smallsongs’ is a youtube series brought to you by Americana Highways with small & stripped down performances on the streets of different cities around the world, featuring musical acts at their rawest.
Back in July I got the crazy opportunity to shoot some ‘smallsongs’ with “freak music legend” danbert nobacon of chumbawamba fame. my encounter with this genre bending rock star happened very last minute, as he emailed me at 1am the night before this shoot saying he’d have some spare time to do this before flying out of colorado. the experience was wild for me because i remember obsessing over chumbawamba’s music as a little kid. In fact the first music video I ever made as a child with my siblings was for their smash hit song “Tubthumping”
The first song we shared on ‘smallsongs’ was “Building A Wall (Not Now, Not Ever)” at Union Station
I asked Danbert to give a little background on the song, and here’s what he had to say:
“Building A Wall” was written in response to the GOP’s ongoing authoritarian (and highly selective) war on certain immigrants and its use of the issue of immigration as a political football, to appease the necessary voter base which is fundamental to keeping them in power. I am an immigrant and went through the US citizenship process in the late Obama years, and granted as a white male from England I probably had the least amount of hoops to jump through, but it was still an archaic, invasive and expensive process. (see an essay I had published on the subject here:
“Building A Wall” is pretty self-explanatory and is a return to my punk origins and punk attitude (in terms of lyric writing) … which is one of the key elements of my next album “Expect A Circus.” The album is all recorded and being mixed as we speak (literally I am in in the recording studio, writing as Mell the engineer/producer is just editing a glitch in one of the tracks we are mixing).
“Expect A Circus” is a musical theatrical extravaganza of all the stuff I have written since the 2016 election, and has been my focus of attention since October. I say theatrical because as well as being made up of regular full band versions of songs there are spoken word, and theatrical musical elements, featuring no less than seventeen ‘characters’ who cast some humorous, satirical and hopefully some optimistic light on the strange and terrifying times we are living in. Also Kira and I met doing community theatre in the town of Twisp WA where we live, and where I teach high school theatre part time, so it makes sense for us to explore some more thespian elements on the record.
The other two songs I shot him performing were “Karma Won’t Save Us” & “Chemistry”
Danbert continued: The songs that Cole filmed for smallsongs were songs I had been playing as part of the live set with my singing partner Kira Wood Cramer (who unfortunately could not be in Denver when the filming took place) that we were touring in 2019
“Chemistry” and “Karma Won’t Save Us” are part of the 2017 album “Stardust to Darwinstuff” which was a culmination of my writing, (in recent years prior to 2017) where I realized that scientific imagery was infecting and infiltrating my lyric writing. This comes, not least as a result of my regularly reading books from what is called ‘the popular science’ genre. And specifically from me reading books and articles and researching areas relating to human evolution … the evolution of the arts (as something which actively helped our ancestors survive, rather than the simplistic view of human creativity being a side effect of having imaginative brains) … and the scientific study children’s play which I studied at college level for two years in England back in the early 1990’s.
I stumbled into this process subconsciously, in particular with the song “Chemistry,” that is writing the lyrics without actively searching out scientific imagery, whereas “Karma Won’t Save Us” came later in that process, where I was actively writing with science in mind, both because a lot of scientific terminology is actually very poetic when one puts it to a tune, and of course because in the real world, and very dangerously for the well-being of all of us and all species, science was and is coming under increasing attack with the election of Donald Trump and a GOP dominated Senate.
I sometimes worry that I am sacrificing scientific integrity for a good rhyme or lyric … eg in the line in “Chemistry” line “Venus chasing Saturn” around the solar system, is not remotely scientifically accurate, but on the whole, if you accept, as I do, that lyrics in rock music are a good medium for expressing interesting ideas (as against the predominant school of thought that pop lyrics can only ever be pop fluff) then I think these two songs do a good job of bringing up scientific ideas and at the same time affirming that science is, and should be an important part of our culture.
The album (and if it makes it vinyl it would be a double album) will come out in April or May 2020 in the midst of election frenzy, and we will be touring it and promoting it and inserting a thespian punk rock voice into the craziness … and we may even get back to Denver (and/or Berlin) in some incarnation to play at some point next year.