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For more than a decade Consolidated have been producing highly politicised music with a wide range of styles. As a "musical project" they have a reputation as being uncompromising and "crusading", who tackle uncomfortable issues such as male violence, pornography, animal rights and militarism. Their critics accuse them of being "guilty white liberals" and "hypocrites" and of espousing "un-American "values. PN caught up with founding member Adam Sherburne and talked about the role of music in political struggle.

A producer of "cultural Öffentlichkeit"

Ippy: Your music is politicised by design, but what did you get into first, music or politics, and when?

Adam: We all know that music (noise) and politics (anything that governs our lives) are every day, act to act, moment to moment continuums that inform and shape our lives. I can say that in 1971 a nine-year-old (who would later become the brilliant but derided political theorist and Kant scholar-professor Arthur Strum) exposed me to Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia, as well as clarifying the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the black power salute on the medal stand at the '68 Olympics. That, and the fact that my record collection consisted of two albums - Stevie Wonder's Innervisions and a Partridge Family album.

Ippy: What do you think the role is of music and of people who make music - and what could it be - in terms of political impact and social change?

Adam: “Music” and “musicians” have been around for at least 40 centuries. But in the last century “it” and “they” have only been the soundtracks and spokes people for the advertisement of commodities. Music could be many things; a social activity that people participate in, daily, as part of life; a critical tool used to announce or comment on political/social events and ideas, etc. As long as music and musicians exist only in the model of the culture industry (commodity fetishism, pornography of sound, rock stars, etc), it and we can only affirm the crippling stasis of music under capital (see MTV, radio, corporate rock tours, “indie” music as “protest”... blah, blah).

Ippy: What has been your motivation for writing so stridently about issues relating to masculinity?

Adam: I write about manhood (“masculinity” - a term and field of study invented by men so they can get paid to lecture on issues of feminism that they learned from women - is a destroyed word) because it's the thing that, sadly, I know about. More importantly, male violence and male power are intrinsically rooted in any historically decisive institution (religion, feudalism, capitalism, communism, etc).

Ippy: Two previous albums - Dropped and Tikkun - formed a soundtrack to the Stoltenberg screenplay Cocklash. Tell us about your involvement in the project and how the albums relate to the film.

Adam: Stoltenberg's work and friendship has been a major inspiration for many people, myself included. Cocklash, if ever funded and realised, would be a narrative series of music videos illustrating the “manhood” messages a boy receives and the possible choices he can make. Since there is no funding, or realising, I made a double album; one that outlines the darkest expressions of a “manhood education” and one that reveals the possibility of positive transformation (accountability, emotional connection, love).

Ippy: Over the years you have worked with a wide range of other “political” artists. What have you found to be the best consequences of such collaborations?

Adam: I think the greatest part of collaborations is the democracy of letting go of one's “vision”, to allow for the possibility of something different.

Ippy: Do you feel that your typically direct approach is sometimes dismissed as being “too polemic”?

Adam: I feel that my approach is that of a producer of cultural Öffentlichkeit (public sphere). My sounds and texts are secondary to the possibilities of listeners taking these ideas and making use of them in a social context. Either way, the sniveling, vague subjectivities of my narrative rock lyrics (read: real and personal) were never understood by those who favored the earlier deconstructions of propaganda lexicons (read: preachy fascist industrial shit) and vice versa.

Ippy: One of the distinguishing features of Consolidated gigs has been the regular collective “discussion forums” (or “free-form rants”) at the end - with the handing over of the microphone to the audience. What purpose do you think these sessions have served?

Adam: I always felt that giving the audience the mic (to say whatever) told more truth, had more political power, came closer to creating an actual “public sphere”, than the endless whining of corporate pop liberals, the well intentioned activist culture associated with rock, and forty years of “great songs with great messages”.

It was certainly the single most identifying characteristic of the band. Sadly, people's interest in discussing the catastrophic, decisive events that profoundly inform our reality went the way of Consolidated's career. It's a shame, because the collapse of the music sector of the culture industry corresponds to many people's exhausted surrender to “Brittany” and the “new Mobyists”.

Also, it's totally a drag to ask people to buy your CDs (so you can eat) when you should be able to give people all your music free and they can download it from the net anyway and everybody knows this... these are important issues, so many say. I just feel that courageous survivors speaking about their experience and drunk frat guys unwittingly revealing their violence seems more resonant than new-age hip-hop car commercials, whose text often goes like “deify me, I'm a vegan!”. But then, there you go... also, the audience tracks are great to play at parties...

Ippy: A lot of your material has focused on violence - both personal and political violence. What is your take on last September's events in the US regarding the attacks on the symbols of US economic and military power? Adam: There is no way for me to get words around anything as large and horrific as an act of genocidal intentions. People coping with loss and grief on a scale beyond language, beyond prayer. You mention power - that's the bottom line. As long as power is the decisive impulse in history, the cancer that is deep within us (war, terrorism, all forms of violence) will continue to spread. Only when we are ready to “relinquish power” will we actually know humanity (peace).

Ippy: You have been involved in creating seven Consolidated albums and a solo music project, but what about the future, and what kind of issues and concerns - or groups and organisations - are you involved with right now in your personal political life?

Adam: At this time, surviving is the operative term; as families, as communities, as creative or political projects. What will activism be? What will music be? I know this: many groups that I've supported over the years will be the first to admit that they don't know for sure who they are or what needs to happen next. But they know if someone is getting brought in, it's probably for fundraising.

Ippy: Much of your writing for Dropped and Tikkun appears deeply personal and painful - more so than in previous musical excursions with Consolidated. What value do you discern in a public examination of the personal-political?

Adam: Personally, I feel that the only value that can be discerned from music is through a public examination of the personal-political. The alternative (private aesthetic analysis), the bag-o-shite that we're left with, feeds only the account balance of the culture industry, and the anxiety of the consumer.

Ippy: On Praxis (Bold as Love), from the 1992 album Play More Music, you sing (literally!) the praises of community organising, of the DIY ethos, of the unlikely heroes and heroines within our own activist communities and the courage they (we) have in creating peace. Is this something you still feel connected with and believe in?

Adam: Honestly, I can't literally sing, nor can I literally rap. But if I could, I would always support those who “do this work.” Not those who are paid an honorarium to come speak at your university and “lead your revolution” - not those whose primary interest is to meet and eat raw food with Woody Harrelson; but those who teach the rest of us that giving, sacrificing, listening, sharing, deferring, and backingthefuckup, are the real currency that matters (you can't withdraw that from a bank).

Ippy: You have been very vocal in discussing violence and nonviolence within your lyrics. Our readers typically come from a nonviolent, anti-militarist and/or pacifist and/or green/eco angle and I wonder if you could explain your own beliefs or feelings about nonviolence for their benefit?

Adam: My commitment to nonviolence comes from being raised as an agent of violence (man, soldier, athlete, musician, etc) and seeing the clear absence of peace, happiness, and emotional wholeness in my life as a result. I've also been blessed with having extraordinary women in my life, willing to put their foot so far up my ass that it might reach my head in order to pull it out, so to speak.

Ippy: In the notes for your latest album - The End of Meaning - you talk about exploring the idea of whether music without lyrics can be interpreted politically. Have you reached any conclusions?

Adam: I think clearly we can say that many aspects of language, as well as sounds, have been obliterated in the service of pop music. The End of Meaning has lots of lyrics. But that many pieces have no vocals might seem notable for a Consolidated CD. I just wanted to make a comment on the possibilities for musical freedom. Music that I, and a friend (Kevin Carnes from Broun Fellinis) could make now, in real time, with no prior discussion or rehearsal, no lawyers or money concerns, no crippling technocratic whining about “production quality”, no disgruntled industry pissboys to appease regarding the endless parade of turgid museum pieces that I'm supposedly “competing with”. Just music; personal, political, joyous, painful, funky, stupid, silly, deep, possible.

Ippy: What is your projection for the macro-political and economic landscape over the coming decade and what about Consolidated?

Adam: I'm hesitant to make any projections about anything. If I'm a man I'll probably act like a fucking asshole sometime very soon. If there is tofu or spinach I'll probably survive. If there's a guitar I can use there will probably be Consolidated.

Notes: You can read a brief review of Consolidated's album The End of Meaning in PN 2444 or online at http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2444/2444383.html
Consolidated also appear on the Peace News CD Fight War Not Wars.
Consolidated website http://www.consolidatedmusic.org/

Topics: Culture