Monthly Archives: December 2016

David Lester’s Top 35 of 2016

My Totally Self-Referential Top 35 of 2016:

1. The thrill of watching Jean Smith paint and sell over 130 stunning paintings.

2. Being happy to read comments on Jean’s paintings:

“Jean I love your paintings and your music has been a deep and powerful guide for me for many years. Thanks so much.”- Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, artist and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art Institute of Chicago

“Snatch up these beautiful and mysterious paintings by the great Jean Smith!” – Johanna Fateman (Artforum)

3. Two days after Trump is elected, Tobi Vail (on Twitter) ‏selects her Song of the Day: Anguish / Misogyny by Mecca Normal.

4. “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle” book officially released with my 12-page comic “The Battle of Ballantyne Pier”. Edited by the Graphic History Collective with a preface by Paul Buhle. Contributors include Sam Bradd, Nicole Marie, Sean Carleton, Robin Folvik, Dale McCartney, Kara Sievewright, and Tania Willard etc…

5. “Someone in Germany just sent me an mp3 of their band covering Mecca Normal’s “Who Told You So” – the first song on our first album. If, in 1986, someone told me that 30 years in the future, this might happen, I would not have believed them!” – Jean Smith

6. Noam Chomsky commenting on Drawn to Change: “This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labour organizing should inspire us to “dream of what might be” and to act to bring it about.”

7. Mecca Normal reaching Volume #401 in their collaboration for MAGNET Magazine online and writing several new songs.

8. Designing a poster for the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival.

9. Having two illustrations in The Change Agent #42 (Boston, MA) a social justice magazine.

10. Mecca Normal playing our first show in a while with Michael & the Slumberland Band, Roberts Hall, and The Great Speckled Fritillary at Red Gate Arts Society in Vancouver thanks to Shaun Lee.

11. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Roots & Shoots”, a music education outreach program for under-privileged Vancouver area elementary schools that my partner Wendy Atkinson created. Her work has lead to 16,000 students being exposed to diverse music and dance in a concert hall.

12. To start the school year, Ashley Henry, a teacher of grade 8 in Oakland, California orders 10 of my “Inspired Agitators” posters to put up in her classroom (East Bay Innovation Academy).

13. Mecca Normal playing The Toast Collective in Vancouver with Blue Roses (Sydney Hermant and Dan Bejar); Steve Lambke (Constantines); and Forest Tate (Calgary).

14. Finding out “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle” is required reading for a course in the Labour Studies Program at Laurentian University (Sudbury, ON) as well as a course on Canadian history (History 1114: Forged in Fire: Canada since 1867) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

15. Completing 125 pages of my graphic novel about the last year in the life of activist Emma Goldman.

16. Los Angeles-based Razorcake Magazine’s 7-page interview with Jean (Mecca Normal)

17. Celebrating the 30th anniversary year of BC BookWorld, a publication about books that I have been designing since issue number two.

18. Drawing the cover art for British Columbia History Magazine for an excellent article by Janet Nicol.

19. Mecca Normal’s “Man Thinks Woman” (1987) making the list in Pitchfork‘s “The Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs: From Patti Smith to Bikini Kill, the songs that have crushed stereotypes and steered progress”.

20. Giving a lecture at Emily Carr University of Art + Design on my experiences in the collective that produced the international anti-authoritarian newspaper Open Road Newsjournal (1976-1990).

21. Mecca Normal jamming with Jonelle Aspa on drums and Jaclyn Sauer on guitar in Vancouver.

22. Designing two huge banners for the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award and The George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.

23. “The Julie Ruin Suggests” a 40-song playlist on Spotify includes Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone”.

24. Playing guitar for two shows with Wendy Atkinson Experimental Bass Player at BC Buds Festival (Firehall Arts Centre) in Vancouver.

25. The fantastic fun Mecca Normal had on their Pacific Northwest tour with The Julie Ruin (Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Christopher Carmine Covelli, Sara Landeau) and Allison Crutchfield & the Fizz. Mecca Normal’s set included the recent “I’m Still Here” with the line “Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment” which was spine-tingling to be playing in Portland on the night of the third debate.

26. Being wowed by Jean’s large painting, “Standing Standing Rock Water Protectors” which was inspired by events near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where activists are blocking construction of a pipeline on sacred burial grounds.

27. Being interviewed by Sheryl MacKay on CBC – North by Northwest about “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle”.

28. “Jean Smith and David Lester taught me so much about the interplay of one instrument (in their case David’s guitar) and a vocal. Their synergy is something I have always been thrilled by. The amount of energy and noise they make with just two people is completely inspiring to me.” – Kenny Mellman, The Julie Ruin

29. Getting an email from director/producer Bill Jersey (two time Academy Award nominee and Peabody.winner) telling me he would keep me in mind for any future film work.

30. Jesse Miller’s Portland-based eloquent daily online comic “Life and How to Live It” featuring Mecca Normal performing “We Are Here”.

31. Designing a CD package for Brooke Lydbrooke (ex-singer of The Moral Lepers etc).

32. “I love this song so much” – Kate Nash on Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone”. Nash was named Best British Female Artist at the 2008 Brit Awards. Her hit song on YouTube has 10 million plays.

33. Allison Wolfe (Sex Stains, ex-Bratmobile) list of songs that comforted, emboldened, and defined her across the last 46 years included Mecca Normal’s Strong White Male.

34. The Tyee runs an excerpt of my comic from “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle”.

34.”Their music is still as relevant as it was 25 years ago when I first saw them. It makes me happy that their music is still relevant because they’re doing it better than ever. And their new songs are so fucking great and hilarious.” – Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin on Mecca Normal

35. “When I was 15, I would listen to Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone” every day as I maneuvered the desolate and lonely 10 blocks between the bus stop and my house. This was the year I began to learn the intricacies of girlhood, soundtracked by riot grrrl bands, fresh to my previously pop-occupied ears. Jean Smith’s politicized lyrics and occasionally grating singing style created alluring discomfort—Mecca Normal empowered girls to be angry and critical. Their refusal to assimilate or soften their message makes them a truly foundational feminist punk group, and one whose voice is still desperately needed.” – Emma Burke (Portland Mercury)

Surely that is enough for one year!!!!!

by-mary-sharp-in-portland

Advertisements
Tagged ,

Interview Questions Requested

I received an email from a music magazine’s publisher asking me to contribute interview questions directed to him. He stated that nothing was off limits. I could ask him whatever I wanted. I composed the following email and sent it to him. He replied an hour later saying that his magazine had one rule. “NO religion or politics.”

So much for “nothing is off limits” questions. He knows me, my work, my band. I don’t plan on following this up with him. I guess I’m allowed to ask, but he isn’t going to answer.

Here, for the record, are my questions.

In November, the abstract I submitted to the EMP (now Museum of Pop Culture — MoPOP) Pop Conference was accepted. I’ve never applied before, but with the focus on music related to politics, I felt compelled to contribute.

I submitted a presentation titled “How I Became a Successful Agent for Radical Social Change” during which David (Lester) and I will draw from our 60-minute classroom presentation “How Art and Music Can Change the World”  which outlines how we came to inspire the co-founders of the 1990s social movement known as Riot Grrrl.

Actually, the dates are significant. I applied on November 8, before the polls closed, but when I received the acceptance email mid-December, both the title and the content of my talk seemed entirely different than when I submitted it! It felt like we’d slid backwards a fair few notches with little foreseeable hope of resuming the kind progressive social change that positively impacts the vast majority.

With these concerns in mind, here are my questions for you!

How do you think music that relates to politics will manifest under a Trump government? Will there be an upswing in political bands and events?

Do you think art – and music specifically – can impact the direction the US is taking?

As people re-evaluate their news sources (go Teen Vogue!), do you, as a journalist and publisher, see a new role or responsibility, or will your content mandate remain the same?

Which American bands with progressive lyrics come to mind in terms of having the potential to address, inspire and motivate large groups of people? Or is that even something a band and music fans should concern themselves with? Should lyricists continue to focus on ‘love’ as a major theme, obfuscating their feelings and song meanings through semantics and idiosyncratic references? What would you like to see happen on the lyric frontier?

I’ve noticed that Americans seem to love mystery when it comes to celebrity engagement. There is a love of speculation. What is that person really like? Do you think transparency in terms of the directness a band might want to take with its lyrics and interviews would negatively impact its likelihood of success? Is the tradition of mystique worth protecting in this coming era?

Would now be a good time for lyricists to use their words in ways that have previously seemed vaguely unnecessary or should we wait until it we’ve exhausted other forms of protest before we expect the arts to address and reflect the decline in the quality of life?

Which do you think will occupy people’s mind’s more in terms of time spent in spectator mode – escapist entertainment or activist culture? By that I mean, which will seem to be the more demanding of following?

I’m basically in the music industry, but way out on the D-I-Y fringes, creating art that intends to connect beauty, truth and understanding for people who are not willfully destroying tolerance. I would have chosen an entirely different direction if I’d been in it for money or fame. You come into contact with music and people I know little about. I recall years ago a local band pulling out of a benefit show to free political prisoners. Word got back through the community that their management thought it might be bad for their career. They did have a very nice career, as it turns out!

Do you think there a fear that writing political lyrics might be damaging to a band’s career?

Is there a lack of confidence there in terms of making a misstep or is it simply an industry taboo to state what you believe if you think there’s going to be backlash?

Do you think bands care more about being famous, “making it big” or affecting progressive social change with their music?

For myself, I find writing the lyrics for political songs quite difficult. I feel a huge responsibility to get it right even though my audience is minuscule. I want to say things in songs that will be interpreted, first of all, the way I mean them, and, second of all, to have them used as fuel in individual lives. That’s a tall order. I’ve been formulating a plan that would bring creative types together to work collaboratively on such material as a sort of sounding board and checks and balance element to the process. Working (writing) with an opportunity for other people’s input (not necessarily from those directly involved in any given project) may be a way forward for political content.

Have you considered anything new for [your magazine] to regularly feature music related to politics? Maybe a section where artists writing political lyrics could talk about what motivated them, what they mean explicitly, what they intended to achieve, what sort of response they’d had in terms of feedback, networking etc.

Tagged

RATE YOUR MUSIC

Comments on Mecca Normal albums on RATE YOUR MUSIC website:

Dovetail (K Records, 1992)
“It’s disgraceful that this record only has 23 ratings–not even enough to chart it here at RYM. One of the greatest records of the late 80s/early 90s K-Records scene … before “indie” existed properly, in the immediate wake of the Nirvana hype. This album–probably the band’s best–mixes rhythmically-driven (all from the guitar) pieces that have a punk-rock edge with ballad-like, slow pieces. It’s remarkable in its balancing of these modes (sometimes within a single song). Beautiful stuff. Search it out. Now!” – denti, 2012

“The perfect Mecca Normal album. Throw Silver and Clatter make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. This band is largely ignored by most supposed “indie” listeners and they’ve been doing for almost thirty years. Consistent as hell and never boring. This record is solid gold.” mortytoad, 2009

Water Cuts My Hands (K Records, 1991)
David Lester is one of the unsung greatest guitarists. He is incredibly inventive with the little he plays (a few chords, no solos) and makes his guitar sound so raw and real and right there with you. I love it. This record is fantastic, though not consistently so. Still one of the best places to start with this great band. The CD comes with the 1988 record “Calico Kills the Cat,” also worth repeated listens. “Taking the Back Stairs,” “Dead Bird’s Feet” and “Lois Wrote About the Farm” are among the band’s best.” denti, 2011

Sitting on Snaps (Matador, 1995)
The beginning and end of this album are brilliant. Like Concrete Blonde meets Lush with a sprinkling of Siouxsie, but also no drums, like, on any song ever. Yes, this is a drumless band. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not… just layers of guitar and voice, but not too many layers. There’s some minimalism going on here too.” Sukwtto, 2011

 

 

Tagged , , ,

Beaten Down LIVE

It might just be that the guitar is too loud because of the proximity of the amp to the camera, but, over the years, I think more than a few soundguys have made a point of turning down my vocals because they don’t like how I sound and what I’m saying.

Dave and I recently spoke about the idea of bolstering live vocal recordings after the fact. Just as an idea. Might be something I will try with this video.

 

 

 

Tagged , , ,