If only we could find a way to harness the unbridled power of U.K. post-punkers Savages into an energy source. It would be a lot cleaner than coal (though if you’ve heard Jehnny Beth snarl her way through “Fuckers” you know it’s not completely clean) and with a good night’s sleep, totally renewable. Alas, since turning sonic power into actual power is only a fantasy, Savages are doing their part for the environment in another way.
Drummer Fay Milton, who’s sat behind the kit on the band’s ferocious five-year ascent to global acclaim, was a filmmaker and videographer prior to Savages, and she’s returned to that skill set this year to helm Very Important Things, a documentary series addressing that most overwhelming, cumbersome and vital issue — climate change. Motivated by author and activist Naomi Klein as well as by attending a protest at last year’s COP21 conference in Paris, Milton set about creating a collection of interviews with individuals in various corners of the planet addressing different aspects of the climate, global warming, activism in general, and the ways in which capitalism and corporate hegemony feed the problem.
Most of her subjects aren’t famous — though one of rock’s premier rabble-rousers, Tom Morello of Prophets of Rage is featured in one — but they are certainly inspiring. Whether it’s Kip Anderson, director of the essential vegan film Cowspiracy, on the destruction that consuming animal products does to the planet; 15-year old Aji Piper, on how he and a group of under-21 activists took on the federal government and the fossil fuel industry; a rabbi and Muslim scholar on how faith can lead on the environment; or Tadzio Müller of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, who in a video debuting below on Billboard, offers a primer on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
No doubt you’ve heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP — it’s become an unexpectedly large issue in this year’s presidential race — but you’re probably less aware of TTIP. It’s a looming deal between the U.S. and the EU that would do away with regulations — many of them environmental — that encumber trade and investment. There were widespread protest against it this past weekend in Germany, and Müller explains why, calling TTIP “an assault on democracy” and a “corporate bill of rights.”
We talked to Fay Milton on whether — in these days of concerns about jobs and ISIS — the environment isn’t a “luxury” issue, and why she believes supporters of climate change-denier Donald Trump shouldn’t be seen as the enemy.
With all the many worthy, important issues you could have chosen to make the focus of this documentary series, why climate change and the environment?
It was reading Naomi Klein’s book and realizing — well, actually the book is terrifying. It’s called This Changes Everything, and even if you read the introduction, it is enough to make you realize, “Oh shit, this is really, really a big problem.” But also that every problem ties into it. Naomi’s book really makes you understand is that it’s the whole system that is at fault. You can’t stop global warming and climate change within the system that we have, within the sort of neo-liberal capitalist system. They kind of work against each other. So when you start looking at it in that sense, that all these things are connected: oppression of people in society, and also in more kind of spiritual ways, in the ways we treat animals and treat the earth — our whole world view in a way. So some very, very fundamental things kind of need to shift if you’re gonna stop the environment from being destroyed, and life becoming a lot more difficult for most people. And then I went over to Paris during the climate talks, the COP, just to join a protest and see what was going on. And I wanted to make a short film about what was going on and represent my experience. I’ve often found things related to climate to be very cutesy and middle class — you know in the papers there might be someone dressed as a polar bear — which is great, that’s cool. But there is also a side of it which is a bit more serious and inclusive.
There is sometimes a push back even from the left when it comes to climate that says the environment is a “luxury” issue — that only when you have a job, can put food on the table and have health care can you even begin to think about the state of the planet.
I know why some people feel that way, and it makes sense. It’s because it isn’t an immediate problem. When people have to worry about putting food on their plate or whether or not their son is going to be taken down by a policeman for the color of his skin — often people have more pressing things to worry about. It’s just human nature. And that’s not something we should feel bad about, or feel like we’re failing as people. It’s just, we’re animals and we’re instinctual. If something’s not right up in our face then it’s hard to find that passion for it. I’ve found a lot more time to think about these things since I’ve been touring in a band, and you have a lot more spare time to read and think about things. So in a way that makes me feel like it’s more of a responsibility for me to do something about it, because I’m not worrying about putting food on the table for my family.
At least in this country, the environment isn’t even cited in the top ten issues driving voters this year — though it does resonate more with young voters.
Well obviously, climate change is not being pushed by the media. News stories very rarely point out that the increasing number of natural disasters is because weather systems are being messed up, et cetera. So it’s at the bottom of people’s minds for a reason. And I guess it’s quite happily left there, by the media, by big business, and by governments.
What can you say about Tadzio Müller, whose video we’re debuting today, explaining the TTIP?
I went to the COP21 in Paris. And they were all talking about TTIP and TTP and CETA, which is another deal with Canada. I think it’s confusing with all the different names, but I think we can see them as similar, related deals, in that they’re talked about as trade deals. But a lot of what they’re about is giving more rights to corporations and taking power away from governments. Which is bad news for the environment in so many ways, as it means the lowering of standards. So I heard Tadzio speak, and he was just fucking cool! I think it’s really hard to make these deals sound urgent and terrifying and interesting, and I think Tadzio manages to do that really well. So he was actually the first interviewee of this project. I brought my camera in Germany, in Munich, the day before, and I turned up at his place and interviewed him.
You’ve been shooting the videos for months now, while Savages have been on the road?
Yeah. I see it as an ongoing project. One of the reasons I called it Very Important Things and not Interviews About Climate Change is that I really intend for it to continue along the same lines but to be kind of free to roam into different areas.
Are the other members of Savages as interested in environmental activism? Or is it mainly you?
It’s really me. I mean, obviously it’s something that we all care about, but it’s definitely my will to communicate on it. So I’m doing it using film, and I can do that aside from the band. Because in the band, Jehnny writes the lyrics, words come from her, the music comes from the band, but this is something aside from that. Yeah, it’s quite hard to put climate change into music as well. Anohni has done it amazingly. That’s why I love the Anohni album [Hopelessness]. But it’s very difficult to do that.
From France to Germany to the Brexit vote in the U.K. to the rise of Trump here, nationalism and xenophobia seems to be on the rise. Doesn’t the putting-up-walls mentality work against progress on the environment, which seems to necessitate thinking globally?
It’s tricky isn’t it? In a way I think it’s the same forces that lead people to vote for Brexit and say, “No we don’t want the EU to control us, we don’t know who they are” that are the same forces as people demonstrating against TTIP, who are saying, “No we don’t want these people, these faceless people we haven’t voted for, being in control” — and corporations more than our governments are. I think both sides are cool with change, but I think it’s a two-sided coin. And I think the worst thing to do is to suddenly see the Trump voter or the Brexit voter as an enemy. They’re people who want the same thing but want it from a different direction, and who see a different way of getting there.
As long as their way of getting there isn’t demonizing “the other,” you know?
It’s true. It’s a really difficult problem, and I don’t know the answer to it. But there is that huge nationalism and people being frightened of the other, that they’re coming to take away what they have. That’s a fear. And as climate change speeds up, and more and more places become desertified, then that’s a fear that’s gonna become maybe a realistic fear — for genuine reasons. But at the same time, we can travel more than we’ve ever been able to travel, we can speak to people in any part of the world instantly, we instantly know what’s going on everywhere in the world because of 24-hour news. Both things are happening at the same time. There’s a really nice interview with Michael Moore actually, about his new film, and his take on it is that the younger generation are growing up a lot less bigoted than older generations. They’re growing up a lot more open to different races and sexualities and all — things are way more accepted. So it’s not all doom and gloom. People are becoming way more open in different ways, and I think that the people who are becoming more and more open and the people who are becoming more and more closed have to realize that they’re on the same team, in a way. You know, the Trump voter is not your enemy. There’s no enemies. We’re just all trying to work it out.
Subscribe to Fay Milton’s Very Important Things on YouTube. Savages play the Meadows Music & Arts Festival in Queens, New York on Oct. 1.