“People might expect me in this moment to write some anthem railing against capitalism and authoritarian government surveillance or whatever, but what I had in me was a love song.”
Evan Greer is one of those Bostonians whose every move seems to be in the Dig wheelhouse. Whether organizing protests around topics like net neutrality or holding down the Break the Chains queer dance party, she creates and performs at the intersection of innumerable worlds, including that which we knew before COVID-19, as well as the virtual parallel universe we are living in now.
“When Boston’s shelter in place order came down one of the first things I did was to start watching tutorials about home recording,” Greer said. “I’ve been more focused on activism lately and haven’t written new music in a while, but I just had this sense that creating something new was going to be really important for my mental health, and something that I could do for my community at a time when people really need music and human connection.”
What she created is “Willing to Wait,” the lead single from Greer’s upcoming EP on Don Giovanni Records, along with a video shot in her apartment. Proceeds from the Bandcamp sales will benefit the National Bail Fund Network’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which the artist noted “is working to release as many people as possible from jails and immigration detention centers during this public health crisis.”
“The song is a true story,” Greer said. “It’s sort of involuntary bedroom pop, very much defined by what little I had available to me while on lockdown. All the electric guitars are actually just my acoustic guitar with basic garageband effects on it. I posted on Twitter asking if anyone could record drums and someone who had seen one of my shows sent me a track to drop in. I recorded the video mostly on my phone and my kid’s iPad, and edited it in iMovie. It feels very vulnerable, in a way, especially as a trans woman letting people see my life when I’m just kind of lounging around the house and not performing gender as much as I might out in the world or on stage. Showing kind of intimate things like shaving felt important and queer and honest. And like everyone else, I’m way overdue for a haircut.”
I asked Greer about making music as well as change during this difficult time.
What were you supposed to be doing this April? Any shows? Anything exciting?
Yeah, I had a show opening for Anti-Flag and was going to be a guest reader for Cameron Esposito’s book tour. Both obviously cancelled now, along with my Queers Against Winter parties and Break the Chains. But honestly I mostly feel incredibly lucky. My full-time work for Fight for the Future was always remote—so I’m lucky enough to still have a job. And the issues we work on, like human rights, civil liberties, Internet access, and opposing overly broad surveillance, are more crucial now than ever.
So many independent artists I know lost almost all of their income for the Spring overnight. All of this has really just exposed how broken and unjust our society—and economy—is. For me, personally, the biggest change has been having my kid home from school, balancing work with homeschooling, and being apart from the people who I love. I don’t live with my partner, and we’ve been making the very difficult decision to maintain social distance during this time. I normally try to see my parents once a week or so, which has turned into playing Internet chess with my dad and reading poetry with my mom over Facetime.
You mentioned that you don’t have the instruments you might have when working on music, and that you used effects to go electric and sourced in sounds from other musicians and places. How musical is your home on a regular basis? Any room that you particularly like playing in? How much of a gadget geek are you? I know you perform solo a lot, but when you’ve played with bands, are you the one fiddling with the equipment? How easy has it been for you to go virtual?
I am totally not a gear head. I don’t know if it’s some kind of self-deprecating gender affirmation thing or what but I’ve always felt like the tech side of music was beyond me. It felt empowering to force myself to get over that and just start playing around in GarageBand and realizing that all those random bros I used to pay to record me were not wizards. I’ve got a couple guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, and a Casio keyboard that I got for free for my kid and that’s about it. I don’t really have a great area to set everything up so I did these recordings between my bedroom and living room depending on how late at night it was and how worried I was about annoying my downstairs neighbor.
I will say that running sound for Break the Chains, and slowly requiring equipment for that over the years, definitely helped me build my confidence. I did so much solo touring for years with just me and a guitar, often on the greyhound or on trains in Europe when it would have been impossible to have a lot of gear with me. So I got really used to just rolling up to a gig with basically nothing, plugging in, and starting to play. I even did a few tours without bringing my own guitar and would just plan ahead to borrow one every night.
But it’s kind of cool to just work with what you have. It kept me focused. Like instead of being overwhelmed by “the possibilities are endless,” I was forced to be like “what can create by myself and put out into the world?” The video I filmed on my phone (I dropped it a bunch of times during the process and now the screen is a mess), my laptop webcam, and my kid’s iPad duct-taped to a mic stand. I edited it in iMovie. It was really the first time I’ve ever made something like this or even really recorded music at home. I’m actually really happy with the electric guitar sounds in the recording, even though it’s just my acoustic run through some effects. I wasn’t happy with the MIDI drums I had programmed, so I posted on Twitter and someone who had been to one of my shows connected me with their drummer, who sent a perfect take and I just dropped it in.
As far as the song, there are a lot of really deep thoughts about what you’re going through, and of course what a lot of other people are going through as well. Have you been thinking about this stuff for a month and finally put pen to paper? It’s a pretty philosophical time, ain’t it?
The song is a true love story for this moment and honestly it just kinda poured out of me. It’s pretty literal, to be honest. It felt a little funny because people might expect me in this moment to write some anthem railing against capitalism and authoritarian government surveillance or whatever, but what I had in me was a love song. I had to get over feeling some kind of way about that—like why would anyone care what I’m going through when so many people are out of work, or have lost a loved one, or are working on the front lines without sufficient protective equipment because they’ve been deemed “essential” but their boss thinks that means “expendable.” But I think there’s power in sharing our stories and experiences, and I hoped in sharing mine that others would find something in it to connect with.
Making it a benefit for the National Bail Fund Network seemed like the least that I could do. Being away from people who I love for just a few weeks has been excruciating. It’s important to remember, and fight for, the millions of people behind bars who are kept away from the people they love all the time. Mass incarceration in the US is perhaps one of the greatest failings of humanity. Getting people out of prison should be a priority all the time. During a pandemic, it’s a human rights and public health imperative.
I was going to ask what you’re doing to pass the time besides write music, but I guess that’s pretty much laid out throughout the video. Any life hacks, recipes, or pro tips to share?
Make your bed every day. If you’re prone to feeling overwhelmed or depressed, it’s a very small thing that you can do that brings some order and control to at least one very small part of your house. Also: if you’re an extrovert and you miss going out to gatherings, get yourself some party lights. When this first started, I went to Make Shift and brought home the stage lights and cheezy “disco ball” lights that I usually use for the Break the Chains queer dance parties that I organize. I set them up in my living room. Sometimes my kid and I use them to have our own little dance party. Sometimes I use them when I do a livestream or to make a video. Sometimes I just put them on and chill out on my couch watching TV or whatever, but it makes me feel like I’m out in the world at a party or a club.
On the activist side of things, since you do a lot of work at the national level, how virtual has your organizing been these past few years?
In a funny way, Fight for the Future was pretty prepared for this. We’re an entirely remote organization and most of our activism happens online. We’ve helped organize a number of the largest online protests in human history for stuff like net neutrality and internet freedom. I think for the first decade or so of widespread Internet adoption we were all enamored by it and saw only its revolutionary potential. And for the last few years we’ve been learning about, and focused on, the harmful aspects of this technology, and the ways that the corporatization and centralization of the Internet is fundamentally at odds with democracy and basic rights. But in this particular moment it also seems like we’re remembering how awesome and powerful it actually is.
You’ve run quite a few successful campaigns, initiatives that yielded actual results. Efforts like Rock Against the TPP were exciting and engaging—not a chore to follow and get behind. What kind of grassroots campaigns do you feel are needed for a moment like this? Clearly virtual as opposed to in-person, but as far as what kind of tone might be best for a time of crisis, what do you think?
I think it’s important right now for activists to get specific. No one needs more fear or anxiety right now. We need to be very clear about what we are demanding and how we are going to get it. Fight for the Future launched a major campaign, TakeThisSeriously.org, where we’re asking people to pledge to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, by participating in social distancing and listening to public health experts, but also to speak out and fight back against attempts by governments and corporations to exploit this crisis in order to expand invasive surveillance programs or crack down on human rights. But again, it’s important to be very specific.
For example, it makes perfect sense for local governments to close down businesses and schools and concert venues—but it doesn’t make sense to enforce stay at home orders with the threat of violence or arrest, because anything that leads to more interactions between the public and police, or more people in jails, will only make this crisis worse. It’s appropriate for health officials to do traditional contact tracing, where they ask people who have tested positive who else they have been in contact with recently and then let those people know. But it’s not appropriate for the government to force companies to hand over our cell phone location data en masse, for example. This is why I love the National Bail Fund Network so much. It’s very concrete. You give them money: they’ll use it to get other human beings out of cages. That’s it. We need more direct action based activism like that.
You’re an activist, you’re a parent, you’re an organizer, you’re a musician. Have you been leaning more into any of these over the past couple of weeks than you usually do?
Well, I’m homeschooling a 9 year old, so there’s that. It’s been mostly about getting creative with activities and tapping into some deep reserve of patience I didn’t even know I had. But in a cool way because we’re together so much, it feels good to each go off to our separate rooms and do our own thing sometimes, whereas when we’re apart all day cuz school is in session I might normally try to force some social interaction during that time. But kids need time to just read and chill out and do their own thing sometimes and … so do adults. That has given me some space to write and record music. I haven’t written a new song in years, so it felt really good to not just create something new but document it and put it out into the world to share with others. I feel a bit like a floodgate has opened now. I’ve got myself a decent condenser mic and I’m slowly getting over my fear of the click track, so hopefully you’ll be hearing some more music from me soon. I’m planning an EP on Don Giovanni Records (Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, L7, etc) sometime this summer.