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Music In Action: Rocking the Paddy Wagon and More with Melodeego
“They are digging us a hole/They are digging us a hole/Six feet underground this pipeline will go/We will lay down our bodies/We will lay down our souls/We won’t stand by and watch while they dig us a hole.”- Hymn for the “Funeral for Our Future,” written by Melodeego.
The hymn for the “Funeral for Our Future,” provided the soundtrack to one of many recent actions in protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline . On March 111h a group of over one hundred protesters filed into the Westborough, Massachusetts office of The TransCanada Corporation, in a mock procession of grief over the disaster that could be, if the pipeline is approved.
When the company seeking to build the pipeline called the police, twenty-five of the protesters were arrested after chaining themselves to a coffin in the lobby, refusing to leave. They continued to sing the hymn as they were led out in handcuffs, and in the van on the way to the police station. Among those “rocking the paddy wagon” were the song’s authors, Boston musicians-slash-activists Melodeego.
Often bringing their songs to “rallies, marches, and actions,” the members of Melodeego are strong believers in music’s ability to effect positive social change. On the occasion of their first act of civil disobedience, the presence of music certainly seems to have helped. When asked what contributed to the somewhat amicable mood between protesters and law enforcement, lead singer and guitarist Peter Malagodi says, “I think a factor [in their treatment] was that we were all singing together so much. I think music and song has a real calming effect on people in general, whether it be the cops or the protesters.”
Melodeego is aware, however, that their experience was not typical. Bassist Greg Reinauer adds, “ I think it’s really important to note that not everybody gets treated this way by the police. The color of our skin likely played a factor. I think who we were, in the town we were in, made it so it was a pretty bearable experience for us. But it’s important to note that’s not the case for everyone who gets arrested.”
The fight against the Keystone pipeline is just one of the many causes that Melodeego lends their support to. For the “soul’n’roll” band, whose name means “music in action” (melody+go), setting an ethical example is a primary part of their fulltime job.
Guitarist Mark Schwaller says, “We’re not doing this because we like to rabble rouse. We feel a sense of obligation to ourselves, to each other, and to our future, to really create the positive change we want to see in the world.”
The group’s immersion in progressive advocacy began in the late 2000s, after being invited to play a few social justice focused events. Reinauer specifically cites the March to Re-Energize New Hampshire in 2007 as a turning point for his involvement. He says, “I learned a lot more about the movement, how environmental issues were contingent with social justice issues, which were connected with economic inequality. I also saw there wasn’t as much music at the front of it as I thought there should be. And I thought music needed to be a big part of it if it was going to connect with a lot of people.”
Going forward with the philosophy that “a good beat is a language anyone can understand,” Melodeego decided to put “the movement” at the front of their music. Since then they have released three EPs, with lyrics reflecting the trials and potential triumphs of the 21st century, and a sound that will make you want to dance those problems away. From clubs, to BP gas stations, to Occupy Wall Street camps, Melodeego has brought their funk and soul infused rock anywhere they can engage an audience.
In vocalizing challenges like climate change and class inequality, the group seeks to raise solutions, as well as awareness. In addition to allying with similarly minded organizations like 350, the group also offers aid to college student campaigns for sustainability. Their support of these efforts, like campus-wide fossil fuel divestment, takes place in “Soul Wake Up” workshops, designed in collaboration with Generation Waking Up and the Awakening the Dreamer Initiative. Melodeego’s most intriguing demonstration of positive innovation may be their own concerts, though.
Since 2010, a Bicycle Powered Sound System, built by inventor Sean Stevens, has fueled all of their shows. Run on the energy of audience volunteers, the system provides clean power to Melodeego’s instruments as long as people are peddling. As Schwaller puts it, “there’s always a feedback loop between audience and performer. We’ve just taken it a step further.” Thus far, the feedback has been good.
Malagodi says of when it comes time to ask for volunteers, “We basically just stress that it’s fun, that it’s good for the environment, and it just sells itself really. I think people appreciate that we’re stage diving in a way. We’re trusting them to catch us, [and that] we’ll play well enough for them to continue to catch us.”
In 2011, Melodeego brought their “clean green music machine” technology to their hometown’s incarnation of Occupy Wall Street. Eager to get involved with the protests against economic inequality and Wall Street corruption, the trio helped facilitate communication between Occupy Boston and Stevens. After getting Stevens to donate equipment to the camp in Boston, they then set off on their East Coast “Rockupy” tour, bringing music and “tech support” to those with their own versions of the bike generators, like the Occupiers in New York.
Their most recent release, the “Fear Them Not” EP, was largely influenced by the events Melodeego witnessed on this tour. The five-track recording features both portraits of economic frustration, such as “Hard Times”, and anthemic calls to action, like “Fear is the Weapon.” The latter includes samples of some of Occupy’s famous chants like “We are the 99 percent,” as well as cameos from MC J-O Rogers of Grindcity and guitar from Gab Guma. Like the “Funeral for Our Future” hymn, those rhythmic slogans were vital for relieving pressure during points of high tension with the police.
Schwaller describes witnessing the “first night of mass arrests” of Occupy Boston. “Things started to get ugly when the nightsticks came out, and even then people were still chanting. The role [of music] in that instance was people needed courage [because] it was scary. We didn’t know what was going to happen…but then you hear this chorus of voices behind you all chanting and singing the same thing. So whatever happens to me happens to them, and we’re all in this together. That solidarity is broadcast so fiercely through chanting and music. That night it was necessary.”
“Fear Them Not” is set for official release on April 16th, in physical and digital stores via the band’s own Tree Funk Music, LLC. Melodeego was also recently named as finalists in Brita’s Bottle Free Band’s Contest, which would award the band $20,000, allowing them to convert their vans to bio-diesel, and upgrade the bike generators. You can stay up to date with where the movement takes Melodeego next by following them on Facebook and Twitter.