In an excerpt from a previous interview with Street Pharmacy‘s Ryan Guay and James Searl of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad on their collaborative track titled “They Don’t Give A $$$$.” Released July 2, both artists took the time to reflect on the past few months. The radical adjustments and adaptations both of them needed to make in order to survive the lockdown music industry were foremost in their minds. With the lockdown came an increased online presence for the both of them, which meant more online interactions with right-wing fans that became heated around the release of “They Don’t Give a $$$$,” interactions which both James and Ryan elaborated further upon in the context of a divided political climate.
Thomas Lent: COVID-19 has negatively affected a majority of the entertainment industry, but how has each of your group’s plans and strategies around shows and monetization changed?
Ryan Guay: I’ll let James take this one first.
James Searl: Well, our situation, I think. In Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, anytime outside conflict has come up with the group we’ve always gotten more efficient and a little bit more communicative about whatever hole we needed to plug previous to that conflict. So when people left the band we didn’t expect to leave. We had to address that. We kind of really get tighter and more trusting of each other, because people who were originally in the band, the founders with me, found that actually, we have to work harder to find what we have now. That turned out to be something that works better. The next example would be any of us having children. Was this gonna, kill our ability to tour or come up with music? We just got more efficient at touring and putting out albums that we’re happy about. With Coronavirus I think we felt pretty good about the time that we have the kind of reflected and work on new material. We’re recording a new album which we’re having a hard time finding the time and money to get that together in a quick manner. Now we have even a bigger block of time. We’re securing news funds, recording music, and working on new songs, because nobody has anything else to do playing live for the next, god knows how long. Because, at least in the states, I don’t know people are really gonna feel how serious this is.
TL: Well, I can say that in Buffalo at least, I live in a suburb outside of Buffalo and specifically East Aurora, and we have an elder.
JS: That’s where my whole family is from!
TL: Really? Small world! I think about thirty-five people died in that place alone so I would say that people are taking things far more seriously.
JS: I hope so, that’s not what it’s like where I’m living. I went to get some beer at a store in southern Michigan. I live near the border around there and nobody is wearing a mask and the cashier said something about it and I’m like “I’m wearing this for your protection!”, So I said I didn’t know if masks were required here or not, I know that Michigan has some pretty serious laws right now and they said that “We tell people they don’t have to wear masks because we would lose half our business” and I’m like ok, but really, “Half the people? Really?” you’re selling beer and cigarettes, two products that people are going to be getting anyway. But as far as moving forward goes theirs a different presence online and I don’t like being ultra-online. I don’t like that idea like everybody being so online, but I also can’t imagine what this would have been like twenty years ago, I just can’t imagine it. Now because we have all these different ways to still be together with apps and to stay in communication with music. I mean, every Tuesday when I’m putting my kids to bed and start to clean the house and stuff and I can find a show for RootFire where I get to listen to classic Reggae tunes, whereas like before, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see that. Clinton Fearon, one of my heroes, actually plays every Sunday at his house and he’s in his 70’s! So I think it’s nice for him to not have to leave his house to share with his fans all over the world. Could we have done this before? Sure, but nobody did. And we’ve just been accelerated into the future about what live music is gonna look like. What live music is about is connection and that goes back to the fans with the MAGA hats at the front row of the Panda show. I wanna find a way to talk to you because I’m glad you’re listening to the music and I’m glad that we’re connecting with the music but obviously theirs a personal disconnect that probably could be reconciled as well as it could without conflict. It would be easier reconciled just to listen to a song and having your own time to reflect on this stuff. Especially not having to deal with you personally, I’ll say.
RG: That’s a good point. I’ve definitely seen some or received some comments from fans that are no longer fans and not supportive of what our video and what our song represents because they’ve interpreted it in a way that they feel almost insulted. That’s not the intent here. We’re trying to communicate with people that need not understand the premise. They quite frankly get the wool pulled over their eyes and were just trying to have a conversation. James says that “Now we’re having good conversation” in the second verse and we want to have good conversation, a positive dialogue. If anything that’s the way that social media has proven that this discourse is anything but civil. As a result of being locked down and everything else that has occurred. I think that probably, other than stuff James already mentioned, as to how this has affected musicians, that is also the same thing with us but being online means you’ve gotta put yourself out there in a way. It can be volatile out there. I experienced this first hand. The first week that this song has been out I’ve had to mitigate these comments where fans have felt betrayed that we have done something like this and my response is “Sorry that you feel that way but this is how we feel about it and you should really look into this because our lyrics over the last 15 years that we’ve been playing, you’ve probably missed some of that.” So it’s yeah it’s kind of like the idea that people are tweeting against Rage Against the Machine that have been fans for 20 some odd years and then realize that they have left-wing values.
TL: When I was listening to your track I thought that you weren’t just punching one way or the other. You have clips of Nancy Pelosi in there as well. I don’t think you were particularly going after one side, you were going after one class though. It’s not as if it is a good class, particularly if you’re talking about the one percent there and you know, who’s defending them? Why would you?
JS: Exactly who in the 1% is listening to this song? Like if this song is about you, if you’re the person that doesn’t give a fuck about us, then there’s only so many people that could be.
RG: Their probably not hearing this song in reality.
JS: And ya to be fair, at least Panda, I was thinking about how over the years Ryan would say that he got some pushback on a song, like I’ve been dealing with pushback online just for speaking and trying to change people’s minds about being anti-racist and pro-environment for many many years and it has been incredible to realize how many, I mean, I’m not trying to pigeon hole people but it’s always a white dude. It’s a white young man commenting, “Why don’t you shut up and play music,” “What about black on black crime.”, just you know straw man arguments. Stuff that we just don’t have the time or energy to deal with on that level, but we always try to be there and are open to have conversations but people don’t want to listen. Reggae, Rage Against the Machine, and hip hop all of this is revolution music that has been around since recorded music acts as a pressure valve for people to be more comfortable, and they’ll say “I am tolerant I listen to Bob Marley, and I’m voting for Donald Trump,” and it’s like, well you know what, I think we should have some more detailed dialogue about that stuff.
RG: The discourse that were trying to have here is to cut the extraneous bullshit that that people are being fed. This is how we end up with the culture of you know. Young white men that feel disenfranchised. But actually they are a more privileged class, you know- and it’s mind-boggling to me- that some of these lyrics could be misinterpreted. At the end of the day, the purpose of this song is to cut through the bullshit and the same with the video. The video shows that on both sides, that when you’re at the top, those people don’t really don’t give a fuck about you. No matter who you are. They only care about the bottom dollar, the bottom line, just like you said about share prices, people being concerned about yeah reporting, rail blockades because they’re worried about shareholders losing you know a lot of money or losing faith in the company. That is absolutely ridiculous. We’re facing catastrophic climate change that could end humankind as we know it and somebody is worried about stock prices. That seems so wild to me. You know people need to talk about these things, and you need to understand that this is coming from great, and you know I hate to quote Warren Buffet, but I’m gonna do it. You know when people are fearful he says to be greedy when people are greedy he says to be fearful. Right now you know the people at the top of the top are perpetuating this fear in society and it’s resulting in an exorbitant amount of greed. How is the stock market not ya know completely shattered? It doesn’t make any sense!
TL: When it comes to the young white men who are you showing up to your shows wearing MAGA hats being obtuse my current hypothesis is that conservatism represents a counter-culture and the youth enjoy rebelling and they enjoy being contrarian. They feel that when all their professors and their teachers are all liberal. “I’m gonna be conservative because that’s what they don’t like and that’s what they aren’t.” It’s to be contrarian, would you agree with that?
RG: Yeah. I agree with that yeah that makes sense. I think that a lot of these young white men and other people that are taking the uber-conservative side of things, I think that they lack a spiritual connection with themselves and they’ve lost their sense of identity. This counter-culture is that identity. That search for an identity, where they feel the need to identify with something that looks like them and that’s what I found with having to defend this song. When I’m looking up their Facebook profile, I’m seeing just “Being lost,” and I’m seeing that they are not being sure of themselves or who they are. That seems to be the case for a lot of these people I’m assuming. I’m Canadian so this might not be as big here so I might not be seeing it as often. James, what do you think of that?
JS: I think there’s a good degree of that on both sides and that’s like a bigger conversation about the American psyche or the American identity. When I was growing up all suburban kids listened to hip hop. And it’s like, why is that? Why are they listening to music that is directly about where you’re not from and not made by people in your position? In a lot of ways, it could be really beautiful because that’s one way that some people that are in an oppressed situation are making communication and it is being observed by people on the other side. That would be the call that we would all answer too. I think that that’s been my motivation in my life for my music, doing as good of a job as I can do. I’m not like a, you know, I don’t feel great about everything that I’ve accomplished for human rights since I’ve listened to Rage Against the Machine when I was 11 years old. It’s like, “Oh this is the side that I’m not being told”, “This is what I’m not experiencing” and I feel like it’s my responsibility as a moral person to bring justice and rights and to improve culture by talking about it because if you’re not talking about it then you’re supporting it.
And that’s from Zack Del La Rocha from his concert in Minnesota that I had a recording of that I was listening to when I was 13 years old. “If you’re not a part of the solution then your apart of the fuckin problem” that was in the middle of the speech in “Wake Up” and I’ve never forgotten that speech. It gave me goosebumps then, it gives me goosebumps now. He was talking about Leonard Peltier from the American Indian Movement in that speech. The thing I wanted to say about the young men who are rebelling and being conservative as apart of rebelling, what troubles me about that is that in the sixties, early seventies, in the eighties, with whatever that rebellion was I’m not sure, or grunge in the 90s was everybody was the, the counter culture was resistant to the greater culture, the hegemony, the mainstream. What’s scary about these guys is that there is already a structure ready to like accept them with this counter-culture and give them the tools to carry out this system. This includes tons of legitimate journals, newspaper writers, college professors, and ya know the money that’s given to colleges.
TL: They’re not organizing in garages, they’re being given grants from super PACs.
JS: Right! When I was in college I studied international relations and, being taught by hip-hop and African music things that I didn’t learn about growing up in the suburbs necessarily, points of perspective. I knew that jobs I would get to try and fix those things, there was no money there. Not even to pay me but not even to exist in a way that was meaningful. My counterparts in college were like, republican conservative people who went on to be funded by the Koch brothers and went on to be the president of not-for-profit groups in Washington D.C. who use 49% of their power to influence politics and 51% to influence culture because that’s what they have to do to be a non-for-profit. These are Koch brother founded organizations. That makes me really scared about these, that was going to have to be dealing with these young people as adults with power that are already coming from privileged places and they’re ready to be moved right along into positions of power.
Matt Gaetz, the 37-year-old Congressman from Florida, he’s just atrocious. Stephen Miller for instance he’s my age. If you thought these guys were old and dying out you’re wrong they’re being replaced with more young people. In the verses that I wrote in the song with Ryan I think one of the main points is to not be passive about this. Be active. Get on the streets. Sacrifice as much as you can because this is a fight that needs as much energy as possible because the people that don’t give a fuck about you. They also have all the money and a lot of them have all the guns.
RG: All the guns.
JS: They have all the guns because we’re non-violent people! We know that if you put a gun in your house you’re twice as likely to die from it. You know it’s like everything points to, I don’t want to have a gun but what am I gonna do when all these crazy people, ya know, it’s all about certain numbers. It feels good to go to a protest. Not on the internet. Actually out on the streets with people who believe in these things as much as you do. Ya know to these young MAGA kids it’s never the way that you see it on the news. It’s never a bunch of violent people (at the protests) its young, old, men, women, non-binary people, everybody’s there at these protests and so many times the cops just come bust it up. In Denver, my friend was in one for the boy Elijah and everybody was playing violins outside and the police came and tear-gassed everybody. This is not a time to be passive. You know Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, they all tell you to watch. Wait and watch and just see what happens all of this is gonna come crashing down. Donald Trump is gonna rid the world of pedophilia, I’ve heard this from so many people, panda fans included. It’s just like “Sit and Watch, Sit and watch other people do this for you”!?! Why aren’t you apart of your movement that you speak so highly of?