AW: Has your relationship with your band name – The Shondes – changed since your first record?
LS: I’ve never thought about it quite that way but what a great question. We chose it to pay homage to Yiddish and to experiences of outsiderness. When we began, our music itself was much more “outsider”-ish in superficial ways at least: our drummer was learning to play her instrument on stage, we were consciously merging super different genres, our politics were always in center stage.
We have grown to write the music we need, and it has become more accessible and more skilled. I still think of it as anthems for outsiders; we just don’t need them all to be in minor, with time signature experimentation, right?
AW: What is your songwriting process?
LS: I am the band’s principal songwriter, which means that more often than not I write the basics (lyrics and chords and structure and big ideas) and bring them to the band. Then the real magic happens in our collective process. Lots of give and take, sometimes arguing, but songs are always Better for it.
Eli usually does the principal songwriting for anything he sings lead on, and we often work together at my piano to hash out basic song ideas before taking them to the collective space.
AW: Why is it important for you to combine politics with music? Which issues are particularly crucial for you right now?
LS: “Politics” is such a funny term, right? People mean different things by it; I even mean different things by it at one time or another! In the “everything is political” sense — there’s no way for music not to be political. We exist in all these contexts and we are engaging with them, consciously or not. So I try to be intentional about the kind of music I’m offering to people, and the kind of semi-public figure I am. I would never want to ignore all that. And as someone who is really passionate about the idea of justice, of wanting a better and fairer world, I have opinions on lots of things that sometimes come across through our music, and often come across in interviews! I always want to write in a genuine way, so when my politics are showing more or less, it’s not the product of calculation. I like to think that our music might be a good soundtrack for radical organizing — I try to write the songs I need to hear to keep going and it means the world when fans tell us it’s working for them too.
The band has been particularly nurtured and embraced by the queer community, and we’ve tried to connect with queer and feminist organizers on campuses, for example, whenever possible. Our music has real resonance for people who have experienced being outsiders of one kind of another, and people who are looking for hope (aren’t we all?) But I think people who are engaged directly in organizing work are often faced with bleak landscapes, and seemingly unconquerable walls of structural oppression. It’s important to find sources of inspiration, and I feel lucky to have been able to offer some for our fans.
The band is also strongly associated with anti-Zionist and anti-Occupation work because we’ve all been involved in it at one point or another, and with a Yiddish band name, Jewish political stuff comes up a lot. Palestinian liberation feels really close to my heart for many reasons. As a younger Jewish woman, radicalizing in high school and college, I learned a lot through my engagement with it, especially about racism in Jewish communities, and about meaningful solidarity praxis. People with privilege experience opportunities at the expense of others every day, but there’s something extremely, almost cartoonishly illustrative about how that plays out with Israel. American Jews, who may have no personal relationship to Israel whatsoever have the opportunity to become citizens there, while Palestinians are disenfranchised and brutalized. The particular, undeniable injustice of that fact was very formative for me; being directly implicated made it feel particularly important to use the band as an opportunity to comment on it. That’s part of how we came to write the song I Watched the Temple Fall.
AW: What’s next for The Shondes?
LS: We are winding down our fall tour on The Garden and planning 2014 out. And as always, we are writing new material!