Now The Changes – On The Mountain
Original publication by Beth Cloutier and Jennifer Greer on 5/6/2019
Lead singer, Daniel Larlham, of the post-punk rock band, Now The Changes, dares to challenge your psyche with straight up in-your-face poetic lyrics about political unrest, climate change and the daily BS that affects your life. Looking into the future while contemplating the past, Now The Changes, merges message with melody while inviting you to rock out.
I met with Now The Changes, lead singer, Daniel Larlham and guitarist, Aaron Schiller, to find out why their activist music helps to change the way people think, what makes the band united, the Bay Area local music scene, fashion and hear about some of the songs on their new EP coming out this fall.
Local Music Channel filmed Now The Changes live show in Berkeley, CA which can be seen on localmusicchannel.com
Creation of the Band, and Inspirations
LMC:Tell Me about Now The Changes: the band, the members and their roles?
Daniel:I’m the one who started Now The Changes. When it comes to the operation of running the band and also writing the songs, it’s me. I write the chord structures, vocal melodies and lyrics. Then I bring those to the band to develop. Usually I bring them first to Aaron [Schiller] to develop guitar parts that give the song an identity, and then we’ll go to drums [Eyal Gurion] and bass [Biko Nagara]. This project emerged out of a desire to create a band that was doing emotional, political work in the world, and that I associate with certain artists that were big inspirations of mine in the past.
The band was a little bit of a hole in a vacuum, at least when it comes to the territory of rock. A kind of sharp, heartfelt political rock. That was the motivation of my reaching out to get this project going. The first two pillars of the project were Aaron and Eyal and there have been some shifting membership over time, but it’s been us three as the nucleus.
LMC:How did you meet? Aaron, why did you decide to work on this project with Daniel?
Aaron:I think it’s been about 2 and a half years since I met Daniel. I responded to a craigslist ad that Daniel had posted looking for someone to play guitar with specific influences. U2 jumped out at me and other kinds of 80s bands. I’m not a guitar hero and I’m not looking to shred or that kind of stuff. So when I saw the political stuff and the musical influences, I thought “yeah, this is something I could get behind”. Then Daniel and I met, talked about it and I got really excited by his vision. Working on an original project and music with a purpose and a vision.
LMC:Who were you musical heroes and how did you think they changed music? How did that influence your music for the future generations?
Daniel:I think there are a lot and I think I’ve taken different kind of inspiration from each of them. A big one is U2, another huge one is the Australian band Midnight Oil. They have such a huge body of work and such a long career and the albums are so well written and so well produced, it’s kind of insane to me that they are not better known.
LMC: They [Midnight Oil] are politically and environmentally motivated which is somewhat what you are doing too, right?
Daniel:That’s true. And they also have songs that are very global in that perspective but some that are very Australian centric. They have the lyrics, the energy of their songs is very ferocious and fierce, more so then U2. U2 gets there a few times like in the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but Midnight Oil is kind of delivering big hammer blows again and again. Kind of righteous hammer blows. But with lyrics that are really nuanced and sophisticated, and that’s something that inspired me because there is so much energy out there. There is so much oppositional adversarial energy of fight, fight, fight in the culture right now, and at the same time the political discourse was often getting dumbed down so that people are kind of flailing at each other with very blunt instruments.
Also, Bob Marley was a big influence for me during my teenage years. Reggae was my favorite genre. I go to a meditation group and I wouldn’t say I’m any expert on Buddhist principals or scripture, but it’s affected me a lot. The perspective on existence: like the impermanence that everything will pass; that everything is changing. That was the inspiration for the name of the band Now The Changes.
Each of us has this eternal now that we reside within, or eternal within the scope of our own life. We’re really just in this now, and a lot of what we think of as time is just a construction. It’s really just changes happening in the now. Of course there are political references too– like we want these changes now. I think that the songs that we are working on wouldn’t have their character if I hadn’t moved to the Bay Area and been exposed to the culture of mindfulness and the Buddhist inflected culture here, which has given me a more realistic perspective about what is going on within human experience.
LMC:Those ideas you are speaking about are in your songs “On The Mountain” and “Activation”. Why is it important to convey those messages and where did it come from?
Daniel:I think the song “On The Mountain” came quite a few years ago and during the process where I was putting together Now The Changes and we were all meeting each other, getting things going for the first time, and I had a lot of doubt if it would even be possible to create something in the real world, a collaborative effort with other real human beings that would approximate this vision that I had for a band that could deliver a real powerful, energetic impact.
So that song was a big song and it’s about a journey, a kind of individual life journey. Using the metaphor of climbing the mountain and meeting doubt along the way and knowing that you could turn back, but knowing that the life you would return to would be unsatisfying and kind of emptied out.
Strangely enough, when the person in the song gets to the top of the mountain, which is the bridge, and sees that perspective, what they see is also devastation, desecration. And there is a line in the song which is “overhauling this earth we’re fitted for”, which was a lyric I was very happy with because we are the organisms that have emerged from this system which is this earth– so we are perfectly fitted for it. But we emerged from it and now we are changing it haphazardly, so we’re not fitted for it anymore. And so the other forms of life are not fitted for it because there will need to be a process of adaptation, and adaptation doesn’t happen that fast– so there are consequences to that.
LMC:Then you talk about hope and wisdom and turning it around asking is anyone paying attention?
LMC:Questioning the idea of (it can be there but what can be there?) are you listening and are you paying attention?
Daniel:Right, and I think there was also doubt about how the music would be received knowing that my prime influences are from bands that were active in the 80s or even before that– like Paul Simon or Billy Bragg. Things have moved on. Like does anyone really want to hear these words like “sanity, clarity, wisdom, hope”? And also does anyone really want to hear this kind of music? It’s at least honest.
Aaron:I can talk about how I approach these songs. Daniel will give me a sketch and there’s both a lot of room and direction there. There’s room for the guitar to do what I want it to do. Generally, I try to come up with something especially when the song is stirring, I’m thinking in that direction in trying to provide an emotional center to the instrumentation. Something with some aggression usually.
And in “On The Mountain” especially in parts where I’m chugging away, there are parts that are more driving. One thing about that song in particular is there’s a lot of changes, there’s a lot of things that happen, there’s a lot of different kinds of parts. The concept of it was, the different elements are sort of getting closer to the top of the mountain. We go back to that metaphor and add to the complexity and trying to keep the momentum of the song going. Then we get to the bridge, things open up more. It really feels like things open up and expand. I think we try very hard to do that in the music. We hope that the music and lyrics marry up that way, and I think we do a good job on that song.
LMC:Tell me about why you wrote “Activation” and who are you trying to reach with the song?
Daniel:There are two songs that we play now that were written in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA, the Unite the Right rally of 2017. I felt such outrage and such anger, and both “Activate” and another one we just recorded for our EP, they are very angry songs but they’re also wondering about how this anger can be channeled, and a little bit wide-eyed about what it means to deploy this anger in an artistic medium.
Aaron:I was thinking that we want to activate anyone who is listening, or anyone who is open to the idea of being activated to a political message. I think so much of music is supposed to take you away from your day-to-day concerns. It’s really about getting lost in some other world where nothing that you do day-to-day matters, it’s escapism of a kind. I think this song like a lot of our songs is meant to activate people’s sense of where they are now, and where things are now. So that’s how I imagined that song. Activate the listener so that they are paying attention to what’s around them. It’s not escapism.
Daniel:That’s right. I often imagine where the song might have it’s impact,. I’ve been to a lot of rallies and demonstrations in the last three years and I think about playing in a scenario where people are coming together already with some shared values and a sense of what kind of action they might take in the world, and the song giving them an energetic boost or being a kind of fuel.
It’s like [the songs] are formed from ideas and emotion, thoughts and perspective that are in circulation out there already. I was watching and reading a lot of James Baldwin and you’re taking these perspectives, take some of this stuff in and it sparks insights, “oh yes, that seems right to me– put those into songs”.
In a way you’re preaching to the already converted, but they are trying to refresh perspectives and give an energetic boost as part of a whole machine. There needs to be a whole machine of social and cultural transformation– like politicians need to do their thing, grass roots organizers need to do their thing, the everyday citizen needs to do their thing in terms of voting and maybe volunteering and donating to causes, and music needs to do its thing and its part. So we are just trying to do our part.
The Local Scene
LMC:Where are you guys from and why do you live in the Bay Area?
Aaron:I’m originally from San Luis Obispo, California. I ended up here for a job, long story.
Daniel:Aaron, you have a degree in Philosophy, how about that?
Aaron:That is true. That’s part of the longer story, ha ha.
Daniel:I am originally from South Africa. That’s where I grew up until I was 10 years old, and then my family immigrated to here to Southern California and I have been in the USA since then. I was in NY for a while then I moved to the Bay Area in 2013 because I was tired of the East Coast. NYC had worn me down and I wanted to come to a place where it was more beautiful and there was a bit of a saner kind of approach to life. Not quite such an over-driven approach to life.
LMC:What is it about the Bay Area that enticed you to stay here?
Aaron:I’ve always loved Berkeley and the mystique of it. When I was in high school that’s when I started paying attention to the Berkeley thing. I was living in Sothern California at the time, and my parents, especially my dad, would always talk about Berkeley as this mythic place. I didn’t have the drive or the grades to even apply to UC Berkeley out of high school but I was able to transfer up here after some years. So I was an undergraduate here.
I love Berkeley; love the vibe of the city and the passion of the people. It’s also the sense that the residents want to live up the Berkeley reputation. I take pride in living in Berkeley and really love it, and that is what really keeps us here.
It’s super expensive to live here, so there are some times we feel it may make sense to look at other places, but also now we have a 4th grader and it’s important that he go to good schools and live in a vibrant city, so I think the quality of life here is really good. It’s also a good place for a band like this. It feels like the right place for me right now.
Daniel:While Aaron was speaking it made me think of the other band members too such as Eyal Gurion who plays drums. He’s from Israel originally, and Biko Nagara whose family is from Indonesia originally. But I’m the only person in the band who does not have a partner or kids.
And I really like the fact that I’m working with people who have households and kids, because that opens your heart in a way and grounds you and it opens up the perspectives on human existence.
We’re not the early 20s band that thinks that the most important thing is for the world to wake up and take notice of us. I think that there are more mature perspectives in the music which hopefully doesn’t mean that they are less idealistic but maybe more complicated.
LMC:Why is it important to play locally and where are your favorite spots to play?
Daniel:We had a gig at The Uptown in Oakland that we really enjoyed. The management were really excited for us to put together a line-up of politically oriented rock. We are looking forward to getting that going again.
We forged a good relationship with Luna Oxenberg from Taylor Street Production, and through them with people who book and produce various event in the East Bay and San Francisco. Through her we’ve had the opportunity to play downtown Berkeley BART Plaza and over at the Bay to Breakers foot race in San Francisco recently. And those feel like perfect fits for us. A kind of chance to share the music with the world at large. Come one, come all– whoever comes streaming by.
LMC:What is the response from the community to your music when you play live?
Aaron:The Bay to Breakers was an amazing experience because we felt like we were there to energize the runners and to make it a good party atmosphere, but it was also very gratifying because we felt a lot of love from the people streaming by. Sometimes people stopped and gave us thumbs up or took pictures. Overall it was really cool to see the smiles on peoples faces and nods of appreciation. I don’t think that we in general have the kind of sound that is overly aggressive and in your face. So that when we play out it’s not the kind of music that people will be turned away from.
Daniel:In terms of the verbal responses, people often say that it reminds them of certain kinds of post-punk or other kinds of epic 80s stuff, but with a more contemporary sound or more contemporary elements. If we play in venues where we have good enough sound, I’ve got a lot of comments about the lyrics where people enjoy and are grateful for the lyrics. I do spend a lot of time honing them so I can fully stand behind them and sing them. I’ve got some heartening comments about the lyrics.
LMC:Why is live music important? Why is it important for you to play live? Why is it important that we have a live music scene?
Daniel: We live in this time where there is so much media but we receive it typically through the same digital portals, and I think that there is something miraculous and special about live performance of different kinds but especially music, it can bring about a form of communion, it can awaken the heart. Maybe that sounds very Bay Area, but I don’t think that’s a woohoo sentiment.
I think live performance can remind us that we are in this together; that the world is not just our individual agenda and all these images we look at on screens, and all the things we have to do in the day.
The individuality of human beings, like in an audience if you are watching people perform on stage, you are getting such a unique perspective on things and you look around and you see all these incredible individual people dancing to the same beat or participating in the same energetic experience. I think it’s an important cauldron for waking up energies and waking up perspectives.
Aaron:I agree with all that. I would add that with so much of the live music we listen to you are getting a real experience. I think we are used to music that has been very highly produced and very planned out and designed for maximum impact. Hearing something live presents you with a different experience. It forces you to be more in the moment and to be taking in where the song and where the musicians and the show is going to take you.
I feel energized when I see live music and I love to hear bands that I wouldn’t have the patience to sit down and listen to a whole album of, but when I’m there I’m caught up in the experience. Live music is a whole different animal than recorded music. It’s something that we would really miss out on a lot if we didn’t ever take the time to see live music.
Daniel:It’s also risky. The stakes are high in live performance. It’s exciting to participate, to take on those challenges as a performer and it’s exciting for the audience. As an audience member, you get to see performers like take flight and you get to see them make mistakes and crash at times.
Also taking music from the rehearsal room from a recording studio to performance, you learn so much by performing live because your whole psyche understands that this is very different from how you’ve presented this thing before. It requires more focus, more energetic expenditure. I feel like my mind and body are reorganizing themselves and developing each time we play live in a way that I can’t do by myself or when I practice solo, and in a way that as a band we can’t do by ourselves when we play in our rehearsal studio. Why that happens is kind of mysterious to me and always will be.
The Current Moment
LMC:Tell me what are you working on now?
Aaron:We have one EP called “Beginning” and this is the follow up. We were in the studio for 30+ hours. We tracked the drums, bass, and guitars for 6 new songs that we are hoping to release in the fall.
LMC:Who is producing the album, when is it coming out?
Daniel:The primary producer is Anton Patzner who produces a number of projects, but he also plays and produces with Foxtails Brigade which is also an East Bay based band. The EP is coming out in the fall of this year. We are thinking about one of the songs as a single. It’s called “No Other Life, No Other World” and it’s a very ecologically themed one, which feels like an important one to put into the world right now.
Aaron:“Activation” will be on there too.
Style and T-shirts
LMC:So tell me, are you guys plaid or paisley?
Daniel:Ha ha. Neither but if I had to choose one I’d choose paisley.
LMC:What would you choose if you had to choose a pattern for a design?
Daniel:Stripes. The racing stripe along the edge, like the outside of the arm or the outside of the leg.
Aaron:(laughing) I’m more of a plaid guy if those are my options.
Daniel:Aaron’s got the best style in the band.
LMC:Dude, you had some cool jewelry in that shoot we did.
Aaron:You know, you feel like the guitar player has to be making a statement. There’s a little bit of edge there.
LMC:It looked good. Tell me about those T-shirts. You made those yourselves. Why did you make them?
Daniel:Aaron, you were the ringleader with the T-shirts.
Aaron:I thought it was important that if we were going to do an Earth Day show, especially with you guys recording and filming it, it seemed important for us to have something to make it obvious about what we believe for Earth Day. So we had this idea of making our own message shirts for Earth Day and we each came up with our own sayings. We used freezer paper stenciling, and you iron on the freezer paper stencil and then you paint it. Mine said “Divest” because I think that a really important part of how we will deal with climate change on the individual level, divesting from dirty fuel, but you know, we all had range. What did Biko’s say? I think “One Earth”.
Daniel:Yeah, “One Earth”. The one I came up with was the slogan “Feed the Fire, Not the Fight”. I think it’s so easy to channel our frustration, our sense of outrage into adversarial dynamics and even structures, like thought structures. Like “all those people over there, if only they were out of the equation things would be so much better”, or “if only those of us who think in the right way could just dominate them and squash all of their impulses which are so wrong”. Often I think it’s just individual ego masquerading as some kind of collective outrage. But I think there is a very positive wholesome energy that has something to do with anger and aggression but is not directed at an other who is my enemy. So that was the idea of “Feed the fire, Not the Fight”.
Now The Changes plays live around the San Francisco Bay Area. You can check them out at www.nowthechanges.com.