When I tell people I’m an eco-musician, they give one of two responses: knowing appreciation or a puzzled furrow proceeding something like, “What do you mean by eco?”
I explain that this unique diction was not my doing. L.A. Talk Radio’s Diana Dehm realized the importance of music in carrying the torch of progress and claimed the term long before I’d heard it. When I met her over the Internet waves, she was looking for musicians that were writing about the state of our environment for her sustainability news show. Once she began to routinely broadcast the title track from my 2016 album Let’s Talk About the Weather, I knew that I had earned my entrance to the eco-musician’s club.
But how, do you ask, does one become an eco or ecological musician? In my case, the musician I’ve always been was wooed and captured by ecology – its majesty and its tragedy.
I was first moved by what humanity was doing to itself while working on a recording project on the glorious island of Maui in 2012. I carpooled to work with a local lawyer who suffered greatly from lung problems, whose children regularly stayed home from school due to respiratory illness. She was lobbying in the capital against irresponsible sugar cane waste burning practices, which coupled with volcanic emissions to produce a thick haze many simply could not endure. Citizens regularly called in sick, missed school, and suffered without protection. Her and other citizens’ efforts were being disregarded by both industry and the state.
The day I – an athletic, healthy 26 year-old – developed a lung infection from the industry smoke, I was moved to sit at the piano. Despair rolled over me as I contemplated for the first time whether human beings deserved this exquisite planet, or if she would ultimately facilitate our self-destruction. I determined that if there were enough people willing to earn our keep here on Earth – to devote their lives to change – I was willing to dedicate my life to fixing the broken systems enabling these kinds of injustices. I knew my quest would fail if a critical mass of others didn’t join in. So while I chose to pursue a purposeful, challenging passion, I simultaneously promised myself that I would do everything in my power to inspire others to do the same. Then I wrote a song about it.
Four years later I released my first album, a work that spoke directly to drought, immigration, economic struggle, climate change, protest, PTSD and reaching for distant dreams. Less directly, it expressed the pain of my history with a drug addict and genocide I had experienced in the depths of sleep. It drew from my frustrations with the status quo, nationalism, corporate life, and sexism, and ultimately served to push me into the world with a sense of worth as an artist that I had never imagined.
I worried about being wrong in the eyes of certain audiences, but was welcomed into circles that understood my pain and drive – universities, environmental organizations, and eventually Climate Science Alliance reached out to partner. To be sure I was doing everything I could to examine our most challenging problems and promising solutions, I accepted a year-long scholarship to grad school in International Environmental Policy at UCSD. I am currently examining the central theme of my newest performance work, The Let’s Talk About the Weather Experience (LTAWE).
The musical performance takes a burning question I had when I was 17 – “How is capitalism’s growth imperative sustainable?” – and rolls it into the personal experiences that have shaped my activism in the field. From planning rallies, to living in a tiny house on a farm, to declaring bankruptcy against one of the banks funding DAPL, my experience is a testament to my vigorous defense of the commitment I made to myself that smoky day in Hawaii.
The LTAWE makes an extra effort to paint a promising future for humanity. Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown is an inspiration for infusing the highest priority tools and solutions to climate change into the work. In order for people to interact with these and other ideas presented, the performance is followed by an opportunity to live up to its name: an interactive discussion on policy solutions to climate change, pollution, poverty, and corporate responsibility concludes the show.
What people often don’t realize about ecology is that it encompasses both relationships between humans and humanity’s relationship to our environment. Not only are our sociopolitical systems failing to act quickly and protect the world’s people, but they are failing to protect the very ecosystems that make life possible. It is my personal intention to intervene as artfully as possible. I hope that you are inspired to join us.
Ashley Mazanec is an eco musician and founding director of EcoArts Foundation. A partner and affiliated artist at the Climate Science Alliance, her creative work in eco-entertainment has brought her to speak and perform for festivals, universities, grassroots organizations, nonprofits, and corporations. The podcast named after her 2016 album Let’s Talk About the Weather showcases the shining stars of the ecological art movement. Ashley’s work can be heard on LA Talk Radio and in corporate stores such as T.J. Maxx, Hershey’s and Abercrombie Kids. You can catch her live solo and with her progressive rock band Ashley and The Altruists, hosting eco art events, and supporting causes with groups such as such as Surfrider, The San Diego Green Building Council, and International Rescue Committee.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.