Chadwick Stokes isn’t your everyday musician. He’s the kind of musician who hops freight trains across the United States, who fronts two different bands, and who opens for a protest concert with Rage Against the Machine just down the street from a major national political convention.
There are a lot of musicians out there. But there are musicians, and then there is Chadwick Stokes. The frontman of two bands, Dispatch and State Radio, Stokes and his remarkable career prove that he isn’t just a run-of-the-mill musician.
He’s a very particular kind of musician. He’s the kind of musician who hops freight trains and travels across the United States with his brother. He’s the kind of musician who says a defining moment for his career was opening up for Rage Against the Machine at a concert just a few short miles from the Republican National Convention. Moreover, he’s the kind of musician whose political activism comes through in his music.
And while politics is not always the formative feature of his music, it is an important element.
“I’ve always got politics on my mind,” Stokes said.
So it is with his recently released song, co-produced by Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, “Our Lives Our Time,” just one of the ten tracks off of his forthcoming album The Horse Comanche, which will be released Feb. 3, 2015.
Somewhat reminiscent of the style of Paul Simon, and for that matter, Simon & Garfunkel, the song is an evident fusion of folk and rock elements. It opens with a twangy solo guitar before moving into a cooperation of acoustic and electric guitar and drums, combining into a soulful piece.
There are times where the tune is moderately dissonant, not quite landing on your ears the way you’d expect. That isn’t to say the song doesn’t flow; it absolutely does. But, it fights back at you a little, adding just enough discomfort to keep you on your toes.
It’s definitely a catchy song. There is something about it that makes you want to nod “yes” and bounce your feet to the tune. The song is sincere and it delivers a certain feeling of satisfaction.
The changes in pitch and speed and the well-timed intersection of the electric guitar, in the end, just works. If you pay attention to the lyrics, Stokes’ political inclination and activism are also apparent.
The lyrics mediate the boundary between symbolic and candid, alluding to, among other things, celebrities, politicians, Wall Street, religion, as well as the United States and current issues, such as teachers’ pay and discrimination.
“The song speaks to issues like gay marriage and the military industrial complex,” said Stokes, who is currently on his Fall 2014 tour.
If you listen closely, these messages are clear. Speaking with Stokes, it’s easy to understand why. The conversation was quick and straightforward, questions were answered candidly and simply. But even then, Stokes’ personality came through—plain spoken, direct, to the point, and well-meaning.
The lyrics are seemingly a reflection of these elements of Stokes’ personality, accentuating a well intentioned and nuanced worldview. And whether or not you agree with him, the lyrics succeed in working effectually with the tune.
“Our Lives Our Time,” however, is just one element of Stokes’ upcoming album. Recorded over the course of a month in Chicago, a time during which Stokes said the temperature was nineteen below zero, the album is not exclusively about politics.
“Old high school relationships, different people,” as well as Stokes’s recent experience of becoming a father of two, have also influenced The Horse Comanche. “Prison Blue Eyes,” another song off of Stokes’ upcoming album, proves it.
“Prison Blue Eyes is about the kids,” Stokes said.
A solo album, The Horse Comanche, is his own, based in many ways upon his own experiences and outlook.
“I just had a bunch of songs that didn’t really fit [with Dispatch and State Radio],” Stokes said.
And though political activism may not influence each and every track on The Horse Comanche, Stokes’s activism seems to have had a transformative experience on his life.
Shortly after high school, Stokes took a trip to Zimbabwe, after which he started the Elias Fund, which funds community development and education for Zimbabwean youth. He is also involved with Calling All Crows, an organization that has recently been working with refugees from the conflict in Syria.
Stokes’s experiences, which he claims have been deeply “educational,” are evident in his music, which he claimed was influenced by the folk music of Southern and Western Africa.
His experiences have apparently affected how he describes his music as well. He humbly resisted most labels.
“I just say folk. It’s a bit of a copout but it’s folk,” Stokes said.
Whatever label you choose to ascribe to it, however, the reality of the music remains the same. “Our Lives Our Time,” much like Stokes himself seems to be, is profound, but down to earth and unpretentious. It satisfies the listener and accentuates not just Stokes’ worldview, but his tremendous talent as well.
Stokes will be in Washington this month, playing in Seattle at The Crocodile on Nov. 17.