Flobots merge music and activism

By MATT JERZYK  |  August 6, 2008


In the wake of such artist-activists as the Coup and Rage Against the Machine, Flobots have attracted a strong following with their politically charged lyrics and their signature American flag bandanas. And their Providence performance this Friday (with Gogol Bordello at Lupo’s, $20, doors at 8 pm) will be a homecoming of sorts for Flobots’ emcee Jonny 5, aka Jamie Laurie, who came here in 1996 to pursue a degree in Africana studies at Brown University.

After graduating, Laurie joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program and worked at Youth in Action in Providence. During these three years, he was active in the local activist and music scene, and attempts at merging the two: All Rise and Wordsmiths Are Revolutionaries. 

In 2004, Laurie headed back to his native Denver and began putting Flobots together. In October, the group released its first full-length album, Fight With Tools, a reference to a World War II propaganda poster that urged citizens to work in industry to help the war effort.

Laurie says that the title reflects a recurring theme. “There is a war going on for your mind,” he says.

“We have to use our tools to fight and free our minds. We need to find and use tools in the war against militarism and consumerism.” 

After their anti-war anthem “Handlebars” became a top request on Denver radio stations, Flobots signed with Universal Republic in April. The song shot up the charts, and the band’s profile grew with an appearance on The Tonight Show. Rosa Clemente, vice-presidential candidate of the Green Party, even name-checked the band during her acceptance speech, saying, “In the words of the Flobots, my new favorite band, ‘We can lead a nation with a microphone.’ ”

Flobots subsequently launched a nonprofit organization, Flobots.org, to create street teams that link music with action for social change. They also launched a social network-ing site — FightWithTools.org — to further provide tools for their listening audience to build a movement for change. One additional Web site, AmericaWillBe.org, uses a collage of literary and activist heroes to define the purpose of their American flag bandanas.

Social justice will be an integral part of Flobots’ Providence visit this weekend. After Friday’s show, Laurie will host a “Fight With Tools” event on Saturday at 3 pm at the Open Table of Christ church at 520 Broad St., Providence. It will feature a solo performance by Laurie and discussion about Providence activism and the Fight With Tools street teams.

Flobots will then continue a six-week tour before heading back to Denver for the Democratic National Convention and then to Europe for a fall tour.
Humble and self-effacing, Laurie calls his current work “a dream come true. There are moments when you feel in line with your purpose and this is what it feels like.”

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