On a recent crisp winter’s eve, I settled in with a pint at The Tranzac for a tête-à-tête with Minotaurs frontman Nathan Lawr. What ensued took the form of a salon-style discussion of political philosophy. Nathan recently partnered with The Canadian Civil Liberties Association in a joint initiative called Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties to help artists show their support for protecting our rights and freedoms. He wants to create, “an event or experience to celebrate the idea that freedom of expression is not something we can take for granted. It’s like a bonsai tree; you have to tend to it all the time. You can’t just stick it in a closet and say it’s done. It has to be constant, that’s the idea.”
The project kicked off this past December with a show at Lee’s Palace, and plans are in the works to put on other interdisciplinary events to raise awareness about the philosophy, mandate, and goals of CCLA. His next project is a hockey game at the old Maple Leaf Gardens between artists and police officers complete; with a live band in lieu of the traditional stadium organ.
“With the occupy movement, one of the messages was that it’s not a good idea to vilify police officers, because essentially they’re on our side. Their task is to enforce the law. If everything goes as it should, we elect people to represent us, and they make decisions on our behalf, including creating laws that are in the best interests of everyone, and the police are there to enforce those laws in the best interests of everyone. So, if you start saying things like ‘fuck you, fuck you pig,” it really wears down what is essential to that relationship, which is goodwill. And most cops are genuinely interested in doing the right thing… [tho] there’s lots that aren’t. That’s why we have artists and cops play a hockey game against each other, there’s something symbolic about it. It’s something that can be used as a bridge. In the spirit of sportsmanship we can come together”
His political leanings are well documented in the songs off Minotaurs’ new album, New Believers. The underlying message throughout the lyrics is that, “we are all political animals, you don’t get to chose if you are political or not. You’re born political. Every human being who’s lived in a community of more than one is an inherently political person. Because what is politics really? It’s the dialogue of what to do as a group. You’re already part of it, it’s your choice whether you’d like to get engaged, but you’re part of it no matter what.” Following in the tradition of a long line of musicians who have used music to protest the infringement of civil rights, Nathan explains why artists are so important in affecting change in our society. “If you want to change people’s minds, you have to make them feel something first.”
Minotaurs’ newest project has no shortage of feeling. Like The Thing (their previous album), New Believers resides in a grey area between jazz, rock and roll, blues, and afro beat. Given the size of the band, which at times can involve more than a dozen musicians, most of whom have other projects, I asked Nathan how the band would welcome sudden mainstream success. “If it meant we were getting paid more, everyone would welcome it.” Not that it’s all about the money, but in the digital age it is much more difficult for musicians to get paid for their work. “I don’t know how many people have streamed our record, but it’s a lot, and it’s good on one hand because they hear it, and I want them to hear it. But on the other hand, years ago you would buy a record that you were interested in, and if you didn’t like it you would sell it or throw it away. You didn’t get to listen to the whole thing and enjoy it and then give it back. You didn’t get to do that, but you do now. Even if you like it you don’t have to pay for it now.”
Reflecting on our conversation I asked Nathan if we might be seeing his name on a ballot in the future. “No. Change doesn’t come from politics. Change comes from the streets, and the people.”
Visit the Minotaurs band website [here]
Our review of New Believers is [here]