Flobots Prepares For Ultimate Transformation With ‘No Enemies’
The Colorado-based, hip-hop centric band Flobots has completed a new album, No Enemies, that will be released in early 2017. Having spent a lot of time in the studio over the past year, the group decided to end 2016 by taking to the road for the Your Life Matters tour. Founding member Jamie “Johnny 5” Laurie says he hopes the tour will show the band that music remains a uniting factor in the lives of ordinary people.
“We’ve been watching the climate out in the world. It just makes you want to talk to real people,” Laurie says. “You know it’s not as polarized and disgusting and bad as it seems when we look on our Facebook page or on the news websites. Every time we perform a show we bring people together that have completely different beliefs, that have completely different life stories. We come together, and we celebrate.”
Laurie adds that music has traditionally brought people joy and that a Flobots performance is more than a group running down its most popular songs for an eager audience.
“If you sing a song with a group of people you transform the space. If you write a song, and somebody else hears it and thinks, ‘That’s how I feel,’ even if it’s ‘I feel sad too,’ or ‘I feel angry too,’ there’s something about connecting with somebody else where you feel better, you feel less alone,” he says. “I think we’ve always seen music as a tool to connect with other people in various ways and to transform the world. We do want to speak out on things. Sometimes we speak about something that might be negative, but it’s something that we want to raise awareness about it but, no matter what, we hope the music can be transformative in some way.”
In recent years the band has been gathering people together in churches, on college campuses and in elementary schools to sing and share in the experience of finding unity through song. Laurie adds that it has been an experience that is educational for these communities as well as for him and his bandmates.
“We had people asking us, ‘Where are the songs for today’s social movements, where are the songs that we can sing together?’ We started to realize that in every other country and in most other times in this country, singing together was a common thing and people weren’t scared to do it,” he says. “These days, for some reason, it’s like the scariest thing in the world would be to sing along with people because we disempower ourselves. We teach ourselves this myth that only certain people can sing and those people have to be on stage and we have to pay them.”
He continues, “But, the secret is that we can all sing together, and it doesn’t matter how high or low quality our voices are, there’s a power in the act of singing together. We’ve actually been doing these song-sharing sessions here in Denver over the last few years that led to the album that we wrote. We invite people to come together and practice singing together. You go to Uganda and people say, ‘In this community we sing this song.’ People have this connection with the music of their community because they sing together. This is something that we don’t have right now in the U.S. but we can very easily re-create it.”
Laurie says that one of the first steps in empowering a group of people is to put them in charge. So, when he enters a space to sing songs with people, he begins with a basic question.
“Anytime we gather a group of people together we’ll say, ‘Alright, what are some songs that everybody here could sing along to?’ No matter what there’ll be something. Even if it’s ‘Happy Birthday To You,’” he says. “Two days ago we did this workshop and we had people—Spanish speakers, English speakers, old, young. People found songs together. There’s always some songs in our subconscious that we can bring out and sing together. So we’re hoping to bring a lot more of that sort of energy into our shows; we’ve always put a lot of work into our live performances and taken a lot of pride in them and I think now what we want to do is break down that barrier even more between the stage and the audience. Yeah, there are things where the focus is on us, but we want to put more and more of that focus on the collaboration, on what we’re making and creating when we’re in the space together.”
The group’s upcoming album, No Enemies, is a direct reflection of this community building. Laurie notes that the ultimate goal is one that isn’t often talked about in our culture today: reconciliation.
“In the last few years, with social movements really stepping up to do important work, with Black Lives Matter, with the climate justice movement and with just people in general just being more engaged, we thought, ‘You know what? There’s something we could offer,’” Laurie adds. “There’s a missing piece. There’s a missing piece of songs we can sing together. Literally, when people are marching. If there’s nothing in common, if there’s no common culture, there’s something missing. We thought, ‘Well, we could try to help fill that gap and maybe we can speak a little bit to those stories of what it’s like to be engaged in a social movement.’ It isn’t just holding a sign and chanting and everything transforms.”
Laurie adds, “You struggle, you have high points when you feel like you’re really going to change the entire world. Then you have low points where you feel disillusioned. People get hurt. Relationships get severed. Then you have, ultimately, what we hope, moments of forgiveness. At the very least you forgive yourself for ways that you might have failed or fallen short. But, hopefully, you might learn to forgive other people, so that you can forgive systems of people. In doing so, we think that’s a step towards the ultimate transformation. So, not to get too heavy, but I think our album is ultimately about forgiveness, which almost seems like a bad word these days. It’s like something that we don’t believe in anymore. Or, if you do believe in it, you’re weak and you’re kind of falling for it, you know? But, for us, we think it’s an important idea.”
Flobots performs at Barleycorn’s on Thursday evening.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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