[Interview] w/ Brian of Demos for a Difference

I have a bit of a confession to make – I haven’t been nearly as “active” as I would like to be in regards to the current issues facing our country, particularly those of race and the recent death of George Floyd. I’ve watched so many people take to the streets to make sure their voices are heard, shamelessly exercising their right to protest and I grow a bit envious. The truth is, as much as I want to join in, I haven’t quite gotten past my fears of Covid-19. I constantly wonder to myself how many people are struggling with the same duality, feeling it’s almost their duty as an American to stand up to a corrupt justice system but finding themselves frozen in fear of the pandemic that still threatens our daily way of life.

The silver lining is that we live in an unprecedented time, particularly with the internet, which presents a world of possibilities – for those people like myself that may not want or feel able to take a more direct action approach there are many other ways to become involved.

The arts and music community has been flourishing with artists releasing works about the issues of today and in some cases creating something that contributes to a related cause or organization. One impressive effort in particular is the Demos for a Difference project, which just released a compilation on their Bandcamp page of over 100+ artists (with everything from music to comedy and poetry) with the proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund – an organization the is especially important right now because of the mistreatment of protesters at the hands of law enforcement.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late to the party, and the submission date has past, but the comp has been released and to date it has raised over $2,000+. Brian, the founder of DfaD, was nice enough to answer some questions about how it all began, his thoughts on some of the issues relating to the cause, and his experience with putting together the project.

 I came across Demos for a Difference on Facebook, and as a musician looking to somehow contribute to this recent rise in activism, It definitely caught my attention. Can you give me some info about what DfaD is, how it and why it got started, and what you plan to do with it?

BRIAN of DfaD: Demos for a Difference is a compilation whose proceeds will benefit the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It was actually a result of Blackout Tuesday. And while there was some controversy, I was under the impression that it was a day where people were supposed to reflect on the effects of racism on our society and consider ways in which they could be more helpful. That was my takeaway.

DL: Obviously there is always a need for organizing efforts such as yours, but can you give some insight into your thoughts and feelings on the George Floyd incident and the sort of subsequent social uprising that seems to be taking place?

B: This isn’t “my” organizing effort. This is the collective effort of over 170 artists – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and otherwise – who see art as both a tool and a language used to raise awareness of things that might not otherwise occur to us; whether it’s “four dead in Ohio” or “mother fuck Elvis and John Wayne.”

On a human level, George Floyd’s killing – and really, the killing of many black people at the hands of authority – is the result of a very specific level of cruelty. The kind that promises equality but then says being tried by a jury of your peers under the presumption of innocence until you are proven guilty is a privilege to which you are not privy. And until America undergoes a thorough reckoning, it needs to stop proclaiming itself “the greatest country in the world.” If America truly was that, it’d be taking a leadership role, not hiding in a bunker.

But I’m just one white man. And there are people whose thoughts and opinions on this are far and away more valuable than mine. Because that cruelty affects them in ways with which I can try to empathize but will never, ever truly understand. Listen to those voices – black voices – first. And if you’re not sure, I’d be more than happy to point you toward some good ones!

DL: What are your thoughts on how the current president and his administration is handling everything that is going on? Such as his recent executive order and the things he has said about the Floyd incident and protests?

B: I believe this administration has only issued one police department consent decree in its time in office and has put a halt on others which were issued by prior administrations. An executive order is a nice bit of ceremony, but it’s only as good as the people called upon to enforce it.

What did the president say about George Floyd, again? That he was looking down from heaven, pleased with the latest jobs report?

DL: All of the proceeds for the project go to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. What are some reasons that led to choosing that specific organization to contribute to?

B: I saw Minnesota Freedom Fund donors get frustrated that not even 1% of the $30 million that had been donated got used for its intended purpose (as of yet). Not saying it was fraudulently used. The MFF only has a handful of employees and volunteers, so receiving a large sum of money in such a short time left them needing to add more resources first. The NAACP has been around for almost a century, they’re transparent, and while I’m not suggesting that this fundraiser will reach $30 million (wouldn’t it be nice?), the NAACP has the organizational infrastructure to handle a large influx of cash.

We had also considered charities that are more specific to our local community, but that could have potentially stunted interest from some of our neighbors who are sending songs over from other states and countries. The NAACP is pretty universally recognized.

DL: I saw on your Facebook page that you so far have 160+ artists for the project so far which is insane! Do you plan on compiling just one compilation or will there be more in the future?

We didn’t initially expect that many. The hope was to get to 30 with a stretch goal of 50. That it took off like this is remarkable! But doing this in smaller volumes might create tension among participants (“Why is this person on Volume I and I’m on Volume III?”) or confusion among followers, and that’s not what this is about. A unified form of outreach is what we want, and that’s accomplished by a single album. If in the future a Volume II seems feasible, we’ll consider it. But that would be its own project with a similar set of criteria and no limit on participation.

DL: I know a lot of people that are looking for ways that they can get involved by maybe creating something similar to what you are doing. So what has it been like putting this all together? Has it been difficult? And have you been working with a team or on your own?

B: This has been nothing short of a pleasure to help shepherd into existence. But the flipside is, and I’m sure few would disagree, I wish the project didn’t exist. Because that would mean we were where we needed to be already.

Team-wise, Hana Denson (of the band Honey Wild) has been handling our social media pages and has been integral in helping with artist outreach. Bill Greenwood and Jaybird Communications have been getting the word over to different press outlets, hopefully spreading things beyond the community level.

DL: What rules or guidelines are there for any musicians and artists interested in contributing to the project, and where can they submit their work?

B: The deadline to submit material (June 26th) is officially closed!

The only guideline we put down was that if you “just want to be on a compilation” and you’re not going to promote this ahead of and after the release, this isn’t the project for you. We need all hands on deck with this.

Stay tuned to DfaD’s Facebook page to track the progress of the comp and more info. Also be sure to Follow on Instagram, and head over to Bandcamp to stream the comp and direction contribute to the cause.

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