Luke Wallace embodies a new wave of politically charged folk music, writing the soundtrack for a movement of people rising up to meet the social and environmental challenges of our times. His message-driven songwriting has landed him slots at Salmon Arm Roots and Blues, Vancouver Island Music Festival, The Vancouver Folk Festival and an opening slot for global roots band Rising Appalachia. D’Arcy Briggs had a chance to talk with Luke about his new album, optimism in trying times, and the need for both activism and art.
Let’s start with a little background on yourself
Well, I’m a folk singer and I do my best to to use that music to drive energy and attention into activism around saving the planet and the rights of all human beings and indigenous people here in Canada. My childhood was a pretty standard middle class sort of childhood and growing up helped me sort of start to live more in the present than in the past.
And what inspired you to go down the route of political folk music?
Well I had been studying for long time. I have a degree in environmental geography. I spent most of my adolescence really caring about the earth and watching the horrible documentaries about our destruction of it and just the way the capitalist system works. This was all while I was learning guitar and was really inspired by pop artists from the early 90s and early 2000s, artists like Coldplay or some of the other big pop-rock bands. Those groups are really inspiring. That was definitely something I wanted to chase sort of in Intuitively. I was quite attracted to the stage and to performing.
Then there was sort of challenging period for me as I left high school in the heart of my university degree where I wouldn’t actually be able to pick one of these two things. I knew I was never going to go off and be a geographer, but I was also never going to be able to abandon my love to the planet and the need to use my voice to speak for its well being and remind everyone who we’re really here to serve. You know, it’s beautiful planet We live on with each other, so how do we do that all together? So it came to a place where I sort of seamlessly tied it together where I was able to start finding out that other artists for many years were doing this sort of music and using it as a platform for something bigger, to make some social justice commentary and environmental justice commentary.
I’ve been honing in on that skill and trying to figure out exactly how to communicate the ideas that are swirling around in my brain about taking care of each other, taking care of the planet, and figuring out how to how to put those ideas in a song in a way that is really catchy and gets stuck in people’s head. Music is an amazing platform for that. Yeah, it really was a pretty seamless thing. I was around 20-21 when that was happening. I’m excited to say now that things are all kind of coming together and I’m part of that group now and proud to be the sort of person that I am. I’m excited about that.
With this being your 5th album, did you start the process of with a specific goal in mind, or was it kind of like a collection of songs that you had brewing?
Yeah, definitely the second one. Most, if not all, of the albums that I’ve had have similarities and themes across each other. There’s certainly a sonic sound that defines the Kitimat LP and Little Rivers Matter Too, but this one was definitely just, yeah, the next nine songs that I really liked and wanted to put out. That’s probably what my next album will be too. It’ll just be the next batch of songs. I’ll write 15 and work through a few of them. There’ll be some obvious ones, less obvious ones, ones we get in the studio, then we pick a couple. For this album we had more than the 9 songs that ended up on there. I wasn’t sad to let any ones go that we did. We just kind of tried it in the studio or sometimes I was a little bit unsure whether I really liked the bridge or not. After working through some songs and worshiping them we knew we had our songs.
This album, relative to the other 4 records I’ve put out, definitely dives into introspection a little bit more and me trying to find my own spiritual voice and my human voice and isn’t just about me protesting the government. There’s definitely pieces of that in this album. There’s also pieces that I haven’t had before on other albums. These pieces are me looking at the sort of universal individual struggles link up and how to find my voice in that equation. I also look at my person and just the swirling emotions that are not related at all to the political sphere. You know though, we realize that it’s all also deeply interconnected, and there’s really only one story going on. I am more curious than I was previously about what my role is, in a more spiritual way, in this world, and whether that’s the foundation of the change that we need or not, as opposed to some political revolution, which I’m 100% for and I think needs to happen in tandem with the real revolution. You know, a revolution which is one of deep spiritual consequences where we all realize there’s one thing going on here, we’re all simultaneously creating it all the time. So I was really excited to be able to birth songs that tapped into something that I never did before. It’s a new sort of vulnerable space. And so far the response that I’ve got is that people really appreciated that I went there and that the vulnerabilities are there.
I’d love to take a moment to talk about the production side of the album. Daniel Klenner of Hey Ocean was able to take on the producer role for the album. What was that like, both in terms of sound and working together?
Yeah, you know, Dan and I had one phone call together. It was quite funny. I called him while I was in Ontario and we just had that one call. It was really great. We got each other, I had some really good references from other friends who had recorded with him. I knew he was a high class, high quality drummer and that was one of the big draws. He was able to both produce and engineer a record, but to have an instrumentalist as a part of that I knew would be critical, because I know I’m not going to drum on any of my albums anytime soon. To have someone who could not only play drums, but was also in a position where they had to understand the song as a musician and not just as an engineer was super helpful.
Dan was able to pick out some some arrangement changes that needed to happen, whether the chorus needed to be twice as long or repeated, you know what I mean? Like, all the little qualities that you can really only start to feel out and get into when you’re a musician involved in the process. And so that was a huge asset to our relationship and to go into the studio and be able to approach it as musicians and not just as where it’s all on my shoulders to make some pretty significant decisions about how the songs are going to sound. So we lined it all up and I sent over the demos and he liked them.
We had a couple of pre-production days where we were just at the studio and just kind of talking and listening to other people’s music. It was inspiring us more and more to get the sound we wanted to try for and get on the record. In September, we working over 4 or 5 days a week for the entire month of September. It was amazing, we totally killed it. We had a great connection, great relationship, and it’s something that we’re really excited for and even get into our next project together, whatever that will look like.
A lot of your songs are incredibly anthemic. Not only that, but on this album specifically, it really kind of follows an ebb and flow. It kind of tells us really nice story. It starts out with the songs like Jetlag, and What on Earth, And it kind of finishes off with Pale Kids. With these sorts of songs, what are the messages you’re trying to get across and do you feel they sort of follow a story of their own?
I didn’t get to play very many shows on this tour. In fact I only got to play one, but I have played these songs before the album came out. There’s something magical happening when you get a room of 100 people singing “I love the land more than my country.” In the world of anthems and earworms and trying to get things stuck in people’s head in it, there’s certainly something to it. In that specific anthem, that’s the crux of it. And that idea, I think, is to see what makes that authentic, but also catchy and memorable and easy to sing.
There’s also an underlying energy to those sets of words that express something. Not to toot my own horn here in terms of lyrics, but you know, the line “I love the land more than my country” is one we could unpack and talk about for days and days. We could talk about all the socio-political reasons, we could talk about the spirituality of that idea. We could talk about human rights in that, and so I am stoked to continue honing the craft of saying a lot with a little. I’m also really trying to recognize how valuable that skill is. Again, in a song like Jetlag or for the end Pale Kids that’s just the same four lines repeated four times. It really is positive and really garners some energy and it’s definitely something that I was a bit worried about in certain parts of making this record. I was like, wow, am I gonna get away with writing these songs and some of them have so few words. Some of them are just the chorus a few times and a couple verses. I think though there’s a lot in that. There’s a lot of repetition on this album I think that’s what, when people think about the anthemic quality of it, it’s really about finding a line, something super catchy, that says something central to the theme of your record and then repeating it over and over and over.
Optimism plays a really big part of your music as well. Especially, you kind of mentioned earlier on this album, you’re taking a political look at things, but also kind of looking at the self a lot. And in both cases, it’s really an optimistic outlook. It’s not waning, it’s not pessimistic. You’re kind of hopeful and looking at the future. I’m wondering what you think about what role should optimism play in producing music for social change or any kind of progressive activism.
I think foundationally the universe is built on love and the exchange of love. All of what we’re doing right now is either bringing more love into the world or less. I’m inspired as I kind of wake up very slowly and then take two steps forward, one step back. I wake up as a person to see what’s actually going on here. That’s just the universe showing how it really wants us all to come home and wants us all to wake up and see how amazing it is to be to be alive and to have been blessed to wake up for a short period of time in the human body and experience and what it means to be on the planet Earth. The more that I realized that the more that is the central thing that I want to communicate.
When you look at it and take a minute and get your mind out of the way, the universe is so incredibly uplifting and optimistic and beautiful and loving. And I think, the more that I tap into that and the more that I wake up to that truth, the more it just pours through the conversations that I have and the music that I write. I think I’d be doing a bit of a disservice if my message wasn’t universal. That’s kind of the backbone of everything, even on songs like Boomers and Pale kids are about getting into corporations and calling it like it is. On the other side of that is this capitalism Gong-Show that’s really robbing the world full of people who deserve to be loved. We can learn to take care of each other really quite easily and can learn to love the earth and be taken care of by it.
The song Pale Kids, like many of the songs on your albums, is a call to action. But in this instance, it’s maybe call to action for those who have either ignored or they’ve benefited from forms of oppression. Where did the idea for this track come from?
Yeah, you know, that’s really where I wanted to go, and so far when I’ve asked around that seems to be people’s favourite song across the board. I think that speaks to where we actually are collectively, which is that a lot of us need to recognize where our privilege is rooted, and how our sort of silence in that privilege continues to perpetuate violence against indigenous people or marginalized communities that are paying the price for for our well being. I tried to really thread the needle on the track. Lyrically, I tried not to hold back or the soften memo, but also to end it In a way that was like, yes, we can do this, there’s no guilt in it. The song isn’t about calling people out for not doing it, but it’s calling people in and saying, hey, there’s a lot of us here that, if we raise our voices, we can help amplify the struggle of so many people in Canada and beyond facing harsher conditions and structures than we do and it’s our duty to help stand with those voices. That’s sort of the foundational theme of the song, inviting people in instead of pushing away.
And we can’t pretend that if a whole bunch of middle class white folks in Canada stood up right now and said, Hey, what’s going on in the Wet’suwet’en territory is completely unacceptable and it’s rooted in in the last 300 plus years of racism against Indigenous people, things would change overnight. It would certainly be a start and a better place than where we are now and it speaks again, to the power of Indigenous people to look at the fact that we haven’t really done that. I commend everyone involved in supporting the voices of the Wet’suwet’en at this time, but to this day it’s still been mostly Indigenous people out on the front lines. You know, we’re doing acts of civil disobedience and rail and port blockades and trying to get attention. But again, if we added 20,000 new voices to that, imagine what we could change and imagine how much they would have to listen to what we’re saying and what indigenous people have been saying and facing for hundreds of years.
And to go along with that message of optimism and inviting people in, the song Sons and Daughters is a very strong look at the world we’re leaving for our children and touches on some themes that are a part of your music. What do these sort of themes mean when they pop up in your music?
I appreciate the question. it’s a hard one to put into words because it’s just so foundational to the progress in humanity. I think, if there’s anything I had to say about this theme, that it’s that children give us this reminder that the universe is so impermanent. It’s so impermanent by its very nature and we have to live from that place and learn to recognize that even impermanence has a sort of truth to itself. We owe it to future generations, acknowledging that they’ll be dealing with their own impermanence. we need to be simultaneously recognizing that we need to look after this place for future generations.
This idea is also recognizing our own impermanence that death is coming for all of us, yada, yada, yada, right? We cannot be hoarding resources or wealth and pretending that this thing is so solid that we can grasp it so strong in a very short amount of time. All that grasping our whole lives, holding onto money and resources is worth nothing except to the next people who grasps it. So the song is literally about the children coming in and looking at future generations. In a deeper way, it’s about looking at our own impermanence and seeing our own impermanence. In reality, there are future generations coming into this. We have to stop this selfish thing of hoarding resources and obtaining capital at the cost of that well being.
For those that hear your music, but might not be involved in social or environmental activism, what are some ways you suggest they can kind of get involved and carry that energy forward?
I think I have two answers to that question. The first is that we as individuals take on the ways in which our lives are out of line with nature, with the wisdom of the planet. At this point we’ve all internalized the capitalist system in a really disruptive way. We are not machines, but we are being bred and convinced to act in ways that are very machine like, that aren’t very human. I think a first step for anyone who’s looking to be a part of a new paradigm to help build a new world is to think and imagine a less harsh world. If that’s your goal, then we have to first look at our lives and see in what ways the actions and words and ideas that guide your life helping to move to that goal. In what ways are our actions and ideas helping build up nature or really just doing it harm? That’s question one.
And we want to take that idea one step further, which I absolutely think we do, because within the notion that I just shared, we’re missing the pieces of structural change. And that’s something I never want to downplay, which is that the capitalist system that we operate in right now actually creates the violence that we see against nature and people. It just sort of perpetuates and creates the structures of our government that creates inequality and creates corruption. So we have to simultaneously while bringing ourselves into alignment with nature. We have to ask ourselves what is it structurally about the systems that we operate in that need to change to bring our society more in line with the intelligence of nature and loving all people.
For people to do that I recommend getting engaged on a local level. We become obsessed with federal politics, mostly it seems as a hobby we just watch it. No, I do too. We just kind of watch federal politics, we don’t participate. Doing this we sort of forget that change on a local, and then on a bigger scale is extremely viable, especially when young people get involved. But, you know, bless the older folks holding it down right now. If we did decide that we were going to go in and we were going to run, or support a couple candidates for the local board or council, we can make some great change. We can work together to make change, be it bigger things or tasks like local food production and security, it can really do a lot to get us out of this state of shock and grief. So we need to grieve when we need to grieve, but when we’ve been resting for so long, we lose the ability and the realization that we actually are agents of change. We really can, when we organize together, do really meaningful things. I’m not the guy who’s gonna say go donate your local, environmental nonprofit, or go volunteer for something specific. That’s all fine though. It’s all really good stuff that I think we need, but if you really want to get involved with structural change, that’s often on a local level and starts to cause big waves.
Thank you so much for your time. Any final thoughts you would like to share?
Thank you for the interview. I will say that I was gutted that I had to cancel my tour so close to my album release. I was really excited to play some great shows with amazing people, but all those plans are on hold for now. I do have some plans for the future and I can’t wait to get to play for folks again sometime soon.
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