Music has always been an outlet for artists keen to share their views – personal, political and everything in between – and for Matt Dobkin, thanks to his new, upcoming EP Six Songs Of Protest, it’s allowed him to express himself in exactly the way he wishes to be heard. Frustrated and shocked by the outcome of the 2016 US election and all that has occurred and impacted both the States and the world since, his new collection addresses issues such as police brutality, the environment and White House corruption. Having just released the first single from the EP, “They Warned Us”, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Matt to delve a little deeper into his political views, the impact of social media on his career and how happy he is to see more of his artistic counterparts speaking out about issues that matter.
TITL: Hi Matt. Sum yourself up in a few words for me please.
Matt Dobkin: Right now? In 2019? Pissed off.
TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist? What makes you stand out?
MD: My aim as an artist right now is to express my frustration, distress, and anger with the current state of the world. And I think – or at least hope! – that that’s a selling point, because I’m certainly not alone. I would like to think that my voice, lyrics, and political point of view might, to some small degree in today’s landscape, help me stand out.
TITL: Growing up, which bands and artists were you most inspired by and how do those inspirations influence the music you make now?
MD: How much space do you have? As a very little kid, I would listen to whatever was on pop radio and sing along; whether that was Fleetwood Mac, ABBA, or Eagles. I was a total 80s pop obsessive: Prince, Michael, post-Barracuda pop Heart, Yaz, U2, and George Michael. In high school, I got the retro jazz/soul bug and I became fixated on Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. I discovered Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and I “came home” to the 60s/70s soul space that would become – and remain – my main inspiration. But, I also had a classical-music background and I’m sure that all these various influences have informed what I do now. It’s a big ol’ mash-up, as it is for most musicians.
TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing? With that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?
MD: Greatest song ever written? Impossible to answer. Different songs evoke different feelings and mean different things to different people. Not to be a killjoy, but I’m not really into pitting one song against another. In terms of my personal inspirations, I have two different lists, the “singing” list and the “songwriting” list. As a singer, Aretha Franklin tops the list, followed closely by Al Green and Sam Cooke. As a songwriter, Prince and Joni Mitchell, which I realize sounds absurd as I’m barely fit to sweep their floors. Marvin Gaye manages to straddle both lists.
TITL: Tell me a little about your latest single “They Warned Us.” What’s the story behind it?
MD: “They Warned Us” is the first single off my forthcoming EP, Six Songs of Protest. But the song that really launched the project for me is called “Organize.” It’s inspired by Gloria Steinem and really set the tone for the whole release. Once I had committed to the idea of an all-protest-song project, I started listening to A LOT of old classic songs of resistance. Much like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”, and many more. I started to realize that all the issues I wanted to address in these songs had already been dealt with by these great artists, not to mention Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, etc. So the idea behind “They Warned Us” was very simple, all the problems we’re facing now, we also faced years ago. And all this stuff I want to address now was addressed decades ago. Marvin, Nina, and Dylan warned us years ago about the scenarios we find ourselves dealing with today. Nothing has changed.
TITL: As you mentioned, you’ve got an EP, Six Songs of Protest coming out soon. Without giving too much away in terms of its content, what can fans expect from the collection?
MD: In addition to “They Warned Us” and “Organize”, which is a very pointed critique of the American president. Featuring a circa-1972 sample from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to throw her hat into the ring for U.S. president. There’s a song about the environment – “Earthquake and Hurricanes”-, a gay rights song – “The Ramble” -, a song criticizing the epidemic of police murders of black Americans – “Paid Administrative Leave” – and a cover of the great Phil Ochs’s “Power and the Glory.” You know, just fun, light, frothy entertainment.
TITL: Which of the songs on the EP might you say you’re most proud of/connected to and why?
MD: I’m really happy with how “Organize” turned out. The groove, the lyrics, and not to mention the background vocals of Teresa Stanley. She’s a killer female gospel/soul vocalist always adds authority to a song.
TITL: Your music is “overtly” political – not that that’s a bad thing in this day and age – but do you wish other artists would share such powerful and important messages through their work, or are you happy to be one of the few leading the charge?
MD: Thank you, but I wouldn’t say I’m “leading the charge.” I’m hardly alone in trying to get these messages across. I think we’re in a moment where a lot of artists – whether musicians, writers, visual artists, whatever – are addressing the kinds of political and social problems we’re all assaulted by every time we open the newspaper or a web browser. I’m genuinely excited by the fact that so many different creative people, across genres and disciplines, are finding ways to resist.
TITL: What is your tour/performance schedule for the months ahead looking like? Which one venue would you most like to play and why?
MD: I like small, intimate shows, where it’s easy to connect directly with your audience. So, I’m angling for Joe’s Pub here in New York City. But if Madison Square Garden or the O2 Centre came calling, I wouldn’t be averse…
TITL: It could be argued that social media is all but taking over the world – and certainly industries like the music business. How do you personally feel about society’s connection and obsession with the likes of Twitter? How has and does it impact your ability to reach an audience?
MD: I have friends who refuse to be on social media, and I really admire their ability to steer clear and not get sucked in. But, it’s impossible to get your music out and your message across without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s incredibly helpful in reaching people, so I can’t complain.
TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?
MD: I am completely focused on Six Songs of Protest at the moment and whatever small ways I can help prevent a re-election.
TITL: Finally then, with seemingly no end in sight to the political turmoil the world finds itself dealing with, where do you see your music going in future? Are there any other causes or views you’re maybe looking to support through future releases, and with that in mind, many years from now, what one thing would you most like people to say about you/remember you for in terms of your career and artistic legacy?
MD: When I first started singing and writing songs, I had no ambition to get into this political realm, but it’s feeling like a pretty good fit. I’m sure that, even when our idiot president has been expelled from office, I’ll find some other situation to be outraged by and respond to in music. Or maybe I’ll just want to sing cheesy love songs. We’ll just have to see!