact, and value of hip-hop to black lives. I am a relatively well-off white twentysomething college student who rarely listens to hip-hop. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can contribute anything to those discussions, which are incredibly valuable and occasionally difficult for me to grasp because of my white privilege, my white-washed youth and adolescence, and my lack of knowledge about hip-hop and its history. I’m not naïve enough, however, to think that anything I may write about Macklemore could be entirely separated or removed from those critiques, from the reality of black lives and white appropriation, or from the genre of hip-hop itself. But here, I want to look specifically into Macklemore’s status as an ally, how his actions as an ally have been interpreted and critiqued, and what those things say about the sociocultural systems that launched him onto his current platform.

Writing for Racialicious back in March, Hel Gebreamlak notes that Ellen DeGeneres once introduced Macklemore on her own show by saying, “No other artists in hip-hop history have ever taken a stand defending marriage equality the way [Macklemore and Ryan Lewis] have.” Gebreamlak reacts to this kind of sweeping exaggeration as follows: “But, how can this be the case when there is already an entire genre, Homo Hop, comprised solely of queer hip-hop artists? Whether it is intentional or not, Macklemore has become the voice of a community to which he doesn’t belong in a genre that already has a queer presence waiting to be heard by mainstream audiences.”

What always strikes me as unsettling about assertions like this and the critiques they lead into is that they seem to affix more blame, or at least more attention, to Macklemore than to Ellen and other members of the media who make similar claims. Macklemore has been made into the voice of a community to which he doesn’t belong; he isn’t the one claiming flat out that no other hip-hop artists have ever taken a stand for LGBT equality the way that he has. We should be critiquing the voices that make those claims just as much, if not more, than we critique the subject of those claims.

David Dennis, writing for The Guardian, has voiced the observation that “some are using the Macklemore story to paint a narrative of one singular example of rap’s potential for positivity in a sea of endlessly destructive music,” and that such a reaction “threatens to erase the progressive music that has always inundated rap music.” Let’s not overlook the fact that Macklemore himself has made a few similarly problematic, sweeping implications about the genre during the second verse of “Same Love.” While he should be held accountable for those lyrics (see Gebreamlak’s paragraph about the song “[supporting] the idea or, at least, [implying] that people of color – particularly Black folks who created hip hop – are more homophobic than white people and that there are no queer people who feel supported in these communities”), it’s not exactly earth-shattering news to discover that a successful musician has penned lyrics that oversimplify cultural matters; for critics, in my opinion, the much bigger fish to fry in this situation is the reaction by the media, who take these lyrics at face value and who begin viewing Macklemore as some kind of savior, and who end concert reviews with lines like the following, from Thor Christensen of Dallas News: “Macklemore proved that intellectual rappers don’t have be geeky or dull.”

Madison Carlson, writing for Feminspire in an article called “Stop Telling Queer People to be Grateful for Macklemore,” comes a bit closer to the ally dilemma as I see it. Carlson calls Macklemore “mainstream media’s darling of equality,” and notes that “Same Love” is being “hailed as a gay rights anthem.” She then writes, “To essentially paint a straight, cisgender person as the leader of the LGBT rights movement is incredibly problematic, and it ignores the queer voices that have been speaking to issues of equality for decades.

It is undeniably true that Macklemore should not be painted as the leader of the LGBT rights movement. No straight ally should be the face of the LGBT rights movement – not Macklemore, not Barack Obama, not TIME Magazine and The Advocate’s Person of the Year Pope Francis. Why? Because allies should be making room for the oppressed, not standing in for them. By very definition, allies already have that room, in some form – they do not need to make room for themselves on the particular issue for which they are doing activist work. This is a nuanced truth that involves recognizing that there are many forms of oppression and privilege; as a gay man, I consider myself an ally to the transgender community, but my status as an ally does not mean that I am not oppressed at all – rather, I’m not oppressed for my gender identity, so, by definition, I can be an ally to those who are.

But what some critics of Macklemore seem to be missing is that Macklemore is not working in opposition to queer artists. It’s not as if there is only room for one artist to speak on LGBT issues and Macklemore has somehow closed the door on queer artists by virtue of his success. Carlson writes, “Real allies are great, but their voices should not be heard above the voices of the people they are purporting to help. We should not have to feel as though we aren’t allowed to speak about our own issues.” Is Macklemore’s voice and music being heard above that of queer hip-hop artists? Undoubtedly. Is Macklemore to blame? No – there are systems upon systems to blame for this. Blame the radio; blame the awards shows and the talk shows; blame the magazines and the sensationalized claims of the press. All of these systems played a role in Macklemore reaching the point of celebrity that allows people to speak about him as the face of the current LGBT rights movement.

If Macklemore has been painted as the face, or even just one of the faces, of the current LGBT rights movement, he was not the one who painted it that way. That’s not to say he just ended up in this position by coincidence or accident; he wrote “Same Love,” he released it as a single, he made a music video for it, he toured the talk show circuit performing it, and he makes sure to vocalize his support for LGBT rights when he’s not performing, too. He has always aimed to be an outspoken advocate and ally for equality – but that’s not the same as aiming to be the face of a movement. Being the face of a movement is more often a quality that is thrust upon an activist than a quality that an activist attempts to obtain.

Moreover, Macklemore released “Same Love” in July 2012, in order to garner support for the Washington referendum that would legalize marriage equality. That was three months before The Heist was released, and three months before “Thrift Shop” began its climb up the Billboard Hot 100. Macklemore did not write “Same Love” knowing that its video would eventually win “Best Video with a Social Message” at the 2013 VMAs – in all likelihood, he didn’t even write it thinking that it could be a contender for such an award. The songs on The Heist were not written by a celebrity; they were written by an independent musician who became an overnight celebrity once the white American culture machine(s) transformed him into one.

I’m not saying any of this to try to excuse him from any sort of responsibility. I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of those writing to critique him when they point out things that Macklemore could be doing, but seemingly isn’t doing well enough – chiefly, promoting the work of queer artists. He did feature Mary Lambert on “Same Love,” which was perhaps one of the smartest decisions he has made in his musical career as an ally to the LGBT community; he wrote a song about oppression that he does not face, and for the hook of that song, he literally passed the microphone to someone who does face that oppression.

Carlson writes, “If Macklemore really wants to support the LGBTQA+ community, ‘Same Love’ is not enough. Shouting ‘And Mary Lambert’ over his shoulder as he walks offstage at the VMAs is not enough. He needs to promote queer artists and make space for them to speak.” But in a small yet not insignificant way, this is exactly what Macklemore has already done with “Same Love” – he promoted a queer artist by featuring her in a song that became quite popular; he opted to feature an artist who faces oppression based on her sexual orientation in a song that he wrote about his own relationship as an ally to that specific kind of oppression. Is that enough? No. But let’s not act like he failed to make space for a queer artist in his song about marriage equality.

Those who take issue with Macklemore’s decision to feature Lambert in the song are being, in my opinion, downright irrational. Gebreamlak laments that Macklemore “does not even include a queer person of color in the song ‘Same Love,’ but instead chose Lambert, a white person whose success was also found in a Black art form [spoken word].” Could Macklemore have found a queer person of color to feature in the song, and could such a feature have helped correct the song’s problematic implications about black hip-hop’s homophobia? Yes – but the suggestion that doing so was somehow his responsibility is unfounded; when viewed as a whole, the song was not written about homophobia in hip-hop, but about the legal battle for same-sex marriage, and he brought in an artist who faces oppression on that front.

But Macklemore could still be promoting the work of queer artists a lot more, and a lot better. If he’s sincere about fostering a more diverse version of mainstream hip-hop, he should be using his newfound platform to encourage people to pay attention to the queer artists within his own genre. He could be acknowledging homo-hop artists during his acceptance speeches and talk show visits; while he is not a member of that genre (he is not queer and the majority of his music has nothing to do with queerness), he has failed to acknowledge the existence of such music when he makes broad generalizations about the hip-hop genre in “Same Love.”

And, yes – Macklemore could feature a queer person of color in a future song. He could tour with queer artists of color, too. I think it’s important and necessary for journalists, members of the media, and fans to call on him to make these kinds of choices – not because queer artists need his help or his promotion, but because these kinds of actions would help prove that Macklemore is truly interested in changing mainstream perceptions of hip-hop instead of simply profiting off his claim that hip-hop hates gays.

At the end of the day, I believe that critics of Macklemore’s status as an ally should spend less energy trying to shed doubt on his intentions and motives (particularly as they apply to music that was written and recorded before he became anything close to a nationally-recognized spokesman for equality), and more energy on illuminating and breaking apart the racist and heterosexist sociocultural systems that led to his rapid rise to fame and to his position as a national symbol of a kind of oppression that he does not experience.

Complaining that Macklemore – a white, straight, cisgender ally – is now the face of LGBT equality because of his popularity in a genre rooted in blackness and racial oppression does nothing to address the circumstances and systems that allowed for him to be painted as such in the first place. Macklemore has exposed a social problem: that queer artists in general, and queer artists of color in particular, are not being embraced as the faces of their own movements by mainstream media. That lack of recognition isn’t strictly Macklemore’s fault – although he could be doing more with his platform to address this lack, and critics should continue to make that clear.

Macklemore is an ally, and an imperfect one; but I’m anxious that we’re spending more time and effort trying to shame this ally for the platform that he has found himself on than we’re spending fighting against the systems of oppression that are at hand – not only the kinds of oppression that Macklemore writes about in “Same Love” and his earlier song “White Privilege,” but also the networks of oppression that have enabled the media to elevate an ally to such a platform, and allowed an ally’s insight to take precedence over insight from the oppressed themselves.

-Matt R. Metzler
Twitter | Brickwork Magazine

Album Review and Interview: Mansions, “Doom Loop”

For a band that was on the brink of giving up during the writing of their dark and sludgy sophomore release, Dig Up the Dead, Mansions’ follow-up to that album is startlingly confident, aggressive, and upbeat. After gaining the reputation of being a “fuzz-rock” band from their live shows, Mansions – made up of Christopher Browder, bassist Robin Dove, and drummer John Momberg – decided to adopt that description and explore it with Doom Loop.

They achieve optimum amounts of fuzz, no doubt, but they also pick up a lot more achievements along the way. The guitars are crunchier than they’ve ever been, and the riffs are downright filthy (“Out for Blood,” “The Economist”) while still managing to slide straight into the most sure-fire choruses that the band has ever written. “I’ve thought about avoiding a big chorus or not being super melodic – but I realized that’s just not who I am,” Browder said in a press release. “I like pop songs, yet at the same time I like things a little fucked up and distorted. Might as well run the vocals through a guitar pedal.”

The weirdness of “Two Suits” and “Flowers in My Teeth” comes off as charmingly cryptic, and lyrically, Browder’s metaphors are unexpected and fascinating (“La Dentista” stays quite true to its name, with lines like “we’ve got our hands in your mouth, you say you’ll change,” and “I could pull out all your teeth, but you’d still lie to me”). There are lots of nods to the band’s older material tucked away in Doom Loop, too – “100 Degrees” could be a sequel to “Tangerine,” album closer “Falling Down” makes a powerful reference to one of the bleakest lines in “Dig Up the Dead,” and you can practically hear Browder winking as he delivers the final words of the chorus to “Last One In.”

Not only is the album a sonic evolution for the band, incorporating thick heaps of distortion alongside electronic blips and jitters and giving Dove’s vocals a couple prominent features for the first time, but Browder has evolved as a vocalist, as well; his percussive phrasing in the verses of “100 Degrees” and his falsetto in “If You’re Leaving” prove that he’s grown confident enough to try a few new vocal tricks, and they add even more flare to his already established command over the songs. 

Christopher Browder kindly agreed to talk to me for the first issue of Brickwork about Doom Loop, out now on Clifton Motel, as well as how Mansions has grown since their 2009 Doghouse Records debut album New Best Friends. We spoke a week ahead of Doom Loop’s November 12 release date.

MATT METZLER: Doom Loop comes out a week from today – is it a busy week for you, leading up to that?

CHRISTOPHER BROWDER: Not especially, really – we’re not on tour or anything right now. We might try to do an in-store kind of thing, but when we’re not on tour we’re kind of just living normal life and working and that kind of thing. So it’s not really any different, but we’ll try to do something fun to make it special.

How was the recording process this time around?

It was cool. It was similar to how we recorded Dig Up the Dead in that we didn’t really go to the studio to record it, we recorded everything except drums in our apartment in Seattle, and drums were recorded in Austin, where our drummer lives, and he got to go into a really cool studio down there and record them – which was interesting, because we didn’t get to play the songs full-band or anything, I just sent him demos and he recorded the drums.

I’ve read some interviews where you described Dig Up the Dead as dealing with existential stuff, lyrically, and New Best Friends was more about personal relationships, so what kind of stuff was on your mind when you were writing Doom Loop?

Probably kind of a combination of the two. I think lyrically, even if the songs are referring to pretty concrete things, I think the lyrics are a little less concrete, or a little less literal than some of the other records. Like, on New Best Friends, what I was into at that time was really direct, pretty literal lyrics, which, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but for this round there’s a little bit more metaphor to it. But it’s still very much rooted in interpersonal relationships, and the existential questions that go along with that.

So you’re releasing this primarily on vinyl and digital, right?

Yeah, and we’re going to have CDs at shows, because I think that’s one of the only places where people buy CDs still.

So was that more of just a practical decision, then, not to do CD preorders?

Yeah. I mean, we didn’t even really have a big discussion about it. The label that we’re putting it out with, I think in their experience the CDs never really sold that great for preorders, you know? And I can’t really remember the last CD that I bought, personally. But I know that, at shows, CDs are definitely good to have, so it just seemed to make sense. And the vinyl comes with a digital download, so even if you don’t have a record player, you can still get the vinyl just to have it.

Earlier in your career you released some stuff on crazy formats, like Thyme Travel on cassette, and the mini-disc of demos – do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?

I think we’re talking about doing a cassette soon for Doom Loop, which would be cool. Yeah, I think that stuff is fun, and it’s cool to make a special thing for people, but I don’t like making things collectible just for the sake of making them collectible. But I think it’s cool to do. The mini-disc thing was cool because I had a mini-disc player when I was younger, and I was able to pull that out. But I think there’s something fun about tapes, even though it’s sort of hipster or stupid, but it’s fun and it’s good if you have a car that just has a tape player, you know?

So, switching gears a little bit – you opened for Fall Out Boy earlier this year, how did that come about and how was it?

I don’t quite remember exactly what happened with it, but I know that when we were shopping Dig Up the Dead around to different labels and trying to get somebody to put it out, one of the few people who responded to it was actually Pete [Wentz] from Fall Out Boy, weirdly enough. I don’t know if he even remembers that at all, so that might be weird to talk about. But the big thing was that the label putting out our record, and that did the vinyl for Dig Up the Dead – they’re called Clifton Motel – is made up of guys that work for Crush Management, a big management company that manages Fall Out Boy. So I think they just needed somebody for one show that for some reason the other bands couldn’t do, so they hooked us up with that. And it was fun, it was definitely different for us playing those kinds of shows, the same with the ones with Taking Back Sunday – it’s a bigger world than we’re used to, but they were all super nice, and them and their crew treated us really well. It was a lot of fun, and the kids were really nice at the show, too.

You kind of already talked about this a bit, but I was wondering what your daily life is like when you’re not on tour, you’re just working other jobs?

Me and Robin, who plays bass in the band, we both have office jobs, basically. We do the 8-5 thing, Monday through Friday. It’s been cool, we both started temping as just a way of finding stuff in between tours, to make some money on the side, and we both were pretty lucky with where we got placed for temping, we’ve stuck around those places longer and been able to move up and they still let us leave when we have to, especially when we’ve been writing and recording and there’s not really band income coming in while you’re doing that, so it’s good to kinda have a normal life for a while.

Since you’ve lived in Seattle for a while now, have you found any noticeable differences in your songwriting since you’ve moved to a big city?

The songwriting’s definitely different, but I don’t know how much it has to do with the move. I think the space that we’re in emotionally is very different up here, and I think a lot of that has to do with being up here and being part of a big city, and finding those temp jobs, and finding a way to make it work where we’re trying to make the band happen but still be able to pay our bills and that kind of thing. So I think that definitely put us in a different space, whereas, writing Dig Up the Dead, it was feeling like, well, this is probably it, I don’t think we can keep trying to make this band thing happen. We were in a fairly small city in North Carolina, and so I think that contributed a lot to the overall tone of the record being sort of dark, or more depressing I guess, because we weren’t particularly happy then.

Have you ever viewed any element or aspect of Mansions as political in any way?

Not really… yeah, not really. I definitely have pretty strong political views, but I generally get turned off by bands voicing real political things, even if it’s stuff that I agree with, just because, I don’t know – I think a lot of people in bands aren’t really that informed and you get this kind of reactionary stuff. There are different levels of things, like I want people to agree with us politically of course, but really I want them to relate to me as a human being, and if that helps affect their world view to where they change their political beliefs then that’s great, but I don’t usually try to convince people to agree with those same things. I guess I never really imagine that being successful; I don’t see a lot of people really changing people’s opinions. It seems more like they just get the reaction from the people that already agree with them, and everyone’s like “Yeah, you’re great!” and then the other people are like, “Oh, I hate you because I don’t agree with this.” And it just isn’t very productive, you know?

Have you ever had any experience with record labels or tourmates or fans trying to pin Mansions down into a certain scene or something that you didn’t really feel like you identified with?

Yeah, I think because our first record was on Doghouse Records, who, especially at the time, had a certain reputation with certain bands, but for me, that wasn’t really what I saw them as, because they had a lot of bands that I really loved like The Get Up Kids and Koufax and stuff like that, but I think coming out with our record at that time meant people said, oh, you’re this kind of band, and so this kind of website and magazine is going to be interested and these other ones aren’t. But I think musically I never really felt much in common with those other bands, and especially when we played shows with a lot of the bands, it was just like, man, we are in some totally different worlds, not believing in the same things about what music should be or what the point of doing this is. So I think we never really felt a part of that, and I think that that group of fans never really responded that well to us, anyway, so it was a weird thing where we were kind of getting pushed toward people who didn’t really want to hear us, to no fault of their own at all. I don’t know, we’re in a sort of middle ground where we’re not hip enough hip enough or scene enough. Which I’m totally fine with, and most of the bands that I really love are in that same kind of middle ground, but yeah, it can be a little funny sometimes.

So does that shape the way that you handle and present the band?

A little bit, yeah. And I think we’ve gotten more careful about it as time has gone by, about choosing the types of things that we do, and as we’ve gotten more support from different places we’ve probably had more options – like, we can premiere a song at this place instead of this place. It’s weird, it’s like all that perception it’s all really a lot of small decisions and moments kind of added up into a bigger whole, but yeah, there are certain tours that we know we wouldn’t really do, because they don’t make sense for who we want to be.

Earlier on in your career, you released a lot of material in a really short amount of time, like with the EP Initiative and around that time period, and then it’s kind of slowed down a little bit and I was just wondering if that’s because you’ve been focusing on these songs a lot more than maybe you did in the past, or if you’ve just been having less time to write and record?

Yeah, I think there’s a combination. Before New Best Friends came out, I’d been writing songs for years without them really coming out anywhere, and after we recorded New Best Friends, it took a year for it to actually come out, so there was still this backlog of other songs, and then – definitely, the time on my hands played into that, I had time to just be writing and recording. And the thing that was cool about the EP Initiative was that we had those deadlines set up that were pretty tight deadlines, like every two weeks there needs to be another set of songs done, and that forces you to make decisions, where you’re like, okay, this is what the song’s going to be, I’m not going to be able to redo it again, and, you know, that’s that. There are songs that came out with all of that that I wouldn’t have put on a record because I don’t think they were good enough or I would’ve re-recorded something, but I still like how it happened, because it forces you to just accept where things are at after a certain amount of time. So that was a big part of it, whereas now it’s definitely been more focused on album stuff, where there’s probably just as many songs coming out, but we’re really trying to edit those down into the best set for a record. But also, we don’t have as much time to work on songs, so it’s not the same as before as far as having all that time to write.

I’ve noticed that you use a lot of religious symbols and motifs in some of your lyrics, like in Seven Years and On My Way, and I was just wondering what it is about those images that draws you to them when you’re writing a song?

I think it’s interesting. I think it’s very elemental, as far as, that’s just kind of like the biggest question there is, you know? Is there a god, and if so, what does that mean? So I think that’s just endlessly fascinating in a certain way, and I think there’s a lot to say about that, and I think a lot of music that I like speaks to some of those questions. I just think it’s kind of like a well that is never ending as far as things to talk about and to think about.

I was also wondering about the lyrics to “OMG,” and this is mostly just because I relate to that song a lot personally because I have Crohn’s disease and it’s always a struggle to get my body to agree with me basically, and do what it’s supposed to do, and I was just wondering sort of what that song means on your end?

I guess I don’t want to give away the keys to the castle too much, you know? But yeah, it’s that kind of thing, where it’s like, my body doesn’t do what I want it to do all the time, for sure, and I think that’s just a very human thing, and there’s also the kind of metaphor of the body as like the flesh, where that’s the kind of human nature or instinct part of you, that doesn’t always lead to good things, I guess, you know? So it’s kind of a combination of all those different, that kind of brain vs. body kind of thing.

Thanks for sharing that.

No, no problem. I’m glad that you like it, and I’m glad that you know your stuff, it’s a good thing.

I know you’re a big Ryan Adams fan – I am too, what’s your favorite stuff by him?

It was actually his birthday today, I don’t know if you know that. I didn’t realize it either, but I hadn’t listened to him in a while, but I had the urge to listen to Heartbreaker today, which was awesome, and then I realized it was his birthday. But, man, what do I like best? I like Cold Roses a lot, that one especially with time has gotten better to me. Heartbreaker means a lot to me, it was a very specific time in my life that I listened to that a lot, and I mean, like some of the songs are not his best but the songs that are good are like his best songs ever. I guess the one that kinda got me down the Ryan Adams rabbit hole was Love Is Hell, Pt. 1 specifically, part two is okay but part one… I just don’t know another record like that, that does what that record does.

Yeah, that’s the first stuff of his that I got into as well.

That’s awesome, what songs do you like on it, or what’s your favorite song on it?

I really like “This House is Not For Sale,” that might be my favorite song by him.

Oh yeah, for sure. Did you know that it’s about the movie Beetlejuice?

Yeah, that’s so crazy. I listened to it for a long time before I found that out, and I mean, it was definitely surprising because it seems like it would be so much deeper, and it obviously is still deep, but to know that it’s based on a movie just sort of throws you for a loop.

Yeah, totally. It was one of those things where that should ruin the song, but it doesn’t. And have you ever heard our song called “When I Sleep”? The arrangement of that one is kind of ripping off “This House is Not For Sale,” as far as some of the tones and things. It’s always cool to meet another Ryan Adams fan.

I just wanted to say thanks again for taking the time out to talk to me, especially because, like I said in my email, we’re just starting this publication, and this will be for our first issue, and it’s really nice to be able to have a cool, substantial interview with someone who isn’t just a local musician in Ohio, so I really appreciate that.

No, no problem, I’m glad you’re trying to make it happen. And thanks for asking! I’m a little bit rusty on my interview game, so it’s fun to be doing it.

-Matt Metzler, for Brickwork