“There’s a lot of people with this new folk emergence that sounds like an older folky sound with their instrumentation, but it’s lacking the message that folk music used to contain.”
Yo Soybean let us crash their band practice and hang out with their awesome dog in Athens, Georgia in late October, 2011. Nick Mallis, the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter, was in the midst of scoring a friend’s still-in-the-works documentary looking into the culture, obsessions and lives of Civil War reenactors called “The Lost Cause: An Old War in the New South” (check out their progress here.) After Nick and company wrapped up their recording for the day, we sat down in their sound proofed room, passed around some Fireball whiskey and discussed the evolution of “folk” and where Yo Soybean’s music fits into the narrative.
The guys had a lot to say - too much to fit into this short clip without losing focus. But one thing that came up, as it has many times in our interviews, was the idea of folk music’s message, or its problematic lack thereof. Overall-clad Andrew Klein yells at the beginning of our interview, “I’m not talking about the style of music, I’m talking about a message!” and that’s really a key issue we’re looking into with this project.
Today, much of what falls under the broad umbrella of “folk” music is just music with a certain instrumentation: A familiar blend of banjos, guitars and pretty harmonies that is all well and good, but doesn’t necessarily challenge any dominant systems. And though music doesn’t always have to be challenging, it’s important to remember that folk music has played that role in the past (and continues to play that role now *See Ryan Harvey, Mark Gunnery and Riot Folk*)
Folk music doesn’t always have to be in the form of a Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan-style protest song to be challenging. It can challenge the system by incorporating sounds from different cultures’ definitions of folk, speaking to a truer, more diverse American makeup (Hurray for the Riff Raff, Brown Bird, Dark Dark Dark). Or it can be, in Yo Soybean’s case, music that challenges a strangely nostalgic American past time, like Civil War Reenactors and sentimental Confederacy empathizers in the South. Ideally, it should make us think when we listen.
We’re looking forward to seeing how “The Lost Cause” turns out! In the meanwhile, check out Yo Soybean’s last album, Manifest Blasphemy, on their Bandcamp.