Interview: Chadwick Stokes on Calling All Crows, social activism, and always having a guitar ready
The moment you get to realize pure greatness in music is when an artist has the ability to show his soul through song. It can be a very powerful and inspiring thing that can make you create something else as a response or you can use it as an uplifting experience. To find a musician who has a knack for leaving that effect on people, Bostonians only have to look through their own backyard. Famous for being part of the successful jam band trio Dispatch and also for being the frontman of reggae-punk act State Radio, Boston native Chadwick Stokes writes songs that can fuel the soul in countless ways. This Saturday at the House Of Blues, the 38-year-old will be throwing his annual benefit for his activism charity, Calling All Crows, joined by uncanny Brooklyn-based, Berklee-bred indie-pop act Lucius and New York City singer-songwriter Julia Easterlin, who has Berklee ties of her own.
We got the chance to have a chat with Stokes about the benefit, his new solo album, The Horse Comanche (out February 3 via Ruff Shod/Thirty Tigers/Nettwerk) and recent events that have been happening all over the planet.
Rob Duguay: For people who are not familiar with the organization, what’s the mission of Calling All Crows and what inspired you to start up the charity?
Chadwick Stokes: The mission of Calling All Crows is to join bands and fans together through activism and support causes for social change. Us in State Radio started it a few years ago so going on tour would be a more fulfilling experience so we can actually do different things while traveling through cities with the benefit of being able to get a bunch of people together to do various projects.
It’s admirable when you want to give your music more meaning than just playing a show and heading to the next place to play, almost like rallying a movement while on tour. This coming February you’ll be releasing your second studio album; with Dispatch, you play music that goes towards the jam band route while with State Radio it’s more of a mix of reggae and punk rock. With your solo material you fuse a lot of roots and folk styles, what made you want to dab into so many types of music throughout your career?
I’ve always loved combining different kinds of cultures and sounds together and I’ve always appreciated that with the bands I’ve listened to. I grew up playing the trombone so a lot of the first bands I played in were ska bands and reggae bands, so that kind of launched the beginning of my musical journeys. I just like a lot of different music, I think it’s fun to create music that’s from all sorts of places.
Anyone that’s a fan of yours knows that you’ve never been afraid to write a political song. These past two years have been eventful with the Occupy Movement, debates on gun rights while there have been school shootings, the Boston Marathon Bombing, kidnappings in Africa and more recently the protests in Ferguson, MO and New York. As a musician who is always keeping up on current issues and events and writing songs to gain awareness to the masses, do you think humanity as a whole has been apathetic to what’s been going on?
I don’t think so, we’re in an age where we are inundated with news and in a way a little overloaded while making us feel that we can be armchair activists and sign petitions online so it’ll help us sleep better at night. I can’t really blame the human psyche right now because there are a lot of people doing some great things even though we are overloaded. There are so many wonderful people who are doing the right thing. Whether it’s people who are protesting in Ferguson and New York City or if it’s people who slept in a tent night after night at Occupy, I still feel like there’s hope.
Last time we talked was when I interviewed you on a tour bus outside of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence before a State Radio show back in 2009. One thing I’ll never forget from that show was you playing with a guitar made with an oil can. Do you still play shows with that thing? Do you still have it laying around somewhere and bring it on tour or do you not pick it up anymore?
That guitar comes with me everywhere I go.
Do you ever busk with it on the street?
I love that guitar and I know a lot of other people do. Other than you putting out a solo album in February, can fans expect anything new from Dispatch or State Radio in 2015?
They can expect an announcement of whatever plans Dispatch has. I think it may be the kind of thing where we do one show in North America. Other than that, we’ll be working on some new Dispatch music next year and the following year I’ll be getting back into doing stuff with State Radio.
CALLING ALL CROWS BENEFIT WITH CHADWICK STOKES + LUCIUS + JULIA EASTERLIN :: Saturday, December 20 @ the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St., Boston :: 6 p.m., all-ages, $30 to $75 :: Advance tickets :: Do617 event page