Interview: Firebrand Records To ‘Fight On The Cultural Front’

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Founder Ryan Harvey talks about the new label, which includes artists such as Son of Nun, bell’s roar, Ramy Essam and The Last Internationale.

Artist and activist Ryan Harvey, co-founder of Firebrand Records with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, gave teleSUR en exclusive interview about the new distribution label. ​Harvey, who is also a teleSUR blogger, explains that over the next year Firebrand hopes to build the roster and help artists achieve more recognition through both promotion of their releases, tours, and other projects, and through cross-pollination from the collective nature of the label.  

1. How did you and Tom Morello come up with the idea and why did you decide to launch now?

Tom and I met through my music, really, through him reaching out to me and my old collective Riot-Folk. We were a radical, grassroots folk project and he was a fan. We collaborated on a bunch of anti-war and radical activist concerts and protests since then (2005 we first met), and also on some songs. I wrote one for him, he appeared on two of my albums. So, for a year we have been quietly building Firebrand Records together, combining my grassroots experience with his industry experience to build a proper hybrid that can help introduce fresh political ideas from grassroots people to more people.  

2. You’ve said that there is nothing like it right now in the music industry right now. In what way is Firebrand Records different?

Firebrand is a new project because of it’s scope: we are both international and multi-genre, but more importantly, we are offering a mechanism whereby artists don’t have to worry about political or social censorship surrounding revolutionary ideas about human rights, for instance, to hope to get real professional promotion and distribution. We are a radical politically-directed project, but we are partnered with folks from the industry who really know who to bring music to people’s ears.  

3. Where did the name come from?

It was the only one not already taken! Haha. Sort of though… we went through MANY names before settling. Firebrand came from Tom eventually, and I think we both realized it was the right name for us. It means radical or revolutionary, and it also involves both fire, and branding. Since it is our brand name, and our project burns with the fire of passionate political ideas, it seemed unavoidable.  

4. Who are some of the artists that you are rolling out with the launch of the project? How did you decide to produce them?

There’s a big cast of us: 8 total for now. They come from many places. Ramy Essam is probably the most significant, but not in the West. He’s from Egypt and was one of the voices of the revolution in 2011. He sang in Tahrir, was arrested, and now has fled Egypt. Son Of Nun is a good friend from Baltimore, and he’s lyrically and politically one of the sharpest emcee’s out there. Problem is, he put the mic down like 6 years ago. When I told him about Firebrand and asked him if he’d be interested to give it a go, he did. And his new single in insane… it’s one of the best political hip-hop songs you are going to hear this year, and it comes straight out of his direct involvement in the uprising in Baltimore, where he helped coordinate a team of volunteer medics. I met Viktor, who sings for Lycka Till, when he was on tour in Baltimore and we got to talking about the Iraq War. He’s named after Víctor Jara! So, we bonded over the years. Others are bell’s roar, Built for the Sea, Ike Reilly, The Last Internationale, and, of course, myself. All of these folks are really great artists… I could talk a lot more about them but there’s time for that in the future!  

5. What do you hope to achieve with the project? Who is your audience? What are your goals? How many artists do you hope to be producing each year?

Our audience is, hopefully, endless. We want to fight on the cultural front of the current movements for liberation; be they in Wisconsin against the Right-wing attack on unions and poor people, towards an expanded and limitless definition of gender, or against the rise of fascism in Sweden. I think music (and art and culture generally), are essential pieces of the cultural fabric that produce effective, truly revolutionary social movements. We know this, and we believe that we have built an organization that can help in this part of the long struggles we involve ourselves with. I don’t know how many artists we will work with, it’s an open-question – but we are certainly excited to hear from anyone reading this who is a similar artist!  

6. Are you planning on producing anyone in Latin America?

Absolutely. We have no international limitations, and we intend to carry artists that span the globe. We don’t have any current folks in the loop, but we want to.  

7. Where can people find out more? How will your music be distributed?

Currently, all operations are running through our website and our Facebook page. Our sampler, featuring most of the artists, is available through iTunes today. And of course, we are on Twitter and other social media platforms as well.  

8. Anything else to add?

Just stay tuned! Tom and I are energetic people with lots of ideas…