When Occupy L.A. was raided by police in late November, Emily Lacy saw lots of her friends arrested. To raise money for their bail, the 32-year-old Alhambra folk musician performed a show at Machine Project gallery in Echo Park. It was all part of what she called her “Occupy Music” events, Lacy says with a toothy grin.
The disbanding of the protesters at City Hall broke her heart. But the events did inspire her new album, Rise, which is available tomorrow, Wed., Jan. 11, as a free download. The work’s six original songs about protest help document the Occupy movement in a way that the media failed to, she says. “[Rise] is a political exorcism through sound and singing,” she promises.
Lacy’s previous work was slower paced, but Rise is loud and fast; her guitar work is accented by an orchestra of fuzz and distortion. “It was important to me to play with a dirtier, more kaleidoscopic sound so that the songs veered into a visceral space,” she says, betraying her background as a visual and performance artist who has done sound-based installations everywhere from LACMA to the Whitney Museum in New York.
Her most powerful weapon, however, remains her voice, which somehow combines Joni Mitchell’s impassioned vibrato with Elvis’ charismatic delivery. “We won’t wave a gun/To speak, to speak,” she cries in the title track, which is about peaceful protest and references the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords a year ago. “Riches” and “Goodbye” feature trembling vocal runs and haunting harmonies.
Some of the songs were originally performed on the City Hall lawn, with Lacy’s acoustic guitar and two looping megaphones; others, she played at her increasingly popular Occupy Music events. (Her “Bail Raiser” collected $2,000, she says, which contributed to the release of four protesters.)
Lacy’s goal with all of this, she adds, is to position herself as a narrator of what she calls an important historical moment. “I hope this will be remembered as one of the great labor struggles of our time,” she says, noting that she believes the movement bridges disparate crises like war, poverty and environmental destruction. “To connect all these issues back to corporate greed is really intensely powerful.”