How long have you been writing music?
Shawn Osborne: I have never been very interested in playing other peoples music. I got into music 100% to create my own music. I have been doing it since someplace around 1985. Back in those days it was more rock and heavy metal.
I also like to compose classical music, and I have been doing that about 25 years. As far as the folk music goes, I started composing it in about 2011, and I recorded my first album “This might make you mad“ in 2015.
What are your influences? Who are what inspires you?
Shawn: History inspires me. I am an avid reader of history books, and I love to hear about people, struggles, and how they overcame them. It drives me to live up to the strength and creativity of those that came before us. I love to read about somebody like Beethoven, who recognize no authority or hereditary greatness. He struggled through deafness to create some of the most incredible music ever made.
I also love to read about the Roman empire, and how it collapsed. I like to use that understanding, and apply it to the modern world to help me understand today’s reality. All of these things help inspire my music and my outlook.
As far as musical influences, the reason I play guitar, it’s because of bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. I absolutely loved the power that heavy metal possesses. Classically, I am inspired by Beethoven and Bach.
Since I am blind and a guitarist, I am also inspired by the music of Joaquín, Rodrigo and Francisco Tárrega, two of the greatest composers for the guitar. I got inspired to play folk music, because I got hired to do a folk singing group here in Los Angeles for senior citizens, and I knew nothing about the music at first.
After a couple of weeks, I realized there was a lot of protest music (such as the antiwar music from Bob Dylan songs) talking about the banking system, or the government coming to close down somebody’s whiskey still. I felt this would be a great avenue for libertarian messaging. I like to think of Woody Guthrie, minus the communism.
What can you tell me about your album "Free people"?
Shawn: 2020 happened, and that’s why I made free people. I had been recording another album that was not as political, it was mostly love songs with an occasional political reference. Then 2020 came along, and turned everything upside down. I felt the love album would have to wait for a little while, so free people evolved from that.
2020 made me an even more radical libertarian. I gave up hope of government doing anything properly, and I felt the progressive agenda was the exact wrong answer to everything. I wanted to make a statement about radical libertarian philosophy, and how it was better than progressive thought.
I took a couple of old folk tunes and reworked them with libertarian messaging, as that is part of the folk music tradition to take an old song and make it relevant, keeping the spirit in the melody of the song. I turned “on top of old Smokey“ into “on Capitol Hill“, “go tell aunt Rhody“ (a song about a goose dying in a pond) is now “don’t tread on me“.
I also took the old folk classic “ worried, Man, blues“, and turned it into “TakeHumanAction“. 100% of the royalties to that song are going to the California. Mises caucus. I thought it was a great way to earn money, and help build culture at the same time. The more people listen the more they give, and they don’t have to spend a dime.
I did not want everything to be extremely serious, so I tried to put fun into some of the songs, like my original song Taxman, which also follows in the historic tradition of talking shit about the tax collector. The title track "Free people" was again about 2020. I was disappointed by the leadership of the Libertarian Party at the time, and I felt they did not stand up for liberty like they should have. I was inspired by the people who actually stood up and fought against all of the mandates and coercion and shaming that came from the progressives and government.
Do you create art with a specific message? Or do you prefer art for arts sake?
Shawn: By and large, I like my music to be based in reality. I might use a lot of metaphors to explain something, but it does always have a meaning.
But I do have an ambient music project I work on with my friend, Jaime Sanchez called “Blind Devotion“, and that does not have the need for message. It is more about feeling. A couple of our tracks are being used in a new documentary about the Free State Project.
What is your creative process like? What tools and methods do you use to make your songs?
Shawn: I think every song is different. Sometimes I hear or see something that inspires me, such as my song “Hollenbeck Blues“, which is about the time LAPD raided my house to take my medical marijuana, and I woke up with a gun in my face.
Some songs like "Free people" just pop out of my head when I pick up my guitar, and it’s virtually done by the time I set it down.
Other times, I might have the intent to write a song about a certain subject, and I research it and create something based on what I learned. It’s a little more methodical that way as opposed to inspirational.
How long have you considered yourself a libertarian?
Shawn: I grew up in a blue-collar, union, Democrat family. I overheard my mother talking about a group of people called libertarians who wanted to end the war on drugs, and we talked about that and I thought it was a great idea, so I think I associated with them since that, and that was in the mid-80s. But I became a card-carrying libertarian when Democrats started talking about censoring music with the PMRC. I could not believe that these people who called themselves liberals wanted to censor the music that I listen to, and I have been an unapologetic libertarian ever since.
What do you think the role of art should be in the libertarian movement?
Shawn: I think it should serve several purposes. I think it should make the movement fun. We need to have good entertainment at libertarian events and with a great libertarian message.
I think it is also important that we get out the message about what libertarians really believe, we need to control the narrative on what people think about us. I feel art, music, film. All of these things are way bring a message to people about freedom, and that there is another way out there besides the two party system.
Are you working on new music?
Shawn: I am currently working on a remix of my song “which side are you on“. This is what I am talking about when I say we need to make liberty fun. This is a track that I hope people will play at their liberty events and get out and dance and have a good time. My engineer Jaime told me he was going to remix it as a Cumbia track, I thought he was insane when he said that, and then he played me the ideas he had and I knew at that moment it was going to be fun.
I am also finishing up the album that I was working on in 2019 and early 2020, that is full of love songs because, as mad as I am at the government, we cannot be pissed all the time. We have to take time to enjoy life and remember what it is we are fighting for.
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