Jamie Laurie, better known as Jonny 5, of the Flobots, and Isaac Slade of the Fray both use their music for social activism. The two visited with Platform Americas host Elaine Appleton Grant backstage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
They talked about an initiative started by Gov. John Hickenlooper -- led by Isaac Slade -- to restore music instruction to every K-12 student in Colorado, and they talked about the Flobots’ street music for social protest. Listen for an impromptu performance of an unrecorded rap by Laurie with Slade on the piano.
Jamie Laurie on music as inspiration for social action: "Every time you create a concert you're holding a worship service. I mean, it feels like you're going to church and people in that room are there for a transformative experience. And if you can bring people through the door and talk a little bit about whatever the issue is — climate change or mass incarceration or anything — and have people leave feeling empowered and connected to a larger community that's going to do something about that issue, then I think you've done your job as a as a convener of that particular church."
Isaac Slade on Take Note Colorado: "I'm co-chairing with the governor an initiative of his doing called Take Note Colorado. It’s basically this harebrained idea he has that Colorado can be the first state in the country where every single kid, kindergarten through senior year in high school, can learn to play music if they want — any genre, any instrument, hopefully, within reason that we can get a hold of, and access to (...) instruction.
"It's uncovered some really interesting things about the state. We have schools that don't have any music, not even a textbook lecture class on music, not even a zither or a tabla. It's been really eye-opening and difficult in that regard, but also really hopeful because people much smarter than I are, you know, coming up with a timeline and a plan and a budget for how we can get schools equipped, and then how to turbo boost the amazing schools that we already have."
Isaac Slade on being persuaded to lead Take Note: "He [Gov. John Hickenlooper] cornered me, actually, at his house (...) with 10 other people. It was a lot of beer, I remember that. He's got a guy named Jamie van Leeuwen and he's, like, a chief of doing stuff. Jamie brought his secret weapon, which is his 70-something mother. She's, like, a second-grade teacher. And they sat her right next to me and the whole time, you know, it was just a fun dinner.
"And then at one point somebody casually mentioned, ‘You know what could really be good for this town? Some kind of music initiative.’
"And then they all started talking and I realized quickly that everybody knew what they were talking about except me. I was like, 'Wow, they need somebody to run this thing. This is interesting! I wonder who they're going to get?'
"And then all three of them [Hickenlooper, Pat Stryker and Libby Anschutz] turned to me and said, ‘Would you lead this thing?’
"And then Jamie's mom, she touched my arm, and she goes, 'Why wouldn't you do it?'
And that was it."
Jamie Laurie on being mentored by Dr. Vincent Harding, a speechwriter for Martin Luther King: "Growing up, for both my co-Flobot, Brer Rabbit, and I, he was a constant presence. And he would always encourage us.
"He’d say, ‘It’s great that you guys have a band, but where are the songs for today's movements?’
"We'd say, ‘We're making songs, we made an album! We have a song that went platinum!’
"He'd say, ‘That's good. But where are the songs for today's social movements?’ (...)
"When he died [in 2014] it was really clear to us that we had a calling, that we needed to answer his question. We needed to start making those songs for the street."
Music notes from the interview:
- The interlude music that plays while Jamie Laurie is talking about creating the No Enemies Songleaders initiative is the beginning of the Flobots’ song “Pray...Extended,” from their No Enemies album.
- The version of “Refugees are Welcome Here” is from an anonymous video of a crowd singing at the Vancouver airport to protest one of the refugee bans.
- The rap that Jamie Laurie sings at the end of the conversation is called “Simultaneous Translation,” and it is not yet recorded anywhere. Isaac Slade improvised his piano accompaniment.