Soundtracking the Resistance - Changing Climates: An Interview with Marian Hill on the Environment

Plus Trump at G20, North Korea, Morrissey, Young Thug, and Will Butler

Jul 07, 2017 By Stephen Mayne Web Exclusive
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It's not been long since the President in all his wisdom announced his decision to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement on climate change. That will likely come up again during the G20 meeting (more below) but first we have duo Marian Hill demonstrating not everyone has to give up on the environment. Oh, and North Korea is causing problems again, Trump should stay off Twitter, and (not quite) everyone loves a little bit of independence.

The Big Event

It's been quite a year for Samantha Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd, who together comprise Marian Hill, a group named after two characters from The Music Man. After drawing attention, back in 2013 with debut EP Play and a subsequent number of successful singles, the electronic synthpop group with a slice of R&B on the side put out Act One, their first full-length, last year. Things picked up pace again after "Down" was featured in an Apple ad back in January before an extended version of Act One arrived in April. It's fair to say they've been pretty busy.

Given the constraints on their time, it might come as a surprise to find Gongol and Lloyd have also recently partnered with CLIF GreenNotes and the Nature Conservancy for a Climate Change Facts project. The campaign encourages people to post videos of themselves on social media with the hashtag #ClimateChangeFacts, while sharing stories about how climate change affects their lives. CLIF GreenNotes also offers help to artists who want to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Speaking from New York where they are grabbing valuable rest after returning from tour, the duo, who have known each other since meeting in a Pennsylvania high school, are thinking back on how they first got involved in the campaign. Gongol kicks things off, trading lines with Lloyd "We were approached." "I think it was around Air + Style." "Yeah, back in February."

Their years together come across in the ease with which they switch the conversation between themselves. Eventually Lloyd fills in more details. "It's something we all think about but it was amazing to find this organization saying we're doing partnerships to find the best way to help you help the environment within the framework of what your touring life is like."

Much of the support offered by CLIF GreenNotes is of a practical nature. Lloyd expands on this. "We travelled in a bus on tour this time which is amazing, but it's also no small carbon footprint. They're working with us and we're picking right now what we're going to do for our carbon offset. I think we're looking at a windfarm in Oklahoma but we'll see what we end up doing." Partnership brought more than just direct support. "They set us up with the Climate Change Facts promotion on twitter and social media. It was really exciting to know they had this kind of reach."

Gongol sees their decision to get involved in the project as a continuation of a longstanding interest. "We'd already partnered with Plus 1 and a dollar from every ticket sale would go to an organization of our choice. We chose the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)."

Timing also played a big part according to Lloyd. "It wasn't too long ago that we were still starting out and weren't playing shows that were big enough or making enough money on tours. We hadn't reached a place where we felt we could have enough of an effect. This came about at a time when 'Down' was doing really well and we were about to go do a bigger tour and we could have a platform to really raise awareness."

"Down" has done extremely well. Spurred on by its inclusion in an Apple ad, the single went platinum, charting in a number of countries and reaching as high as 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. If they were expecting some success from the cool, laconic track, it probably wasn't this much. Gongol still had hopes. "Before the Apple ad hit we were cautiously optimistic. Everything happened so quickly though. We're trying not to let the success and the expectations influence our next record."

Lloyd feels emboldened by it. "If anything, it made us more confident as 'Down' was something that was purely us. It was not a song we made thinking it would be any kind of a hit. It came from us and it wasn't trying to be anything else." It's certainly a good advertisement for their style mixing Lloyd's carefully nurtured beats and Gongol's haunting voice, a recipe that's served them well ever since "Whisky" emerged as something of a breakthrough in 2013.

While Marian Hill's involvement in Climate Change campaigning came about because several things fell into place at the same time, something like this was always bound to happen eventually. Lloyd is no stranger to politics. "These kinds of issues have mattered to me," he says. "I volunteered for the Obama campaign when I was back in high school which was really awesome. I got chicken fingers for Michelle Obama at one point which was the best story I got from that experience." Success has given them a platform of their own to use. "I was really all in on making Marian Hill happen for a while, we both were, and now we've gotten to a place where we can do things and we're all about it."

Not that it's always an easy transition. Speaking up comes with its own fears as Gongol outlines. "It's still sometimes scary to voice your opinion to thousands of people," she admits. "And it's hard because you also aren't seeing these people face to face so you can't have a rational discussion. I think social media is really important in that it opens a dialogue, but you wish you could talk to every person."

If this concern kept her from speaking up before, a certain presidential election has changed things. "We stayed away from controversy and a lot of artists did the same, but this period has been so difficult and jarring and scary, and like so many people, we thought it was time to speak up. We couldn't stay silent anymore."

This doesn't signal a move into explicit political songwriting itself. The songs provide the platform from which they can join campaigns like the Climate Change Facts project. Lloyd has thought about this in some detail. "In terms of broader political issues, at least in the way we write, it's hard to work it into a song. You have to figure out a way of delivering the message without people switching off. You can get these kneejerk reactions when you make posts or say something at a show. I think it's difficult because they're in a space with us where they're just trying to enjoy music."

Which is not to say they separate politics and music entirely. Gongol is quick to stress the care they take in what their music presents. "We sing a lot about female empowerment and we always try to write from the perspective of a very confident female. We would love people to walk away from listening to our music feeling empowered and more confident."

Lloyd is a little blunter. "In as much as women not being treated like objects is apparently a political opinion now, then I guess yes, our music is political. It's a basic respect thing and we write music that encourages that attitude."

Either way it won't be long before Marian Hill emerges with new output, political or otherwise. Despite being on a break from touring, it isn't really a break as Lloyd explains. "We're hard at work over the next couple of months writing. We have a little break and we're trying to take advantage of it."

What's Going On

President Trump has not exactly endeared himself to allies since his election. The G20, a group consisting of most of the world's biggest economies, meets today and is likely to prove this again. The now annual event, which always draws big protests, is being hosted in the center of Hamburg, Germany rather than a remote location, partly to show big demonstrations go hand-in-hand with democracy. The summit is also likely to see internal clashes as Trump pushes for more restrictive trade rules and continues to face blowback for his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Maybe he'll approach it with a little tact, though that would be a first.

Across the other side of the world, Trump's efforts to take North Korea to task are not yet showing signs of success. The North Korean regime, under the control of the brutal Kim dynasty, launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on Independence Day. Kim Jong-un delightfully referred to it as a "gift" to "American bastards." Given they have the ability to tip these things with nuclear warheads, and are not overly keen on following the normal rules of conduct, this is reason for concern. Trump's tough talk has continued, especially aimed at China who he holds responsible for not bringing the Kim family to heel over the years. There's certainly truth in that, but it's the kind of situation in which everyone should tread carefully.

While there are certainly big events going on in the world, the President has also managed to use his Twitter account to demonstrate once more how unfit for office he is. Last weekend he laid into the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe, saving much of his misogynist ire for Mika Brzezinski. He then doubled-down on these comments before retweeting doctored images that show him fighting someone with the CNN logo over their face. It's never boring in Trumpland, but it is often pretty unpleasant.

Speak Up!

Last week saw Young Thug give his first live performance since the release of Beautiful Thugger Girls. Ahead of the show, he also announced the proceeds would go to Planned Parenthood.

Life in the world of The Smiths frontman Morrissey certainly has its moments. The outspoken Mancunian has apparently accused a police officer in Rome of threatening to shoot him. In a quote on Facebook attributed to Morrissey, he described being accosted outside a Nike store as "a deliberate act of terror."

In case you missed it, Independence Day has come and gone again, providing plenty of excuses for musicians to wave the flag online, while others did a little more distancing.

 

 

 

 

Song of the Week: Will Butler - "Anything You Want"

Will Butler from Arcade Fire also got in on the act on Independence Day, sharing "Anything You Want." The six-minute track serves as something of a history lesson about George Washington while also borrowing from Roy Orbison's excellent "You Got It." Butler has said it wasn't written for July 4th, but it seemed a good day to put it out there.

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