‘That’s exactly the kind of task crowdsourcing should be tackling though. As opposed to being used by artists to make hypothetical albums‘ – Siobhán Kane talks with B.Dolan
Rhode Island’s B. Dolan is a prolific inspiration. His first record 2008’s The Failure was born from a time of great personal struggle, and it sounds like he is testifying, amid dense and gloomy soundscapes, speckled with hope. His second record, 2010’s Fallen House, Sunken City, continues the dystopian feel, and is inventive, interesting hip-hop, full of fury, and much of his work is about disseminating what is going wrong in the world, and exploring why human interaction remains the most important thing.
His records are released on Strange Famous, a label founded by (Dolan’s long-time friend) Sage Francis, who Dolan set up the resource Knowmore.org with, which is “devoted to connecting consumers with social responsibility information about corporations”, and as such has taken on many of those corporations, such as American Apparel and its somewhat creepy CEO Dov Charney, to influential effect. And his sense of civic responsibility extends from a deep sense of human rights, for example, with his live project The Church of Love & Ruin, which reached out to the LGBT community, to address the issue of homophobia in hip-hop. This is the beauty of Dolan’s work – there is a fire and creativity that fuels it all, and it will never be sated. Siobhán Kane talks to him.
How is work coming along on your new record?
Work’s been great, and seems to finally be coming closer to an end. It’s been a long time coming, but I can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve had making an album in years. I’ve been really involved on the production side of things with this one, which has been somewhat scary, but also challenging and engaging in new ways. I’m still excited about these songs after 4 years, which is a good sign.
How has the tour been going, and performing with a live band?
Tour’s been good. I’ve been here in Europe for a couple months. First I did 12 dates opening for Atmosphere in mainland Europe, and I’m currently at the end of 15 dates headlining with the live band. Both were dope in their own way. I’ve bought too many records, but otherwise it’s been the shit.
The concept of the Speech Development Tour is an interesting one; it is an immersive, diverse line-up, but you all have a sympathy, and a shorthand – how has it evolved?
Well, I’ve toured with all of these guys before, and know them as musicians and people. We’re a group of friends as well as musical peers and colleagues, and what’s really ill about it is the mutual aid involved and the way we’re all willing to swap roles on each other’s tours. Pip is a headliner who’s currently driving and tour managing. Warren Borg is an opener who’s also part of my band. The first time I toured with Pip I ended up being his driver for half the tour.
We’re all fans of each other, and we keep the egos out of it. That’s how it’s evolved, I think.
You have previously spoken of picking up some skills at slam poetry contests, which you were exceptionally good at, but you seemed happy to move on from it as well, do you think it is an art form that eats itself?
Spoken Word isn’t, but “Slam” is. It’s a scene that has remarkably little impact outside of itself, because it’s sort of built on self-congratulation and immediate gratification.
You have experienced a lot of struggle, yet have continued to put meaningful work out there. When you were making The Failure and living off the grid, in a sense – what was that period like? Living outside of what is deemed mainstream society, even for a period, is both a struggle, but perhaps in a strange way, freeing – what are your thoughts?
What you described is the underlying concept behind “The Failure,” really. The idea that we are certainly doomed to fail and suffer, but keep trying to make connections and have an impact, in the face of that… Is the sort of illogical behavior that makes us human. I don’t really believe in any supernatural force, but I do put some faith in that aspect of humanity. That’s what I found was left when I was at the bottom, so to speak.
The organisation that you and Sage Francis have set up – Knowmore, is so inspiring on so many levels, and could only come from people with true kinship – how would you describe your relationship and the way you both view the world?
Well, I don’t think I’m fit to describe how Francis views the world. That’s some ongoing shit. I can barely describe how I view the world, haha. But he’s certainly my best friend. We come from the same towns, and grew up around the same type of people. There’s a certain kinship in that that’s sort of hard to describe but was instantly recognizable. We were initially really competitive and stand-offish with each other. Sometimes I think back on that and laugh. He once told me not to piss on his electric fence, and I once threatened to kick his ass outside a gas station. Ah. Good times.
That competitiveness has chilled out by a thousand percent, and we’ve obviously been near to each other through some of the gnarliest shit life has thrown at us; but it’s also still there. That’s why I’m excited to make an “Epic Beard Men” album with him; knowing Francis is gonna be on a track instantly sharpens my approach.
How are things going with Knowmore? It is a brilliant resource, and seems to be getting even more popular. It feels as if people are genuinely trying to “know more” and be more socially responsible.
Knowmore needs to be kickstarted. Crowdsourcing didn’t exist when we tried to profile every corporation in existence and rate them for worker’s rights, human rights, environmental concerns, business ethics and political influence.That’s exactly the kind of task crowdsourcing should be tackling though. As opposed to being used by artists to make hypothetical albums.
We’ve got a plan for the new year that involves presenting the internet with the real cost of updating and renovating Knowmore, as well as giving it the support it needs to get on it’s feet. That involves creating a mobile app so you can scan barcodes and get a read-out in stores, hiring one editor with a background in journalism to spearhead the collection of info, and hiring a non-profit admin to setup future fundraising and partnerships with other organizations.
Here in Ireland there are huge protests over water charges that are soon to be introduced, it’s something that is unifying a lot of people. Detroit is showing a lot of support-as they are also under a similar pressure, but much more punitive, with some households getting their water shut off entirely-what are your thoughts?
These are the kinds of questions that we’re going to have to deal with, before our generation is done. We’ve been talking about them since 2005 when we created Knowmore, but I agree that the crisis is now coming into people’s communities in a way they can no longer ignore. Is your right to clean, drinkable water a human right? Or is that something someone should be able to make money off? How about health care? How about a living wage? If we decide any of those things are the right of all people, then we have a hell of a fight on our hands and need to get organized.
You once said that Children of Men was your model for revolution – could you expand a little? I wondered if it was because small acts of revolution, eventually provide a huge wave, and that immediate action, however small, has far-reaching consequences.
Correct. I was comparing it at the time to ‘V for Vendetta’, which is this story about a masked superhero sweeping in to spark revolution. That’s not really how it happens, though history often gets rewritten to make it seem so.
Your song The Hunter almost seems like a warning to those going down certain paths, that if they end up doing monstrous things for what they believe is a higher purpose- they can end up becoming a monster themselves. That is a powerful idea, and I think a lot of people, in politics and beyond don’t see it happening as the small compromises or actions can be so subtle – what do you think?
Yep. Nailed it. Haha. What more can I say?!
Also published on Medium.