Interview with David Rovics
June 23, 2006
by Karl Dolins
Photos by

Q: Are there any particular artists that you could point to and accredit with your interest in folk music?

Well, first off, I kind of shy away from the term "folk music," since it's become so bastardized. The modern use of the word tends to imply a much more limited genre than it actually is. That is "folk" should include punk rock, hip-hop, gospel, blues, hillbilly, etc. Basically anything that's part of the oral tradition. So, I usually say I'm doing acoustic music or some other vague term like that (kind of the same way I characterize my politics as "new left," rather than using difficult terms like "anarchist" or "socialist"). But anyway, artists that have had a profound impact on my taste for music and on the music I write would include (but are not limited to) Jim Page, Phil Ochs, Utah Phillips, Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Silvo Rodriguez, anonymous (multiply that one by several factors), Jerry Garcia, Ali Farka Toure, Baba Mal, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Christy Moore, Dick Gaughan, I could go on...

Q: What's been the most memorable concert you've played?

Well, probably the most memorable events I've played at have been the really big protests in New York, DC, Berlin and elsewhere just 'cause it's so immensely exciting to be playing for such an assemblage. But the most memorable concert would probably have to be the NCOR (National Conference on Organized Resistance) concert from a couple years ago, when I got protested by a dozen or so attendees for wearing leather pants (it was winter, and very cold, and leather pants are warm). I should've seen it coming and worn something else, but as it was, it was all pretty exciting. I ended up changing into a pink skirt someone gave me part-way into the show. It was all caught on film, but I never saw the film.

Q: Because of your music's point of view, have you ever been the subject of conservative fury?

I get the occasional bit of hate email, mostly for Palestine-related songs...occasionally for other ones. But for whatever reason, I don't get much of that. There are a variety of explanations I'd suggest. Either I'm not being heard in the conservative community in the first place, due to getting virtually zero mainstream media attention, or there just aren't as many conservatives out there as we're led to believe.

Q: As an outspoken progressive musician, how have things changed for you since September 11th?

Not much, really. I was worried for a couple weeks that our country would suddenly become much more xenophobic, racist, paranoid, etc., but I don't see that that's happened. I mean, there's still plenty of xenophobia to go around but not significantly more than there was a few years ago, as far as i can tell. Of course, I'm not Arab, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about. The U.S. was an imperialist empire before Sept 11 and after, and for me U.S. foreign policy has always been a focus, in my thoughts and music. Sept 11 and U.S. foreign policy has undoubtedly been good for my career, with the growth of the anti-war movement and such, so I guess that would be the main way things have changed for me.

Q: Your album Return showed a new versatility with your music. Do you plan on dabbling on future releases with other music styles and instruments like on Return?

I would have recorded with a band before "Return" but never managed to get the money together to do a studio recording like that. So mainly doing that CD was coincidence having to do with Ever Reviled Records being willing to back me up on the project, and I'm real happy it happened. It was great to work with Sean Staples and the other musicians who played on the CD, and I really like the sound. I would like to do more of that, perhaps going in a more acoustic ensemble sort of direction and maybe also going in a more punk rock direction. I could really get into either or both at some point. I'd like to tour with a band, theoretically, but at this point I don't know how I'd make that work on a financial level, so I'll probably mainly continue to tour solo and record either solo or with other musicians, depending on various factors. I do also still like to record solo stuff anyway, 'cause I definitely also like that sound.

Q: You're involved heavily in counter-cultural type of music. Where would you say is independent music in comparison to major label music? Do you see any trends?

Lots of different trends, I suppose. The MP3 thing is a very positive development for smaller-time artists like me. Many more people can hear the stuff. It's a democratizing influence that generally gives smaller artists more play and bigger artists less play, as far as I can tell. The major labels (and bigger indy labels) still have the advantage of more distribution and all that, and that's still a significant thing, but it seems generally that the trend is towards a wider array of musical tastes due to the more positive aspects of technology and globalization.

Q: If you could work with any artist out there right now, who would you work with?

Gosh, there are so many artists I'd like to work with on so many levels. I'm really attracted to working with musicians who are just instrumentalists who are into the sort of music I do, but I'd also be really into some kind of collaboration with artists who do very different sorts of music but still share a similar political outlook. Folks with the Dope Poets Society have talked about doing some stuff together, and hopefully we'll have a chance to pursue that a bit in August. I'd love to work with other hip-hop artists like Michael Franti or Thought Breakers. I'd love to work with some of the trobadores of Mexico that John Ross has been telling me about, or of course Silvio Rodriguez or any number of others like that. I'd love to do some kind of collaboration with Arab musicians like Marcel Khalife or others.

Q: What would you say to the aspiring progressive musicians out there about what to do?

So much to say...keep writing. Keep learning. Be open to criticism from yourself or others on music or politics. Never delude yourself into thinking you're original. Keep listening to music and learning songs other people wrote. Keep your heart open. See the world. Put yourself in other peoples' shoes're not an evil capitalist if you make a living at what you're doing. It's ok to make a living, and you can do it ethically (more or less) and still keep writing whatever you're writing (if it's good).

Q: Any interesting tour plans?

Oh, it's always pretty interesting. The summer will involve lots in the northeast around the protests at the Democratic and Republican conventions, a couple of festivals, some gigs on the west coast and in the midwest. I'm looking forward to all that. Hopefully a tour of the West Bank in Palestine will be happening later in the year, we'll see how that comes together.

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