The classically trained singer/songwriter Terra Naomi holds up her voice to speak for social and political change through her alternative rock music. Her wonderfully melodic tunes capture an insightful look at the world she finds herself in as her message reaches out to the listener for their own introspection. Activism has been important to the singer since her early days and she has successfully married her creative passion to her activism. Naomi is performing at Hotel Café January 18th on the day before the release of her new single “Machine Age.” The track is a reflection about the inauguration of Trump one year ago, on January 19, 2017.
Q & A with Terra Naomi
Q: What drives you to create songs on certain themes?
A: I’m mostly influenced by things that happen in my own life. I usually have to feel something really deeply in order to express it in a song. I often write stories that are not taken from my life, but the feeling behind them is the same as something I’ve experienced. In the case of “Machine Age,” I definitely was not planning to write a protest song. I mean — I love protest songs, but it was not on my agenda. My album was done, it was being mastered. The song came to me unexpectedly, while I was in the shower, and basically wrote itself in under an hour. That’s the way it usually happens for me with songs like this, songs with themes that are so massive; I’m pretty sure I would not have been able to write this song if I’d intentionally set out to write it.
Q: Have you always approached your music with a need to address social matters?
A: No, but the songs I’ve written that do address social matters are some of my favorite. When I wrote “Say It’s Possible,” 10 years ago, I had just seen Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and it shook me. I was terrified. I never intended to write a song about climate change. I went to bed, woke up in the morning, and the song came out fully intact, beginning to end, in under 15 minutes. I think I write about social matters from an internal perspective — so the song is not about the facts of the situation as much as it’s about how that situation affects me, emotionally. I write when I’m really affected by something. It’s how I process things. And social matters really affect me, so I guess it makes sense that I write about them!
Q: Do you feel the artist has a social responsibility to speak up in these times?
A: It’s a tricky question. I believe I have a responsibility, yes, and it’s what I choose to do, but I’m not going to tell any other artist how to create their art. There is all different kinds of art, and not all of it needs to be socially responsible.
Q: Do you think movements like #meToo and #TimesUp will affect any real change?
A: I think they already have. Literally, everyone is talking about it.
Q: You have a new single out from your album “Machine Age” Can you talk about what this song means to you and what inspired you to write it?
A: Like I mentioned, I didn’t set out to write “Machine Age.” It came to me unexpectedly and basically demanded to be written, so I got out of the shower, canceled my plans, picked up my guitar, and wrote the song. It’s not the most obvious choice for a first single — a six and a half minute protest song — but as soon as I wrote it, I stopped considering other songs on the album and knew I had to release this one first. This song is a direct result of feeling completely disillusioned by the hostage situation our country is in. It’s the result of watching the rights of my community stripped away, families in my neighborhood being torn apart…down the street from me, a mother and father were taken from their home by ICE agents, and their 14-year-old daughter was left in the house, alone. My husband and I ran off to Vegas and got married a year and a half earlier than planned when word got out about proposed civil rights rollbacks for gay and transgender people. My husband is trans, and we didn’t know what was going to happen to us, as American citizens. We still don’t. For the first time in my lifetime, we’re experiencing backward movement in human rights. We’ve been slowly evolving, rights that shouldn’t need to be granted in the first place have slowly rolled out — nowhere near fast enough, and we’ve barely scratched the surface — but for the first time, we’re actually going backward. It’s surreal.
Q: What has changed in your creative outlook since your early days of writing and performing?
A: I think my current creative outlook has more in common with my early days of writing, and whatever happened in the middle, over the last 10 years, was a detour followed by a process of finding my way back to what I knew when I first started, stripping away many layers of external influences and untruths. I started out raw and open and vulnerable, and I’ve spent the last several years finding my way back.
Q: Which past artists inspired you?
A: Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton, Elliott Smith, Nirvana, Emmylou Harris, lots of classical music and musical theater.
Q: Who is creating music now that you find interesting or admire?
A: There’s so much….but two moments this past year that made me stop and ask “Who is that?” were that Michael Kiwanuka song from the opening of “Big Little Lies” and a live video someone sent me of LP performing on Conan. They are so unique and interesting, don’t sound like anyone else. There are some great singer-songwriters coming out with really raw, beautiful music, like my friend Phoebe Bridgers. Her album is gorgeous. I’m really impressed by Phoebe and another singer-songwriter, Julien Baker — they seem to know who they are at such a young age — something that has taken years for me…people like that always amaze and confuse me. My journey has been so messy.
Q: Are you a romantic or cynic? Optimistic or pessimistic?
A: Depends on the day and the subject. That definitely makes me sound like a cynic, though…
Q: Where do you find everyday beauty?
A: I also love plants. And rocks. And dogs. I need to interact often with things that are way beyond my understanding, like nature. Otherwise, I tend to go dark.
Q: What has being creative done for you emotionally or spiritually?
A: Hmm…I don’t know how to answer that. Sometimes I think it’s my saving grace, and sometimes it feels like my downfall. It’s taken me out of the darkest places, but was probably also the thing that got me into those dark places to begin with, so…
Watch the “Machine Age” teaser below:
Find Terra Naomi: