Saturday, July 5, 2008

Please Welcome Graham O'Brien into the Junkyard Empire!

There you have it folks! Adam Katz, our wonderful drummer who has been with us since the inception of the band - three years ago believe it or not - has officially left the band and will be moving back home to Wisconsin. We will miss him, but we are also looking forward to the future.

Coming in to take Adam's place on the drums is someone we are all very excited to play with. Graham O'Brien is one of the most creative and solid drummers in the Twin Cities, also laying it down with Abzorbr and Keston and Westall to name but two. Graham will be joining us for our recording session on July 9th, so you'll get to hear three new songs real soon. We are all really excited about the process of working Graham into the swing of things, and we're sure he's going to add his own unique voice to all the music.

In the meantime, take a moment to thank Adam for stickin' (literally) to it for three years, and wish him luck for the future.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Collective Forgetfulness and Civic Duty

"And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

- The Star Spangled Banner - Francis Scott Keys (1)

Over the next several days, just about every American will hear the notes of an old familiar song. As is custom, we will remove our hats and show tribute to our country. Nearly every city in America will see our skies erupt in colorful flames to commemorate our country and everything it stands for.

But before we break out the grills and celebrate Keys' celebration of American solidarity over explosive odds, I thought it would be interesting to dig into some of the verses we rarely hear. After a small amount of research I discovered (Egad!) several verses of our national anthem with which I was unfamiliar. Keys originally wrote four verses to his song, and the verses less traveled form a darker and more painful version of America that is (unfortunately) heard less often.

This discovery got me to thinking. It's easy for us as Americans to stand tall and proud to Keys' first verse of solidarity. I can see why we perform one verse but not the others. It's easier to be a patriot when the verses we utter have no human references. Bombs bursting in air over a tirelessly beautiful flag is a romantic image. References to "the havoc of war" and "the gloom of the grave" are far less romantic. Yet regardless of romanticism and patriotism, these verses still exist. They describe a very real war and very real American deaths. We can let these verses slip out of the American consciousness if we so desire, but people still died in the name of this country and there is nothing we can do to erase history.

It is with this concept in mind that my mind drifts towards America today. In March of this year, the total deaths of U.S. Soldiers in Iraq passed 4000. (2) The numbers are eerily similar to the number of U.S. deaths in Vietnam during the escalation period starting in 1965. (3) Also similar are the numbers of civilian deaths for the two wars.

These are dark numbers, and if a songwriter were writing an anthem for today, it wouldn't surprise me to see them put in the third forgotten verse. The American people aren't the only ones glossing over these numbers. When told by John Hopkins University that government estimates of civilian deaths are vastly under reported, Bush responded by saying, "Six-hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at is just... it's not credible." (4) It's scary when our president is not only in denial about foreign policy, but also about the amount of deaths that his policies have been directly responsible for.

It doesn't surprise me that Bush is in denial over these numbers, but unfortunately the American people follow his lead of denial. This isn't necessarily the fault of the American people, keep in mind that the number of media outlets has compressed into a frightening eight member fraternity. (5) With most radio, television, and other media outlets controlled privately by a select few, its becoming harder and harder for journalists to present the facts over the prescribed policy. Check out the stories of Geraldo Rivera, Peter Arnett, Steve Wilson, or Jane Akre. All were fired or reprimanded for presenting the news without being in accordance with the policy of their privately owned corporations. (6)

I once knew a pastor from Nebraska named Kurt Lehmann. He was the father of the pastor I grew up with, and I have an extraordinary amount of respect for the man. He's since passed on to greener pastures, but one of the things he said has stuck with me. He firmly believed that it is our responsibility as humans to address problems if we are aware of them. Being aware of a problem and not taking action would go against our responsibility as Christians.

I think this concept doesn't just apply to those who subscribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There are problems in American today. There are scary things going on, and the proverbial wolves have taken this country by force. Being in denial of the darker verses of this countries story is a natural human inclination, but it is one we should resist. It is our responsibility as Americans to take back our country and send the wolves packing. We have no excuse. The information is out there. The wolves are sneaky, but they have left a trail. We cannot afford to be in denial any longer.

Dan Choma is a bassist, drummer, pianist, and composer. He plays with Junkyard Empire and Five Apple High in the Minneapolis Saint Paul area. He can be reached for comment at



Independance Day: Independence from what?

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!! Oh, but what are we actually independent of? Britain. Well, there is that. What else is there, really, that we are independent of? What are we actually celebrating?

As an alternative to what Independence Day has come to mean for our governmental leaders - independence from responsibility to the effects of our policies around the world; independence from responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; independence from prosecution by the thieves and thugs in the Executive Branch; independence from the responsibility to provide for the basic health, education, and protection of our citizens; independence of all outside influence on the American empire - we will playing a couple of sets tonight at the Bullpen (formerly Fatso's) from about 8pm-10pm tonight.

We, as a band, declare our independence from all things associated with America empire, American fascistic tendencies, American corporatocracy, American hegemony, American exceptionalism, American "free market" capitalism, American racism, American sexism, American chauvinism, American greed, and all the other pointless anti-humanistic tendencies that America has bestowed on the world since our country was taken over by right wing, fascist ideologues!

Tonight, we will drink beer, do shots, smoke a little pot maybe, eat hamburgers and hotdogs, and hang out with our brothers and sisters to watch the fireworks, just like everyone else. And we will declare our liberation from the need to feel inferior or unpatriotic because we dare to question the authority of the United States of America.

8pm @ the Bullpen (formerly Fatso's)
119 North 4th St.
Downtown Minneapolis
2 for 1 drinks!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Republican National Convention........

..... has no idea what it is up against in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Sure, we have our fair share of chauvinistic flag wavers and scary patriots, but what most people don't know - or at least conveniently forget - is that Saint Paul and Minneapolis is home to some of the most progressive people in this country. Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone (assassinated in order for Norm Coleman to get elected to the Senate) both hail from here. The tradition of "prairie progressivism" as it has been called throughout history, is still alive and well in the Twin Cities, and it is going to rear up like a mad thoroughbred in early September during the Republican National Convention.

Needless to say, we here in the Junkyard Empire are looking forward with great enthusiasm to participating in the radical festivities around the Excel Energy Center, which is right across the street from a homeless shelter; about 1/8 mile from the Capital steps; less than 5 miles from some of the most progressive private colleges in the country; and mere blocks away from huge amounts of people who truly pride themselves on their progressive activism. I know for a fact that my neighborhood has at least a dozen "safe places" for activists to hang their hat during the protests! In other words, there isn't a chance in Hell that the Saint Paul police department, nor anyone else can completely shut out the voices of dissent in and around Saint Paul during those early September days and nights. And we will be lending our minds, bodies, and talent to the effort as often as possible during that time, free speech zone or not, dig?

So far, we know we will be playing at the Black Dog Cafe BLOCK PARTY, which will take place the evening of August 31st and all day and into the evening on September 1st. The stage will be somewhere near the coffeehouse itself, which is on the corner of 4th street and Prince in Lowertown, just across the way from where the Farmer's Market is on the weekends.

We are also talking with McNally Smith College about playing on one of their stages throughout the city as well.

And in case that's not enough, we are also talking with Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records about doing a show at the Blue Nile in Minneapolis on the evening of September 3rd, something we will possibly call "REAL AMERICA". Still very tentative at this point though.

In the end, you can DEFINITELY expect to see Junkyard Empire speaking truth in the form of live hip-hop and jazz on the streets of the Twin Cities during the Republican National Convention, even if we have to it with Brian screaming through a megaphone!


Big News for the First Day of our New Blog

As you may already know, Adam Katz, our drummer of three years, has decided to move back to his native Wisconsin. While we all will miss him in numerous ways, we wish him the greatest of luck. We'll miss the crazy faces he makes while playing, his incurable addiction to his iPhone, his totally wacky and often self-deprecating sense of humor, and his willingness to frequently show up to rehearsal with five rather large bottles of great beer!

On the bright side, we are bringing on a fantastic drummer to fill the rather large void that Adam will surely leave.

In the coming days we will officially present our new drummer, and you will not be disappointed!

In the meantime, come and check us out on Friday @ the Bullpen, formerly Fatso's! It will be your last chance to see Adam with Junkyard Empire.