With so much folk and folk-punk music out there today, it's nice to know that there's a group of musicians who are in it for the right reasons. The Riot Folk Collective gives away all of their music for free either online or at shows if you don't have the money. Punknews interviewer Matt spent an evening at an anarchist bookstore and coffee shop in Baltimore named Red Emmas to hear one of the Riot Folk's workhorses, Mark Gunnery, play. After a heartfelt, but not too-serious set from the Jewish folk artist, they arranged an interview, to be conducted over the phone, for the very next day. To hear the extended audio interview, which features listener-submitted questions at the end, go here.
In your song "Home" you describe yourself as a "polysexual radical Jewish Intellectual." Let's take on one word at a time. What does polysexual mean?
Well, you know how bisexual means you like to have sex with men and women. Polysexual means you have sex with all genders, and not just men and women, but trans people, too.
While your fellow riot folk artist Ryan Harvey describes himself as an anarchist, you describe yourself as a "radical". Are you an anarchist?
Yeah, I mean I have anarchist tendencies. My politics are informed by lots of things and anarchism is one of them but so is being Jewish, so is being feminist, so is being queer, so itâs just one of many different things. So, thatâs why I like the word "radical" better than the word "anarchist".
Are you currently Jewish, or is that just your background?
Iâm Jewish. Iâm not particularly religious, but, yeah, Iâm Jew for sure.
I've noticed that although Jews only make up about 1% of the US population, they make up a significantly larger percentage of punks and radicals. What is it about a Jewish upbringing, do you think, that causes this?
I mean, I can speak for my upbringing. I went to a Jewish day school for 12 years and was raised in a synagogue, and all this stuff. Constantly debating things and taught to question things and have arguments, so I wonder if that has something to do with it. Kind of training us to be oppositional. And there is this whole social justice element running through Judaism, itâs called Tikun Olam. Kind of like healing the world. Itâs this idea that God made the world imperfectly and itâs up to humans to fix shit up.
Do you do anything else for a living besides music?
Yeah, I paint houses. Sometimes I do construction. I record people. Thatâs about it. The bulk of the money I make is through painting.
How'd you get interested in making, as you describe it, "electroriotclash" music?
Iâve always been into hip-hop and then to dance music. In 2005 Ryan Harvey, Evan Greer, and me went to Europe on tour and there was just lots of electronic dance music being made by anarchists and radicals. I thought it was very democratic. Like, everyone likes to dance and not everyone likes punk music, not everyone likes folk music. I mean, not everyone likes dance music either but, I donât know I just felt so driven to do it. I thought itâs one thing to just sing about politics and itâs another thing to make people dance and vibe on it in a different way but still keep it political, so thatâs how I got into it.
Do you ever play it live?
I do, yeah. I make the beats and put them up on an mp3 player and plug it in and sing over it.
Why do you think folk and folk-punk music is becoming so popular lately?
I mean, I feel like folk music always has been popular for as long as itâs been around. Like, when I was young it got young, like in the middle and late 90âs with people like Ani DiFranco and lots of people were into it and then it kinda died down. I donât know, I just think itâs got something appealing, really immediate. You can just do it, as opposed to playing with a band where you need all the equipment and stuff. Thereâs this immediacy to folk and folk-punk where you can just play in someoneâs living room really quick, or whatever. And itâs so DIY, it incorporates all these punk elements to a different sound. And I think some people who may have gotten into punk, they might get into politics or get into different ways of being through punk, but then their music tastes change and they get into other things, and I think that may be why a lot of people are making folk-punk.
How did you first get involved in the Riot Folk Collective?
It was kind of an idea going around with some folks in 2004 or 2005 and that summer we had, a couple of us had ideas. Me and Ryan were talking about it. I grew up with Ryan, we were good friends for a long time. He knew a bunch of these other folks like Adhamh, Brenna, Ethan, and Kate and all these people and he kind of sent the idea around and we sort of got together and created it and itâs been around since 2005.
Have you ever been in a band?
I was in a band when I was 11. Usually when Iâm in a band itâs just me and another person. Iâve never been in a whole 4-piece band or anything like that. But, Iâve been in a band called The Fools. Iâve been in a klezmer band called Schmuck & Pufick. I think thatâs it.
Why is Baltimore so awesome?
I donât know! It just is! Itâs really alive, but itâs got a kind of slower vibe than other major cities. I donât know, the people here are great. The people here are real. I think people can get away with stuff artistically and musically that you might not in other cities where thereâs more of a focus on what everybodyâs doing, because weâre under peopleâs radars and I think it gives people room to breathe and make new kinds of music, new kinds of art.