These Musicians Are Organizing for Immigrant Rights. Here’s How You Can Too. – AdHoc

These Musicians Are Organizing for Immigrant Rights. Here’s How You Can Too.

We spoke to four artists from Ruination Record Co.’s So Many Singing, Vol. 2, which benefits the International Refugee Assistance Project.

So Many Singing—Ruination Record Co.’s 2017 compilation to benefit immigrant rights—featured 48 contributions by a laundry list of up-and-coming and prominent indie acts. Songs included Half Waif’s “Cary,” a demo of Ratboys’ “Crying About the Planets,” and a demo of LVL UP’s “Return to Love.” Brooklyn bands THICK, Poppies, and thanks for coming also submitted tracks.

Now Ruination is releasing So Many Singing, Vol. 2. All proceeds from the album will once again go to the International Refugee Assistance Project, an advocacy organization that supports refugees and displaced people. The 50-track compilation features tracks by Brooklyn pop band Office Culture, acclaimed harpist Mary Lattimore, and Chicago indie rock project LALA LALA. And, as with volume 1, it includes plenty of demos.

We recently spoke to Dan Wiggins of the Philly folk pop outfit Friendship, New York-based ambient songwriter Ben Seretan, V.V. Lightbody’s Vivian McConnell (of Chicago bands Santah and Grandkids), and Austin, TX’s self-described “alternative soul” songwriter Christelle Bofale about how musicians can organize for immigrant rights. We also asked them to share a little bit about their own contributions to the compilation.

Catch V.V. Lightbody and Ben Seretan at Baby’s All Right on December 8, with Alena Spanger, Onlyness, and WishWish. All show proceeds will go to Make the Road New York, an organization that “builds the power of immigrant and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice.”

So Many Singing, Vol. 2 is out December 6 via Ruinication Record Co.

AdHoc: What role can musicians play in immigrant rights advocacy and activism?

Dan Wriggins: Besides fundraising projects like this compilation, musicians can sign the No Music for ICE! Petition, pledging to boycott Amazon’s Intersect music festival and rejecting Amazon partnerships until Amazon terminates its existing contracts with ICE.

Ben Seretan: I think musicians are often put in a unique position of having to tour to make money and/or do their work. Lots of people travel for all different types of work, but I think musicians get to feel the whole range of societal treatment as they bop around–sometimes you get to town and you’re treated like royalty, other times you wind up sleeping sans pillow on a dirty floor having lost money on a show. It’s not at all commensurate with what many immigrants are forced to go through, but I think that that wide variety of experience often engenders a lot of compassion, or maybe just a deeper general understanding of how mean and meager life can get for those who are disenfranchised. Musicians know exactly how demeaning it can feel to pass through customs, the headaches and unnecessary feeling red tape of visas, and the panicky stress of not having a place to sleep for the night. At the same time, musicians typically have a larger-than-average platform and both a literal and figurative microphone–having a voice and having a wider base of empathy makes it possible for us to take that first step in convincing others that maybe all human life is valuable.

Vivian McConnell: Simply said, I think musicians need to be using their platform and voices for good, right now and always.

Christelle Bofale: Being a musician, a lot of your work is convincing people to come see you, listen to you, buy your stuff, and they usually come through. There is definitely an opportunity as a musician to motivate your audience to not only support you, but to support others in the world who need it. I think that anything from donations at your merch table to using your social media following to inform as well as inspire action to even saying yes to a compilation like this one can be a big help. There is so much that we can do, and I think leaning into our impact on our audience is a great place to start brainstorming ideas. Community community community.

Why is this such an important time to support organizations like the International Refugee Assistance Project?

DW: It’s pretty much always an important time. Refugees are, by definition, extremely vulnerable. Of course, Trump’s racist policies and rhetoric are making it particularly difficult for refugees in the US. We’re also entering an era in which more and more refugees from the global south will be fleeing regions made uninhabitable by climate change. It is absolutely the moral responsibility of the largest climate change aggravators–countries like the U.S., China, and European nations–to welcome climate refugees. If the past is any indicator, the governments of these nations will do everything possible to shirk that responsibility. I think it’s incredibly important that we do everything we can to establish the legal and moral stakes on this issue.

BS: I was really impressed with what I read about IRAP when I was asked to contribute to this compilation. Obviously there is a growing wave of shitty, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee political belief in both the US and abroad. Helping an organization like IRAP that is actively advocating on behalf of displaced people is one way to stem that tide. I think the fact that they’re encouraging partnerships with law students is also especially crucial. Big questions of displacement and migration will require huge, generational changes in approach–particularly as climate change gets worse and worse. It seems important to stamp out anti-migrant bigotry now, before things get worse.

VM: People are suffering and we can’t turn away. It warms my heart to see artists of all levels pooling together to make things happen in a grassroots manner–and hopefully it can influence others to support organizations like IRAP.

CB: This year alone, we saw countless stories of families being ripped apart, people being treated like if not worse than wild animals, and countless lives lost due to the way our country treats immigrants. It’s not an issue exclusive to the states, but I think there is definitely a spotlight on the U.S. given our leaders and how outrageous they have behaved within their power. It feels like we’re at a tipping point where things can either get a little better or much much worse. It feels a bit hopeless, but each little contribution we make whether it be supporting the IRAP, getting yourself to a protest, talking to your racist relatives this holiday season, etc IS worth it. We can’t stop!

Tell us a little bit about the song that you chose to contribute to the compilation.

DW: “You Home Yet?” was recorded in Philadelphia in 2017, in the same sessions as our LP Shock out of Season. It’s a long song, with more drawn-out instrumental experimentation than the rest of the record, so we didn’t include it in the release. I’m still very proud of the song and how we produced it.

BS: This song is part of my weekly exercise to try and record a new track every week that I send out with a bit of writing each week (you can read / subscribe here). The week I made this track, I was thinking about two things in particular. One was the immense freedom I felt when, after it kinda seemed like I was going to be forced out of my apartment, I managed to sign a real, legally-binding and sort of affordable lease with my building’s new management company. The other thing I was thinking about was the absolutely death-defying night I had on tour earlier this year with Will Stratton. It’s a long story but basically we were playing music at a wedding in deeply rural Alabama shortly after the controversial and very fucked up abortion banned had been passed. We hiked to an abandoned train tunnel filled with bats at the bottom of a muddy ravine… all of that is to say that we found ourselves as strangers in a place with which we were profoundly unfamiliar. And the track also features a field recording from my buddy Sinai Vessel’s front porch in Chattanooga, a place he moved away from shortly after I made that recording. So it’s a fitting track in a lot of ways–finding shelter, displacement, unfamiliar locales.

VM: This charming little version of “Car Alarm” is from a rehearsal we had at my flute player’s house before a stripped down V.V. show last year. I often take voice memos at practices, and this version is a lot more gentle than the single version I released in June. I love how loose it is and how organic it is.

CB: “Carousel” is a song I wrote about my tendency to ruminate on things, swirling around the topic over and over like a carousel. Sometimes being a person feels like being on a carousel that you can’t get off and I think the state of our world is definitely exacerbating that. You see all of these inhumane things going on and it seems like all you can do is hold on to your horse or whatever and watch it all unfold. But! I’m working on not getting lost in the funk. Not doing nothing. Not letting my heart break to the point of inaction.

Are there any artists or musicians who’ve especially inspired you to organize for a cause you care about?

DW: Utah Phillips is a huge inspiration, although I don’t think I could ever swing his level of radical activism. It takes a huge heart and a lot of work. These days, I admire Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, and Joe Steinhardt, the founder of Don Giovanni Records, for their political commitment and integrity in the music industry.

BS: I’m continually impressed and inspired by the life and work of David Wojnarowicz. He’s known primarily as a visual artist and AIDS activist but he was also in an incredible and weird band called 3 Teens Kill 4. That iconic image of him in his leather jacket that reads “If I die of AIDS forget burial…” pops up frequently because it’s so startling and so confrontational. There’s this persistent idea that it’s important to have decorum in politics or in activism, but what good is decorum when your life or the lives of people in your community are in danger?

VM: I just heard that Fiona Apple is donating 2 years of her “Criminal” royalties to refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. I’m stoked on higher profile artists making moves like that! I constantly see Chicago musicians playing benefit shows and donating portions of their merch sales to causes they care about.
CB: Yes! We played a couple of shows with Sasami and each show she collected donations for RAICES, a non-profit based here in Texas that provides legal services for immigrants. Her social media presence during that tour was not just about “come see me!” but also “come see me so that we can stand in solidarity and make shit happen.” As a musician, I sometimes feel like what can I do? What I should be asking is what can we do because while there is just one me, there are so many that my music has touched and I think we can often surprise ourselves with our ability to come together.