Flobots is a Denver-based rock and hip-hop band that was founded in 2000 by Jamie Laurie, otherwise known as Jonny 5. The group is currently on tour promoting their latest album, Circle In the Square, and they will be performing at Cat’s Cradle Saturday. Staff writer Kylie Piper spoke with Laurie about the origin of Flobots, the band’s non-profit organization and what’s next for the band.
Dive: How did you come up with your nickname, Jonny 5, and the name of the band, Flobots?
Jamie Laurie: Both come from a long time before the current version of Flobots. Jonny 5 was because I very much related to the robot from the movie “Short Circuit.” Actually, I think I first saw him in the movie “Short Circuit 2.” But I related to the robot because he was kind of naïve, kind of well-meaning, and he always liked to read. Something about his personality struck a chord with me.
And Flobots was very simple. As teenagers we were kind of putting together our first rap album, and we wanted a name that said we’re not trying to be hardcore, but we do want to rap well.
Dive: Your songs are very political. Is it difficult to keep up such a revolutionary attitude when there’s a lot of apathy, especially in the younger generation?
JL: I don’t know that I agree that there’s a lot of apathy. I think people care about things that relate to them and affect their lives. Everywhere we go, we find people who resonate with our music and the messages in them. I think sometimes younger people are more cautious about taking opinions on things they don’t know about, and I think that’s a different thing than apathy. I find that younger people are very open to taking in information and trying to figure out what’s right. They don’t want to have opinions handed to them by someone else, they want to figure it out for themselves.
Dive: Your nonprofit organization, Flobots.org, works to provide music education to youth in Denver. Is that why this is so important to you?
JL: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s definitely one of the reasons that we started Flobots.org. Basically music is really a good way to inspire people and get people revved up and ready to do something. Early on in the band’s career, before we were in any way a national band or anything, we decided we wanted to experiment with the other side of that. We didn’t want to just get people revved up and give them nowhere to go. We wanted to create structure that gave people a place to go.
So, in the early days, what that looked like was in 2008 we invited people to do work in their community, like voter registration. We had people doing that all around the country in different states. What it looks like now is music-based programming offered at Denver schools and Denver treatment facilities where people can say, ‘Okay, I may not see myself being a musician, but I can write some poetry. I can mess around on the computer and try to make a beat. And, in doing these things, I can start to feel some agency over my own life. I can start to feel some confidence in telling my own story, not just letting the rest of society tell my story for me.’
Dive: Moving on to the performance aspect, what do you hope that people get out of your live shows?
JL: Above all, we just want to put on a really good show. We want people to say, “That was the best show I’ve seen in a long time.” We generally find that people do walk away from our shows really enjoying it. We’re a political band, so we want to make you think as well as feeling moved. But above all, we want you to have a great experience at our show. I always say, whatever people think of our politics, or even if they’ve only heard one song – maybe they’ve only heard “Handlebars” – if you check out our show you will not be disappointed.
Dive: When you’re on tour, do your social justice causes end up being put on hold or do you still continue to work for them?
JL: A lot of times being on tour allows us to connect with organizers and activists in different cities who are doing important work. Think of everyday people who are doing important things in schools or just kind of in their own personal lives.
I know that sounds pretty vague, but to be specific, we have a song coming out about Bradley Manning and it just so happens that we’ll be staying very close to Fort Meade where his court martial proceedings are taking place the week that they start. So we have this song, and we’re working something up here in order to kind of help raise awareness for what’s happening with him. A few nights ago we had people at the show who were aggregating military who were kind of telling us their personal struggles with what they’re dealing with. Or we have these young middle school girls tell us that they’ve been struggling about cutting themselves and with some difficult family situations, and that our music had helped get them through that.
So all of those examples are really different but they’re ways in which touring helps us to be connected to communities around the country, and I think that’s the most effective way that we can go about social justice work.
Dive: What’s next for Flobots?
JL: We’ve got a lot of songs we’ve been working on and we’ll be getting new music out there before too long.
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