INTERVIEW: Petra Glynt On Making Music That Matters
Photo by Alex Mackenzie and Mitchell Jón Stafiej
Petra Glynt (a.k.a. Alexandra Mackenzie) isn’t interested in writing love songs. The world is on fire, she has a microphone in her hand, and she wants to you listen to what to she’s laying down.
This Trip is a journey through modern life: government propaganda, climate change, technology, greed. It is a rallying call for a generation poised to make great changes in the world. Considering its dark subject matter, This Trip remains surprisingly upbeat with songs like “Up To The People” playing out like a protest march conga line. It feels like a visual album, with Mackenzie’s voice echoing, shifting, commanding space; the music tells the story of a world on the precipice of disaster, with a few brave warriors ready to do battle.
We sat down with Alex Mackenzie to talk about the forces that inspire her unique sound.
AF: To start, I’d love to hear a bit about your upbringing. At what age did you first take up the artist’s mantle?
PG: I was seven when I went into singing lessons. I was in awe of musicals, and wanted to sing. I took private lessons once a week with the same teacher until I was 18.
‘Of This Land’ by Petra Glynt. Pen and pencil crayon on illustration board 11′ x 15′.
AF: And did drawing come at a young age too?
PG: Yes! I always drew and made things, but it wasn’t until I was in Toronto for school that I discovered that a person could identify as an artist and go to school for it. So I switched from U of T to OCAD. Art was always a bit more naive in that way.
AF: Tell us about how Petra Glynt was conceived.
PG: It kinda came about in the aftermath of the Occupy Movement. At that point, at the end of summer in 2012, I didn’t have a musical project of my own. I was playing with my partner at the time, but felt really inspired and ready to burst with all kinds of energy from my experience observing and participating in the movement. Up until then I had sang, improvised, and played drums in various bands and musical projects, I felt compelled and ready to start composing my own music.
AF: You wrote the song “This Trip” two years ago, but the song speaks directly to a world in which Trump is president and the earth is in peril due to climate change. You a make a point of saying that Petra Glynt’s music is political AND upbeat. How do you strike a balance between the two?
PG: I started writing “This Trip” when Stephen Harper was the prime minister of Canada. All those feelings I was having towards him, the Canadian government, and the state of the world are magnified now with Trump in power. When I was writing the music for this album I felt a push to be militant, and that still remains, though my writing style and approach have changed. I feel the need to write percussive music and dance music because it’s what moves me personally, and without fail, my lyrics tend to illustrate my stance on the world around me. I’ve never been able to write a love song or something sweet or gentle or frivolous. I tried writing a love song and it became analytical of love instead. I’m not sure if I’ve found the perfect balance yet. I think it’s part of the journey of my life’s work, and I can’t wait to keep reaching for it.
AF: I love this line from “Up to the People:” Up to the people with the green thumbs / Up to the ones sick of reruns. I feel it encourages people to get out and act. With the constant stream of apocalyptic news, it can start to feel like no headway is being made. What are a few actionable steps you’ve found that people can take?
PG: Thank you. The world is undeniably so heavy right now, with the news a combination of racial violence, climate catastrophe, refugee and immigrant injustices, et cetera. Nothing seems to be routing towards the future we need in terms of what we see in the media. But yes, this song is meant to motivate people and encourage a spirit of action, and also bring people up when so much of our reality is really sad and debilitating. I’m not the one to give direct advice to people; it’s not my place to provide answers. But staying skeptical of government and corporations is a good place to start. Don’t expect that they have your back and that they’re looking out for our best interests. Think of ways to take care of yourself, community, family, friends outside of their aid. That may sound paranoid or something, but I think it might inspire the DIY attitude we need to work together. Also, join in on local movements and check your privilege when you walk in the room.
AF: As I researched Petra Glynt and your other music project Pachamama, I found myself going down a rabbit hole in terms of indigenous references. Why is incorporating these ancient symbols and gods important to you as an artist?
PG: In my early art I had a fascination with occult imagery and fantasy, but I stay far away and clear from any sort of cultural or indigenous appropriation. Pachamama was a music project between myself and my partner at the time who is half-Nicaraguan. Pachamama is Spanish for Mother Earth, and is also the title of anarchist Emma Goldman’s 1920s journal/magazine. Protecting indigenous voices and culture is important to me, but I wouldn’t put it in my artwork.
AF: Watching Petra Glynt perform is incredibly galvanizing. How do you prepare to go on stage? Is there a personae you put on?
PG: I love performing. I think a switch just automatically turns on. I get into the music and the music itself requires a meaningful, strong performance. Anything less and it wouldn’t come across well. I don’t know if I have a personae… I think it changes from show to show depending on how I feel, what I want to wear or how I do my make-up. I think ultimately the drive to perform comes from the sheer love of it and sharing the music as intensely and honestly as I can.
AF: Your artwork and your music feels so unabashedly fierce. No reservations. What advice would you give an artist who hesitates, who is maybe struggling to solidify their voice?
PG: That’s a tough one. Everyone has their own comfort threshold in regards to sharing their art and putting themselves in a vulnerable place or in the public eye. Being an artist takes guts in that way. I think if you are working hard and making your best work, you should be proud and unashamed of sharing it. I’ve always been mostly okay with sharing because I’ve been performing since I was a little kid. But I think my anger and frustration towards corporatized government have allowed me to bypass my personal reservations and hesitations. For me, it’s become more important to contribute than not, and for others, art doesn’t always have to be so outright political. Empowerment can be derived from many forms of art-making. I think it’s nice to think of one’s body of work as being tied to periods in our lives. We may not make our best work ALL THE TIME, but there are reasons for that. Our art grows with us as people. Be patient with yourself.
Ashley Prillaman is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. When she's not living that #FestivalLife, you can find her walking her dogs, listening to This American Life, or chowing down on street tacos. Follow @AshleyPrillaman on Twitter & check out her interview series #LetsTellAStory on her blog www.ashleyprillaman.com.