Blackbird Raum: Encouraging Weirdness, Even on MTV

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Recently, Blackbird Raum went where no folk-punk band has gone before -- to MTV.

MTV Iggy, to be exact. The Santa Cruz, Calif. anarcho-folk outfit, now ten years into their run as a band, was recently featured on the Web site, which focuses on "cutting-edge global music."

Lest anyone think they've traded in their DIY ethic for the bubbleheaded superstardom of the Snookis of the world, a few of the band's members sought to ease worried minds in advance of their show tonight at East Side Social Center.

"Bands are a big part of peoples' identities and nobody likes to feel like their special thing is being given away to the lamers of the world," says CPN, the band's banjo player/vocalist. "I'm not offended when people feel like they have to stop liking us because we're 'popular.' It does mystify me, though, especially since we regularly play shows to less than 30 people. They should wait until we actually sell out to call us sell outs."

Whether larger fame and fortune comes calling, don't expect Blackbird Raum to change its long-running narrative. In albums like Swidden, Under the Starling Host and, most recently, False Weavers, the band has focused heavily on environmental, political and social issues.

"Who we are and what we think about comes out in our music, and I value being genuine, so I wouldn't have it any other way. I can't ignore these things I know about," says Mars, the band's lone female, who plays mandolin and whose haunting voice accentuates some fan favorites.

"I can't pretend I don't know how many millions of people are in prison," she continues. "I can't pretend I don't know what's happening to the water and land that sustains us all. I can distract myself, or integrate the reality of what is into my being and my life."

"The earth is being destroyed for profit," adds CPN. It's something that doesn't go away just because you already know that it's true or that you said it before. It's sort of perennial that way, like love songs."  

One thing the band is excited about is how many new listeners are catching on to anarcho-folk music and its salient messages. Enough to catch even MTV's eyes, apparently. They've been through Houston a couple of times now and are aware the music has a local following.

"The East Side Social Center, where we played last year, is a very rad space with tons of cool books and the people there are very nice also," says Zack, the band's high-energy accordionist. "The bands we played with at that show, Days n Daze and Say Girl Say, are both very good and they were fun to watch.

"The time before that we played at Super Happy Fun Land and it was a very awkward show, so I'm glad we came back to amend our first impressions. Both times we had very good taqueria food, and that is saying something, since we're from California," he says.

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"Houston is a place where very awesome things can happen to you and a place where very gross things can happen to you," adds CPN. "Now that I think about it, more or less everything that has happened to me in Houston has been either gross or awesome. I think I'm not going to tell the gross stories right now."

"I think this counts as awesome," Mars chimes in. "I've been stoked about some of the folks we met, getting to hear about what they're involved with and having a chance to connect in a real way. It's not super easy to connect with people when you are in town for one day, so that's something memorable about Houston for me."

They all understand the city's DIY scene is growing, as it is elsewhere. For veterans of the scene like Raum, it's an encouraging trend.

"It is very important to have a strong D.I.Y. music scene, because it encourages people to express their creativity, even if they've never been on American Idol or gotten an agent," Zack says.

"It creates a cultural environment that encourages weirdness and individuality," agrees CPN. "It makes it a benefit to be a weirdo, so therefore more people become weirdos, and since I believe in weirdo ideology I hold this to be good."

The band agreed to field a question from a Rocks Off reader. Nick Hurtado, a former Californian now in Texas, asked whether the band has members who consider themselves anarchists.

"We are anarchists," Mars says. "For me, that is about acknowledging that no one else is better suited to decide how individuals and communities should live their lives, besides those people themselves. It also is about the responsibility that comes with that. And the general observation that everyone has different needs and desires, and to truly welcome the legitimacy of those differences,

"I believe creating room for each others' autonomy and power is essential. That's anarchy to me," she continues. "Many of us have been or are currently involved in things like ecological struggles, indigenous solidarity work, prisoner support, and co-creating empowered communities."

Not the sorts of subjects MTV is known for. But definitely should be.

With Lynched, Adam and the Ancient Gods and Radio Flyer, 9 p.m. tonight at East Side Social Center, 4202 Canal.


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