Video Premiere: Evan Haywood's politically pointed "Do Right by My Kin"
Evan Haywood's Perfumed Gardens is a gutbucket folk-rock album soaked in reverb and passion. In addition to 11 Haywood originals, he covers songs by Cody ChesnuTT, Gypsy Trips, Dave Bixby, and Roy Acuff, all while evoking Bob Dylan circa his Rolling Thunder Revue stage where he played with loose abandon.
The album came out in August 2018, but the Ann Arbor-based Haywood didn't release a video for songs on the album -- until now.
"Do Right by My Kin," which premieres here on Pulp, is a screed against the rise of far-right conservatism, racism, and hatred that has increased in the United States since the 2016 election. The song's targets are obvious and so is Haywood's rage when he sings, "Do me a favor and do right by my kin / Better love your neighbor / Or we gonna make you pay for your sin."
I talked with Haywood over email about why he decided to release the video now, how it was created, and the song's influences, as well as the status of two other projects he's working on: the long-delayed new album by the hip-hop collective Tree City and a film he shot about Jamaica's music and politics.
Q: You recorded the video in January 2017 for an album that came out in August 2018 and released the promo clip in March 2020. Tell us about the process, the delay, and the decision to release it now.
A: Sometime during the 2016 U.S.A. election cycle, my brain was boiling over from all of the hatred in the air. I was sick of seeing innocent people being victimized by sadistic sociopaths, in this country and beyond. Politicians were beginning to ramp up their toxic rhetoric, attacking groups of people who could not defend themselves. Fascism was on the rise. Living in a primarily Muslim neighborhood in Hamtramck at the time, I remember that scumbag Ted Cruz saying, "We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
As a person with empathy and a moral center, my mental health was severely suffering from watching humankind fall into the grim trance of xenophobia, repeating patterns of ideology and behavior that have historically concluded in genocide. Every day, I felt this intense pain ... so "Do Right By My Kin" is really a cry of anguish. I think wrote it in about 15 minutes. I filmed the video in early 2017, but I decided to hold it back at the time. I didn't want to be another angry voice in the conversation. I didn't want my words to be misunderstood.
Well, the scourge of racism, oppression of the poor, and abuses of human rights have only grown worse in the Trump era. Our nation has accepted a reality of extreme government corruption, extrajudicial police killings, "Muslim bans," ICE raids, concentration camps, and children in cages. And now, we have a deadly virus sweeping the land ... so, I felt it was the right time to release the video. I think it is fitting for these apocalyptic times. I hope it will stand as a message to those who seek to victimize the innocent -- we WILL hold you accountable for your actions. Your day will come and your empire will crumble.
Q: Tell us about the creative process for the video and what you, Niki Voyeur, and Pete Dean were looking to evoke with the imagery and effects.
A: I recorded the rhythm guitar and vocals for “Do Right By My Kin” in a single take -- the one you see in the video. I played all of the other instruments as well. I remember hitting the tambourine so hard my fingers were bleeding. I decided to use the symbol of the American flag, as dissent and protest have always been an important part of U.S. history. This is my personal testimony as to what it is like to live in this country, in this time. This is what the flag means to me.
The idea was to represent the lyrics of the song visually, with references to current historical events. I wanted to really put the viewer into my head and represent the chaos and claustrophobia of being boxed in by a corrupt system of governance. There are a lot of violent images because violence is a way of life in the United States. Niki Voyeur shot and edited the video, which we filmed at The Grapevine, my studio at the time in the Russell Industrial Center. Via the internet, my old friend Peter Dean helped me create the visual effects.
Q: The repetitive, bluesy structure, the rollicking performance, and the pointed lyrics have a Bob Dylan / Rolling Thunder Revue vibe. And the title of the first tune on Perfumed Gardens, "I Don't Think Twice," evokes a Dylan song even if the music is more akin to a noisy Beach Boys. Were you deep in a Dylan phase while writing the album?
A: Bob Dylan and particularly the Rolling Thunder Revue period were certainly a big influence on my Perfumed Gardens album ... not because I was listening to Dylan or trying to evoke his vibe during the writing/recording, but because I learned a lot about American music through his records when I was in my early teens. His shadow has lingered over my songwriting ever since. Among other things, his songs taught me how to say difficult things without fear.
Of course, these kinds of fuzzy, distorted sounds hearken back to stuff like Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, and early American gospel. The Stooges and MC5 are in there somewhere, too. I weave a lot of influences into my music, usually without thinking about it consciously. Being a record collector and music archivist, I try to act like a sponge and absorb as much inspiration as possible each day. This is why I am interested in working in so many different genres. I can never settle down!
Q: I saw on your Instagram that Tree City has resumed work on the long-delayed album. Are you guys able to work on it remotely during the pandemic?
A: Yeah! Tree City has been chipping away at our magnum opus, Pure Levels, for about 10 years now. We're finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just a few more pieces to complete the puzzle. We really had to grow into this album. We needed to live and experience enough to catch up with our writing. This has given us a better sense of how to evaluate our legacy and represent the 734 to the fullest capacity.
I am blessed to have a recording studio in my home, where we've done all of our work for Pure Levels (and many other projects). So, it's not a problem for me to work on mixing during this COVID-19 pandemic. Tree City is about 95% done with the recording of Pure Levels, and we're able to work with a lot of our collaborators via the internet. We're all very excited about this album, so we've taken our time to put it together with great care.
Q: You've also been working on a film about Jamaican music for a while. Tell us a bit about that and when you hope it will be released.
A: Indeed, that's another huge project I've taken on! The film is called Blood & Fire. Last year, I spent a month in Jamaica hanging out with reggae legends like Lee "Scratch" Perry, Ken Boothe, and Earl "Chinna" Smith, shooting a documentary film. I traveled all over the island, connecting with elders in the Rastafarian and Maroon communities, filming extensive interviews. My intention was to document the oral history of anticolonial movements in Jamaica, particularly pertaining to their use of music and sound as a weapon against oppression.
I met a lot of lovely people who took great care of me, even as the country was in a state of emergency with heavily armed military police and checkpoints everywhere. It was certainly a surreal experience hanging around with Scratch, who has been my biggest artistic influence for over a decade. His wife, Mireille, was one of my key collaborators on this project, as she introduced me to a lot of my other connections in Jamaica. Lee and Miri took me rafting on the Blue Lagoon in Portland Parish, invited me into their home in Negril, and treated me to a late-night Jamaican feast four or five times over the course of my trip. I was also able to visit the remains of his legendary Black Ark studio in Kingston.
I have great respect for Jamaica's contributions to world culture, from Marcus Garvey to Bob Marley and beyond. Right now, Koffee is holding it down! For being such a small island, they have shaped the evolution of music and social philosophy in a gigantic way. So, I'm proud to be working on another piece of that puzzle. I'm still in the editing stage, so I can't say for sure when or how the documentary will be released. There are legal aspects to work out and a lot of people to consider. But it's a special film and I look forward to releasing it in a major way when the time is right.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.