Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mike XVX Interview

Mike XVX is an advocate for animal liberation, radical environmentalism, anarchism, feminism, social revolution, industrial collapse and political sobriety. He uses music as his means to ignite dialogue and catalyze action. As a musician, he has toured in over 30 states and in 16 countries abroad. Mike’s music captures moods of solace, joy, adventure, angst, tension, hate, love, cynicism and hope, all the while being accessible to a wide range of audiences. Such a spectrum of emotions surprisingly resonates only from his voice and acoustic guitar. Mike’s lyrics focus on topics ranging from animal exploitation, domestic violence, rewilding, and friendship. His talents have made the often murky and isolated world of radicalism and animal rights approachable. This interview was conducted via email by Justin Kay in August of 2010.


1. What circumstances sparked your interest in becoming a touring musician? How long have you been doing it?

I've been in a lot of bands over the years, all of which didn't go anywhere, and I constantly felt misrepresented or overruled by other members. In my hometown it was nearly impossible to get a vegan straight edge band together and I was sick of constantly feeling unsatisfied with the music I was playing and the message we were putting out there. I started playing acoustic music about 4 years ago, and from the beginning I dedicated this project to bringing animal rights/veganism, sobriety and radical environmentalism to the "acoustic-punk" scene; some things which I felt it was really lacking. I love animals and the environment, I love to travel and I love playing music so everything just fell into place for me. With the exception of a select few people and bands, I really wasn't hearing a lot of heartfelt acoustic music that was about anything other than shallow, unhealthy relationships or drug addiction. Basically, I wanted to be able to spread the ethics of vegan straight edge to a group of people that I felt hadn't previously been exposed to it. I have an incredible privilege as a musician to speak for the animals and the environment and I'm trying to make good use of that.


2. You recently finished several-month long European and Australian tours, making a total of 16 countries that you have traveled to as part of your music. What kind of reception has your intended message received globally? How has it varied from region to region?

I've had a lot of people come up to me at a show or write me emails and letters about how my music, literature or something I had said on stage had effected them. Not all of their reactions are positive and supportive on the surface, but it does open up dialogue and challenge other people about things that they may not have considered before; and I think that's a really important element of my music and presence at shows. I have had mostly positive experiences though; over the past few years I've had a ton of kids tell me they'd gone vegan, took a critical look at their activism, adopted a sober lifestyle, had started to identify as anarchists or even just simply seeing me play live was the first time they'd ever been exposed to any of those things. I generally try to have as much literature with me as possible when I travel as well, so there will always be kids leaving with arms full of stuff that they're super excited to read or post on the wall of their bedroom. As far as region to region goes, I'd say the best responses I've had were from this last European tour that I did... but there are rad kids everywhere, and I've met people all over with so much passion and commitment to fight for total liberation. Whether it's exposing someone to Veganism for the first time or just reigniting the fire in another activist, it's enough to keep me motivated and committed to this music project.


3. Can you compare and contrast the radical communities and movements of the US and abroad?

I wasn't really exposed to the radical community in Australia, but I'd met people here and there that shared with me a little bit of their perspective on some social aspects. Australians are not unlike Americans in the sense that we have a very similar history, a similar denial of that history, and a continuos displacement, assimilation and annihilation of the indigenous peoples of the continent. It's important to emphasize the physical and cultural genocide of American Indians and Aboriginal Australians because so much is left out of our history books and everyday language. As far as racial tolerance goes I feel Australia is basically at a point now where the United States was 40 years ago. Although in my opinion simply "tolerating" another group perpetuates race and gender boundaries, embracing differences is a step in a better direction. The United States has set a precedent for genocide, assimilation, impoverishment and denial that Australia is sure to follow if people don't resist what they've been socialized to believe. It was unbelievable how much blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and specieism there was, even at punk and hardcore shows where "progressive" bands were playing. Then again, those things are also present in the American punk and hardcore scenes. Anyway, if you have someone in your scene or activist community saying blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic things don't let that go unchallenged! Remind them that we are trying to build a counterculture to what's been offered us, and that punk shows, demonstrations etc. are meant to be safe and welcoming spaces. There were a lot of kids that I had met during my 2 months there that actively resisted and challenged these inequalities, but often I saw them struggling alone or amidst a very small network of people.

As far as Europe goes there's a lot of glorification of European activism, and seemingly now more than ever since the riots in Greece this past year. I feel that in the US anarchism is regarded more as a fringe movement rather than a serious threat and we try to adhere mostly to a "European Model" of radical activism. Insurrectionists in Europe are seemingly a bit more bold about taking action, and I think that it has a lot to do with their history of resistance against fascists governments. There are so many intense and residual feelings from WWII, and I had an experience myself where I was verbally (and nearly physically) attacked for comparing the nazi holocaust to the yearly mass murder of non-humyn animals. Though I still stand by that comparison, it made me take a hard look at how I was expressing it. As Dropdead says: "In the united states alone, an animal is killed every 6 seconds in the name of scientific experimentation. A holocaust the likes of man has never known, taking place right before our very eyes." Also, for anyone interested there is a book called "Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust" by Charles Patterson that makes some pretty sound arguments and comparisons. But honestly it's difficult to compare European and American activism. In some ways I feel activists in Europe have it together in ways that Americans don't, but I can't say if either is a stronger movement. I think we can take ideas and methods from nearly all social movements and campaigns and apply them to our own.


4. What are some of the most important experiences you have had while traveling?

What's really important to me is the opportunity to reach out to so many people while I'm on tour. This last trip through Europe was 46 shows in 14 different countries, and we played for over 2,000 people in that time. One of my favorite things about that was visiting towns in countries I had never been to and seeing kids singing along to all the words of my songs! It was unbelievable how excited everyone was that we were coming through their city. Having conversations, learning new strategies, getting a glimpse of their lives, hugging, dancing, sharing stories.. just all of the things that keep encouraging me to grow as a person and hold my ground on my beliefs.

5. Why did you choose to use music as your platform for igniting change and discussion? Why not more conventional approaches?

Growing up in the punk and hardcore scene, my first exposure to radical politics came through the shows I attended and the bands I listened to. Art can be really powerful and expressive, and music in general is something that can really cut into me and ignite feelings and emotions that may have otherwise laid dormant. I enjoy playing acoustic music because it gives me an opportunity to connect with people on a personal level, I can cram my ideals down someone's throat all night but that doesn't mean they'll be receptive to it... in fact they'll probably be less open to new things if they feel I'm being authoritarian (understandably so). So I mostly just try to let my life be an example of those beliefs, and share stories about how anarchism, animal rights, feminism and sobriety have affected it and changed me for the better. By no means do I disagree with any of the "conventional" approaches, but music is something I feel I'm good at, and if it not only gives me an outlet for my emotions but also helps others then it's something worth doing.


6. What do you feel are the limitations of music within the context of overall movement efficacy?

Not everyone responds to music the same way that I do, and it takes different approaches to open someone's eyes to animal cruelty. Some people are more visual, some are more physical.. I mean, me playing music for people is really just an introduction to where their food, clothing, science and entertainment come from and how it's produced. All I can do is simply encourage them to scratch the surface and start to identify the problems within our society and within civilization; whether they take the necessary steps for change is entirely up to them. It can be frustrating because of the level of urgency in knowing that animals are dying every minute of every day, and the longer we wait the more animal and plant species disappear from this planet forever, but I try to be as patient as I can with people and attempt to offer the tools to dismantle their previous apathetic or uneducated perceptions. I feel limited myself sometimes just because it takes so much work and dedication to book tours, write music and essays, record, make cd's etc. that I imagine I could be doing something more constructive for animals than playing my silly songs for people. Anyway, other than music I attend and plan animal rights demonstrations, do prisoner support for fellow activists, and try to combat speciesism and other forms of oppression every chance I have. Though I'm not satisfied with my contributions and I don't think anyone should be... we should always be asking ourselves how we can step it up as activists.

7. Obviously, you're a part of the vegan straightedge movement. What role do you see sobriety playing in radicalism?

I can go on for days about why I think sobriety is the right decision on every level, but I'll try to make this a little more succinct. There are so many blatantly obvious reasons that inebriation is detrimental to activist and non-activist communities that I feel ridiculous having to constantly explain to people why I don't drink or take drugs. So many social justice movements and communities have been ripped apart by drug addiction and alcoholism, often times at the encouragement of the United States government. The Black Panthers, the anti-war movement, the American Indian Movement and many other once powerful groups have been suppressed because of intoxication and addiction that destroyed leadership and decayed the movement from the inside, leaving them more vulnerable to destabilization at the hands of the US. If we want to be effective activists we need to start taking our lives and campaigns a bit more seriously, and if not commit to a sober lifestyle then at the very LEAST provide safe spaces for people that choose not to participate in drug culture during events and concerts. There's actually a really awesome zine that came out a few years ago called "Towards A Less Fucked Up World" by Nick Riotfag that I think EVERYONE should read, sober or not.


8. On a personal level, what circumstances led to you living a sober life?

Drug addiction and alcoholism runs rampant in my biological family, but it was always easy for me to turn away from it. I grew up in a violent and male dominated household where alcohol seemed to just escalate or amplify already fucked up behaviors and attitudes. At the time, for me, alcoholism was synonymous with domestic violence, marital rape, child abuse and neglect, racism, homophobia, sexism, speciesism and male dominance; and so much so that those connections stayed with me for years afterward. The smell of alcohol on someone's breath when they came near me just triggered a flurry of terrible memories and feelings about my past... I couldn't handle being around people who drank at all, let alone drink myself. Don't misunderstand, I don't think everyone who drinks or uses drugs is a potential rapist or child abuser, but statistically the majority of reported rapes and child abuse cases involve drugs or alcohol in some way. Now I recognize that those behaviors are a byproduct of social conditioning, but it would just be downright ignorant to ignore those connections. It baffles me that people actually advocate drugs and alcohol as a positive part of their life; a social crutch, experience enhancer, mind opener whatever whatever. Those people are either selectively blind or living in denial.

9. Much of your lyrical focus deals with the subjugation of non-human animals and the struggle for their liberation. Why?

I speak out for animals because I feel a connection with them stronger than I do with most humyns. Every time I tour I can name nearly every animal I've come into contact with, whether or not I can remember most of the names of the people I've met. I don't think animal liberation is any more or less important then the struggle for earth and humyn liberation in any way, but it is something that I feel a more personal connection to.

Non-humyn animal's voices and needs are largely not recognized or simply ignored, and because of this I feel it is my responsibility to speak out and attempt to dismantle a speciesist and anthropocentric society that views them as nothing more than a commodity. In my opinion, people who take advantage and exploit other sentient beings are no better than rapists and child molesters. That may sound extreme to a lot of people, but I will explain: people who make a profit off of animal suffering constantly make the argument that "might makes right" when trying to justify their business or lifestyle. From their perspective, a non-humyn animal's existence revolves around the utilization of their fur, skin or meat, and because they perceive these animals as weaker to their species, they feel entitled to harvest what they desire from them and cast them aside. How is it that a child molester does not apply these same principles to his or her victims in the pursuit of their own selfish desires? How many of us have known womyn in our lives that have been sexually assaulted by men who are raised to believe that female-bodied people are inferior to their sex and are available to use at their disposal? I recommend checking out a book called "Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory" by Carol J. Adams for a more in depth look at the connections between the subjugation of non-humyn animals and violence against womyn.

Another argument from animal abusers is that they're simply trying to provide a living for themselves and their families, and that they don't necessarily enjoy what they do. Now, I'm supportive of workers rights to an extent, but should I support a working humyn being who makes a living off of the rape, torture and murder of living, breathing, sentient creatures? I've seen enough undercover footage of the sadistic perverts who get off on shoving their fingers into the anus of a turkey on an assembly line, stabbing cows in their udders with pitchforks, slamming chickens into concrete floors, ripping the skin off of a still living mink and punching beagle puppies in the face to believe that no one could possibly be forced or even coerced into doing those disgusting and wretched things. Even the most apathetic and desensitized person couldn't see those images without cringing.

I have nothing but love for those animals, and with that love comes the pain, sorrow and rage when seeing what humyns are capable of doing to them. Animals need humyns to fight alongside them, so I will stand with them as long as it takes.


10. Although animal rights is central to your work, song topics range from friendship to domestic abuse to deforestation. Do you feel that there is a single persistent motif that manifests itself in these various discussions? If so, how would you articulate it?

Hmm... I think maybe you're picking up something that I never intended to bring across. I wouldn't say that I have a singular motive behind my music project as a whole. I generally just write songs that are relevant to my life at that particular moment, and usually just things that I think largely go undiscussed. I can, and always will only write songs from my personal experiences and perspective. I try to be as honest as I can when it comes to writing lyrics; it kind of drives me nuts when musicians write songs about situations or people that never existed, and rely heavily on confusing symbolism and metaphors to try and make a vague point. If you have something important and relevant to say be direct about it.


11. Music can act as the great equalizer for different communities. Have you found that your performances or music has catalyzed dialogue between different social movements or communities that can all find something in your music?

My stances on anarchism, feminism, animal rights, environmental issues and sobriety aren't things that obviously everyone agrees with; but discussing these topics allow me the opportunity to play for a variety of different groups. I can remember playing a show in New Mexico a few years ago for a room full Wobblies for the memorial of Utah Phillips. Most people didn't like what I had to say about the environment and animal abuse, but there were a few in the crowd that approached me later and thanked me for bringing those issues to the surface. I in no way feel that my presence is enough to unite different social movements, but even if people leave a show in total disagreement about something I've said at the very least maybe they'll spend some time doing independent research on the topic and probably find more in common with me then they originally thought. I just try to be approachable, friendly and open about my stances at shows and events in hopes that people can "pick up what I'm putting down" if you know what I mean.


12. A recurring theme of your work seems to deal with human civilization as the epicenter of domination. To what extent do you see civilization as culpable for the injustices of the world? As a follow-up, what do you think anti-civilization resistance should look like?

Civilization, in it's current manifestation, cannot exist without exploitation. Whether or not that falls under animal, earth or humyn exploitation is irrelevant. We are all part of the same cycle, and when individual species start to disappear it sets off a chain reaction for the rest to follow. We kill off predatory animals so their prey overpopulates and decimates the ecosystem, we kill bees with cell phone towers that are necessary for pollinating plants, we poison the air we breathe with fossil fuels and factory farming, we are in the process of destroying all sea life with industrial fishing methods and pollution, we make excuses for our destructive behaviors and come up with ridiculous and half-thought out plans to make our lifestyles more "green" and "sustainable". Civilization can never be sustainable, and it spreads over the earth and will consume every natural resource we have.

We don't have many alternatives to this lifestyle, even Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) living off the grid in Lincoln, Montana couldn't escape civilization, so he attempted to take out airplanes after he watched them fly over his cabin. I am in no way saying that is what anti-civ activism should look like, nor am I even implying that Kaczynksi was an activist, but it gives a bit more context of the situation we currently live in (Clarification: I'm not encouraging anyone to follow in his footsteps). I also don't want to imply that attempts to be more sustainable shouldn't be taken, because anything that relieves our mother earth in the slightest amount from the chokehold we have her in should be seriously considered. Set up greywater systems in your home, if you must drive look into a veggie oil conversion for your vehicle, don't use or eat anything that comes in plastic packaging, support a small, organic, local farm, or go the luddite route and start taking out new technology whenever you see it. In any case, the end is coming and we should all learn to embrace it and make life a little easier for the earth and the animals that live on it until that time comes. "The earth isn't dying, it's being killed. And those killing it have names and addresses." -Utah Phillips


13. Radical environmentalism and animal liberation seem to function as two separate movements. Your music seems to blur those lines; Do you make distinctions between where environmentalism ends and animal rights begins?

No, I don't make any distinction between the two. Like I had said before neither animals nor the environment can exist without the other, and I do think the two movements should be more unified then they are currently. It's rare to go to a non-animal rights related gathering and meet many other vegans there, it's frustrating and really disappointing. People who are totally against one form of oppression wholeheartedly support other forms, refusing to recognize that every species on this planet is equally as valuable as the other. I hope more people will be willing to facilitate discussions about solidarity with other movements in the years to come, because we definitely can't fight these battles alone.


14. For those who know you personally, you are a fairly well-read person. What books have you finished recently or are you reading now? Do you have any particular recommendations?

I just recently finished "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond and "Watership Down" by Richard Adams. Both were books I'd been putting off reading for some time, but I highly recommend them. I would also like to encourage people to read Keith Mann's book "From Dusk Till Dawn: An insider's view of the growth of the Animal Liberation Movement" which was incredibly powerful and captivating. I read the entire thing in 3 weeks while I was on tour in Europe. "Feminism is for Everybody" by Bell Hooks was also my first exposure to feminist theories and a big encouragement into identifying as a feminist, and I recommend everything else that she's written as well. "Sober Living for the Revolution" by Gabriel Kuhn is an awesome collection of interviews and essays about straight edge as a radical social movement and not just a macho, white male dominated social clique. As I mentioned before, "Towards A Less Fucked Up World" by Nick Riotfag is also a pretty amazing zine about radical sobriety if you can get your hands on it. For anti-civ stuff I'd recommend the journal "Species Traitor" and authors like Derek Jensen and John Zerzan.


15. What has and continues to inspire you, musically or otherwise?

Sometimes when I'm touring I see these other musicians perform that just COMPLETELY blow me away with what they're doing. I get so inspired (and kind of intimidated) by people who just go up and do something so creative and original. Granted I have to sit through some awful bands here and there to get to the good stuff, but sometimes I'll be part of a show that's just so incredible that I can't even put it into words. Just realizing that there are no limits to art and music is enough for me to want to search deeper into my own mind and manifest more of my artistic visions. Using them of course as an outlet for my frustrations on personal and political levels, and hopefully inciting something positive and pro-active in others.


16. Do you believe that maintaining a gluten-free diet is a political choice?

I can see how it could be perceived that way, but I think any of our lifestyle or dietary choices could be rationalized as political. As far as gluten goes, I originally chose to stop eating it because for me it was a representation of colonialism and the annihilation of native americans. I also learned that indigenous cultures never ate grain in that manner; since the process of hulling the seeds of wheat stems was so labor intensive they never bothered to make use of it. Even descendants of humyns that lived in the Fertile Crescent who were among the first to utilize agriculture still haven't fully adapted to processing gluten properly. "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond is a pretty thorough analysis about how cultures come to dominate others, and draws the lines pretty clearly about how agriculture paved the way for the destruction of so many indigenous cultures.

On a personal level, I care about my physical and mental health and take measures to ensure that I maintain those. Gluten is terrible for your digestion, and leaves you lethargic because your body is using so much energy to break it down. For me personally it elevates other allergies as well when I have it. It's not difficult cutting foods like that out of your diet, and once you realize how much better you feel without it being present in your system you'll never want to go back.

Czech Republic

17. any last words?

Take care of your friends, fight for total liberation and GO VEGAN!