Flobots' Jonny 5 on Seeking Dissonance Offline and Offstage

Flobots recently returned from a tour of the Midwest.EXPAND
Flobots recently returned from a tour of the Midwest.
Courtesy of Flobots

Editor's Note: Jonny 5, aka Jamie Laurie, is a member of Denver-based Flobots. He wrote this reflection on the group's recent pre-election tour. Flobots' new album, NOENEMIES, will be released in 2017 and includes the single "Rattle the Cage" (below).

X-Men: Apocalypse was so bad that my favorite part about it was reading the negative reviews it generated. One review in particular, by Devin Faraci, held a special resonance, since it spelled out my unnamed frustrations in biting prose, and thoroughly catalogued the critiques that welled up in my head during the movie. This validation was warm and invigorating.

Throughout the election cycle, I hungered for this sort of experience in the political realm. Exhausted after a long day, I've thought, I'm so tired I just want to watch Samantha Bee talk shit about Donald Trump.

Resonance feels good.

Being a musician, my job is all about resonance. We create lyrics to resonate with listeners. Performing music mean seeking resonance in a room full of strangers.

Tours bring us into relation with the lived realities of assembled communities – sometimes in powerfully shared experiences, sometimes evoking discord or a sense of conflicting values and understanding.
Because our band is committed to making music that helps motivate and inspire people to engage in social change, we pay special attention to the context and history of every place we perform. On a recent ten-day tour of the Plains and Midwest, we visited places steeped in significance with regard to racial injustice.

We performed in Iowa City, just a few hours away from the Standing Rock reservation where an international community has gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Lyrics from our song "Defend Atlantis" seemed to have a special resonance in that context:

That which creates life has power to take it right back,
messing with the icecaps it’s time to push the tide back…

We performed in Tulsa, the site of the burning of “Black Wall Street” in a 1921 massacre of black citizens by white citizens, and also the police killing of Terence Crutcher this past September. That setting infused new meaning in the lyrics from "Stand Up":

We shall not be moved
Except by a system that's rotten through
Neglecting the victims and ordering the cops to shoot
High treason now we need to prosecute.

We performed in Lawrence, Kansas, where everything from the neighborhood tavern (John Brown’s Underground) to the KU football team pays tribute to the town’s role as a hotbed of Jayhawkers, militant abolitionist forces who battled with pro-slavery forces during “Bloody Kansas." Wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt as I proclaimed “Liberty comes at a price," the words came alive.

Resonance feels good. It can create a sense of community that brings people together in common purpose.
But it can also form us into a manageable market segment.

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As Eli Pariser explores in his new book, The Filter Bubble, our digital experience today is continually shaped by providers who gather data about our personal preferences, opinions and worldview, and then create and cater content back to us just the way they think we would like it. The Internet is primed to spoon-feed our hunger for resonance. With so much of the communication we experience designed to inflate our filter bubbles, dissonance can be increasingly and comfortably rare, so that when it does occur, we find it jarring, and our impulse may simply be to push it aside through denial or defensiveness.

During the past few years, while facing our national tragedies has brought me to grief and sorrow, more everyday dissonance has engendered a deeply unsettling feeling. I have found myself most peculiarly disturbed in moments when I was confronted with a crack in my worldview, when some view or argument challenged my core beliefs or the rightness of the way I was exercising them.

This election has underscored the hard truth that while we can live in our filter bubbles, they will not insulate us from dissonant realities. Without practice in responding to such experiences we may find ourselves lost.

Stream Flobots' new single "Rattle the Cage" below.

Perhaps our need is to develop a thirst for healthy dissonance — that uneasy and uncomfortable feeling that results from moving beyond comfortable zones of guaranteed resonance, and opening our hearts and minds to experiences quite different from our own.

On tour, for example, the performances were all about seeking resonance. Stepping off stage, we often found dissonance. In Iowa City, an audience member explained that his current work – the only job he could find — was pipeline construction. What did we have to say to him?

In Tulsa, a law student focused on restorative justice talked with us about how thoroughly countercultural ideas of redemption and reconciliation feel in today’s political environment. She yearns for a criminal-justice system based on rehabilitation, even in situations like the trial of the officer who shot Terrance Crutcher.

In Lawrence, Kansas, a longtime Flobots fan who first encountered our music while stationed in Afghanistan told us he now trains law enforcement officers. We discussed the Movement for Black Lives and he shared what changes he feels might help stop the relentless string of police killings.

Having these discussions felt fresh and vital, yet at the same time, rich with dissonance. Had they taken place online, various comments might have drawn ridicule or been treated as provocations finding resonance with one or another of us. But we were offline. We could allow the conversation to breathe, and when we did, we each found some traction in the relationship. We learned a little from each other. We got to see something outside our bubble.

The Internet, as it exists now, is designed for each of us to stand on our own stage and perform for friendly audiences who confirm our biases.  Such resonance feels good, but it does not reflect reality. Facing reality means stepping off the stage and talking to people, to step into the world of someone else and become for a moment a member of their audience as they tell their story and share their perspective. In today’s polarized climate, where demonization is commodified and monetized, learning to have real conversations might be the most profoundly important act of rebellion that any one of us can undertake.


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