A Conversation With All That Remains' Philip LaBonte
Mike Ragogna: Hey, how are you, sir?
Philip LaBonte: I'm well.
MR: Great. Let's dig into your new album, A War You Cannot Win. I love the concept. Do you want to go into that a little?
PL: Well, in the course of the time that All That Remains has been a band, I've done my best to avoid explaining song titles or lyrics, because the important thing from my perspective about writing music and specifically lyrics is that you write a song and when you put it out for people to listen to, for consumption, what your perspective is doesn't matter anymore. The important thing is what the listener picks up. So I do my best to avoid saying, "This is what I'm thinking about this song and that," I do my best to not get specific. So it's political. I think that's fairly obvious. It's commentary on where the US is right now, because I am a US citizen, so I'm really not all that interested in Botswana's politics. It is political and it is commentary, but people really should go ahead and listen to the lyrics and take from it what they want. The important thing is what they take from it, not so much what I was saying or what I was thinking when I wrote it, because, again, once you write something and put it out for consumption, the people that purchase a record or in today's music industry, when they download it, it becomes theirs. It stops being yours.
MR: All right, let's do a little history lesson here. Needless to say, All That Remains rocks more than not.
PL: [laughs] Okay, I'm comfortable with that.
MR: What's your creative process?
PL: Really it boils down to--I don't want to minimize what I do but I kind of can't help it--there's only a couple things that I really give a crap about, that really affect me. I grew up listening to Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson can write about all kinds of stuff and have compelling lyrics. "The Trooper" is I think about a British and Russian war that happened 200 or 300 years ago, whatever, I don't know for sure. I'm sure there's going to be people out there that are going to be completely equipped to correct me. That's fine, I don't care. Iron Maiden has always written songs that were not really "current." They wrote about things that had happened in the past or whatever and they were always compelling and they were always great. I don't feel like I have that ability. I don't feel like I can write stuff that is going to connect with people and be about a story or about something that happened a long time ago or whatever. I think that the only time that I personally write stuff that is compelling is if I'm writing stuff that means something to me, and mostly that is current. I tend to write about politics and pining love songs if I'm in a bad spot in a relationship. Considering the fact that I've been with the same woman for a long time and we're very, very happy, it's really tough to write a piney love song if you're happy. So this turned into a whole record about politics, apparently.
MR: So you feel strongly about a certain second amendment, don't you, sir?
PL: I feel very strongly. To be fair, I feel very strongly about all of the Bill of Rights. I think that the second amendment is the most attacked although in the past six, seven, eight, maybe ten years the first amendment has been under attack, the fourth amendment... I'll tell you what, 9/11 was a terrible thing. The attack on the US, but that is no excuse to just shred the Bill of Rights. And whereas yes, I do feel strongly about the second amendment, I'm a gun guy, I like going out and that's one of the things that I do that's a hobby that has nothing to do with being in a band, has nothing to do with music, it's a great distraction where I'm not thinking about music. At some point, being in a band does become a job. Even if it doesn't become work, it does become a job. It's a great distraction. It's nothing like playing shows or the music industry or whatever. So I do feel strongly about the second amendment, but I feel more strongly about the Bill of Rights in general, and I feel more strongly about the way that the federal government is treating the American population nowadays.
MR: Will we remain friends if I pose a question to you that's maybe a little against your line of thinking?
PL: Yeah, we can totally remain friends, just as long as you don't try to force me to do anything.
MR: I just want to pose the question, is it possible that when the Bill of Rights was written, there was a perspective from the time period that it was written in?
PL: God, I love this question! We can definitely remain friends because I know where you're going, if I can go ahead and jump in. The question that you're asking, and tell me if I'm wrong, but I really want to go ahead and jump in and comment here. When the Bill of Rights was written--and I think you're referring to the second amendment, when the Bill of Rights was written--the founders had no idea how powerful the weapons that were going to come in the future were, and so shouldn't we look at the second amendment and say, "Well, the founders wouldn't have said that the population should have weapons of this power." Is that kind of where you're going?
MR: Yes, that is. My thought is, "Yes, the right to bear arms, got it. But what if my weapon of choice is a nuclear weapon?" So if I want to own a nuclear weapon to defend myself, that's cool?
PL: Okay. I love this question, because I could not be any more prepared for it. It's the question that's probably posed most often to someone like me, who is an advocate for the second amendment, who is also in the public eye, who doesn't play country.
MR: [laughs] Realize that I'm being devil's advocate with a wiseguy statement like that. I'm just asking is there a level to the amount of power of the weapon in the hands of the population that is sort of like putting dynamite in a baby's hands? Is there a point where the population may not be mature enough or responsible enough to handle what the power of the weapon is?
PL: No. There is no limit to what an individual private citizen should own. An individual, private citizen does not possess the resources to own a nuclear weapon. You look at the situation with Iran right now, it's pretty bad. If it was easy to make a nuclear bomb, Iran would have one and they would have dropped it on Israel. If it was easy. Israel only has nuclear weapons because Kissinger gave them nuclear weapons. To be honest with you, to really get that extreme really demeans the conversation. Now as for a practical perspective, as in, the founders didn't know about semiautomatic rifles? If that's your question, that's irrelevant. The founders knew and absolutely advocated merchants that had cannons on their ships that were defending America. The colonies. We didn't have a navy to fight the British navy when the revolution happened and whereas we did rely on The Netherlands and we did rely on France and if it wasn't for France being involved, we probably wouldn't have won the revolution because we needed their navy because what we were relying on was privately-owned cannons and privately-owned artillery. But that's the point. People that are anti-second amendment, they think things like, "Oh, well, they didn't have guns that are as powerful as we have nowadays," and I would submit that a cannon, which they had during the revolution--privately owned--are far more powerful than an AR-15 or an AK-47. If you had a cannon and you rolled up a wagon outside of someone's house that you didn't like, and shot a ball into their house, it would blow their house up. The argument of, "Hey, when the founders wrote the second amendment, they didn't have weapons as powerful as we do," is kind of a non-argument. It's kind of not accurate. It's just bulls**t, I guess.
MR: All right, we just have differing opinions with that because I feel like there's different context. I feel like if I write something today that seems absolutely logical for 2012, I'm not sure that in 2112, the spirit of what I said might be true or even understood as I meant it.
PL: Well, what's the intent? The intent of the second amendment isn't about hunting. The intent of the second amendment was so that the population had the ability to defy their government. That is the intent of the second amendment. As uncomfortable as some people are with that idea, the point of the idea was, "We just had a revolution. We just fought a war against our parent government for our individual freedom so that way we could separate from the British." That was the intent of the second amendment, to make sure that should the population decide that they want to separate from their parent government, that they had the ability to do it by force if necessary. That's the intent of it. I understand that people don't like that or people are uncomfortable. I'll even double down on that and I'll say some things that are really unpopular right now. During the Civil War, the South was right. They weren't right in the slavery part, but if you go ahead and you look at Abraham Lincoln's perspective on slavery, or the South's perspective on slavery, that wasn't the issue. Nowadays, people think the Civil War was about slavery. That is an incorrect perspective. The Civil War was not about slavery.
MR: Well, not completely about slavery, but that issue played into States seceding. What do you think the Civil War was about?
PL: The Civil War was about the right of States to secede. You had Massachusetts and the Northern states talking about secession when Thomas Jefferson--and Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes, but--he introduced a blockade on all shipping traffic, I believe, in 1820? Maybe not, I'm not sure of the date. But the Northern states were talking about secession because Thomas Jefferson had introduced a blockade on trade. You had Kentucky and Virginia talking about secession when John Adams came up with The Alien Sedition Acts. Most people don't really know American history. They don't really, really look into it. Considering the fact that we go to government schools--we go to government-funded schools that have government-dictated curriculum--and so the government says, "Well this is what you're going to teach" and if anyone out there thinks that when the government dictates what is going to be taught, they're not going to go ahead and say, "You can teach something that is not pro-government." If you think that's actually happening, you really need to take a closer look. People think that, "Oh, well, you know, the government's good and they only mean the best for us," that is the biggest joke I've ever heard.
MR: All right, so is it your feeling that what the kids are learning in schools I more or less propaganda?
PL: Oh, yeah. But think about it; you've got federally-funded schools. That means that the government is dictating what curriculum is okay and isn't okay. Why would they allow any kind of curriculum that does not make the federal government look like the good guy?
MR: How does one make the choice of, "Well, this is propaganda, and this is really the truth?"
PL: Oh, nothing is pure.
MR: Then wouldn't that include the Bill of Rights?
PL: I tell you what...yes, and the reason that I would say the Bill of Rights is not pure is because the very existence of the Bill of Rights implies that the constitution, which lays out the powers that the government has, just the existence of the Bill of Rights implies that the constitution doesn't encompass the powers that the federal government has, whereas I do advocate the Bill of Rights. I think the Bill of Rights is a good thing.
MR: The constitutionalists in this country, who say that we have to go by the letter of the law, have more of a fundamentalist approach to this. You've heard people quote the constitution over and over and cases go before the Supreme Court that are judged, a lot of times, on the purity of The Constitution.
PL: The argument you're talking about is, "Is the constitution a living Constitution or not a living Constitution?"
MR: Yes, I am ending up there, you're a smart guy. [laughs]
PL: A real smart guy! "There's this guy who's in a band and yells at a stick, he should've been an idiot!"
MR: [laughs] No, no, no. What I want to ask you is couldn't there be yet another Bill of Rights or amendments that deal with the Bill of Rights in the same way that the Bill of Rights dealt with The Constitution? At what point do you say, "Okay, we got it"?
PL: I need you to ask the question again, because that was really convoluted.
MR: All right. You've got The Constitution, then you've got The Constitution getting amended with the Bill of Rights. Since the Bill of Rights are amendments, wouldn't it be fair to say, "Well we didn't get The Constitution exactly the way we wanted it, so we have this Bill of Rights." Isn't it possible that the Bill of Rights--that includes the second amendment--could then, itself, be amended using the same reasoning, that we didn't quite get he Bill of Rights right either.
PL: Well, of course, it could be, but that means that you need to go through the amendment process. That's the point of having an ability to amend The Constitution. There are a lot of people that go ahead and say things like, "We should just do away with this" or "Do away with that," or "Pass a law," which is a very popular thing. But in the past seventy, eighty years, the government, in general, has preferred to usurp power. Hoover was really terrible; FDR sucked. There were a lot of really bad presidents in the progressive era in the early part of the 20th century. They weren't bad because of their ideas, they were bad because of the way that they went about passing laws. They usurped power. They illegally passed laws. Regardless of whether their intension was good, they didn't go by our Constitution, which means that they were illegal. Whether or not you like the laws is irrelevant, because if you can get into power, as in be elected to a public position and then figure out a way to pass a law, then we're not a country of laws anymore.
MR: Well, you would have to go into an actual definition of how you think they illegally passed laws, but I think, as you can see, this conversation needs a whole show.
PL: This conversation, not only does it need a whole show, it needs the American populace to address it. But the American populace is not interested in being educated. They hear politicians saying, "I will get you this if you elect me," and the problem is they don't have the right to get you this. Being in government is not some kind of way to go ahead and come up with favors in any one group, whether it be favors for the one percent, which is the most possible people to hate, which is fine with me because all the banks should have failed, GM should have failed. They shouldn't have been able to go ahead and vote themselves a bailout and all the people that are all excited about the Obamaphone, "Oh, President Obama says that a cellphone is a civil right, so blah, blah, blah." Everybody on both sides, right and left, poor and rich, they're all digging into the public coffers saying, "Let me go ahead and use government to get me my kudos" or "Get me my trinkets," or "Get me my toys."
MR: Yes, and from another perspective, I feel that during the Bush years, it was the most blatant piggy bank-robbing that we've ever seen. I can name lists of people who made money off of the government based on people who were in power, cronies, etc.
PL: Whereas I'm not debating whether or not there was that stuff going on during the Bush years, it's been going on since The Thirties! It's not a republican/democrat thing; that's what people always go to when I start saying, "I don't like the government doing this," "I don't like the government doing that." Most people--and I'm sorry if this offends you, I'm not trying to--but considering where usually I get the most pushback from--go ahead and guess--you're a little left of center, or the perspective that you have is left of center. If I'm wrong, that's cool and I'm not trying to hate on you, but the thing that I get the most is that as soon as I say things about the government being bad, I get most pushback from the left of center people.
MR: Yeah, I'm not in this discussion to protect the government. All I'm saying is that I'm agreeing with your point, although I believe it's both sides who have not used their charge of the government's treasury properly.
PL: So then what do we do? What is the option? If we had both democrats and republicans who continue to eat from the trough and dig in, you've got an argument of "Do we raise taxes four percent or do we leave them at thirty five percent?" You're talking about a difference of four percent, which is the current Romney/Obama difference. Right around four percent. Obama would like to see four percent more, Romney would say, "No." So what do you do?
MR: By the way, from your perspective, Obama's coming out there and saying, "I want to raise your taxes by four percent"? Really?
PL: This is in no way an educated...where I've done the homework and the math. There are things that I will go ahead and say I've done the homework on, and I feel confident standing behind this statement. This particular statement is a generalization. I don't know for sure, I haven't gone and done the homework to find the numbers. I don't like to go out there and say things that I'm not sure about. I like to make comments that I'm positive of. I will say that my impression that I've heard, in general, without looking into information, is that Obama would say, "Okay, raise taxes about four percent," and Romney says, "Don't raise taxes." We can go really in-depth about how much horses**t President Obama lays on, not that Romney's good, because I would love to not ever see his face again either.
MR: So the country has issues to deal with to move forward. What do we do?
PL: Personally, my perspective, it's not popular because it doesn't give favors to anyone. It's just cut the knees out of the federal government. Cut everything across the board. That's the only thing that's going to work. People talk about the fiscal clip and how much in debt we are and the republicans say, "Well we're going to go ahead and raise spending only this much" and democrats are like "Well, we're going to raise spending this much" and we haven't had a budget since President Obama was elected and since George Bush was elected. We've gone from, I think, three or four trillion dollars in debt to sixteen trillion dollars in debt. My perspective? Cut their nuts off across the board. "You can't spend any more money." We don't have an income problem. We have a spending problem. The reason we have a spending problem is because the government uses tax dollars and money that we borrow from China to make promises to the American people so that way they can get reelected.
MR: Now what about cutting the budget from something that is funded in a humongous way. Is that on the table?
PL: What are you referring to?
MR: Obviously, I'm referring to the military. Cutting something that is hugely funded.
PL: Absolutely! Every single military base we have that is outside of the United States of America in another country? Close them down and bring those people home, every single one of them. We have nuclear submarines. We have nuclear missiles. This is where it gets a little bit dicey. My personal perspective of foreign policy is, "We are friends with everyone. But if you attack us, nuke and pave."
MR: [laughs] I love this conversation. Philip, do you feel that in your lifetime, do you see that what you're thinking is actually going to turn the corner and we will get there?
PL: Absolutely not, and the reason that I don't believe that we will is because the government has the ability to sell favors. And as long as they have the ability to sell favors, you're going to have the super-rich and the people on Wall Street buying favors on one side, and you're going to have people on the other side trying to sell favors to the people who are looking to get ahead. Romney got a whole lot of crap about the forty-seven percent comment that he made a couple months back. I think he's pretty much dead on.
MR: Philip, do you feel about forty-seven percent of the country is on the dole and they feel happy about it? That's sort of the implication of what he was saying.
PL: Actually, I think that it might be more. You figure people that are on social security, and the people who are on... In my household I have two roommates. One of them doesn't work at all. We've had a gun shop that we are working on and he spends all day in there, and the other guy that I live with, he got blown up by a rocket in Iraq. He's getting social security benefits. The only person that actually produces in our household is me. That's in general, and then I'll go even further and tell you that my mother works for the US Fish and Wildlife, and my wife is a contractor for the government. So I'm the only person out of those five people that's actually producing some kind of income that the government can tax, that does not, in some way, come from the government. That's the thing. You've got people on social security, you've got people that are taking Medicare and Medicaid, you've got people that work for the government, you've got people that are on some kind of unemployment. So in general, I think it's a safe bet that at least one out of three people are somehow on the dole from the government, whether it be working for the government or if you're building roads. My wife lives in Virginia, I live in New Hampshire and I drive down there so I see how much construction there is; that's all government funded.
MR: Government funded as in paving roads, right? Isn't that one of the responsibilities of a government?
PL: No. I really want to know, are roads the responsibility of the government?
MR: Well then, better question, what is the responsibility of a government?
PL: What is in The Constitution.
MR: From your perspective, what is a government supposed to do?
PL: Uh, okay, it's very simple. I can go ahead and list it off if you give me a second to get my computer, but you can sum it up pretty simply: Article one, section eight. Google it. That's what the federal government is responsible for. Nothing else.
MR: What's nice is that we went from forty seven percent to thirty three percent just moments ago, when you said a third.
PL: I'm not saying that I know exact numbers. Believe me, if you want me to go ahead and come up with the actual numbers, I'm a fact guy, so I can go ahead and dig around and call you back.
MR: No, no. [laughs] I'm not looking for that.
PL: I don't want to sit there and be all "This is the way it is, blah, blah, blah."
MR: No, but you can see how loose it gets. Like I said, you're my new friend here, and this is just a lively debate. But I wonder what your suggestion might be. We've got a reality here, right? It might not be the reality that we're all happy with. I don't think anyone's happy with what's going on anywhere, but what do you do with the elderly where the paradigm has been for so long, "Okay, there are a couple ways we take care of you, through Medicare and Medicaid and social security." You've got war veterans who are coming back and there's, "Okay, here's how we take care of you. We put you on programs so you can repair your body and mind." What do you do with those programs that, yes, the government is paying for. But is that so wrong?
PL: Ah, no, no, and what you do... I do not make any kind of declaration that I know how to fix everything at all, so I would definitely look for input from people that know, or whose job is to crunch numbers and blah, blah, blah, because I'm certainly not saying that I know everything. I do believe that as terrible as an idea as social security was in the first place and as bad as FDR was for the US, I definitely think that the promises made to people, we need to keep them. You can't not be good on your promises. The federal government is actually better about keeping their promises than Massachusetts is. We as a country have obligations, but there has to be, or at least there should be--I would love to say there has to be but I don't think it actually will happen--but there should be a way for people to opt out of it, opt out of the situation. It's amazing to me that we call ourselves a free country but you don't have the ability to say, "I don't want to do that." That's not an option anymore in a lot of things. A very large percentage of the decisions that are made in your life have been made for you, and they were made before you were born.
MR: I'll agree with that.
PL: That's not fair! How do you call yourself a free society when as soon as you're born, you're obligated to do this, this, this, this, and this?
MR: Well, we're also obligated to follow the Bill of Rights, that has that second amendment and that brings us full circle, here.
PL: No, no, it doesn't bring us full circle because, again, the Bill of Rights is a list of, "No"s. And the "No"s are saying what the federal government cannot do. Your perspective is twisting around what the Bill of Rights is. The Bill of Rights is not an empowerment of the federal government. Like I said, I think the Bill of Rights is questionable whether or not it's necessary because if you just go ahead and say, "You know what, The Constitution, article one section eight, that's what the federal government can do. Anything else? No."
MR: But just like you said, Philip, these are laws that we are bound to when we're born into this country.
PL: They're not laws that we're bound to, they're laws that the federal government is bound to. There's nothing in the Bill of Rights that dictates what the population has to do. The Bill of Rights is a limitation of the power of the federal government. It's not a dictation on what the population can do or cannot do. To call the Bill of Rights some kind of legislation that tells the people what they can or cannot do is to misrepresent what the Bill of Rights is.
MR: But it's a bill of "rights," right?
MR: It's a bill of "rights."
PL: Well, yeah, that's what they called the first ten amendments to The Constitution.
MR: What I'm saying is we're born into a certain framework of how the country we live in works, and I agree with you totally, that we are born under a set of laws. In a way, that's not fair.
PL: No, but you're missing the point! I'll go ahead and I'll give credit to Andrew Napolitano for this actual question, but when you hear the first amendment, the wording of the first amendment or the specific clause that I'm referring to, "Congress shall make no law regarding the freedom of speech." The most important word of that clause is "The," and the reason that it's most important is because "The" freedom of speech implies that the freedom of speech existed before the federal government. As in the freedom of speech was there regardless of whether or not the federal government was there. So the important part isn't the federal government, the important part is "The freedom of speech," which existed with or without the federal government of the United States. That's the point. The Bill of Rights protects inherent freedoms, like things that exist that you are free to do and freedoms that exist without the federal government. It protects people. It doesn't empower the government. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I would submit that your perspective seems to be that the government has powers that it doesn't have. The discussion that we've had so far leads me to believe that the government should be and is in control, and my perspective that our founding documents are that the government is not in control and that the government has usurped powers that it was never delegated. We have these founding documents that said, "You can't do this," "You can't do this," "You can't do this." And the government has, as governments do, consolidated power around themselves and usurped powers that they were not delegated.
PL: [laughs] Now you're just thinking, "Shut up, Phil."
MR: [laughs] No, we're just looking at things from different viewpoints. I think we kind of have to end it there, though we barely talked about your album and I kind of wanted to talk about your album.
PL: I totally didn't expect to say anything about the album as soon as they said, "Oh, The Huffington Post is going to call you." [laughs] So believe me, I was ready, willing and excited to give what I think would be a different perception.
MR: All right, that's fair, although I'm merely a contributor, a blogger. However, you can't escape my traditional question, sir. What advice do you have for new artists?
PL: Oh, God. Don't even try it. [laughs] The thing is, just write stuff that you believe in and don't expect to be a rock star. I think that's the fairest...not just the fairest but the best way to be involved in music because at the end of the day, music is an art, and what's important is that you're writing music because you love music and because you want to create new music. People that get into music because they want to be rock stars, that's the worst idea ever. It's a terrible move. Rock stars are not what rock stars were in the eighties. Don't believe what you see on TV. People don't buy records anymore. Just don't get into music because you want to be a rock star. Write music because you want to write music, and if you're concerned about the party, then maybe you should buy a bar in your town and be the guy that owns the bar so that way, you can bang drunk chicks or whatever. Being the rock star doesn't work anymore. If it was hard in the eighties, it is exceedingly hard nowadays. Don't even bother if your intention is, "I want to be a rock star." If you're creative and you have stuff that you want to put out and songs that you want to write and you're an artist, then get into it, man. It might not be easy, you might not be successful, but nowadays, if you're an artist, then you can write those songs and record them and put them up on YouTube and see what happens. That's pure and that's honestly kind of beautiful. But if your intent is, "I want to write songs so I can be a rock star and be famous and be on stage," if you want to do it so that way, you can get some kind of gratification from a crowd, don't do it. You can find something else to do because it's not worth it. If your desire is a shallow desire, then don't even bother because you're just going to sit there and hate yourself even more than you already do. If you're an artist that has something to give, that's good.
MR: Beautiful. Very nice conversation, sir, thanks for your perspective. thank you for calling in and sparring with me on all things Constitutional.
PL: Thank you for hearing me out. I really enjoyed it. I tell you what, I don't want to sound like I'm kissing my own butt, but I kind of know what I'm talking about, and you don't get to that point if you're not comfortable with the debate. So thank you for allowing me to have a platform.
MR: You've got it. Thank you again.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation With Appleseed's Jim Musselman
Mike Ragogna: Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, Mr. Jim Musselman!
Jim Musselman: Hey Mike, how are you doing today?
MR: I think I'm good. How are you sir, what's going on?
JM: I'm doing good, just a little crazy with all these releases and all this wonderful music putting out there in the universe.
MR: Yeah, how do you do that thing you do?
JM: Well we try to put out music tied to social justice and hope and healing and work with musicians who still have a lot to say. I call them the wisdom keepers of our society.
MR: Now, before we go any further, you had a really sweet Bonnie Raitt story about three seconds ago off mic. Can we share that with the audience?
JM: Yes, I was the opening act for Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, speaking for a few cities on the West Coast when Ralph Nader was running for president in the year 2000. The last show was in Denver, Colorado, and Bonnie and Jackson double-dared me to get up and sing with them on the song, "Stay" and I figured, "What the heck, I'm in Denver, I don't know anybody and no one will see this," and I did it and it was on VH1's Rock the Vote a week later and since then, noise ordinances have been passed, so I do not sing in public anymore.
MR: [laughs] "Stay," of all songs...I remember the original Jackson Browne redo of that.
JM: David Lindley singing that high part. That's what I was singing.
MR: How'd you do?
JM: It was brutal, believe me. Now I don't do double dares anymore. Just triple dog dares.
MR: All right, let's get into a couple of Appleseed's projects. You have the album by Pete Seeger, Pete Remembers Woody. Does he really? Isn't Woody Guthrie one of those characters in Pete Seeger's life that's peripheral, totally unimportant?
JM: [laughs] Yes, easy to forget. Actually, Pete says he's the biggest influence upon him, that he taught him the reality of life and taught him so much about life and music and everything. He sort of was Pete's education, traveling with Woody.
MR: Give us a story or two about that. We've interviewed Pete but you have another kind of perspective on this. You have an objective look at his history and him being on your label.
JM: Well, Pete and Woody were total opposites. Woody was a womanizer, drinking and smoking and everything else, and Pete was like this clean-cut kid who was not a womanizer and didn't drink, really. They were two polar opposites but they really influenced each other so much and I thought it would be nice to have Pete telling the stories of how he met Woody and traveling the country and everything else with Woody and how Woody had influenced him.
MR: Now, the track "66 Highway Blues" has Woody's son Arlo on it. Arlo is one of my favorite artists, and of course he would be in your circle. I'm not sure if he's recorded any material for Appleseed Recordings, has that happened yet?
JM: Oh, yes, we did an album, Harp, which Arlo was on and he's done a few things for us over the years. But the fascinating part about that story was it was one of the few songs that Pete Seeger had ever written with Woody Guthrie. They only wrote two and the song was never recorded and I actually got Pete and Arlo in the studio in New York City and we had to write out the lyrics really big in magic marker so that they could sing them. They nailed it on the first take, but I thought, "How cool would it be to have Pete and Arlo recording a song that Pete and Woody had written and had never been recorded before?"
MR: That is awesome. What is the other song? Is it on this record?
JM: No, it's not. It was something that a bunch of people, The Almanac Singers, had written together when Pete was in The Almanac Singers with Woody. So this was the only song Pete and Woody had ever written together, and I liked them marching down to Wall Street at the end. It's sort of like the Occupy Wall Street movement twenty years ago.
MR: Right, cool. Let's talk about this other project, Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt's A More Perfect Union. Just how perfect is this union? Should we listen to a track and see for ourselves?
JM: Yes, I think probably "God's Counting On Me," which Bruce Springsteen is on and it's a song that Pete and Lorre wrote together and it says a lot. It was written for the oil spill that had happened with British Petroleum and everything and then other verses were added dealing with other social issues.
MR: Okay, can you go into a little history of Appleseed Recordings?
JM: I basically had to work for Ralph Nader working on social issues, dealing with corporations and the environment and everything, and I spent a long a time with Ralph working to get airbags in cars and everything, and I would work with musicians and I loved being around the creative mind, so I basically started the label fifteen years ago to put out music of hope and healing and music of social justice and then also traditional folk songs and keep folk music alive. But I had known Pete Seeger for thirty years and had been friends with him and had worked on a lot of environmental issues with him and, basically, it came out of a conversation that I was going to do the label. I started off doing The Songs of Pete Seeger as one of my first CDs and I got Bruce Springsteen interested in Pete's music, which is a long, interesting story in itself. But it was kind of a long, interesting ride for fifteen years. I never would've believed that we would've gotten Springsteen into Pete's music and folk music and everything but it's really kept Pete's music alive to another generation.
MR: I think we do need to hear that Bruce Springsteen story, especially since he has so taught the country about Woody Guthrie in addition to Pete getting the word out.
JM: Well, I felt like Bruce really carried on the tradition of Pete and Woody in his The Ghost of Tom Joad album and his writing about the working man and everything was really carrying on a wonderful tradition, so I asked Bruce to participate on the songs of Pete Seeger tribute album, which Bonnie Raitt was on and Jackson Browne and Ani DiFranco and so many other artists. Bruce said, "No," and then I went back a second time and Bruce and his manager said, "No," and for some crazy reason I went back a third time and sent Bruce a bunch of songs and he said, "Yes." He recorded like seven songs in a week and gave me the song "We Shall Overcome," which I had asked Bruce to sing because I felt it was an important song and Bruce changed a few of the words in it and personalized it and I was really proud that that song that Bruce did has now been used for Hope and Healing in northern Ireland, the Hope for Haiti concert, after 9/11, after Columbine, and also after the shootings over in Denmark. Bruce has been wonderful, he's done six songs for the label now and he did the whole Seeger Sessions albums and tours and everything. It's sort of like this dream come true that Bruce carried on the tradition of Pete and carried on all this wonderful music. But I think it's about persistence, persistence, persistence.
MR: An important moment in music history.
JM: Yes. Bruce is such a genius and Pete had always said, "The beauty of a song is its adaptability and how it could be changed up." Bruce took "We Shall Overcome" and he gave it a very different feel and he added the word, "Darling" to it and at first, people were shocked by that. But I started getting letters from parents whose children had leukemia or things like that and they were saying that they used that song for Hope and Healing and it really touched a nerve in people because he personalized the song. He took this wonderful song which has been used all across the world for healing and for social justice and everything and then he personalized it and brought it to the personal level which was just absolutely amazing. It just shows you the genius of Bruce Springsteen. I had twisted his arm to do this song but then he made the changes in it, which personalized it.
MR: So that was on Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The Songs of Pete Seeger. That's interesting because there was also a Volume Two to that.
JM: Yes, it was actually three volumes. It was eighty-five songs that I did of different artists recording Pete's songs. It was Steve Earle and Natalie Merchant and Indigo Girls and it just kept going and going. I really was amazed at how many wonderful songs that Pete had written over the years and how he was not really known as this songwriter for a long time.
MR: Let's point out the joy that must have been in the hallowed halls of Appleseed Recordings when the Grammy went to Pete Seeger's Tomorrow's Children.
JM: Yes, and we also won a Grammy for Pete Seeger At 89, which I had helped produce and it was wonderful. I always get more touched when our songs are used for Hope and Healing. Our songs have been used in Northern Ireland and some of the artists we've worked with--like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Johnny Clegg from South Africa, Tommy Sands in Northern Ireland--their songs have been used for peace movements in those countries. That always makes me more proud than a Grammy award because it's really touching people's lives in a positive way.
MR: Very sweet. You've obviously been influential by getting all these recordings centered around Pete Seeger, but also by participating in social movements. What's got your eye right now, Jim?
JM: Well, I think there's a resurgence of folk music in this country. Mumford and Sons has the number one selling album in this country for three weeks in a row and you're just seeing people getting back to a lot of real music played on real instruments and I kind of like to see that in many ways. There's a lot of young people who are being brought into folk music and seeing the beauty of it and the history of it and the tradition of it.
MR: Nice. Speaking of young people, what advice do you have for new artists?
JM: Oh, it's tough. I would say "Persistence, persistence, persistence." I think it's the key to everything. Don't ever give up on your dream. I think it's about being persistent and continuing to knock on doors and not giving up when you're a musician and you have something to say or you have belief in yourself.
MR: Nice. With the many artists that you've worked with over the years, would you say could be the key on why they turned the corner and "made it," whatever that means?
JM: Yeah, I think it's a real discipline and a persistence and a drive, but also not being so quick to give up on a dream. I've always said, "Let your dreams be blueprints for the next year" and I think that's really important so that people don't give up on it, because so many times in my life when I was trying to get a job with Ralph Nader or working to get airbags in cars or peace in Northern Ireland, it's always about persistence and sticking with it as opposed to giving up too early.
MR: All right, we're going to have to wrap up, but let's listen to one or two more songs here. I tapdanced around it 'til now, but you're the owner of the label, aren't you?
JM: Yes, owner and founder of Appleseed Recordings.
MR: So you headed up the creation of these albums, Pete Remembers Woody and A More Perfect Union, which has many special guests, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Tom Morello, Dar Williams.
JM: Yeah, I love Tom Morello, I just think he's carrying on an incredible tradition of Pete and Woody and he's so real and his songs are real and his vision is very strong.
MR: Nice. All right, Jim, it's that time. Any words of wisdom?
JM: I basically feel very strongly about tolerance and feel very strongly about economic justice. I feel like economic justice and non-violence are two of the most important issues. I've seen non-violence work in Northern Ireland and I think it can be used in a lot of other places around the country, which can save money for people and also save lives, which is the most important thing. I think one of the main things with Appleseed is we're committed to non-violence and economic justice and a lot of our CDs are sold by progressive organizations and they get to keep half the money so it's sort of been a nice way to save funds for a bunch of progressive organizations also.
MR: Nice. Okay. Thank you very much for visiting solar powered KRUU-FM. By the way, we're the only solar powered radio station in the Midwest. Just thought I'd mention that right about now.
JM: Yeah, we also have that song "Solartopia," which Dar Williams sang with Pete.
MR: That's right! Thanks for your time, Jim.
JM: Thanks, Mike.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne