Attica! Attica!: Ditch the Van Bike Tour for Charity

by Kate Sedgwick Sep 9, 2009

Photo: bill shouldis

Attica! Attica! embarks on a fall bike tour this September that spans the East Coast for which all proceeds will go to World Bicycle Relief.
If you’re not in a town the band will be passing through, you can still donate here.

Though Attica! Attica! has a sound that runs the gamut, one consistency aside from the emotionally moving and raw vocals of Aaron Scott are lyrics geared toward exposing a greater truth, be it emotional or societal. Scott is a visionary musician with an aesthetic geared toward making a difference.

Scott won’t be going it alone on the Ditch the Van Tour. He says, “I’m the only permanent member of the band. It’s essentially a solo act where my friends join me sometimes.” Backing up his vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano playing will be Blake Jenssen, erstwhile tour manager and mechanic on acoustic guitar, and Jon Olek, also on acoustic guitar and filling in as roadie and jokester in between shows.

How to Make an Impact and Hear the Band:

Attica! Attica! on MySpace, where you can hear a couple songs for free:

Attica! Attica!’s official website, where you can download the new album Napalm & Nitrogen for free:

Dead Skin Dried Blood, the band’s first record available for purchase here or in iTunes:
Dead Skin Dried Blood

The Ditch the Van Tour blog for tour dates and more:

Attica! Attica!’s World Bicycle Relief team donation page where you can donate to the cause:

Scott’s busy schedule gearing up for the tour could easily have prevented this interview from happening, but he took some time to tell MatadorNights a little about himself, his music and the upcoming tour.

MN: Where do you live?

AS: I live in Portland, OR, USA. Portland gets a lot of attention in the American press for being the bike mecca of the United States. We’re proud of that reputation, but we also know that we have a long way to go to match the ridership and cycling infrastructure of many places in Europe, for example.

It’s also important to acknowledge that it’s fairly easy to have an impressive cycling reputation in a nation like the US where such a high percentage of the population can afford cars. A majority of Americans still disdain cycling, finding it pointless, irritating, dangerous, or too difficult.

The Ditch the Van Tour is focused just as much on advocating for cycling to an American audience as it is on providing bicycles to disaster-stricken communities.

MN: World Bicycle Relief supplies bikes for those in poverty and those affected by disaster. While many might think that bikes are frivolous, can you describe ways that they improve quality of life for people?

AS: If you have a car or live in a place with decent public transportation, then perhaps you could think a bike is frivolous. But in developing countries, a bicycle can dramatically improve a person’s life. The more mobile a person can be, the more easily that person can access education, healthcare, job opportunities, and general goods and services.

This is true anywhere in the world. And if your only transportation is walking, then a bicycle allows you to go farther, exert less effort, carry more, and save time.

If you have to travel 10 miles a day, would you rather walk for 4 hours or bike for 1 hour? And if anyone out there truly thinks that cycling is frivolous in developed countries, just look at the cloud of smog above any major city and then tell me how that’s going to go away without the help of bicycles.

MN: Your lyrics are socially conscious and and now you’re going on a benefit tour. It seems you’re into music for more than music’s sake. Would you care to elaborate on that?

AS: I like a good love song I suppose, but the music I value most explores ideas that matter on a larger scale. When I was growing up, I always had food, good healthcare, a place to sleep, and people who cared about me.

While that seemed normal at the time, I found out as a teenager that living conditions throughout the world vary dramatically. I felt somewhat guilty that the lottery of life had made my childhood so easy, but I think I was also naturally drawn to matters of human rights, for whatever reason.

Photo and Feature Photo of Aaron Scott: Ricardo Saporta

It was around this time that I started listening to punk music, and I was enthralled by both the aggression and the lyrics condemning the establishment. That seemed much more interesting to me than country musicians blindly cheerleading for the government or pop singers whining about their latest breakup.

So when I started writing music, I wrote about social justice. I can’t say that it’s part of any mission, especially since I do write some songs that are more introspective. But I’m interested in working towards social justice in all aspects of my life, so it makes sense to combine the two whenever possible.

MN: Have you heard of Blind Pilot and their bike tour?

AS: Once I committed to doing this tour and began talking about it, several people clued me in to Blind Pilot’s bike touring. A handful of performers have done something like this in the past, but it is still rare enough that many people have never heard of anything like it.

I had a chance to speak with Ryan from Blind Pilot, and his advice was to just enjoy it as much as possible and not worry too much about itinerary and promotion. Of course, this is hard for me because I like plans and I like talking about myself. And I also feel it’s important to work hard to get the word out.

The more people know about it, the more people will think about cycling’s possibilities, and the more money we will raise for World Bicycle Relief.

MN: Where did the name Attica! Attica! come from?

AS: I borrowed the name from an old 70’s protest chant. In 1971, a prison riot erupted in Attica State Penitentiary in upstate New York. There is a rich history to this story that deserves a better retelling, but here’s the brief summary:

Though the riot was spontaneous, it was somewhat in response to the particularly dehumanizing conditions for inmates at Attica. As a result of the riot, the inmates took control of a significant part of the prison and took many of the prison guards hostage.

After a four day standoff where the inmates and the state tried to reach a resolution, the state lost patience and attacked the prison yard with tear gas and guns, leaving 28 inmates and 9 hostages dead. The state then spread misinformation, blaming the hostage deaths on the inmates and bulldozing much of the evidence.

As a result, “Attica!” became a chant that was popular whenever activists witnessed an overly violent state response, such as police brutality. I thought it was a fitting name to accompany my interest in social issues, and I also liked the connection to upstate New York, where I was living at the time.

MN: Your sound varies from pop punk to emotional piano ballads, but the message seems to be about solidarity with the underdog in nearly every case.

Scott and his Bike

AS: An easy way to make a song more interesting is to give it unexpected lyrics. There aren’t many piano ballads out there that discuss creating community by causing a blackout. And I like to cover a range of topics, but the underdog is a certainly common theme for me. To be clear, the underdogs I’m singing about usually have higher stakes than just being the unlikely winner of a football match.

MN: Do you believe it’s the artist’s responsibility to raise awareness of societal problems?

AS: I don’t believe the onus is on artists anymore than it should be on any other group of people. It is everyone’s responsibility to educate ourselves about social injustice, and it is our obligation as global citizens to try to make the world around us better, whether that is locally or globally.

Music is a powerful vehicle for raising awareness of these issues, but it can also be beautiful for the sake of beauty. I’m much more interested in whether a person is trying to improve their surroundings at all than if they are specifically using music for that cause.

MN: Do your favorite bands seem to follow these lines as well?

AS: Absolutely. I loved punk music as a teenager exactly for this reason. I particularly respect artists like Midnight Oil and Billy Bragg, who have used what is essentially pop music to promote social justice. My favorite band has always been Bad Religion because of their ability to make catchy, energetic music that doesn’t sacrifice the intelligence of the message for the sake of the music.

MN: Do you have recommendations for other socially conscious bands that rock?

AS: Don’t dilute your message in an attempt to be more accessible. Your social consciousness makes you unique in a crowd of musicians who are singing about much less interesting subject matter. Bands like Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down have done very well singing about politics; you can too.

MN: Ha ha! That’s not what I meant, but I like the question you answered better than the question I meant to ask, so let’s move on.

This is a threefold do-gooder tour. You are being green by touring on bikes with awareness raising music to benefit charity. This is really inspirational. For those who are looking for inspiration in their quest to change the world for the better, what do you have to say?

Riding my bike for 10 weeks, meeting new people, singing songs around campfires, sleeping in the woods, and making a few people think along the way? Now that’s living.

AS: For me, it has been essential to find methods of working for change that I find both invigorating and effective. I used to go to huge rallies and protests and felt lost in the large crowds, then got frustrated at how the media would misportray the event, rendering the entire effort toothless.

I eventually realized that I need to have more agency in my efforts, otherwise I would just stop trying altogether. This bike tour is just the latest iteration of my personal activism, and it emerged from trying many other forms of action and finding out they were not for me. All I can say is that you don’t need the power of a million people to make a change. That said, it doesn’t hurt, either.

MN: How are you preparing for the trip? Did you have to quit your job? How else are you preparing to put your day to day life on hold?

AS: Ideally, I would’ve spent the last month riding my bike a lot. Instead, I’ve been working overtime to save money, running around like a madman to get all the gear I need, and recording my new record.

Since we’re giving all the door money to World Bicycle Relief and we won’t be able to take any merch with us, I needed another way to make money while I’m gone. My record is going to be available digitally for donation, which is something I’ve never done before. It’s unclear how many people donate in those situations, but I’d rather people hear my music for free than not hear it at all.

My job just ended because it was seasonal, and I don’t have anything lined up for when I return. Portland has the second highest unemployment rate in the US, so that’s a little scary.

But as far as putting my life on hold, I like to think that traveling like this is quite the opposite. If my life has ever been on hold, it has been during the times when I was working a job I didn’t like or I wasn’t experiencing anything new. Jobs and places to live will always be available as long as I’m willing to be patient enough to find them.

Riding my bike for 10 weeks, meeting new people, singing songs around campfires, sleeping in the woods, and making a few friends along the way? Now that’s living.

Community Connection:

Into biking? Be sure to check out our picks for The World’s 15 Most Bike Friendly Cities, as well as our recent article about what steps to take towards successful self-supported bicycle tours.

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