It's 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and Jon Lindsay arrives at a Raleigh coffee shop, soaked with sweat and exhausted. Last night in Charlotte, he stayed up late retooling the demo of a song by his friend Caitlin Cary when his computer crashed.
The singer and songwriter got a few hours of sleep and rushed north, eager to begin a weekend of rehearsal and recording for an ambitious project that, even two weeks ago, he had yet to imagine or invent. During the drive, he admits, not nodding off behind the wheel was a challenge; by the end of the day, he'll have finished reconstructing Cary's song, done a radio interview and planned a three-hour public rehearsal for the following afternoon. Good thing it's a coffee shop.
After changing into a dry shirt, Lindsay takes a seat beside Cary. (Note: Cary is married to INDY Week Production Manager Skillet Gilmore.)As he does his best to lasso his tired ramblings into cohesive thoughts, she interrupts frequently, putting him on track while actually patting him on the back, too.
They're both worn out, Cary admits, but their rest will have to wait: They've got an army to lead.
In the past two weeks, Lindsay and Cary recruited what they're calling the NC Music Love Army. Members of the cheekily dubbed but extremely motivated cadre of local musicians hope to leverage their talents to battle what they feel are malicious missteps within the North Carolina General Assembly—the same actions that have, since April, spurred weekly Moral Monday protests in Raleigh.
"There's a lot of people who are way more awesome than me at a million things," says Lindsay, "but for whatever reason, I have the faculty of being able to write a lot of stuff. I don't have the skills for this shit for no reason."
Indeed, Lindsay is one of more than two dozen writers and musicians lending their talents to this stacked regiment, featuring members of top-flight country and rock acts (The Love Language, American Aquarium, Hiss Golden Messenger), talented singer-songwriters (Tift Merritt, Lynn Blakey) and hip-hop ambassadors (Shirlette Ammons), among others. On Sunday, much of the crew gathered at Greg Elkins' Pershing Hill Sound studio in Raleigh to record an EP of original protest songs directly targeted at North Carolina's current issues.
The group hopes to release the album in the fall in conjunction with a large-scale concert that they're staging. They'll donate their profits to Planned Parenthood, Progress NC and the state NAACP, the key organizing force behind the Moral Monday protests. But they don't have any delusions about raising large amounts of money. Rather, Lindsay and Cary are more concerned about broadcasting the issues in North Carolina and showing that, despite the Republican-held Legislature and Governor's Mansion, not everyone in the state supports the current administration's priorities.
At an open rehearsal at The Pinhook in Durham on Saturday, The News & Observer and WRAL were on hand with cameras and reporters. WNCN and WTVD aired a portion of Sunday's recording session on their evening news. Lindsay and Cary have already talked about the project on the radio and given a handful of in-print interviews. For this cause, they concur that publicity might be just as valuable as cash.
Lindsay equates their aim with that of Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator from Texas who used an 11-hour filibuster to postpone new anti-abortion measures. "She was like, 'Look, all we're trying to do is use the minority effectively,'" he recalls of an inspiring interview he saw with Davis as she jogged on a treadmill. "'We know we may get beat down. And we know we may lose this fight. But we're going to make sure everybody knows what happened here.' And I feel like that's what this could be. Music has the power to instantly reach different avenues of people. It's so immediate."
Two weeks ago, the day that the Love Army established its intentions, Lindsay posted his first protest song to YouTube. He was following the lead of several other songwriters statewide, but he admits that Django Haskins served as his primary inspiration. Not known as a political songwriter, Haskins, The Old Ceremony frontman, broke with his generally suave stage presence and emotionally complicated lyrics to set a direct song to simple chords, belt it out and post a grainy video to YouTube. The entire process took two hours.
"There's a bottled-up frustration and a need to feel like we're out there doing something," Haskins explains. "Moral Monday is one way that's playing out, and I think it's a really important way. But I think for the artists in North Carolina who are upset about what's going on, it all the sudden sort of coalesced into the idea that, 'Hey, maybe we can take what we do and add it to the voices of dissent here.'"
Haskins' song is a potentially loaded anthem for the weekly Moral Monday demonstrations, in which thousands have sprawled across the state-owned Halifax Mall, delivering and listening to speeches and testimonials, chanting and singing. They've decried sharp decreases in unemployment benefits, cuts in funding for health care and education, threats to the state's water system, and abrupt restrictions on how women's health clinics are allowed to operate. More than 700 people have been arrested so far for refusing to leave the General Assembly, including Haskins' bandmate in The Old Ceremony, violinist Gabriel Pelli. "If you think that you can silence us, you'll need a bigger jail," Haskins advises his lawmakers, extending his own rallying cry with a chorus. "We are not for sale."
During Saturday's open rehearsal at The Pinhook, the lot of singers and musicians quickly learned one another's new protest songs. They took turns practicing lines, becoming more and more heated with each repetition. Haskins and BJ Barham, the gravel-voiced frontman of American Aquarium, joined Lindsay for the rollicking "Is This Here What Jesus Would Do?" They both belted with righteous indignation, digging into couplets that questioned the religious convictions cited by many legislators.
More powerful still was "My Body," which found the rapper Ammons laying down scathing verses in support of a woman's right to control her own health care decisions. When the chorus hit, a choir of some of the Triangle's best singers shared one credo: "I own the head of my body/ I own the heart of my body/ This politic is not my body/ There ain't nobody left for you."
At the rehearsal, Cary ran pell-mell through the room, passing out lyric sheets and keeping things moving efficiently. But none of this effort zapped her onstage energy. During "My Body," her voice shone brightest and angriest.
"I sat down and cried in my car when I got out, I felt like it went so well," she offered on Sunday at the recording session. "I felt like what happened was what I was afraid wouldn't happen, which was that we couldn't get the songs to come together in that short a time. I feel like we really did. I could see people smiling and seeming really interested in that process."
And right now in North Carolina politics, making someone smile and interested in the process seems like the most sacred victory.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Songs of seething."