Mixing a unique blend of indie and Afrobeat, Minotaurs produce a sound that is anything but common. The music is easy to dance to, while their lyrics force listeners to open their mind about what’s going on right now in the world, in corporate offices above us and in the streets in front of us.
Their second album, New Believers, was released January 22, and features angrier, faster, and darker music than the previous album, but is still highly accessible for listeners regardless of their level of political activity. Minotaurs will be in Peterborough March 15 at the Red Garnet, playing with Dave Tough.
Arthur sat down (twice!) with the band’s frontman Nathan Lawr to discuss his music, politics, and how to improve the state of our world.
Do you feel like writing music with a political focus is something all musicians should do because we are all political animals?
No, not at all. Artists should be free to express what they want to express. They shouldn’t feel obliged to express a certain thing or express things in a certain way. And I think it’s really more meaningful if people express their political ideas because they really are impassioned to do so.
Often political music is referred to as such because of the lyrics of the songs, but at the same time certain sounds seem to be more closely associated with political music than others (punk, afrobeat, the blues, etc.).
Do you think there is anything political about the instrumentation of your music? What would an instrumental political song sound like?
I don’t really think there’s anything inherently political about any sort of sound. Maybe there was at one point in time. Maybe something like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is political because of the dissonance. Anything that might break the trend or challenge people could be construed as political in a way, but in terms of music that’s self-consciously political I would have to say that those messages reside in the words.
Make Some Noise was inspired by the Quebec student movement. Presumably you weren’t involved in the Quebec student protests and presumably they wouldn’t change your life, so why were you inspired to write a song because of them?
I don’t agree that they wouldn’t change my life. The idea of accessible education is a pretty important one and, sure it was happening in Quebec and they have lower tuition than the rest of Canada, but then the question would be “Well, why aren’t Ontario students protesting?” not “Why are Quebec students protesting?”
It really is the case now that this sort of line that “if you go to university you’ll get a better job” is total bullshit. I have an M.A. in History and despite the character I developed and the knowledge that I got, in terms of helping me find a job it was absolutely useless. And I was lucky enough to not graduate with a huge debt, but if I had a $40-50,000 debt right now I don’t even know what my life would be like. You could say it’s an issue for students or whatever, but I think it’s a social issue, and a larger issue than just how much kids pay for tuition.
Then you have this whole generation of kids who go into the workforce already drowning in debt. What kind of life decisions are they gunna make?
They don’t really have much choice. That’s why the neoliberal agenda has been able to devalue wages, sell politically this line that the economy is important because it creates jobs (though they never say what kind of jobs), so when you talk about students protesting about tuition I see that whole big picture. It’s tied into the same thing that the Occupy and Idle No More movements are talking about. It’s all criticising the same thing, and that is the dominant economic hegemony.
Does is matter that the mainstream media have stopped covering movements like the student movement, Idle No More and Occupy?
Yeah, it does matter. Twitter and Facebook are sources and sources of information, but you have to be following somebody to get the information and more often than not the information you get is the stuff you want to hear. … Most people get their information from the mainstream media, that’s why it’s called “the main stream,” and the reason why it’s important, and the reason that their take on things is important to criticize is because they have an agenda and there are a lot of forces going into the decisions that get made as to what they’re going to cover. It’s not arbitrary and it’s not by accident. And I would argue what they choose not to cover is more indicative than what they choose not to cover.
You’ve mentioned that as regards political songs, probably any type of music, there is more power in a broad, sort of abstract message. Why do you think that is?
Because being literal does not touch people’s emotions. Take a song like “Strange Fruit” [by Billie Holliday] for example. Nowhere in the song does she say “lynching is bad” but that’s what the song is about and that’s what the message is. It’s also about a larger social issue. So by creating a picture in your mind it’s far more effective emotionally than if she just came right out and said it. It’s far more effective to speak to people’s emotions through images, and the best way to do that is through indirect communication so that people can come to it as they will.
And often times if you’re being literal or blatant about it that will turn people away because they’ll go “oh, that’s a political message; I don’t want to get into that, I’m not really political.” If you’re a little more obtuse about it you might be able to slip by the defence mechanism.
How do you extract a broader message out of a concrete influence like the G20 Protests?
Well for me, the song that I wrote about [the G20 protests] was sort of my reflections on what I saw in more symbolic ways. I guess if you want to be poetic about something you use imagery to evoke the feelings that you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s not a very straight line from the image to the feeing. Sometimes it’s more meandering or obtuse [laughs], difficult to express.
New Believers is more frantic than The Thing and you’ve said this is partially because you’ve been feeling more frantic lately about the state of the world. What is there to be more frantic about now compared to 2010?
Nothing really. I would argue that they’re really new now at all today. I’m feeling more frantic because … I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer it. I think maybe more frantic describes the music. Maybe I’m angrier.
That was also a year or so ago when I wrote that. A lot can change in a few months. But the record is about being hopeful for the future and channelling this energy and this spirit of protest as an evocation of optimism. Protesting is inherently an optimistic act. You don’t go out into the streets if you’re a cynic.
What would a positively changed world look like to you?
Well, we just have to make political decisions based on the common good. Chris Hedges [an American journalist] said something that totally blew my mind—“The Occupy Movement, there’s nothing radical about it.” It’s people calling for the return of the rule of law. The Occupy Movement is really a very Conservative movement when you think about it. The radicals are the Neoliberalist maniacs who are in power, these people who are making these decisions based on nothing else but pure greed.
A positive way forward would be to turn the decision making towards the common good, which is what democracy is supposed to be about in the first place. This myth that profits will come trickling down to the many is a fucking myth. It was a myth back then and it’s still a myth now, but for some reason people still believe it. But where’s the proof?
Show me where the proof is. If it’s so good then why is well more than half the world still poor?