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N.C. Music Love Army Soundtracks Moral Mondays
August 1, 2013
It’s ungodly hot in Raleigh, and the rush hour traffic is maddening. Despite the A/C on full blast, my shirt is sticking to my back and there’s a line of crawling cars on Peace Street so long its curves around the on-ramps, backing into Capitol Boulevard. But today, these afternoon commuters are in this upstream rush to get into downtown.
At 5 o’clock on July 15, the 11th weekly Moral Monday protest is taking place on Halifax Mall, directly in front of the North Carolina General Assembly. With the state’s unemployment rate still sitting at 8.8 percent (compared to a national average of 7.6 percent), and a Republican supermajority pushing an arch conservative agenda in the State legislature, people are angry. And lately, they’re active too.
Each successive week of the Moral Monday protests, led by the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is designed, ostensibly, to address a different issue. This afternoon’s call is women’s rights — a direct response to legislation proposed first by the Senate, amended to an anti-Sharia Law bill, and later added with few changes to a motorcycle safety bill by the House of Representatives. Opponents of the House-led bill, which Governor Pat McCrory has said he’ll sign, claim the law would effectively close all but one of the 31 clinics in the state which provide abortion services. But despite this nominal focus, a vast array of issues has galvanized the gathered thousands. Moral Monday isn’t a single-issue uprising, but a broad expression of discontent with a variety of legislative motions proposed by the Republican-dominated State legislature.
On this Monday, the recent news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin weighed heavily on the crowd and the speakers. North Carolina’s proposed budget cuts to public education also provided ample motivation at the podium. Among the afternoon’s most memorable speakers, Franklin County resident Rosa Nell Eaton took to the stage to recount the intimidation she faced when she first registered to vote in 1934. Three white men, she said, had forced her to stand against the courthouse wall and recite, from memory, the preamble to the Constitution — which she did — and then subjected her to complicated paperwork — which she completed. Her tale of Jim Crow-era voter intimidation echoed criticisms of proposed legislation affecting voter ID laws and changes to early voting protocols which, critics say, will disenfranchise minority voters, college-age voters, and other primarily Democratic demographics. “Here I am, at 92 years old, and I’m still doing the same battling,” Eaton said. “I’m fed up. And fired up.” That evening, she was one of more than a hundred people arrested for protesting in the General Assembly building.
As Eaton and her fellow demonstrators filed into the General Assembly, a group of five area musicians gathered on stage to lead the crowd in a new entry to America’s rich catalog of protest music. “My Body Politic,” co-written by Whiskeytown and Tres Chicas fiddler Caitlin Cary and Durham poet and rapper Shirlette Ammons, addressed women’s rights head on. Backed by Charlotte singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay, Birds & Arrows’ Andrea Connolly and Tres Chicas’ Lynn Blakey, Cary and Ammons brought their words to the Moral Monday crowd, who quickly picked up singing along with them: “I own the head of my body/ I own the heart of my body/ This politic is my body/ Ain’t nobody left for you.”
Raising An Army
From the podium the group introduced itself: “We are the North Carolina Music Love Army and we are the soundtrack to the Moral Monday movement.” In fact, the five onstage that Monday represent only a fraction of the total collective operating as the North Carolina Music Love Army. Co-founded in June by Cary and Lindsay, the group now claims more than 40 members from a variety of well-known regional acts.
Initially, the group announced the recording of an “EP-length compilation,” an open practice session in Durham and hints of a forthcoming large concert and documentary, with all proceeds raised to benefit NAACP, Progress North Carolina and Planned Parenthood. But since founding the group, Cary and Lindsay have been caught in a whirlwind of activity, responding to press requests and musical submissions, and adding events, including small-band performances such as the one on July 15 and a concert July 29 at Raleigh’s Kings Barcade.
When I catch up with Lindsay the day after his performance at Moral Monday, he’s between meetings and juggling our conversation while helping Cary with administrative work. “We’ve obviously got a monster on our hands,” Lindsay admits. “We’ve had to do some additional performances — and we’re more than happy to.”
The community has responded in kind. In addition to media attention, the Love Army has attracted submissions and like-minded acts of musical protest from artists beyond the group’s already swollen roster. “People came up to me yesterday and handed me songs on sheets of paper, and our inboxes are full of submissions from folks,” Lindsay says. “Whether we ask for more, or say ‘Hey thanks, we’re covered up for a minute,’ we’re still getting tons of submissions, and we do want to say thanks. A lot of them are really amazing.”
The fact remains, though, the Love Army’s ranks are mostly set. The album is recorded and set for release November 5. Five songs were written and performed by the entire Love Army at the Pershing Hill Sound studio in Raleigh; another five were submitted by an unannounced group of “dear friends of ours who are very notable musicians based in North Carolina.”
While the so-called Love Army Guerillas haven’t been revealed, initial membership reports of the Love Army project included members of The Love Language, Hiss Golden Messenger, Tift Merritt, American Aquarium, The Old Ceremony, among others. And while the membership is Triangle-heavy, it’s by no means exclusive. Wilmington’s Onward, Soldiers represent Eastern North Carolina, while Lindsay and Slaid Baird, of Amigo, hail from Charlotte.
“I think it’s fair to say that the whole rest of the state is slightly underrepresented, compared to the Triangle,” Lindsay admits. “It is a Triangle-heavy constituency, and we did invite a lot of our favorite folks from Asheville, Charlotte, Wilmington, Boone, and other towns.”
But, he adds, it’s a big commitment. Not everybody can drop everything and join the band. For his part, Lindsay has been bouncing between hotel rooms and putting off deadlines with his label and publisher. “We still feel the love and support from our folks across the state,” he says.
A Song For Everyone
As impressive as the Love Army roster is, the music they’re making is a far-cry from any that its members make on their own. This, Lindsay makes clear, is protest music, designed to be simple, easy to sing along with, and driven by its message. “It’s all about getting as many people as possible singing together and telling narratives that are very issue-based,” Lindsay says. “The imagery should uplift and unite common folk and the citizenry at large.”
Though the name and the organization behind the Love Army stem from friendly chats between Cary and Lindsay, the group’s origins might be traced to June 24, when two songs: Lindsay’s “N.C. G.O.P. Just Don’t Know Me” and, especially, “We Are Not For Sale,” penned by Old Ceremony frontman Django Haskins. The latter song quickly went viral, and its sheet music appeared on the cover of the Triangle’s weekly newspaper Indy Week (at which, it should be noted, I am a contributor).
Naturally, “We Are Not For Sale” was an early pick for the Love Army’s mass recording. It will be joined on the album by “My Body Politic,” Lindsay’s “Is This Here What Jesus Would Do?,” Lynn Blakey’s “Army of Love” and “North Carolina, We’re Better Than This,” by Britt Harper Uzzell, a.k.a. Snüzz.
“We’re going into it knowing it’s very different from our own records,” Lindsay says. “Subject matter and production-wise, stylistically and production-aesthetic, there’s no room for anything that happens in indie-rock and most types of modern rock, indie pop.”
Instead, the group quickly changed its focus from pop to populist, using simplicity and currency as its music’s chief stock. “The only way to do that was to have simple three- and four-chord new songs that when people hear, they hear us singing about Rosa Nell, they hear us singing about fracking and women’s health, they hear us singing about all these issue-based narratives that are current and were written two weeks ago,” Lindsay says.
It remains to be seen whether a handful of songs, or even the protests themselves, will affect any real change under the current administration. The Governor has yet to meet with Moral Monday leadership. Opponents to Moral Monday — including legislators — have called the protesters “morons” and “outsiders,” while releasing at least one of their own response songs: the flat Bananarama parody of “Marxist Monday.”
But as long as people reverse the flow of rush-hour and bake in the summer sun by the thousands, as long as national media coverage of the State’s political divisions persists, the Love Army will offer their support. “We’re not trying to be the leadership and invent a new doctrine,” Lindsay says. “We’re just trying to take what Reverend Barber and our friends are doing in the movement, and amplify their message by being a conduit through a soundtrack.”