Junkyard Empire

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Dan Choma, Graham O'Brien, Christopher Robin Cox (left to right back), Brihanu, Bryan Berry (left to right front).

Junkyard Empire is an American political music and action group based out of Saint Paul, MN. The group has been actively calling for the awakening and collective rebellion against the tyranny of oligopolistic corporate capitalism - of which America is the world's hegemonic purveyor. Their style is unique, in that it conforms to no already nailed-down categorical standard, but the wild mix of hip-hop, rock, jazz, and dark electronics, underlying the deep political revolution-focused lyrics of rapper Brihanu.

The band accomplished an astounding amount of recorded material, and historic live performances all while being virtually shunned from the mainstream press in the Twin Cities. That all changed when they played a show at the "No Peace for the War Makers"[1] rally on a huge stage at the Minnesota State Capital during the now infamous 2008 Republican National Convention protests. Witnessing riot cops on horseback, led by huge bullhorn speakers blaring authoritarian messages, charge the 2000+ crowd members in the middle of their song "Rise of the Wretched" was a real turning point, not just for the band, but for the whole movement that ultimately lead to supporting and performing for nationally coordinated occupation protests of New York City and Washington D.C. leading up to the global Occupy Movement.

From that point on, Junkyard Empire became a much deeper force for political organizing and civil resistance.

Early history[edit]

Junkyard Empire was formed in the Fall of 2006 as an acid-jazz/hip-hop collaboration between friends Brian Lozenski (a.k.a. Brihanu) and Christopher Cox and has evolved through stylistic and instrumental experimentation throughout the years thereafter. During this time the band morphed from a jazz sextet with two horns - with one Jamie Delzer on saxophone - in their first studio album, Reclaim Freedom (2007), to a rock/jazz quintet in Rise of the Wretched (2008) - always with Brihanu rapping brilliantly over the top.

The band evolved into a rock jazz quintet with the addition of Dan Choma on Bass and Chris beginning to incorporate and experiment with electronics and keyboard in addition to his trombone. The “electronic trombone” has since become a very significant element of Junkyard Empire’s subsequent recordings and compositional direction.

As a highly politically active group, Junkyard Empire geared up for the 2008 election by campaigning, canvassing and participating in many direct actions in protest of the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Saint Paul MN by performing an “Anti-RNC Tour,” coinciding with the pre-release of the groundbreaking EP “Rise of the Wretched.”

Junkyard Empire's Brihanu confronts Saint Paul Police after a raided show, September 2008.

It was at this time that Junkyard Empire first came into real local and tepid national prominence with their infamous performance at the "No Peace for the War Makers"[1] on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol during the third day of the RNC, when their show was interrupted by hundreds of riot cops attacking a group of bicyclists in the crowd. Tension raised to a fever pitch, nearly to point of rioting, all while the band improvised freely over the tune Wretched (from the album Rise of the Wretched), as rapper Brihanu chanted to the police "let them go." Parts of this performance were featured in the documentary “Terrorizing Dissent”.

In these early years, Junkyard Empire shared the stage with Desdamona, Michael “Eyedea” Larsen (R.I.P.), Carnage The Executioner, Blue King Brown, Broadcast Live, Boots Riley and The Coup, Los Nativos, Kill the Vultures,[2] Toki Wright,[3] and numerous others.

For their third studio album, the band partnered with Marc Nicolas at a start-up independent music label MediaRoots Music[4] based in Santa Monica, CA. to produce Rebellion Politik (2009). Shortly after recording the material, the band and a Media Roots team embarked on a hugely successful tour of Cuba, where they were invited by the Ministry of Culture in Havana.

Upon their return to the states, Junkyard Empire had some noticeable success on college radio, landing in the top 10 on well over a dozen college radio stations across the country. It was with great anticipation that their second album on MediaRoots Music in the spring of 2010.

The band’s current lineup of Brihanu, Christopher Cox, Bryan Berry, Steve Hogan, and Graham O’Brien was finalized shortly before the release of this fourth album, “Acts of Humanity (2010), mixed by Brian Susko at Dharma Sound Studios (Santa Monica, CA) and mastered by Tom Garneau at Audio Active (Deephaven, MN).

Having four successful studio albums under their belt the band briefly toured throughout the Midwest, East and West coasts, but found that to be less than representative of what they stand for as a band. Having members now spread across the United States (Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Portland, Ore., Brooklyn, NY), Junkyard Empire had decidedly shifted their energy from playing standard club performances to making major dissident political appearances.

Homing in on the impact of performing live during the RNC protests, Junkyard Empire traveled to New York in spring of 2010 to perform at the first annual "Sounds of Resistance"[5] protest and direct action rally at Union Square Park in New York City. Here they performed during a march on and subsequent occupation of the nations leading foreclosure firm, Bank of America, on Tax Day.

The following fall, Junkyard Empire was invited to perform in Washington D.C. in support of an occupation of Freedom Plaza, located on Pennsylvania Avenue. This performance was to mark the start of the October 2011[6] occupation of D.C. and served as a supporting coalition for the burgeoning Occupy Movement, in fact organized long before Occupy Wall Street was under way.

The following winter, the band met up in a rehearsal studio in Minneapolis to write new material for their third self-released project and fifth overall album “Butt Naked in the Matrix”, recorded at Waterbury Studios in NE Minneapolis during an intense three day marathon in the heart of winter - January 2012 - mixed in-studio by Adam Krinksy, and mastered by Bruce Tempelton at Magneto Mastering in Saint Paul, MN.

Recent events[edit]

The band continues to operate on a national level, coordinating between distant members and working with activists and organizations across the country including having a track featured on the May 2012 release of “Occupy This Album”, a benefit album for the Occupy Movement featuring 99 tracks for the 99%. Junkyard Empire’s “Rebellion Politik” title track is featured alongside notable artists such as Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, Anti-Flag, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco among others.

Junkyard Empire was also featured in a chapter of the (2012) book Hip-Hop(e): The Cultural Practice and Critical Pedagogy of International Hip-Hop, edited by Brad Porfilio and Michael Viola. The chapter, “Rebellion Politik: A Tale of Critical Resistance Through Hip-Hop from St. Paul to Havana” was authored by Brian Lozenski and discusses the theoretical development of Rebellion Politik, which has become the band’s operating strategy. Junkyard Empire’s experience as a U.S. hip-hop band touring Cuba with a message of political dissent is also covered in the chapter.

Currently, Brian Lozenski is finishing his Ph.D at the University of Minnesota, while Christopher Cox is completing his MSc in Political Science, focusing on Radical Political Economy and Comparative Politics at Portland State University. Bryan Berry still lives in Brooklyn and is working as a Linux open-source developer for Liquid Galaxy.[7] Graham O’Brien has opened his own music studio, The Bellows in Saint Paul, MN and continues to do world class production work while playing drums with the rootsy rock hip-hop trio No Bird Sing.[8] Bassist Steve Hogan also works as a recording engineer and plays bass in numerous projects.

Discography[edit]

Butt Naked in the Matrix - 2012[edit]

This album arose as an independent project that Junkyard Empire had been developing that featured a call to citizens all over the world to submit messages to the band in relation to the rising discontent amid austerity measures and political uprisings across the globe. It is also the bands return to a self release oriented project. It was released under Rebellion Politik Records,[9] a new venture started by Junkyard Empire's Christopher Robin Cox with a plan to grow into a co-operatively owned and operated label imprint/clearing house focused upon "music for revolutionaries".

Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 - 2010[edit]

Junkyard Empires first album with bassist Steve Hogan and features a notably heavier rock influence than previous work as well as the track “Regla”, which was recorded in Havana and features the foundational Cuban hip-hop group Obsesion. Released under Media Roots and produced and mixed by Brian Susko.

Rebellion Politik EP - 2009[edit]

This was Junkyard Empire’s first release as a signed band. Produced and mixed by Brian Susko, and mastered at Capitol Records. The band received its first major national press coverage with this release.

Rise of the Wretched - 2008[edit]

The first album recorded with the band’s current line up, Rise of the Wretched was recorded on July 8, 2008 at the McNally Smith College of Music by a group of audio engineering students as part of their final project. The album was then mastered at Dharma Sound Studios in Santa Monica by Producer Brian Susko and official release October 29, 2008 with a pre-release at the 2008 RNC. Bryan Berry and Dan Choma both joined the band a few months before the recording session, followed by Graham O’Brien when former drummer Adam Katz moved to Milwaukee.

Oppression, Anger, Awareness, Organize, Mobilize, Reclaim Freedom (aka Reclaim Freedom) - 2008[edit]

This self-produced early brainchild of friends Christopher Robin Cox and Brihanu blended Hip-Hop, Jazz, and political lyrics. The album was officially released January 3, 2008 and featured Jaime Delzer on saxophone, Tony Blonigan on guitar, Ben Schaffer on bass, Casey O’Brien on bass, and Adam Katz on drums.

Band members[edit]

Brihanu (aka Brian Lozenski) — vocals[edit]

Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Brihanu finished his undergraduate studies at Cornell University with a double major in Operations Research Engineering and Africana Studies. He went on to receive a Masters from the University of Pennsylvania in Education and is completing his doctorate in Education at the University of Minnesota. Brihanu is currently working with Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD) to create a youth action research initiative where high school youth take on the most pressing issues in their communities. He is also the drummer for the new hip-hop/soul fusion group Oya’s Boombox featuring Twin Cities’ hip-hop icon Truthmaze. As a vocalist, Brihanu is completing a solo project produced by former Junkyard Empire bassist, Dan Choma, called “Dangerously Relevant”.

Christopher Robin Cox — trombone, electronics and keyboards[edit]

Before putting together Junkyard Empire, Christopher toured extensively as a professional jazz musician, and traveled much of the world playing in the orchestra on board seven different cruise ships. Growing up on the Russian River in northern California, only an hour or so north of San Francisco, he was fortunate to play with world class musicians ever since his teens. He spent his early years playing in blues bands at bars across Sonoma County, and later in funk bands with the likes of Eric Lyndell, Lucky Otis, and even Lucky's grandfather the great Johnny Otis. Along the way, Chris met bassist George Cremaschi, who introduced him to the more freeform elements of jazz and improvised music. That led to many years of creative collaborations with the likes of not only Cremaschi, but Marco Eneidi, Glenn Spearman, Raphe Malik, and Cecil Taylor, among many others. His upbringing led to his politically leftist views and his desire for justice. Eventually that led to a BA in political science from Sonoma State University where he also studied jazz with the great Mel Graves and led his band Fifty-first Monkey. From 2005 to 2011, he worked as a project manager at a progressive grassroots organizing consultancy in the Twin Cities, where he met Brian Lozenski and eventually began Junkyard Empire. Since then, Cox has moved to Portland, where he is finishing his Master of Science in Political Science at Portland State University. In September of 2014, he will begin his PhD in Geography at University of Washington in Seattle. His trombone playing is unique in that he uses traditional guitar stomp boxes through a small onboard PA that he runs through a bass rig. The result is a self-contained 'wall of sound' that often resembles a circuit bent keyboard, fuzz guitar, or a synth. He has been threatening to take his bone back out of the case pretty soon.

Bryan Berry — guitar[edit]

Originally from North Dakota, Bryan studied Architecture, Mathematics, and Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Bryan currently resides in Brooklyn NY and is working on open-source content creation and systems networking for a developing Linux technology firm.

Steve Hogan — bass[edit]

Originally from St. Paul, Steve Hogan completed undergraduate studies at Luther College in Decorah, IA, receiving an education in Media Studies and Music. Steve is also a regular member of other Minneapolis-based bands Loki and MS-BOSS. He also produces ambient/electro-acoustic music. With his entrance into the band, the group started taking a major step toward a more rock-oriented sound, while simultaneously upping their jazz game as well.

Graham O’Brien — drums[edit]

Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Graham received a degree from McNally Smith College of Music in Recording Engineering. He also attended Columbia College in Chicago for their Jazz Studies program. Graham plays in a series of different hip-hop, rock, and jazz bands in the Twin Cities area. His compositions and production can be heard on Junkyard Empire tracks as well as with Abzorbr and No Bird Sing. He currently works as a freelance drummer, composer and audio engineer.

Notable quotations[edit]

  • "The thirty minutes and change of "Rebellion Politik" certainly aren't going to be for everyone. There's no comforting bling bling, no gyrations causing sexual salivation, no odes to conspicuous consumption to be found on this EP. Many of the truths here are hard and uncomfortable, but thanks to Brihanu's flow and the ability of his band to jam, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in what this critic would consider to be a delightful way." -Steve "Flash" Juon
  • "Junkyard Empire is an outstanding ensemble." - Noam Chomsky professor of Linguistics at the MIT Center for Advanced Studies.
  • “The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state, since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.”- Plato
  • "The most relevant and exciting band of the 21st Century." - Adam Klugman, producer of Mad as Hell in America
  • "To ensure their survival and success, musicians in the US keep away from the contentious issue of politics. They are rewarded by the corporate-dominated media with excessive publicity and, as a consequence, higher sales. In such an atmosphere, bands like Junkyard Empire are unlikely to find any of their songs reaching the number one position on the charts. Nor do they hanker for that brand of popularity. They do want to reach people, but through different routes and for very different reasons. It is not indifference to public taste, but rather an examined intent to sensitize the public that guides the band." - Dahr Jamail, independent journalist, Truthout.org Contributor
  • "It’s like listening to Red Hot Chilli Peppers fronted by Kweli, with the rush of Rage Against The Machine when they still had something to say." - Okay Player

Political affiliations[edit]

Junkyard Empire performed at the "No Peace for the War Makers"[1] during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, which was featured in the movie Terrorizing Descent.[10] The band has also worked closely with The League of Pissed Off Voters (aka League of Independent Voters) and Canvassed Neighborhoods in St. Paul during the 2008 election. In addition, the group also supports the Anti-War Committee, Food Not Bombs, the World Fair Trade Organization, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression,[11] the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the RNC 8, the Physicians for a National Health Program[12] and many other revolution-minded groups.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c ""No Peace for the War-Makers": Protest set for day 4 of RNC | Fight Back!". Fightbacknews.org. 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  2. ^ "F I X". Kill the Vultures. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  3. ^ "Rhymesayers Entertainment :: Toki Wright". Rhymesayers.com. 2009-06-09. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  4. ^ "Media Roots Music". Media Roots Music. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  5. ^ Zeese, Kevin (2011-04-01). "Sounds of Resistance are Growing". Dissident Voice. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  6. ^ — Patricia Burns (2012-10-15). "Occupy Washington, DC | Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed". October2011.org. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  7. ^ "Liquid Galaxy Support and Consulting". End Point. 2012-06-06. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Rebel Politik Records". Rebelpolitikrecords.bandcamp.com. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  10. ^ "Terrorizing Dissent p4 And Then They Bombed the Peace March". YouTube. 2008-11-01. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  11. ^ "Home | Committee to Stop FBI Repression". Stopfbi.net. 2011-01-16. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  12. ^ "Physicians for a National Health Program". Pnhp.org. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 

External links[edit]

Okay Player review of Rebellion Politik

Steve "Flash" Juon's review of Rebellion Politik