The Rapper, Activist and Philanthropist
Jon Meredith, Front Porch: The Flobots have had considerable national success, yet it seems all of you are about more than just your music and the stardom that goes with success. Your nonprofit arm, flobots.org, is helping build a $2.8 million music studio on Denver’s west side to be primarily used by local children and Denver Public Schools. What brought you to use your success to empower children with these types of opportunities?
Jamie Laurie: First and foremost we are a band and as a band we are going to entertain people, and our shows are primarily to bring people together as a community and celebrate the chance to be together. While we are doing that, we want to engage people, not just with their bodies but their mind as well. The message we put out is that everyone has the ability to create change in the community around them. Everywhere we go, we meet people who are creating change in their community and our music is a chance for them to be together in the same venue and celebrate.
JM: What is the process you use to write the Flobots lyrics?
Laurie: There are five members of the band and we all write together. Every song has its own story as to how it came into existence. The best songs are the ones that all of us enjoy. If all of us are happy, chances are many others will enjoy the song as well. We have been searching over the years for one process that will become our process, but we haven’t found it yet.
[At this point in the interview, Laurie politely excuses himself to take a call from his mother. In overhearing his side of the conversation, it is clear he has a great relationship with her.]
JM: After going to college at Brown you served in AmeriCorps/Vista for three years. What gave you the impetus to begin thinking about music as a career and a way to motivate people?
Laurie: In 2003, I decided to come back to Denver and really try music as a serious endeavor. Up until then, I really hadn’t given myself permission ’cause I thought that music was something I enjoyed on the side, and in college I had decided the real way to make change in this world is to be a social activist. I didn’t know what type of activist, but I knew I was committed to change but not necessarily to music. In AmeriCorps, I was riding in a car with a group of kids from the program. I was always trying to get them involved somehow, in change in their lives. There was a song on the radio and all four kids, one Guatemalan, two Haitian and a Liberian girl, became immediately unified by the song. I thought to myself, if I really want to reach these kids I need to be the voice inside the radio. That was the first time I gave myself permission to view music as more than a hobby. I realized it could be fundamental to social change.
JM: What inspired the band to start flobot.org?
Laurie: It started when we were invited to perform at PeaceJam in 2006. It was the largest gathering of Nobel laureates ever in the U.S. and included the Dalai Lama. We were overwhelmed with the sense that there was a larger purpose to what we were doing than just playing music. We came back to Denver and were encouraged to take our music to the Denver Children’s Home. From there the idea of inspiring kids through music became the focus of what our nonprofit is all about.
JM: Who was instrumental in raising the money to get the studio building funded?
Laurie: Your readers. Anyone reading this article who wishes to get involved should contact our executive director, Jamie Duffy, at flobots.org.
JM: What is it like growing up in Denver and playing Red Rocks for the first time?
Laurie: We have played there three times and always as the opening act. It is every musician’s dream to play there, especially if you are from here. I hope we get the chance to headline soon.
The Flobots are releasing their new album, The Circle in the Square, on July 31.