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Soundtracking the Resistance - Pathway to Paris and Beyond

An Interview with Rebecca Foon and Jesse Paris Smith on Pathway to Paris

Oct 27, 2017 Rebecca Foon Bookmark and Share

President Donald Trump can pull out of the Paris Agreement, but that doesn’t mean everyone else gives up so easily. This week we speak to musicians Rebecca Foon and Jesse Paris Smith who started Pathway to Paris as a way to bring music and climate experts together for a series of concerts. We also catch up on the latest fallout within Republican ranks, find further allegations of sexual abuse in the music industry, and end with Miguel in fine political form for a new song.

The Big Event

It’s been a dispiriting year for climate change activists, and ultimately anyone who has to live on a planet humanity seems hellbent on destroying. Just when it seems world leaders have managed to agree on joint action to stave off our impending doom, along comes a president happy to tear up previous deals and walk away from the table. A certain degree of pessimism is to be expected.

Look a little further though, and there are hopeful signs. That’s certainly what Rebecca Foon and Jesse Paris Smith see, which is hardly surprising given they’ve been busy creating some of that hope. Back in 2014, the two musicians came together to start Pathway to Paris. What began as a concert to encourage the signing of the Paris Agreement has since become a fully-fledged movement mixing world-famous musicians with environmental experts to inspire action. Foon and Smith have since turned Pathway to Paris into a registered non-profit organization, and are gearing up for a big concert at Carnegie Hall on November 5 to launch a new initiative.

Their impressive achievement started from simpler beginnings. According to Montreal based Foon, a cellist, singer, and composer with an enviably eclectic musical career, “it happened extremely organically.” They were inspired by the People’s Climate March that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in New York in September 2014. “We decided in like five days, we’re going to have a concert in honor of the People’s Climate March and we got together some incredible musicians like Patti Smith and Michael Stipe.”

Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of Patti Smith, speaking separately, backs this up. “The first Pathway to Paris event was organized rather quickly. The intention was to both celebrate the momentous historical event of the People’s Climate March, and to continue this momentum to highlight the importance of establishing a legally binding global climate agreement.” What started as a one-off soon morphed into a series of concerts in the lead up to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and beyond.

Where they find the time to have carried this on for three years is another thing entirely. Over the course of her career, Foon has never been content to sit back. Having worked with everyone from members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Wolf Parade to British Sea Power, she also joined A Silver Mt. Zion, and Set Fire to Flames, and formed chamber rock ensemble Esmerine.

She’s since launched a solo career under the name Saltland, putting out her debut I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us in 2013. Foon is quick to downplay the difficulty required to balance her role as a musician and climate activist. Her approach is simple. “I guess I just try to show up every day.”

For Smith it’s a similar story, though a constant tension between climate activism and music has existed most of her life. “I decided when I was 15 that I would become a climate scientist. I was also a musician and loved writing songs, but I didn’t feel a real desire to make that my life’s work. I really believed I would become a scientist, maybe studying glacial ice on an expedition and taking it back to my science lab. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and I fell into a life of music instead.”

That life has seen her create compositions used in everything from audiobooks and film scores to fashion shows and art installations. Finally, she appears to have found a way to unite her interests. “I still get a little sad sometimes that I didn’t become a climate scientist, but I am happy Pathway to Paris allows me to work with these scientists to help to amplify their voices and findings.”

While Pathway to Paris as an idea has continued to grow and grow, the quality of the performers at the concerts has never been less than stellar. The upcoming Carnegie Hall show includes Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Flea, and Cat Power alongside renowned environmentalists such as Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben.

Often the same people perform across multiple shows, demonstrating their commitment. As Smith explains, “climate action requires passion for that cause, a love of our planet, and the desire to use your voice to raise that awareness and help to amplify the message. Everyone who performs at our events is there because they meet those requirements.”

It gives their shows a unique mix of expert opinion and an awful lot of music that would look good headlining any bill. For music fans there’s even been the chance to get a jump on highly anticipated new releases. When Foon talks about the concert in Paris ahead of the signing of the agreement, she mentions Thom Yorke. “He performed songs that had never been heard before from the new Radiohead album before it was released.”

Obviously, the aim is to do more than just give a sneak preview of new material from major acts. It’s also more than simply raising awareness. Pathway to Paris certainly doesn’t lack ambition. The Carnegie Hall show sees a firm move into the solutions business, announcing the 1000 Cities initiative.

It’s an idea that clearly excites them both. Foon can’t contain her enthusiasm. “The idea of the 1000 Cities initiative is that it takes 1000 cities across the world to commit and go 100% renewable by 2040. If 1000 cities can do that, then we can achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement and move beyond them. If 1000 cities can do that, what a beautiful world.”

Smith sees it as a clear sign of how they’ve progressed from that first show. “Pathway to Paris since 2014 has been focused on raising awareness, first of the importance of establishing a legally binding agreement on climate change, and then on turning that agreement into reality. We are now focused on the 1000 Cities initiative, and offering a tangible solution to making Paris real.”

That this is all being undertaken under the shadow of an American administration belligerent in the face of such calls to action is not lost on either of them, but it’s also not a reason to lose heart. Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement hardly came as a surprise to Smith. “The day Trump was elected we knew we had to work harder than ever. We basically continued our work as though the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement that day.”

It would be foolish to suggest Trump has been good news for the environmental community, or, arguably, the planet as a whole, but Smith has a bright side to look on. “When Trump was elected it was devastating to everyone who had been working so hard for so long, but it also ignited a new wave of citizen action that hadn’t existed previously.”

Foon sees the 1000 Cities initiative as a way around this as well. “What I love about it is it’s not dependent on national governments and it’s not dependent on characters like Trump. It’s not coming out of politics.” And that’s really why she’s so excited, and why both of them have given so much of their time to a concert that has become something much larger. “It comes from people, from us imagining a way of being and moving towards that. That’s what we’re trying to do with Pathway to Paris by bringing music and leading voices of the world together to inspire and to get regular citizens to start dreaming and being creative about the kind of world they want to live in. I think that’s really beautiful.”

Pathway to Paris : 1000 Cities Campaign from Pathway to Paris on Vimeo.

Anyone looking to support the 1000 Cities initiative can sign the petition at the following link. It automatically triggers an email sent to the governing body in the signers city to encourage involvement in the cause -

What’s Going On

The rich can celebrate a chance to get even richer without having to do a thing. The Republican Party took a step towards their beloved tax reform after the House passed a measure allowing for a $1.5 trillion reduction in federal revenue. There’s still a long way to go, and Republicans from high tax states have their own concerns, as the federal tax cuts are likely to be partly offset by the removal of deductions from state and local taxes, but a hurdle is cleared.

If the Republican Party has hardly done much to speak up against the many infractions of the president, it does still seem those infractions are making things an awful lot more fractious within the GOP. Following in the steps of Bob Corker, fellow senator Jeff Flake has also opened up, making his position clear when he said, “you can’t continue to just remain silent.” Of course, both are standing down and not running for re-election, and don’t have to weigh such attacks against the need to surf Republican and Trumpian support back into office.

Not that a lack of civility need be kept within the party. In a press conference this week, Trump again came out swinging over suggestions he botched the call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger. Trump refuted claims by Johnson’s widow that he struggled with her husband’s name, making it clear that he has “one of the great memories of all time.”

Speak Up!

Although he doesn’t hail from there, Kevin Morby clearly has a thing for Baltimore. This week he’s released two different versions of a track named after the city. All proceeds from “Baltimore (Sky At Night)” and “Baltimore (County Line)” will go to the Baltimore non-profit Believe In Music, aiming to provide an innovate music education for young people in the city.

Matt Mondanile has responded to sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the Ducktails founder and ex-Real Estate guitarist, acknowledging “inappropriate behavior” without addressing the specific allegations. This comes in the same week musician Julia Holter publicly claimed Mondanile was emotionally abusive to her, even going as far as to say, “I had to have a lawyer intervene and was afraid for my life.”

Following the wave of recent accusations surrounding sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, Alice Glass, formerly of Crystal Castles, has also spoken out, accusing former bandmate Ethan Kath of sexually assaulting her on multiple occasions, and becoming physically abusive. Kath has denied the allegations while Glass said she is making this public thanks to “the momentum that’s been created recently by the many courageous women who have opened up about their own stories.”

Song of the Week: Miguel - “Now”

American singer and songwriter Miguel is getting ready for the release of his fourth album, and he’s making no secret of its political nature. Having already put out a track laden with the fear of nuclear war, he premiered new song “Now” at a benefit show in California.

Over the course of the live footage, he attacks Trump while referencing the situation in Puerto Rico, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the disenfranchised dreamers. All over a rather delightful acoustic guitar as well.

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