By Team Backbeat
By Amber Taufen
By Jon Solomon
By Tom Murphy
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
On his laptop, Jamie shows me some new material he's been working on. One track, "Werewolf," is completely in Spanish; the other, "Make It Change," seems perfect for a mixtape, aggressive in nature with extremely sharp wordplay. A few lines in particular stand out:
We're from the Rocky Mountains
Somehow the spotlight found us
We hold up mirrors
And reflect on all the blocks around us
The line of concert-goers snakes from the front of House of Blues, through the massive restaurant and out onto the front porch. When the doors finally open, the predominantly teenage fans flock to the front of the 400-person room, pushing themselves up against the stage.
Doomtree goes on first and murders it. Many of the teenyboppers here have probably never heard the group, but they're drawn in by the way this bunch of talented MCs shows up with a turntable and takes over.
Then it's the Flobots' turn. Before they're even on stage, the crowd begins chanting their name. Stephen, Kenny and Mackenzie come out first, to loud applause, and are soon followed by Jesse and Andy. As the music starts up, Jamie bounds onto the stage and launches into "Same Thing."
While I was half expecting fans to shout "Handlebars" at every song break, these kids are singing along with every word to every song. When Jamie sings, "Where the fuck are the rescue workers?" from the song "Mayday!!!," the words echo loudly back. These kids are clearly familiar with the entire album.
Before launching into "We Are Winning," Jamie, Andy and Jesse pull American flag bandannas out of their pockets and tie them around their faces. Stephen takes the mike. "Dallas, Texas, you see this flag?" he asks.
"Texas!" someone screams.
"This flag is from the future. This flag represents what America will be."
He explains that the flag stands for non-violence, peace, dialogue and equality.
"We are building a movement!" he concludes.
Most of the audience pays little attention to the words and continues applauding. "Texas" continues shouting "Texas!" loudly. But toward the back of the crowd, two kids take out American flag bandannas and tie them around their faces in solidarity.
The bandanna imagery was something Jesse's cousin, photographer Matt Walker, came up with during a photo shoot with the group, essentially because it looked cool.
But Stephen was already working on one of the main concepts for the album, that there is "a war going on for your mind," and given the politicized dissatisfaction with the system inherent in most Flobots music, tying an American flag bandanna around the lower half of their faces seemed a good way to illustrate that — vaguely threatening but cool insurgent masks — and the imagery worked its way onto the album cover.
"I guess if we're the new American insurgents, we wear flag bandannas, right?" Jamie says with a laugh.
But then the fans started coming to shows wearing the masks, too.
"That was scary, to look down into the crowds and see those kids wearing them," Stephen recalls. "It's really provocative imagery. That got me thinking that it would be very easy for some fourteen-year-old to put that flag on and go down to a protest, and suddenly things get crazy and he decides he's going to hit a cop: 'I feel angry and I feel powerless, and sometimes the Flobots make me feel powerful and I'm wearing this flag and yeah!' So we decided we should try to explain what we meant more clearly."
True to Jamie's mixtape rhyme, it seemed, the spotlight had really found them. The blocks that the Flobots were reflecting were getting larger and larger. It was time to get some bigger mirrors.
Jamie and Stephen had been intrigued when Barack Obama was mired in a scandal involving the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ and Wright's controversial comments regarding race in America. Obama would eventually distance himself from Wright in the now-famous "A More Perfect Union" speech.
"That was an amazing speech," Jamie, an outspoken Obama advocate, says. "But it was frustrating that someone like Obama, in order to be successful, had to completely distance himself from any of the harsh truth of what Jeremiah Wright was saying."
So on a brief stop back in Denver, Stephen and Jamie walked around Park Hill, brainstorming. Several talking points kept coming up. One, how could the Flobots get their eclectic mix of fans — from activists to evangelicals, potheads to conspiracy theorists — talking with one another? Two, unlike Obama, the Flobots weren't politicians, so they didn't have to shy away from unpleasantness or controversy. Three, how could the Flobots create a presence at the upcoming Democratic National Convention beyond just chasing the biggest gig or the one that got them closest to Obama? Four, D.J. Coffman, the creator of the graphic novel Hero by Night, was interested in working with them; how could they incorporate him into the bigger picture?
The result was www.americawillbe.com, a website referencing the Langston Hughes Poem "Let America Be America Again." That poem contains a stanza that is often quoted by Dr. Vincent Harding — a professor and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a personal mentor to Jamie and Stephen — which reads, "Oh yes/I say it plain/America never was America to me/And yet I swear this oath — America will be!"
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