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Banjo Politico


  • Becca Lowenstein

It’s 2004, and we all know what that means—with the elections just down the road, there’s no time to namby-pamby around. It’s time to get passionate and pick your man.

Here’s one guy who isn’t even remotely insipid, and he’s definitely picked his man. Since the towers fell, multi-instrumentalist

Pierce Woodward has drastically changed his tune, his one-time ordinary songwriting is now deluged with progressive politics, dealt with charming wit.

“What got me going was the way the media handled September 11,” says the 26-year-old Beacon resident. “It radicalized me politically and got me thinking about whether I was having the most impact I could have as a musician.”

Although Woodward wasn’t politically outspoken until that day, his liberal views later led him to an internship at New Hampshire Public Radio as a news commentator and freelance reporter. He found his position in the media highly frustrating.

“The whole reason I wanted to get involved in the media was because I thought they were doing such a terrible job, and they weren’t reporting on the things I thought needed to be reported on. I found myself torn, unable to express what I wanted to. I was required to keep my opinions to myself.”

Around this time, Woodward hooked up with Pete Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger of the popular local band The Mammals. Rodriguez-Seeger, also the host of WAMC’s Albany radio show “The Tao of Tao,” invited Woodward to contribute political commentary once a month.

Coincidentally, they were also looking for a bass player. “I thought, ‘this is the way I can get back into music and still retain that sense of having an influence.’ I’d have access to the mass media but in a format where I was called upon to express my opinions instead of conceal them.”

Another benefit of hanging out with The Mammals was that Woodward became obsessed with banjo and fiddle. Originally a pianist with a background in music theory, he seems to conquer every instrument he touches. He’s on the West Coast now, touring with The Mammals from January through March, but upon his return in the spring he plans to perform in support of his first solo effort, Leave No Millionaire Behind, a politically charged cd that he recorded last winter in West Hurley with Mammals members Rodriguez-Seeger, Ruth Ungar, and Michael Merenda, and many other musical talents. In creating this album, he hopes to “restore a little bit of sanity to a society gone mad.”

“I feel with the present leadership at the helm, the dominant world view is really simplistic. It’s like something out of a comic strip. It’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality which denies the possibility of working out disagreements in a way that doesn’t involve massive violence. In the year 2004, why are we still talking about people in terms of good guys and bad guys, enemies and terrorists? It seems so archaic. You don’t make peace through unending war; you don’t establish justice by oppressing people. It’s sheer hypocrisy.”

Pick up this cd and his message starts right there on the cover—it’s an expansive horizon of azure blue pierced by an airplane wing, a photo taken from inside the plane’s cabin. “It’s a beautiful picture,” says Woodward. “Not an explosion, but a peaceful reference to September 11.”

Moving on to the music, Woodward plows ahead on 12 instruments. “If you don’t count the radiator or skillet, it’s more like ten,” he jokes. His lyrics, however, are no joke, as he delivers them with severity, as well as satire. On the guitar-based, indie rock title track, he taunts the Bush Economic Stimulus Plan; there’s also something tongue-in-cheek about his use of the cutesy sounding glockenspiel. “Leave no millionaire behind, boys, leave no millionaire behind,” he sings in a rough, earnest vocal.

“I got that line from a commentator on npr,” he explains. “I was an economics major in college, and I learned a lot about how capitalism is supposed to produce efficient solutions to problems. But since that time, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t. The main problem in this country is too much power in the hands of too few people. What if no one were allowed to have more than a million dollars? Maybe that would solve some of our problems.”

On the rollicking, swing-yer-partner tune “Evildoers”, Woodward’s acoustic banjo is joined by Rodriguez-Seeger’s highly effected “space banjo.” He also throws in a little ukulele. But more prominent than the instruments are the radical sound bites Woodward collected from the answer rally in Washington, dc last winter: shouted statements such as “This administration has lied about everything!” and “No kings in America! The Bush dynasty must fall!” To add his own sentiment, Woodward sings, “They’re saying Greenpeace is terrorist / if what they say is true / if that’s what Greenpeace does / I’m proud to be a terrorist too.”

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