With today’s divisive political climate, it’s impossible to ignore the effect music has on an individual’s beliefs. Add Austin’s thriving music scene, a variety of local issues and a plethora of strongly opinionated artists, and Austin is a ticking time bomb of political music. Over the years, some of the city’s biggest artists have woven politics into lives and their music.
Alejandro Rose-Garcia might go by a humorous made-up nickname, but his music is as down-to-earth as it can come. Performing songs that cross between folk, blues and rock and roll, Shakey Graves is one of Austin’s most famous young musicians, performing his old-timey songs both solo and with a band.
Although his music isn’t centered around politics, Shakey Graves’ songs often contain brief societal critiques, telling stories of everything from gentrification to cultural appropriation and drug trade. More political outside of his music, Rose-Garcia uses his official Austin holiday, Shakey Graves Day, to raise money for charities including Planned Parenthood, American Gateways and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Gary Clark Jr.
Perhaps the most hyped Austin bluesman since Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. rose to fame through Austin promoter Clifford Antone. Clark Jr.’s blues rock harkens back to the likes of B.B. King and Eric Clapton, displaying the genre as a starting point for everything from hard rock to hip hop.
Although he generally avoids political controversy, Clark Jr. shows his political colors occasionally — a story of skipping school on “Travis County” and a short discussion on gun control with a feature on Tech N9ne’s “No Gun Control” are two examples of how outlaw characters help Clark Jr. weave melancholic tales. He’s also raised money with Alicia Keys for AIDS relief and busked for American YouthWorks.
Live instrumental hip hop is a dying art, but Magna Carda plans to carry on the tradition in Austin. Similar to the likes of The Roots and MC Overlord, Magna Carda is the biggest up-and-coming Austin hip hop act, forming around Saint Edwards graduate Megan Tillman aka Megz Kelli. The band’s music bounces between piano chords, drumming and chimey guitar chords to form a free-flowing sound.
Tillman’s lyrics often revolved around her identity and upbringing as a young African-American woman. Her lyrics echo the human experience, bringing discussions of race, family and politics into her poetic stories.
Dead Earth Politics
Although metal is underrepresented in the Austin music landscape, Dead Earth Politics hopes to fix that with their infectious brand of thrash and progressive metal. Frontman and lead vocalist Ven Scott has a growling voice, and combined with Iron Maiden-esque chords from lead guitarist Tim Driscoll, the band’s music brings a new wave metal attitude with modern appointments.
Drawing from old and new school metal trends, Dead Earth Politics uses both their sound and lyrics to convey themes of political justice and freedom. The ideas of surveillance and obedience to a higher power tie together their most powerful tracks, including “Runescarred” and “Casting Stones.” Violent imagery is used to get listeners thinking about uprising and revolution to overcome institutional bias.
One of the most active bands in Austin today, Sailor Poon’s shtick as an all-girl punk band goes far beyond their free spirit image. The 7-member outfit draws from the likes of Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux to help create their hard-hitting and anthemic rock sound.
Focusing mainly on women’s’ rights, Sailor Poon takes their mission statement of “SOCIETY MADE US OBJECTS SO WE MIGHT AS WELL PROFIT” to heart. Whether it’s sexual freedom, misogyny or feminism, every Sailor Poon song stresses individual rights and the importance of being yourself.