Can you ride your bike with no handlebars? Most likely, the image has crossed your mind lately if you listen to the radio. Radio stations all over the nation are getting flooded with requests for the single “Handlebars” by the Flobots. I gotta say… the song is catchy, it grows on you. Although, the Flobots are SO much more than the song “Handlebars.” Last night I attended the Flobots, People Under the Stairs and Busdriver concert at the infamous 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting on the phone with Flobot #5 who is one of the lead MC’s of the group. After the interview and seeing these guys on stage I realized they’re out for so much more than having a hit single, selling albums and moving t-shirts. These guys (& girl) are out trying to engage with young minds and encourage people to go out and make a change. The Flobots are extremely passionate about their message. I usually hate musicians who go on stage and “preach” but this was entertaining and motivating. They got the crowd involved with their music & their message. Absolutely one of the most exciting live concerts I’ve ever seen. Also, their encore was too cool. The viola player came out and sang “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar. She was fantastic… rocking out all over the stage. It was like the cute, geeky, orchestra dork busted out of her shell and became a hot female rock star in flip flops. At the end of the song the MC’s came out and freestyled while the band played the “Heartbreaker” melody in a super amped up rock style in the background. It made for a great ending to a great show. The Flobots are 2 MC’s, a viola player, drummer, bassist and guitarist. They have a ton of energy and I feel like we’ll be hearing a lot more of them in the future. Honestly, it’s refreshing knowing that there are still musicians out there who don’t focus on the glitz and glamor of being a rock star. The interview with Jamie (Flobot 5) proves true…
Flobot #5 Phone Interview: 7.30.08
LG: MixMatchMusic really digs the Flobots’ mixed style of genres. How did your sound piece together? Was it an idea that you searched after to create?
F5: “I think it came together out of a general openness on the part of everybody in the band to stretch themselves a little bit genre wise. The other MC and I were performing with Mackenzie the viola player… so at first it was just the 3 of us with some DJs. Then Andy suggested hey, why don’t you combined this into a live band? I think if you had a cool band behind you it would work. So we tried it for one show and the audience responded and we enjoyed it and then it became what you see today.”
LG: What was the Flobots’ first live performance like and where was it?
F5: “it was a Rock the Vote sponsored show in Denver. We were also involved in this effort called voter cruise. We had founded this effort to do youth voter engagement through music. So we had been getting good responses, the 3 of us with DJs. Having the live band behind us… with people moving around a lot more… it just felt more full. I think just for our particular combination of people it worked the best.”
LG: What online platform helped the Flobots promote themselves the most?
F5: “We have our own site… FightWithTools.org specifically for our street team. Basically what we did… a lot of people find our music powerful and leave our show all charged up with no where to go. So we created a non-profit organization that has its own infrastructure set up to provide a place for fans to go. It’s FightWithTools.org. It’s a way for music fans of all sorts can connect with each other and start making a change in the community, beginning with voter registration and moving on to other things next year. We’re really excited. We hope it can be a model for how music can be harnessed for social change.”
LG: Is there a certain sound or instrument that the Flobots would like to add to their band in the future?
F5: “You know… a 6 person band is a lot of people and a lot of dynamics. I don’t think we’re looking to add anything. I think we’re excited to write new songs ourselves, stretch our instruments… stretch our sound in new directions. There’s a whole lot more that we can do and we’re really excited to do it.”
LG: What overall message would the Flobots like to give out through their music?
F5: “I think it’s several things. One, that music is powerful. I don’t know if people are recognizing how powerful music is. If you look at any social movement in the United States, music has been a big part of it. Look at the Civil Rights movement. People were singing songs as they were being threatened with beatings and threatened with arrests. As they were in jail they kept themselves energized by singing. They were able to stand up to folks and claim the moral high ground by singing. There’s a lot of history there… the music being powerful. We wanna try and reclaim that and do it in a way that’s relevant for 2008.”
LG: How do you feel about what’s happening in the music industry (ie big labels crumbling, CD sales dropping, everything happening online, indie artists promoting themselves online, etc)?
F5: “I’m actually pretty outside the loop with the music business. I’m not honestly affected by it or a part of it. Personally…. for me, the most important thing as an artist, is for people to hear something I’ve created. That’s the most gratifying thing. Obviously it is good to make a living off of it as well. My feeling has always been when you’re really small you want people to hear your music. So I don’t care if people burn the CD while I’m small cause I want them to hear it. When you get big enough… you get to the point where you’d kinda be an asshole if you got too upset about it because you’re doing what you love. You’re living off of it. In the middle… there’s an artist that really makes a lot, there’s a sense of support any way you can. Truth is … people make their money off of live shows. I think the way that it is changing… it’s inevitable. People that understand that and adapt to it will be the ones that come out on top. We don’t focus all of our energy on loss of CD sales. We focus our energy on our live show and word of mouth. We get people excited enough that they want to support us however we can. I think that’s the way to succeed.”
To conclude, I was pleasantly surprised by The Flobots in concert. They’re touring the country right now. I strongly suggest you go see their show if they’re coming to your town. The shows have been selling out everywhere so get your tix quick! Check out their tour schedule.
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Check Out “Fight With Tools” (my personal favorites are “Rise” and “Stand Up”)