Nahko & Medicine For the People are one of the most eclectic and socially charged acts playing at Outside Lands this summer. With messages of political activism, environmental consciousness and personal transformation, Nahko’s music leaves listeners quite a bit to digest. Frontman Nahko was kind enough to grant Moxipop an interview in between sets at The Electric Forest Festival during the busiest leg of his touring schedule. Supremely humbled, kind and insightful, Nahko, music like his music, had a great deal to say about his career and his personal life.
Mxp: Your band is unlike any other band playing at Outside Lands this year. What do you think best differentiates you from the pack?
Nahko: Our stage performance is so high-intensity – we love to rock out. If you come and see us you feel like you’re part of something special. We’re spiritual acoustic punk-rock. The stuff I talk about in our music is important for cultural movement. A lot of the bands playing at Outside Lands are legends – at heart we’re really clowns on stage, up there we’re having a good time.
Mxp: How big a role does activism play into your music?
Nahko: For me I feel like it’s the same thing – music is activism. Look at the roots of activism – there are artists present. Many people who listen to music agree that the power of music is so great. We’ve seen people come together, people’s lives are saved, music heals people. But it’s the vessels that bring the music that help facilitate that. We listen to these legendary songs of our past with themes of humility, respecting our Mother, loving the One Spirit – that’s the cool thing about music, you can say whatever you want.
On a personal level, I care about the environment and indigenous issues. It all ties together with me by way of music. It’s such a remarkable time to be alive. We’re all looking for a renaissance. I feel that through music – especially in our generation – I can point to people who are our Dylans and Marleys. Politically, we’re very similar to the ‘60’s, we’re seeing political bards carrying the torch. I’m proud to have been a part of that.
Mxp: What organizations have you worked with?
Nahko: I try to keep the organizations I work with under control. Right now I’m working with Honor the Earth, a great organization for environmental and tribal issues. I’ve stepped into a role concerning the energy crisis. I do a lot of fundraising and awareness surrounding fracking. I also work with 350change.org. They bring a lot of environmental artists to the stage talking about environmental justice.
Mxp: You are a Portland, Oregon native, born and raised. Your background is also comprised of many different cultures – Apache, Puerto Rican, Filipino – you’ve said you suffered an identity crisis at a young age. Can you speak to that?
Nahko: I think that with my identity crisis my music helped me shape my worldview. I grew up in a white Christian culture in the suburbs. I loved it, it was what I knew. Later on I found out more about my dad’s side of the family and his personal history. There was a lot of pain and misery and death. I then looked closer at human DNA and realized we were all interconnected. It was freeing knowing that I didn’t have to be attached to my family in a strict sense. I see my heritage and family like this: there’s a triangle with me at the top and in one corner my white family and in the other my brown family. Knowing that I didn’t have to just choose one side and that I could build a bridge across from both ends so that we connected was fantastic. It’s still sometimes a mystery and it takes time, and I’m still understanding the process of existing in two different worlds.
Last year I went to San Quentin and met the man that killed my father, and I forgave him. It’s been a long story of grace and forgiveness. For me I have to have honor and a sense of grace, but I also have to have that warrior and cutthroat mentality (Especially in the music business. I’m no pushover.) The way I see it, we all suffer from identity crises whether we’ve realized it or not. There’s so much discontent bred in our culture.
Mxp: When playing your politically and culturally charged music at festivals alongside other bands and artists that don’t necessarily carry the same messages, how does that affect your playing? How does that affect music at large?
Nahko: I think every kind of music has some purpose to it. Whether it’s to feed your ego, tell the world about what bitch you fucked or whatever. A lot of music critics think there’s no point to a lot of music. I know everybody has a purpose on this planet so I can’t write off any music completely – maybe it helped somebody not kill themselves or got them off drugs. Of course I understand there’s unnecessary parts to music. There’s just got to be a balance. I hope those other bands playing alongside me have to listen to what I have to say too. Some people write me off for being too hippie or too spiritual, then they see the live show and hear the music. That’s when they realize it’s just music all the same.
Mxp: What’s the greatest part about being able to play at Outside Lands this summer?
Nahko: Being able to play at Outside Lands is huge. We play a lot of jam festivals and festivals that are smaller-scale, but Outside Lands is an enormous mainstream festival. It’s going to allow people to hear us and hopefully have a transformative experience that would’ve never heard us before. People write off words like transform and transformative, so I’ll also add in metamorphosis or evolve, whatever word works for people in the sense of bringing about a change to themselves. It’s very important to play mainstream festivals for that sake.
You don’t see one type of people at our shows; the people that attend really run the gamut. There’s a ton of bridge building that happens. The work of every project we do is truth. It’s a lot of roar.
Born and raised on classic rock and oldies, Jake Tully consumed music voraciously growing up in Central California. He has his wonderful grandparents to thank for his love of music, as well as the amazing luck to have seen hundreds of concerts in his lifetime. He considers himself an eclectic consumer of all media, and further reading can be found at his blog.