Hurray for the Riff Raff is about to head out on the road for a headlining tour and you can bet your sweet bippy I’m jazzed to finally get to check them out live at Lincoln Hall when they roll through Chicago. While you scroll through the tour dates to find your own city, listen to their 4-track The Body Electric Tour EP exclusively here on NoiseTrade. Featuring two tracks from their most recent album Small Town Heroes, a Billie Holiday cover, and a song written for Trayvon Martin, The Body Electric Tour EP is jam-packed with musical richness and social commentary. I talked to Alynda Lee Segarra, the heart and soul behind Hurray for the Riff Raff, about each of the tracks on the EP, her involvement with The Body Electric Fund, and what drives the topical, protest singer spirit of her work.
NoiseTrade: As a songwriter, your music has always had a bigger goal than just enjoyment and entertainment. Where was the social change/activist/protest singer seed first planted in you?
Alynda Lee Segarra: I think growing up in New York City and experiencing the Nuyorican Café (which hosted very politically focused poets) had a big impact on me. Also, the punk scene in the Lower East Side showed me how music can focus on what you see happening in the world around you. A lot of what I loved artistically growing up was either focused on creating change in the world or creating relief from despair.
NT: To that point, The Body Electric Tour [EP] features a couple of your most topical songs to date, “Everybody Knows” and “The Body Electric.” Can you walk us through what you were responding to in each of those songs?
Segarra: “Everybody Knows” is my response to the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. I felt like I was going crazy as I watched his story unravel in the news. I felt like there was a struggle in the media to accept his death and to even paint him as a thug. I wanted to link his death to my visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. I wanted to remind the listener of how in the past, the masses have been convinced to demonize black people. We need to remember that in order to change it and to call it out when it's happening again. We all know where that road leads us, but if we forget it we will end up at the same violent dead end.
“The Body Electric” has a similar focus of dismantling the weaponization of women's bodies. As women, we are told that we attract violence and if we dress a certain way and behave a certain way we will not receive that violence. That is not true, we cannot stop it with limits to our behavior. There needs to be a new thought process of how we are treated and respected. This thought process is also true for people of color and queer people. Both songs touch on how we are human and how we deserve to be ourselves and live without the threat of danger or murder.
NT: Last September you ran an extremely successful Indiegogo campaign to shoot a video for “The Body Electric” and to help support The Body Electric Fund, which works with organizations like The Third Wave Fund and The Trayvon Martin Foundation. Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement with those organizations and how individuals can still help contribute even though the initial Indiegogo campaign is over?
Segarra: I wanted to raise awareness of The Trayvon Martin Foundation and Third Wave because I feel like musicians and artists get attention when we care about social issues, but these are the people who are working everyday to try to build a better world. We are still raising money for these great organizations and have a link available through “The Body Electric” music video.
NT: On The Body Electric Tour [EP], you’ve also included your cover of Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow” from your My Dearest Darkest Neighbor covers album. What’s your connection to the song?
Segarra: This is a song I combined with a Big Bill Broonzy guitar tune I learned. I love his guitar style and Billie's rendition of "Fine and Mellow" has always touched me. I have been very inspired by her and wanted to add some very raw guitar playing to the tune.
NT: To round out the songs on The Body Electric Tour [EP], there’s “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright),” whose music video captures the most amazing roller skating party I think I’ve ever seen. First, can I get an invite to the next one you throw and second, the lyric “It’s never wrong to hop a fence” has always stuck out to me in that song. What does that line mean to you and what do you see when you sing it?
Segarra: First off, yes, definitely! The whole time we listened to Salt N' Pepa and MIA! Second, though I like to be a little mysterious, I can say that I am a firm believer in always breaking the rules and fully being yourself, no matter how much it confuses those around you. It's your life. Live it.