Shannon Fields didn’t spare details when he talked to me about the process of releasing his new album, but he thought carefully in his explanations, considering the impact of each and every one of his words. Whites, Fields’s sophomore album as the lead mind behind New York’s electronic dance outfit Leverage Models, is over three years in the making, and he’s itching to share it with anyone who wants to listen. Originally recorded in 2015, it’s the delayed follow-up to his criticallylauded 2013 self-titled debut, which he’s been unwilling to give up on despite unforeseen complications, whether distribution-related or personal.
For the sake of context, Shannon Fields and I first connected when I tweeted about the disappearance of his band Leverage Models, and his friend happened to send the resulting thread his way. Around the same time, Fields — a veteran of the New York music scene with a unique perspective earned only by his tenure — was returning to social media to drum up some noise about the group’s brand new album. He and his friend had a laugh, and after a bit of correspondence, he offered to clear up any questions surrounding his three-year hiatus from Leverage Models and talk a bit about the forthcoming album.
Whites, out October 26th, is a surprisingly massive 35 minutes of arch-pop and new wave-inspired dance music. It’s a burst of electropop with an existential slant a la Talking Heads or Echo and the Bunnymen. But as three-minute tracks dart between multiple movements — a far cry from Fields’s methodical chamber compositions with previous NY mainstay Stars Like Fleas — it becomes increasingly difficult to pigeonhole Leverage Model’s dynamics. Perhaps counterintuitive after a stretch of five years since their last release, this album reaches even further than any of their previous projects. But according to Fields, the contradictions and confusing bends to music-making are what most excite him.
Whites backs up these ambitions with a handful of striking ready-made anthems for turbulent times, current and foreseeable. Antithetical pop songs with complex structures and prickly subject matter critically engage with the form of music while trafficking in and around its boundaries. The record features a number of intense moments of clarity bolstered by intricate, knotty countermelodies. Whites also features the slightest added touch of humanity compared to the prior works, which Fields might attribute to the recent addition of vocalist and bandmate Alena Spanger, previously of Tiny Hazard. With all of that in mind, Whites would seem to feel just as at home on an [adult swim] compilation — known for their colorful modern pop experiments — as it would an art museum exhibit.
Simply put, this is a record that up until a month ago I didn’t know had been struggling to come out, or even existed, but now am extremely glad got to see the light of day. When I first listened, I thought of many people — friends and those that, through social media, I’ve picked up their musical tastes — who would find something to love here. I hope that by featuring the album it finds its way in front of the ears of some of those people and that they can have a similar experience. But rather than continue to hear it from me, I think it’s best heard from Fields himself.
A few weeks ago Fields spoke with me on the phone to discuss his time away from Leverage Models, his prior band the NY chamber pop collective Stars Like Fleas, how this new record came together — and why he’s donating all of his proceeds from its sales — and even a little bit about what he’s been listening to recently. — Matt McMahon
Your act Leverage Models has been on active hiatus since 2016, what prompted the time away and what has sparked the return?
Shannon Fields:I wouldn’t say there was any big thing that took me away but a bunch of small things that contributed to my absence. There was a lot going on with me personally and what I don’t want to do is make my mental health a press hook, but it was definitely a factor.
Like I think I’ve mentioned [prior to this interview], the lead up to the 2016 presidential election and a lot of similar things that were happening politically made it very hard. I’ve always struggled with this question, but to justify to myself spending so much time and energy making entertainment and playing music for people to dance to and really saying, “Look at me. Love me. Give me validation,” when in the core of myself I really felt like I was the last person, or the last kind of person, anybody should be looking at in that kind of moment. A lot of that is personal baggage but some of that is still something I struggle with: How important is music or art as spectacle? Shouldn’t I and all of us be focused on something with more meaningful action?
On the other hand, with a lot of the personal issues I had over the last couple of years, it’s the little, small, good things like a great record, a great love song, a great song about it that gets you through. It’s meaningful and it’s helpful–it’s not the most important thing in the world, but it matters.
So then how did you get to a place to come back to the project?
Shannon Fields:I had some friends who–including everybody in the band–wouldn’t let me give up on this record. Once I felt strong enough personally to do it this year, they wouldn’t let me off the hook and said “We need to do something with it, we should be playing again.” So actually Alena [Spanger, vocalist in the band], Jeff [Gretz, drummer], and I have been working on a lot of new material, beginning to think about playing that out and releasing new work. But this record is hanging over my head and it’s hard to move forward feeling like I’ve failed to do anything with it, which at the time I was really proud of, and suddenly I felt like it had more resonance now than it did at the time given where we are.
You’ve stated that your previous work with the band — which seems like music made with the collaborative spirit that marks most of your projects — “lost you many friends,” do you care to get into that at all?
Shannon Fields:[laughs] I wrote that, so I should have to comment on it, right? It’s partly a joke, and it’s party true. I’m not a trained musician. I didn’t go to music school. Most of the people I work with are all conservatory people. I sort of drifted into it through this project called Stars Like Fleas. It’s the reason I have a music career at all. We were kind of lumped into what ended up in retrospect being this Brooklyn renaissance music. We got thrown in with a lot of freak folk, like Grizzly Bear, and Akron/Family, and Dirty Projectors, and where they were at the time. It really was kind of outside the bulb of that, but I think the people that liked it liked it because it was pretty confusing and it was pretty confrontational.
That wasn’t so much by design on my end, but my own process and what i feel emotionally compelled to do when I make work is to confuse myself a little bit, to go left when going right feels like the correct thing to do. The people who were drawn to that were the avant garde in New York, improvisers and modern composers. We ended up playing at the Museum of Modern Art, and PS1, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
That wasn’t my intention, but that’s where it ended up striking a chord.
So when that all fell apart, I left the city and decided if I was gonna keep making music at all I was gonna do it with all of that turned off, with my brain turned off, dig deep into the childhood well, and just make music that made myself happy. Just to do it, not to release it, not to play it–maybe play it for a few friends–and that’s kind of the unspectacular birth of Leverage Models. When I started actually playing it for people, a few people, like Adam [Heathcott] and Sara [Padgett Heathcott] at Hometapes the record label, were really excited about it and wanted it to be heard in a wider and broader way and made that happen.
And then all of the goodwill that I built up in that — maybe not my closest friends, but a lot of friends and acquaintances in that [Stars Like Fleas] world — I think people thought that I was pandering. They thought I jumped the shark, that I was selling out or something, because that’s how a lot of those people think about music in that kind of tribal way that I don’t. And also because they probably only listened to it superficially, and superficially it was very pop. Those first [Leverage Model] tapes, a lot of it’s pretty silly, and I know that as I’m reaching for something. You can’t really get somewhere new if you know where you’re going and you’re not willing to do some ridiculous things, which I’ve definitely done with Leverage Models.
Do you think that an audience is necessary to be able to continue to make music, or any kind of art? Do you need to have some audience to keep going, or can you do that just removed from everything else?
Shannon Fields:Well, it’s complicated, I never wanna be the person–and I’m not the person–who says “I did all this for myself, I don’t need anybody, I don’t need an audience. If they come along for the ride, great.” You hear that a lot, “It’s really for me, it’s all about me,” but I think the act of creating anything requires you to place yourself in the role of an audience and project an audience and imagine what they want and what their expectations are. To try to reach out to them. I can’t pretend that I don’t, and that there’s not a big part of this that’s about communication, that’s about connection, that’s about reaching out to people. That I’ve lived so much time of my life in my own head that I need and want that.
Stars Like Fleas was a band that really pushed people away live — in a way that some people found very exciting, and some people didn’t. Leverage Models has always been about bringing people in. I never enjoyed performing with Stars like Fleas, but performing with Leverage Models is really the greatest thing because it is about trying to connect with every single person in a room because I need that fed. I don’t seem to have the patience or discipline — I don’t know what it is and neither of those are the right word — but I don’t have the thing it takes to sit down and just make something that is very broad, very timely that I know everybody is gonna love and connect with and wanna hear, to try to be all things to all people.
It’s not a very difficult thing to do, to sit down and do that, and I don’t really look down on musicians and people that do because I think that’s part of what pop music is there for. It’s to give us mostly what we expect and maybe just a little spark of something that we don’t, just to take us out of ourselves for a minute and be in our bodies and enjoy ourselves and dance. But Leverage Models has never been exactly that and it’s just not where I am when I’m writing. I’m firstly trying to make something that excites me, and the things that excite me tend to be a little — I like the confusion more, I like the cognitive dissonance a little bit more in my pop music.
As you mentioned, I’m interested in that idea of then bringing this to other people, and performing with them, or working with them. What kind of impact does the addition of someone like Alena Spanger have on the new record?
Shannon Fields:A huge impact, she’s all over this record. Not as much as I would like, in the new material she’s even more forward. Alena came in right as we were releasing the first record. We had a couple of very big shows in New York and we had just released the single that was the duet with Sharon Van Etten. I wanted to have Sharon do that song with me and maybe a few others, but she was on tour, I think with Nick Cave — so I could understand choosing that over me [laughs].
At the same time my guitarist Dave [Scanlon] did a little house show — he’s a brilliant songwriter as well — and I went to this house show and he performed his songs for me. He was like “I want you to come and see it because I just started working with this singer I met at school, Alena.” I was producing a record for Dave at the time and he wanted to see what I thought. I heard her voice and immediately connected with it and thought it might work. We brought her in for some rehearsals and everybody in the band immediately saw that it worked. We had her sing on everything, and from that day she’s been in the band. Everything I’ve written I’ve tried to write more for what she does well and the way that, through touring, we’ve discovered that our voices work well together. Or not, I mean my voice is kind of a monstrous thing (laughs). When I let it be it gets pretty unhinged live, and on record.
She’s a trained singer with a beautiful voice, but with a very unusual sensibility and big ears. She just finds a way to sit alongside what I do. Both of our voices bring out something in the other, it adds a contrast that I really like. Like, I’m a big fan of — and our voices aren’t like this, but — some of the more pop early 90s records by Public Image Ltd. or Happy Mondays where you had really slick, cheesy production and full singers in the background and then this singer upfront who’s really saying something and really full of life, but terrible — sounds terrible. Y’know it’s really kind of punk in its ethics. And that was kind of our starting point. We’re both huge Cocteau Twins fans and that kind of combination of the amount of control [lead singer Elizabeth] Fraiser has over her voice in the early and middle years where she just sings unhinged like a banshee and wails, we both love that.
We’re recording a lot more of that in the work we’re doing now, but this was the first record where I really wanted Alena to be a really dominate color on the record because she’s really important in those ways. We’re writing together collaboratively and it’s become a great friendship, as it is with everybody in the band, but that’s kind of first really.
Now I want to shift more into this new album. What was it like to sit on the material for three years? Did you have to come back to it and change anything or is this pretty much the product you had around 2015?
Shannon Fields:It’s pretty much the product that I had around 2015. We finished this record towards the end of 2015, and we premiered the material down at Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh. We toured around that and played a bunch of dates in New York and they went great. I’ve never had better reception live ever, really, than we did for this material. And so we got back and got ready to cue up the release with Hometapes, and what I didn’t know is behind the scenes at Hometapes there were a lot of things going on and they were in the process of folding up the label. They weren’t really ready to say that, and I don’t want to talk too much about that because it’s not my place. But now if I went in to change anything, it would probably be unrecognizable. I would change so much about the record [laughs].
Do you feel that way with most of your work?
Shannon Fields:Yeah, which is why I try to make records as quickly as I can. I want to capture where I am at a point in time because I know if I don’t I will never finish, I’ll be chasing a moving target. There’s that great line in the play Six Degrees of Separation where the art dealer is talking about how all the children in the second grade are Matisses. He asks the art teacher why they’re all so great, and she says she knows when to take their drawings away from them. I need that person in my life (laughs). I have those people in my life. But yeah, it’s hard, it’s one of the reasons that it ended up being three years instead of one year. I did try to go back into it. The engineer that I mixed with fought me on it. Dan [James Goodwin], he fought me on it pretty hard, and in the end I didn’t do it.
It also ended up being a money issue. It was gonna be very expensive to go back and open those sessions and do the things I wanted to do. There were a lot more guest vocalists that I wanted to bring in. A lot of my vocals on the record were really intended to be sketches for other people because I have a complicated relationship with my voice. I’m not a singer, I feel like I have something to say and I have an interesting voice, and those are the singers I like and I’ve always liked more than anything, but at the same time, I don’t love my voice.
Yeah, I’m sure I’m gonna listen back to this recording when I’m typing it up and be horrified at what I sound like.
Shannon Fields:[laughs] It’s exactly like that, it’s exactly like hearing your voice back on a recording just talking and going “I don’t sound like that, I don’t talk like that, that’s not me.” With the record, where I ended up coming to terms with my voice is that it ended up being a lot less of the layered monstrous screamy stuff from the early Leverage Models records. I wanted something that was really, vocally, simple. I wanted articulated, colorless and transparent, kinda bland, which is in part where all the autotune comes in. It flattens my voice in a way I like, as well as bringing in this very wrong kind of signpost into the music that you don’t expect.
I like how it really puts the emphasis on the words, which frustrated me because one of the things that I was trying to do with Leverage Models is the clash between the music, which tended to be very slick and overproduced, and the voice and the words, which were really something else entirely. But the words kinda ended up getting lost. People don’t pay much attention to that, and that’s fine. I like it there as a layer where the twelfth time you listen you start to key in, if that’s the kind of listener you are, and it’s a little easter egg, and it’s okay if you don’t.
I know the vocals are polarizing, they’re kind of a stumbling block for a lot of people that would like the music and the melodies and maybe the words, but would find the vocal treatments a little alienating and off-putting. Which is why I like Alena’s voice there and the accents where she has so much humanity, alongside the role my voice is playing on the record. It’s sometimes very human, but often very cold and more like a written word on a page and not trying to be very expressive.
I’ve read your music described as “dense” and “difficult” in the past. How is it that you hear it, and what kind of experience or effect is it that you hope to impart with the record?
Shannon Fields:I thought I was making a pop record with this one, seriously.
Yeah, I can hear it.
Shannon Fields:When I sat down to make this record my goal was to stop trying to obfuscate everything and add layers and layers and layers. I wanted to strip down the music. I wanted to strip down the vocals. I wanted to focus more on melody, I wanted to focus on something that you could dance to. I wanted to focus on the things that work best live from the prior record and make more work like that. It just shows you how little objectivity you have when you’re working sometimes because all the feedback that I ended up receiving showed me that that was really not how most people were gonna see it.
My band felt like it was also just a very accessible pop record and we’re really excited about that aspect of it, but everybody in my band is a fucking weirdo (laughs). So I still can’t pretend that I really know how the majority of people, where they’re gonna land with respect to whether it’s “difficult” music or not difficult music. To me, it seems like the least difficult music I wanna make and difficulty is the last thing I am after. Little things that confuse you, little things that are unexpected, tension between the mood of a lyric and the mood of the music or the way that it’s sung, those kind of things, yes. But trying to make some kind of confrontational, avant garde opus is not my intention.
So then, in specifics to this new album Whites, it has a very provocative title and album cover. What do you hope to convey through them?
Shannon Fields:It is, isn’t it? I don’t want to pretend that I don’t know what I’m doing with this, but I also try to work, when I work creatively, mainly on intuition, and figure it out later. Part of that is playing with fire. It’s why I feel like David Lynch’s best work works when so many other people who traffic in abstraction and surrealism don’t. Often there’s a really clear manipulativeness behind it, an idea, a grand concept, a lot of symbolism, and it doesn’t feel emotionally true. Whereas his work really does to me, even at its most strange and horrifying. So, all that to say, is it okay if I ramble at little bit? This is the first time I’ve really talked about this, about that issue.
Sure, go for it. I see it as, just to maybe help you gather your thoughts, it sounds like there’s an open-endedness to the thought-provoking nature of it, it’s not necessarily one set thing, but just something that is really grabbing
Shannon Fields:Well, when you saw the title and the album cover, what popped into your mind? What are the kind of things immediately that you thought?
I saw the album cover before the title, and what was striking to me about it was just how evocative it was. I thought of gun control and the generational effects of the decisions that we make on future generations, so a whole host of things really.
Shannon Fields:Absolutely, that’s all there. What I saw when I saw that sculpture — and I’ve been looking around for a long time for artwork — thinking about it, I didn’t really have an idea and I saw that and I said “That’s it.” The sculpture is by an Italian sculptor who lives in a commune somewhere on the edge of Italy or Austria, Gehard Demetz. It took forever to get to him. I wrote this really impassioned series of emails about why I connected with a lot of his work but especially that piece, and asked his permission and eventually — and he doesn’t really speak English very well — but he got it and put me in touch with his NY gallery and they graciously permitted me to use the image.
It was intuitive but it does tie into a lot on the record. The title came last, and there’s definitely some conscious thought behind it. I grew up in the Midwest, outside of Kansas City, and then inner-city Kansas City a little bit, very working class, poor family, evangelicals. I won’t go too much into that, but I was definitely surrounded by the kind of culture that, typically in America, all that baggage brings along. Somehow that base in America has equated economic and political conservatism and God and guns and — well a lot of things that I don’t agree with — and bound them all together in a way that doesn’t make any sense. And so a lot of the younger people in America that are, just as you said, having to grow up in that legacy. They may be well-off, young, white Christians, but they’re also doing active shooter drills in their schools everyday and have PTSD from what’s happening.
That image of the gun physically strapped into the child’s mouth in a way that it seems kind of powerless but also blank-faced, stoic and in resignation, it’s a very powerful image.
How does that tie into the rest of the album?
Shannon Fields:All of the lyrics on this album, they’re not me. They’re not confessional singer-songwriter. I don’t do that–or at least I haven’t yet. Some of them are a little surreal but for the most part they all come from the kind of voices that I grew up with: my church, my family, my community, a lot of really angry people, a lot of people who are in the cultural majority, but still see themselves as somehow persecuted. Largely those are people that don’t have to be identified as anything but individuals. They don’t ever have to think about it. They get to define who they are and what they’re about, and that’s because they’re this kind of constructed idea of “white person,” which is: they’re “whites,” they’re people who belong. So “Whites” ends up to me feeling like more than color. It’s about that kind of place of safety where your identity as you know it really isn’t called into question, and you can pick all these other battles.
I live in rural Upstate New York now, and I heard a rant a while back from somebody in the Tractor Supply, of all places (laughs). I can’t quite remember the conversation but the gist of it was this rage about somebody — it might’ve been a musician, it might’ve been somebody on TV — referring to “Whites,” and I think they were so upset. To them “Whites” sounded like a racial slur because it’s not something they ever had to hear. It’s neutral, like the color, like the idea, it’s a neutral description. But to hear it back that way, made this person so upset because it suddenly made them feel like they then had to be defined by this group and defend it and then felt attacked because of it. Which is how most people in the world, in our country, feel every day, who don’t come from that place of privilege.
As a musician, I’ve had a lot of strange reviews, but not any of them start with “White, male band…” or “Heterosexual singer…”. I don’t traffic in that kind of essentialism, but I don’t have to for political reasons. But in this kind of time and place, it seemed like a scary and interesting idea to label that. Everybody in the band is not a cis white male, but I am and most of the band is white and has this privilege and this kind of silly, very unproductive liberal guilt that we wrestle with and try to figure out how to talk about. At the end of the day, we probably shouldn’t talk about it so much except to acknowledge and then shut up and let the people we need to hear from speak.
These are the kinds of things in my head, this is not the concept behind picking the title or the album cover, but once I looked at those three things: the image, the title, and the lyrics together, it felt very rich and a little troubling, and I thought it was an interesting way to hear those songs and hear those words in context of that.
I think a lot about album images and titles because like the title of a novel or a poem, there’s this tension between the title and the words and they shape how you hear it, if they’re good. Otherwise, what’s the point of having one? It’d just be “Album No. 2” and a white cover. It’s playing with fire, for sure, and there’s not a point exactly, and maybe there should be, but I think being political in that way is being kind of polemic, being kind of lecturing. I don’t think political art that’s very direct is that interesting. Maybe it’s more useful, but I would challenge that.
But at the end of the day we’re just some people who are creating and trying to keep our minds out of the way, except to keep us from doing bad things, or being offensive, or hurting someone, or just making dumb choices, or boring choices. So, everything’s not worked out in some kind of grand concept or lesson plan because who wants to listen to that? (Laughs) We can just march with megaphones or go give lectures at schools, and I’m definitely not the person who needs to be giving lectures at school, so that’s not really what the record’s trying to be.
The stories in your lyrics all feel connected by this undercurrent of socialist ideas, is that an ideology that you’re attracted to?
Shannon Fields:There are things that are attractive about that, and there are aspects of it that have always been part of American democracy and have sometimes saved democracy. I wouldn’t call myself a socialist, at all, but I grew up in a climate — I think most of us did in America — where “socialist” was the equivalent of Satanism. It’s a very misunderstood idea of what that is and it’s wrong-minded because it feels like what’s made the country last as long as it has is this degree of compromise and this hybridization of these models that keep it from being Stalinism or Fascism. There’s a certain amount of freedom and a lack of meddling in people’s life that works up to a certain degree, to which government has a responsibility to take care of people’s basic human needs, and “government” is now the great Satan in American conversation that socialism once was. [in a grumbly voice] “The Government.”
But government is just us, that’s all it means, it’s us.
You talk to individual people — I’m sure you’ve had plenty of these conversations, and I don’t know what side of the fence you fall on, and it doesn’t matter — who may be opposed to handouts and entitlements but there’s always some degree of that in their own life, or with the people they know, and there’s always an exception. “Well, these are good people, they’re not taking handouts” or “They have catastrophic medical bills.”
And then it becomes an issue. What’s lost in public conversation and online and on television — where we’re no longer humans, we’re just sports teams competing — is the humanity. That being a human and being a part of your community in that way couldn’t be more like old-fashioned American values. Like every frontier town of people or current Amish communities where people just help each other out, and take care of each other, and there’s a few people who take the lead and they’re the town board.
I’m not an “anything-ist” really, but I’m not afraid of the word because a lot of what America is and has always been is taking elements of socialism and elements of that idea of laissez faire economics, which now goes so far. Free markets don’t take care of people, they’re systems that are gamed by generations of privileged and wealthy people, and they get more privileged and wealthy, and there should be checks on that. There always were supposed to be, and that’s not a subversive communist idea, and we’ve just gotten really hysterical about that in our conversations.
It’s funny how someone needs that specific visualization of someone’s humanity in order for there to be an exception when you should just buy into it because if you’re in the same situation then it should be there for you just as much as it is for anyone else who’s exactly the same as you. It sounds like the way you’re describing socialism is a lot similar to “Whites” as an idea, there’s nothing inherent to that label, white or black, but the things we ourselves put on them.
Shannon Fields:There is when there’s something at stake. There is when you’re in danger. You’re transgender, or black, or a refugee, in this country right now. Whereas you would like to be able to identify as your name and all the weird things that come along with that–because we’re all unique, strange, magical people–you can’t. Your house is on fire and you have to grab on to that identity for dear life and shove it in people’s faces so that they know you exist and stop trampling on it.
It’s like, going back to what you said about having to see the individual and be able to see the problem, it’s like that famous Chris Rock bit about rap music. The woman who’s dancing to the nastiest shit in the club and singing about “bitches” and she’s called on it, and she says “Well, he’s not talking about me.” It’s the same thing when you talk to people about white conservative people who are howling about entitlements. You talk to them about welfare, so much of that base are poor white people who both need and take advantage of unemployment and Medicare and all of these things, and they don’t see that as a problem because that’s not the problem in their head.
The story is still the Reagan-era idea of the “Welfare Queen” or something, who’s “looking for handouts.” Nobody’s looking for handouts.
At the same time as your songs having that sort of socialist undercurrent, the lyrics are also filled with a lot of allusions to familial relationships with implied, rich histories. Why does that seem to be a common theme in these songs?
Shannon Fields:I don’t think I even realized it until recently but you’re not the first person to point it out. One person in my band made a joke about how every other line was “Brother,” “Father” or “Mother” (laughs). Fuck, I don’t know. I guess because I really have some pretty serious complicated family history and issues that I’m not anywhere close to having entirely dealt with and I think subconsciously that stuff works its way in and I project those things. Families are really interesting, really interesting geographies to build a story in any way because they’re one set of relations that you’re sort of stuck with. Blood is a kind of fiction, too, but it’s so potent.
Parents are these people that shaped you and shaped all of your problems, too, your attachments. They’re like the proto-unhealthy relationship — like you’re attached to an abuser — for a lot of people. Yet it’s easier to break away in an unhealthy relationship if they’re not your parents, or your brother or sister, your cousin or aunt or uncle, or grandparents. Or children because I’m sure it goes both ways.
It’s just a pretty universal complicated web of emotions. I know people who have relationships with parents, they come from a place where they were terribly abused, and psychologically maybe continue to be, and taken advantage of, and, in all other walks of life and situations, they’re strong people who would never put up with that. But when it’s your family, even if you feel like you hate them, the idea of breaking away, of leaving them, of saying “I don’t have anything to do with you now,” for some people it feels really impossible.
I think that’s interesting. It’s not what I set out to write about. I don’t set out to write about anything I guess, but you could analyze me and say that that’s got something to do with it, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
I feel like it’s been weaving through our entire conversation, but I want to ask you about your decision to donate half of the proceeds from Whites‘ album sales to the Southern Poverty Law Center. What went into the decision and why did you specifically choose that organization?
Shannon Fields:It comes back to the kinds of questions I was dealing with about putting out the record at all, feeling like it didn’t do any good as an action. It just seemed narcissistic and self involved and pointless to release records. So giving the money away in some respect was a way to convince myself that it was okay to do. While I don’t have a lot of money–the record’s not even mastered because i couldn’t afford it, but it sounds okay. The engineer who mixed it, Dan Goodwin is a genius. Honestly, the last record, although the mastering job was great, there wasn’t a huge difference between the mixes and the master because his mixes are so pristine, so solid.
But the reason it’s only 50% is only because the label that’s putting it out–it’s a very old, close friend of mine–is just starting up and doesn’t have a lot of money. I’d like him to at least recoup his costs. We’re gonna do a couple benefit shows in the city to donate 100% of those proceeds. As far as the decision for the SPLC, it could’ve been so many things. Of the organizations out there doing what seems like the effective work in the last few years combatting what I think are the ugliest parts of the Trump administration’s actions and agendas, a lot of times things that go unnoticed, the things that really hurt the marginalized, disadvantaged people in society and embolden hate groups, the SPLC is doing that work.
I pay attention to those things and the Southern Poverty Law Center is a group of civil rights lawyers based in the South, but one of the things they do is maintain a national hate-watch database that very closely inventories and monitors domestic hate groups and terrorist cells, but also a lot of organizations that have cleaned themselves up in their image and would certainly object to being called a hate group, but, call it what you want, they’re groups about the exclusion of other people’s humanity. They have a huge base of lawyers who go out pro bono and fight cases all the way up to the Supreme Court, at the state level as well as the national level. They’re paying attention to the little things that slip through, legislatively, that make a very big difference. It’s that kind of slow, unsexy, boring work, as opposed to spectacle like marches and like my record, that really matter.
Like I said it could’ve been a lot of things. I thought about near me in Utica, there’s a refugee advocacy and resettlement organization that takes a huge number–although not coming in now–of refugees from Somalia and Syria and a lot of places that have resettled here. They just need people to find temporary housing for [the refugees], show them how healthcare works, how to get a driver’s license, how to get a house, how to get a job and English classes. That’s another organization I’d like to do some work for.
But, the SPLC, I’ve just been really impressed with the work that they do and how much of it really has an impact on the national theatre, even though they’re called the Southern Poverty Law Center and their offices are down there. I wanted to do something and it’s a small thing, but it matters. And if it lifts the profile of the organization like that, too, and gets some other people to notice, it matters, I hope.
Yeah, I think it’s an exemplary way to use any sort of platform much like how you’re featuring the art of a Italian artist on your cover, of amplifying using your means and resources. That seems to be a running theme throughout our entire conversations.
Shannon Fields:He’s brilliant! I was powerless not to use that cover. Yeah, like I said I don’t have money, but I’m not in trouble, I’m not in danger of being homeless. I don’t need money from record sales to survive, so I shouldn’t be taking it, is how I feel. I shouldn’t be making money from it if I don’t need to make money from it. I should do something with it.
Well, I’m glad it also helped put out this release at all, because I have really enjoyed it and been really impressed with it. You’ve also hinted at much more coming up after the release of Whites. What do you have planned for the near future?
Shannon Fields:I am working on a remix and covers record of this one, and inviting a lot of people that are friends, and that I love and admire, to do remixes or reinterpretations, with the idea that it will be another benefit record, but 100% of it. Each artist gets to choose where their money goes, to what organization.
I have two records worth of material that I’m sitting on that’s in progress, but I think we’re–as a band–trying to refine where we’re going, what’s working best. We’ll probably be releasing singles or short EPs for a while, but pretty regularly after this, so we’ll see how that goes. If there’s anybody that wants to hear them, we’ll release them (laughs).
We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!