Under the monicker emma's revolution, activist singer/poets Sandy O and Pat Humphries spend over 200 days a year sharing their music for various causes around the world. Last November, the duo released their third studio album Revolutions Per Minute, itself a journey through a multitude of genres from folk to funk. Every song has a story, whether it be "Stand Together" written and performed in solidarity with Wisconsinites protesting against Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-unionism or "Let's Go Swimming" which speaks of a cold dip in Chesapeake Bay as part of an organized effort highlighting the looming specter of global warming.
Sandy O and Humphries pen songs that are both humorous and heartfelt, ribbing the contradictions of the Tea Party with biting sarcasm on one offering and soulfully carving out sanctuary in love from a heartbreaking world in another. On RPM, their voices, each possessing its own unique richness in tone, beautifully come together in harmony, a process by which humanity itself would be wise to follow suit. The latest stop for emma's revolution is this Saturday in Anaheim where they will be performing a benefit concert for Grandma's House of Hope, a local non-profit dedicated to helping women in dire need, including those with severe disabilities, and to feeding hungry children.
Ahead of their righteous performance, the Weekly had an opportunity to speak with emma's revolution about their music and activism.
OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): RPM is the third studio effort for the duo. What does the album represent in terms of how emma's revolution has progressed musically through the years?
Humphries: On our earlier recordings, we have done something of a range of styles, but I think that this one is even broader than any of the recordings that we've done. We've ventured into many musical genres. The way we write songs, we're inspired by a particular topic and then we allow that song to determine what the genre will be. Sometimes that means we have to learn to play in that style like the high school marching band sounds on the Tea Party song. We really try to be very true to what the song is getting at.
How do your activist, musical travels play into the songs you write?
Sandy O: We do a lot of on the ground activism so wherever we're performing we're brought by a group that's working on social justice. For this Anaheim show, for instance, it's a benefit for Grandma's House of Hope. Really, we get inspired by hearing, either if it's on the news or luckily face to face from people, the kind of work and the successes that they're having, whether they're working on immigration, environmental issues or LGBT rights. We hear these stories and that's what triggers the songwriting. We just end up singing that story back out. We're very closely connected so we've done songs for groups that people have heard about, especially the Occupy movement, but also about issues that people haven't seen raised maybe as much.
One of my favorite tracks off RPM is the anti-war "Women Say No." What is the womanly wisdom against war? (And I'd just like to say I'm glad to hear an album continue with such songs though George W. Bush is long gone!)
Humphries: One of the ways that we introduce the song is to talk about indigenous cultures in the U.S. My family, we have Cherokee ancestry and in the Cherokee tradition it was the women who chose the leaders and it was also historically the women who determined whether or not the nation would go to war. When the Europeans came here, they didn't expect to see any systems of governance amongst the Native people and so when they did, they became very curious about it. In the process of learning about it, they found out the decision making was actually much more egalitarian than anything in the European system that they had experienced. Rather than taking that as a model, they berated the member nations for the amount of input that women had in the decision making.
Sandy O: I love also that you say we are still singing these songs even though Bush is long gone. When Obama came through, and we worked for his election, people said to us "What are you going to have write about?" and "What are you going to do?" as if our career was going to be over. There's still work to be done.
Humphries: Plenty of it, in fact. [Laughs]
"Taxed Enough Already?!" tackles the Tea Party with humor and horns. Tell me about how that song came together?
Sandy O: That song really started developing around the time when those supposed town hall meetings were going on and these people who identified themselves as Tea Party activists would show up and they were just shouting down their representatives and physically being threatening to these people. We were very aware that if anyone on the Left acted like that in a public forum or addressed a representative of government that way we would be in jail.
Humphries: Under terrorism charges!
Sandy O: Right, under terrorism charges! Somehow these people were able to get away with incredibly threatening behavior to the point where they wanted to march on D.C. with guns. The other thing was just listening to what they said. If you tried to make any logic out of the two extremes that they were talking about, it was just as illogical as that song came out to be. It was so frustrating it had to be laughable.
Is this the first time emma's revolution has come through OC? What have you heard about our infamous county and its politically wacky ways?
Sandy O: We came a number of years ago and it was at a time when people said "You're going to sing about these things in Orange County?" and they were very excited about it.
Humphries: Yeah, they said don't go behind the Orange Curtain!
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Sandy O: The great thing that we've found is that there are people everywhere that care about these issues even in places that are considered very conservative. We know we're going to come down there and there will be people who will enjoy the lyrics of the songs, the music and we'll all have a great time.
Humphries: We really never assume that even in the most conservative places that there isn't progressive community. In fact,places that people think of as the most conservative sometimes have the most enthusiastic audiences because they don't get as many people coming through with progressive values because they think "Oh there won't be any like-minded people there." They respond like they're coming up for air at concerts and we're delighted to come!
Emma's Revolution performs at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim,511 S. Harbor Blvd., Sat., Mar. 3. $15-20 pre-sale available at Brown Paper Tickets. $25 at the door. 7:30 p.m.Wheelchair accessible. All ages.