This Sunday at Optimism Brewing, I'm hosting a benefit show to celebrate the work that Indivisible, a group that works to hold members of congress accountable, has already done, and the work that Indivisible (and the rest of us) still have to do. Show starts at 5:30 p.m. There will be beer. There will be food trucks. There will be an activist in an RV and lots of other nice people sitting behind tables ready to give you marching orders for the days and months ahead. But above all, there will be music.
The headliner for the evening is Seattle funk singer and songwriter Tiffany Wilson, who released #SeeSharp on WeCoast records last year. I caught up with Wilson while she was stuck in traffic, which is coincidentally where she writes a lot of her music, to talk about music and politics.
(P.S. In this video guitar player Jimmy James has the best funk face.👆👆)
Wilson moved from Memphis to Washington when she was very young. At 19, she signed with Hendrix Records and toured with the Seattle-based gospel group SOUL. After that she moved to L.A., where she worked as a singer and songwriter. When she moved back to Washington in 2009 she released Music Therapy, which was composed of a lot of the songs she was working on in California. Now she's about to go on tour with 2016's #SeeSharp, an record that marks a political turn in her songwriting.
Who were you listening to when you were making #SeeSharp?
I’ve always been a huge fan of what we’d call the old school. Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin—I’m also always listening to Bobby or Johnnie Taylor. But when I was living in LA, I never listened to the radio. During the writing process I shut out everything else and just worked from what comes up from me.
What did you start hearing when you shut everything out?
The news. We were seeing a lot of injustices, wrongful imprisonments, stuff like what happened with Marissa Alexander, who was arrested for standing her ground. As we were writing music for the album, we chose the retro sound because we were dealing with retro issues. We thought we’d really gotten passed some of them, but recent events caused us to realize that they didn’t disintegrate, they were just hiding.
Was there a particular event that really moved you?
I went to a town hall meeting. We were talking about a young man who was killed by the police, and they assumed he had a gun. One person in the hall said it was a "good kill." I was like, 'what?' They weren’t certain he had a gun, and he didn’t. But in my mind that person was supporting our police being so afraid that they can’t do anything but kill. That hit close to home.
Do you think music can be a vehicle for political change?
It could absolutely be one of the biggest vehicles for political change, if the mainstream allowed it to be. I remember right after 9/11 there was this whole thing where you couldn't play Rage Against the Machine or certain songs on the radio. It's like that now: We’re not getting any music that speaks to social change, or that calls people to the carpet on their beliefs or their thought process. If people were able to nod their heads in affirmation to a song that was about ending the division in this world, then maybe people would be able to emulate what they were hearing. But they just keep playing the same stuff on the radio—I'm listening right now. Between my home and my destination, I've heard the same song three times.
What are you looking forward to most on Sunday?
I’m really exited about the whole event. This will be a great first step to taking a more active stance, and using my music to help push change through.
Tickets are free if you're a "Friend of the Stranger." (If you're reading this, you are.)