Underground Music is Free Media

When my wife Michele and I hosted a Health and Sustainable Living Expo at the ARROW Community Garden in Astoria a few years back, we were contacted by a local roots/reggae band offering to provide a live soundtrack. The Uplifters, it turned out, were very much in tune with what was being offered…the perfect vibe for an afternoon of sunshine, yoga, alternative health, organic food, and critical thought. The members of The Uplifters have since gone their separate ways…but I’ve remained in touch with David Linhart and Jonathan Siegel, the duo who make up Twiin (http://www.twiin.com). We often share our thoughts and concerns and ideas-via e-mail-on current events, social issues, pop culture, and life.

With the release of Twiin’s debut CD, “Call to the Sun,” I thought I’d ask David (guitar and voice) and Jon (a.k.a. Jon the Bassist) a few questions. With David in Ithaca, New York and Jon in Holyoke, Massachusetts, it was interesting to check out the divergence and the common ground in their responses.

MICKEY Z.: What’s different about working as an accoustic duo as opposed to a full band? Is this a situation you both saw yourselves moving toward or did it happen organically?

Jon: Twiin has been brewing since the release of our first album together in college. We played in a ska band called The Dominant Seven. My bass playing and my own style immediately clicked with David’s solo acoustic work. This doesn’t surprise me considering the circumstances under which we met. My freshman dorm room at Cornell was the exact room David lived in the previous year. I didn’t learn that until later. The first weekend at school, I saw a guitarist perform a Smashing Pumpkins song at the dorm’s coffee house jam session. Strange, I thought, that guy kind of looks like me. After the show, I didn’t introduce myself; I simply left. Not four steps out of the coffee house, a girl complimented me on my performance. She thought I was David. I wouldn’t actually meet David until weeks later when we simultaneously joined the ska band on separate invitations. This coffee house night was the first instance I can recall of nearly nine continuous years of people mistaking us. It always seems that our paths are intended to align.

David: I started with acoustic guitar long before electric and have always approached my acoustic songwriting personally– my way of making sense of the world. When the Uplifters passed I returned to where I started. It was natural to make this return with Jon after eight years of musical projects together.

Jon: Now in Twiin, our skills as musicians and as composers have matured–we both have our own distinct style, and these styles continue to compliment each other. As a duo, our own voices, both lyrically and musically, come out stronger and clearer than before.

MZ: Jon once told me “Underground music is free media.” Please relate this to Twiin. Also, David, You recently sent me a quote of yours in response to on of my articles, “What I hope to do for people [is to] help them have the courage and endurance to be passionate and feel things deeply.” Can you talk more about how you see your role as musician?

David: I sent that comment thinking of how getting to know someone closely usually means getting to know what they are hurting about. Disappointment hurts. It’s a definite risk of dreaming big, but getting hurt by disappointment passes. Getting hurt slowly by going numb and not caring– this kind of hurt is more serious, because life starts to lose meaning. Anything that helps people feel things deeply can crowd out numbness and give meaning to life. Music does this.

Jon: To me, underground music is still free media. When working independently, you can say anything in your music. To stay afloat as an independent band between 1999 and 2003, I put a lot of work into the business side of The Uplifters. It’s hard. It’s tiring. Often times, it’s even distracting from the art of the music itself. In Twiin I’m ready to work with like-minded people to get our music out. I don’t want to take on the bulk of the business side of our music any longer. I want to indulge more in the music itself. This may imply that we sign with a label. Technically, this would no longer be underground music. However, I think it can still be free media–it can still be uncensored. The censorship we’d be worried about only concerns our political songs (we’re not big on fucking cursing and shit in our music–it’s waste of good vocal space–and so our personal experience songs would never be censored). As we mature into our later twenties, David and I seem to be gravitating toward a more poetic voicing of our message and content. Perhaps the more poetic the lyrics, the less likely they will be censored. I think the poetic approach abstracts the political ideas. They become less abrasive and oppositional and more artistic. Yet they carry a strong energy of our thoughts, concerns and intentions. Even if we did run into a label that wouldn’t release a songs like “Gunmen” or a song like “Autumn in June” (the first questioning the role of military/violence by David, the latter expressing my concerns of global warming), I think as a two-piece, we could pump out two to three albums at a time if we focused. We could then maybe put out our own underground album alongside our label album. Maybe the label contract would force us to do that under a new name (Twiin AKA), and maybe we’d need some guerilla distribution–whatever the situation, we’ll get the music out.

MZ: Mark Rothko said: “It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.” Would you agree “there is no such thing as good song about nothing”?

David: I would say there is no such thing as a song about nothing. There is no creative act that doesn’t carry a piece of the creator. Sometimes I don’t know what a song is about until after I have finished it and I can look at it. Sometimes art can sneak past the whole mental process, pull up stuff from the heart and empty straight into another heart. Meanwhile we think nothing is happening.

Jon: There is definitely such a thing as a good song about the concept of nothing (maybe like The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” which I think is a great song). But as for a song truly about nothing, I am less optimistic. A song only takes place with vibration. To some far reaching minds out there, even a creaky door swinging in a draft might be a song. But without vibration (with nothing) there is no song. In my ears, for a song to truly be about nothing, it would have to encapsulate nothing fully, and I don’t think that’s a song.

MZ: I know it was not unusual for The Uplifters to give out books at their gigs…what were some of these books?

David: “Food Revolution” by John Robbins, “Eyes of the Heart,” by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, also random essays/articles.

MZ: In this election year, do you see yourselves continuing to reach out to motivate and mobilize your audience? What might you say to someone who thinks Kerry is a step in the right direction?

Jon: We’re talking about a marathon, and we’ve been running the wrong way for a long time. One step back toward the real finish line is NOT going to amount to much at all. As for our music and the upcoming election, I personally don’t see myself outwardly motivating or mobilizing anyone. I’d rather Twiin be a muse for people who do motivate and mobilize (as well as for people who don’t). I can put our album out there, invite people to listen, and request to play concerts publicly. Maybe someone will listen to Twiin’s rendition of Strange Fruit, and feel so drawn to it that they research how racism might still linger in our society. Maybe they’ll even set up an organization to teach the public about residue of apartheid in South Africa. Maybe that will affect positive change in millions of lives down the line. Anything is possible. I’m not, however, looking to get into political conversations with strangers. Arguments erupt too easily in this post 9/11 age. If I want to present my thoughts to strangers, I’ll do it with music. Music (and art in general) is one of the many non-confrontational avenues to potentially affect change in a person. A person chooses to listen, or chooses to ignore. I hope they listen. I hope they absorb. In some cases, I hope they change.

David: A step in the right direction is too easily overturned by two steps in the wrong direction, Change happens in leaps. Right now we are in an impossible situation in Iraq. There is sooo much momentum building against the Bush dynasty…if Kerry enters office that momentum will largely be lost because many will think something good has been accomplished. Meanwhile Bush will jump out of the hot seat and be able to blame all of his mayhem on Kerry such that 4 or 8 years later Bush or his next-in-line will be able to say “we had it under control until KERRY…” Conservatives used this strategy with Clinton. Are a few moderate years ever NOT followed by hyper-conservatism? Here is something that will not happen but would be nice: Bush 2004! Impeach 2005! Hold Bush accountable!

MZ: Now that you had a chance to read each other’s answers, any closing thoughts on the impact of individual opinion on a joint project? Can this offer any lessons in terms of forming coalitions on a much larger scale?

David: The name “Twiin” has the connotation of two individuals. With only two players, there is plenty of space in our music for each of us to move around harmonically. In the same sense, we can speak different opinions because we give each other both space to change and space not to change. Behind all we say or do is who we are. If, at the core, a person honestly hungers for big answers to big questions, then everything that comes out of that person will have the grace of sincerity. Add a little humility, and we have the stuff of solidarity.

Jon: I second that.

For more about Twiin or to buy “Call to the Sun,” visit: http://www.twiin.com.

MICKEY Z. is the author of two upcoming books: “A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense” (Prime Books/Library Empyreal) and “the Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at mzx2@earthlink.net.


Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.