Words without music
Signs, signs -- everywhere in the latest Under the Radar magazine, there are signs.
Yoko Ono promotes peace, in Japanese. Indie darlings Bright Eyes flaunt anti-Bush slogans. Richie Havens plaintively advertises: “True patriots have free minds. Be the change you want to see.”
When Mark Redfern and Wendy Lynch launched Under the Radar three years ago as an ungainly fanzine, they never dreamed they’d delve into politics. The quarterly merely served as a vehicle to promote the music they loved -- indie rock -- and as an incubator for the talents of the writer-photographer couple.
But their current edition, “The Protest Issue,” dives headlong into the stormy waters of music and world affairs, offering interviews with artists young (Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie) and old (Pete Seeger, MC5).
To illustrate the pieces, the publishers invited their subjects to create protest signs and be photographed with them. The signs, autographed by the artists, will be auctioned off as rock memorabilia beginning Friday on EBay, with proceeds going to Music for America, a get-out-the-vote campaign aimed at young people.
Redfern, 28, acknowledges the politics-music concept was largely promotional, an effort to distinguish his publication, which prints 17,000 copies, from more writerly do-it-yourself periodicals such as the Big Takeover and Devil in the Woods.
“We were looking for something to advance our profile,” he says. “But no other magazines had done anything on musicians I care about and what they think. I’m not the kind of person who would go to a protest rally, but I have views, and this was a way to get those out there and put out an interesting issue.”
The music-related stories in Los Angeles-based Under the Radar tend toward the earnest and advocatory, but Redfern and his contributors are indefatigable interviewers, and the publisher’s “The History of Protest Music,” with input from the likes of Seeger, Havens and Country Joe McDonald, offers a perspective that is likely to be new to many of the publication’s teen and twentysomething readers.
The edition’s achievement, however, might lie in rock photography. The photos, mostly by Lynch, encompass the strident (Bright Eyes), the sublime (Metric’s Emily Haines in bed, under a white comforter, beneath a sign reading “Bed Peace”) and the humorous (members of Super Furry Animals, using wax lips as props for their sloganeering).
“The Yoko shoot was a dream come true for me,” says Lynch, 29. “She was super sweet, completely professional and an artist through and through.”
Not everything was uncomplicated. Only three-fourths of New York quartet Interpol bought into the idea. Portland, Ore., duo the Helio Sequence apparently had nothing to say -- its sign is blank. Iron & Wine’s Samuel Beam was photographed outside New York’s Bowery Ballroom at 2 a.m. And comedian David Cross almost missed the shoot.
“He was late for a movie, so we just met him on a random street corner in New York,” Redfern says. “He knew exactly what he wanted his sign to say, though.” It’s a quotation from U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.
Many musicians declined to participate, with some, including Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado, expressing reservations about sharing their political views lest they alienate fans. Others merely trumpeted involvement in the political process rather than a partisan agenda -- although Redfern concedes that “not a lot of indie-rock musicians are conservative.”
Redfern says that established artists such as Perry Farrell and Ani DiFranco were more likely to open up than some of their emerging counterparts. And the publisher expressed disappointment that his entrees toward musicians with right-leaning views were rebuffed.
Still, Lynch says, “For the first time in our lives we were in a position to make a difference. So why not try?”
As Metric’s Haines, who has dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S., tells the magazine: “My sense is that we’ve lost sight of what it means to be citizens of this country. We complain but we do nothing.”
Under the Radar
Info: $4.50, quarterly. Available at most major newsstands and record stores.
Protest signs: May be viewed at www.undertheradarmag.com/