Joan Osborne Talks Getting Political On 'Trouble And Strife,' Singing Jerry Garcia Songs With Phil & Friends And More

Joan Osborne

Photo by Jeff Fasano


Joan Osborne Talks Getting Political On 'Trouble And Strife,' Singing Jerry Garcia Songs With Phil & Friends And More

The GRAMMY-nominated "One Of Us" singer opens up about the "all-hands-on-deck moment" that led her to address current events on her latest LP

GRAMMYs/Sep 17, 2020 - 08:18 pm

Joan Osborne is one of those artists you’ve heard before even if you’ve never actively searched for her music. Her song, "One Of Us," written by collaborator Eric Bazilian, is one of those songs that transcends time, space, and individuals. It’s catchy and powerful, and landed Osborne three GRAMMY nominations. Not bad for her first single from her debut LP. Though Osborne, born in Kentucky but residing in New York, has never penned a song as culturally captivating as "One Of Us," her career is a sterling example of craftsmanship and dedication to superior songwriting.

Osborne plays with a number of genres, and on her new LP, Trouble and Strife, she bounces from Americana to bar rock to pop with ease and style. Though the album is her boldest political statement to date, she wanted to blend the serious moments, like the powerful immigration tale, "What’s That You Say," with moments of optimism and celebration. "I really wanted to make this record a fun and joyful album and something you could dance to," she explained to "It's about staying connected with your joy and allowing that to lift you up," she added. As the world continues to crack and we fall under the weight of it, Osborne hopes to be a source of positivity and hope. Though songs like "Hands Off" deal with the prevalent corruption of our modern era, "Never Get Tired (Of Loving You)" is a heartwarming ode to her daughter, and "Boy Don’t You Know" wraps themes of female empowerment and misogyny in society around warm piano chords and silky guitar runs.

Though Osborne's songwriting is subtler and more nuanced than her defining hit, her voice continues to be a revelation. From her days of singing Jerry Garcia songs in the Grateful Dead after the legend passed away to her Bob Dylan covers album from 2017, Osborne continually displays why her vocals are some of the most iconic in modern rock ‘n’ roll. Trouble And Strife is another example of her power and dexterity, a beautiful encapsulation of our times, warts and all.

What is it like releasing a political (and fun) album in this particular cultural climate?

Because of the pandemic, the process that we would normally be going through to release a record and support a record is, of course, different because we can't do any live shows. We can't go to any radio stations in person, and we're limited with the amount of stuff that we can do to promote the record. We're, of course, doing a lot of phone interviews and Zoom interviews and things like that remotely to be safe, but it's not the same as going on a tour and playing your songs in front of audiences and stuff like that. It feels a little weird, a little abstract in that way.

This is not a good thing, but I feel like the record, being a very political record or at least the most political record that I've ever released, it feels like there's an audience that's going to be receptive to it. That's the response that we're getting. People are saying that they're happy to have music that is addressing what's going on in the world. It makes them feel less alone and it can be a useful thing to help to navigate this particular moment. That's gratifying. I'm not happy for the reasons behind it being so relevant, but I'm happy that people are responding to it in that way.

When you are interacting with moments to inspire your songs, like "Hands Off," is it draining being inundated by negativity and awful things happening all around us?

It can be very difficult to navigate a time like this. Every day seems to bring some new crisis and some new disaster. If you have kids, you're thinking about the world that you're going to leave to them. That's a difficult thing just as a person and as a citizen. But as a writer, it lights a fire under you and gives you a lot of energy to put the things that you're thinking and feeling into your music. There's a real urgency that I've felt about having songs like this that address this current moment. It gives you a real push in that direction of trying to wrestle with this moment in a creative way.

Having the platform to be able to illuminate a story like on "What's That You Say," is so important, too. Can you talk about how that song came about?

I'm dismayed by the immigration conversation that's going on in this country right now. I believe that America is great because it's a country of immigrants and because of the mix of all the different cultures and artistic traditions that different groups of immigrants have brought with them. That's why American culture is so fascinating. People bring their different traditions with them and then those different traditions and styles have mixed together and created brand-new forms of art in this country. I think that's part of what makes us an amazing country.

I wanted to write something about a person who has come here and brought the best of themselves to this country and really contributed. And so I wrote this song, "What's That You Say," about this character. There were these moments in the song that were instrumental passages that didn't have lyrics and there wasn't singing. I kept hearing a spoken voice in those passages. I thought, well, why don't I turn the mic over, so to speak, to someone who has actually lived this immigrant journey? That's another thing that frustrates me so much about this issue, is that we talk a lot about immigrants and immigration, but I don't hear a lot of people listening to actual immigrants. I don't hear their stories that much. That's very frustrating for me.

I felt like this would be an opportunity to allow somebody to talk about their experience, someone who's actually lived this experience. I can come at it from an artistic perspective and try to have some connection to someone else's story, but no one's going to tell it like someone who's lived it. That's when I approached this organization called RAICES. I've been aware of the work that they're doing at the southern border, trying to help people who are attempting to immigrate to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico and people who are trying to navigate this really dehumanizing system that is in place at the border and helping them with their legal applications for asylum and things like that.

I called them up and I said, "I'm really a fan of the work that you're doing," and I told them about the song and I asked them if they knew someone who might be interested in telling their story to become a part of this song. They introduced me to Ana Maria Rea-Ventre. She is very much the kind of person that this song is written about. She's someone who came to America as a child and has lived the rest of her life here and has been someone who's contributed to her community. She's this shining light to the people around her. She agreed to tell her story.

When your songs began to take a political angle, did you watch what was happening in the world and think to yourself, "I need to make my next album a certain way"? Or had you already started writing and that's just the way that the songs were taking shape?

It's a little bit of both. I wrote these songs in a big rush in 2018. It was before the most recent disasters, but this has certainly been a rough four years. These things were on my mind and a lot of ideas for songs about the current state of our country and of the world kept coming to me. I feel a responsibility as a citizen, a parent, and an artist to try to do what I can to effect some positive change. As they say, "It's an all-hands-on-deck moment." None of us, I don't think, have the luxury to just sit back and watch it unfold. We have to participate.

There’s a cautious optimism that prevails over the entire album. Is that something you really had to work towards? Or is that your MO as a person?

I've been reading a lot of this writer, Sarah Kendzior. She was one of the people who believed that Donald Trump was going to win the presidency. She's an expert on authoritarian governments and she's brilliant. I don't think I can quote her directly, but she said something about, "I'm not an optimist and I'm not a pessimist. I believe that we have to do the work that we have to do, whether we know what the outcome is going to be or not. There's no guarantee that the work that we have to do is going to bring about the change that we want, but we have to do it anyway."

With the revitalization of the Grateful Dead in this modern era, your time playing with Phil & Friends is particularly relevant. Do you have any fond memories from that era?

I was able to work with the Dead after Jerry Garcia passed away and went on a big tour with them. Then I went on a bunch of tours with Phil Lesh & Friends since then and have a real lengthy connection with those guys and with that music. It's a really interesting phenomenon because you have the Grateful Dead and you have their fan base and then you have this larger jam band scene that has spun off from the Dead and from that world.

I have so many memories. I think I was very nervous before my first handful of shows because I sang a lot of the Jerry songs and I felt like, "Wow, is this audience going to accept me? This girl singer doing these songs or are they not going to accept me?" But the audience was very welcoming. I remember it was my birthday and we were playing part of a five-night stand at Red Rocks in Colorado. I got to sing "Stella Blue" in that beautiful setting. There was this gorgeous moon and it was a clear night and it was just one of those moments where you could have heard a pin drop. The song is so delicate and so emotional and it was this moment that's now frozen in my mind. It's this pure, beautiful moment of being on stage with those guys and performing that song in front of that audience in that beautiful space. It was really transcendent.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman


Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage


Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns


Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "Fk the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too fking late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."