Alex Maas & Leila Mavris – “A Call To Arms”


“A Call To Arms” Artwork: Marie Ingouf.

Music is a powerful force with the ability to move hearts and change minds. When combined with a positive message, music can be a potent tool for education, expression and conflict resolution. At a table under a dark, desert sky, Alex Maas, lead singer of reverb worshipping psych rockers the Black Angels speaks with Leila Mavris of the organization Global Majority  about how music heals, builds connections and establishes trust even in the most difficult circumstances.

Alex Maas: I’ve never been a good communicator. I communicate through music. I dunno, a lot of our songs, I’m always like ‘what would this person think about this?’ ‘What would my parents think about this song”? It’s weird.

Leila Mavris: But your songs, they get straight through you. They go straight deep. With what the songs are saying, the power behind the music. Like being able to express how ridiculous war is. Using our current war with Iraq, taking about the Vietnam war and the connection between the two.

Alex Maas: I’ve never been a good communicator. I communicate through music. I dunno, a lot of our songs, I’m always like ‘what would this person think about this?’ ‘What would my parents think about this song”? It’s weird.

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Alex Maas & Rob Campanella @ Desert Stars 2015. Photo: David Lacroix.

Alex Maas: I’ll never forget that conversation we had at the back of Rob Campanella’s house. I felt after that night that I wasn’t doing enough as a person. I was like, “man, here’s some people who are doing things that are more effective. That’s something in my life that is missing, being more involved and more educated. So many musicians are so selfish and lazy too.  After that conversation, I was like “these people are really doing something to change the world.” For me, that was really inspiring.

Leila Mavris: I think that just being aware and having an understanding, wanting to do something, you are already there, as opposed to most people who want to shut themselves down and they are like “I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it.”

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the Black Angels @ Austin Psych Fest 2014. Photo: David Lacroix.

Alex Maas: Yeah, its apathetic. And that’s laziness too, or fear based.

Leila Mavris: It’s a harder path to take. It’s amazing because we think very similarly about each other. I feel that through my work, it’s very concentrated, it’s maybe sometimes dry, it’s all of these things. To use music to use words to move people to take action, there’s no more powerful way. The bottom line is that more than film celebrities, more than any other type, music is what connects people. We did a program in the Middle East. In our first year, we brought Israelis and Palestinians together in Jordan among a lot of other nationalities. There were 11 nationalities among the 45 people in the program but it was really focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Talking to each other as human beings, seeing each other not at a check point or in a military uniform but as a peer.

So all day long, you are doing the work, and everyone is staying in the same hotel, staying together, eating together. One day, I was passing by and there were these Israelis and Palestinians and they were like “what do you do? what do you do? what kind of music do you listen to?” “We listen to Led Zeppelin” “We listen to Led Zeppelin too!” And they were high fiving. It was the music through which they were connecting. That’s how it is, it transcends everything, more than anything else.

Alex Maas: I forget that. I totally forget that that is true. I don’t know why I forget that, it’s a huge part of my life. At times, I’m like “why? why am I still doing this?” If you play music, you are always looking for inspiration. “What’s driving me right now?” You get stuck, you know? I forget how important music is, I really do. It’s like we were saying earlier, it’s really important but it’s not the most important thing in the world, to me. But it’s important.

Leila Mavris: But it all goes together. You cannot operate one from the other, you have to have everything. Because if you take the musical component out of everything else, everything else might all fall apart, it’s all part of the chain, part of the link,  you have to have it.

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the Black Angels @ Desert Daze 2016. Photo: David Lacroix

Alex Maas: I completely agree. At one point I forgot about that. I don’t know what it was, the only reason I play music is because it moves me and I know the power of it, the magic behind it. The more I try to understand it, the less magical it becomes.

Leila Mavris: Because it’s all feeling. You have also been playing in so many countries so it’s not even just this public here in the country that you can connect or relate with, it transcends again, it transcends borders, it transcends class and goes straight to the heart. You don’t have to think about it,  just feel it.

Alex Maas: That’s why I think lyrical stuff is so important. Not just singing about cars and women and money. It never crossed my mind to do that. If I wanted to do that, I would listen to LL Cool J. It’s hard to be like “what are you going to sing about? What is important to you?” It seems like it would be easy, so many things are important to us, but at the end of the day it is very difficult, I don’t know why. I feel like I am trying to move myself. It’s very selfish, I’m into music in a very selfish way. It’s very therapeutic for me and it feels good to play music. That’s what I have identified as not enough. It’s not enough to just get off to what you are doing; there’s got to be more. Wether its lyrical or how you are feeling… it’s a selfish thing, it makes me feel good to play music. I want to change it, not why I do it but expand upon it and make it more rich.

Leila Mavris: At the same time, you interact with people. You have all of these stories of other people, you are like a sponge absorbing everything. All of these things, all of these stories that you have absorbed from different people and one of your only outlets is through music. In a way, you are giving the world’s experience to everybody through music. It can be selfish too, but it’s not.

Alex Maas: When I say it’s selfish, I do realize the other facades of music. The biggest compliment that you can actually ever ever get is someone telling you that they are moved by the music, that they felt something. What more can you ask for? A lot of times, I’m up here and I feel, “Why would these people….” Being a musician, I’m going to throw this one thing on its head… being a musician and getting onstage, I never would have thought that I would continue to do it when I was younger. It’s weird to think, okay people, “come listen to what I have to say.” It doesn’t seem right to me sometimes.

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Alex Maas w/ strange Japanese instrument @ Desert Stars 2015.

Leila Mavris: You aren’t forcing anybody. They are there absolutely by their own will.

Alex Maas:  If they can feel what I’m feeling when I play by myself, that’s the biggest compliment that you could ever have.

Leila Mavris: I’m originally from Bosnia, there was a war there. Now when you go to Bosnia, it’s full of artists. There’s no money or support for art of any kind but the country is full of amazing, amazing artists because there is no other way to provide this outlet of higher feeling, you can’t get involved in politics in Bosnia and think that you are going to bring change. You can’t protest and bring change. It feels like you can’t do anything and once everything else fails, you express yourself through art. And it’s really raw, and it’s strong….

Alex Maas: It’s more palatable than somebody on a podium speaking about things. We relate to art a lot easier than someone preaching to us. But art has always been that. There must have been a crazy boom.

Leila Mavris: There’s a group of guys in Serevjo, they are all male, aged 30-45 and there’s twenty of them. They’ve made this “boy band”. Their slogan is “in the name of love.” They are Serbs, Bosnians and Croats. They take popular songs form the ‘80s and ‘90s and change the lyrics. It’s always political and it’s always related to the current situation. They had some very very harsh songs about the war and all of that. They did it because they were all just friends hanging out everyday, it was a joke and it became a real thing and they got invited everywhere to play.

Leila Mavris, Global Majority.

They got invited to Belgrade even though some of their songs are so harsh. They got such a positive response. There were some songs that they were afraid to play anywhere else but the public knew them already from youtube and they demanded them to play. It’s real, it’s the truth, it’s realizing that we get manipulated by politicians, that there’s corruption, that there are people just after money and power and they will do whatever it takes to maintain their position and disregard completely the population they represent. The grassroots system… people have no other means of making a change but by doing it themselves. Little by little, it really does happen through music, not even just psychedelics, not even just anti-war music; a lot of hip hop music, a lot of reggae talks about really important issues that are happening.

 It’s the same everywhere. I go to Chile on a regular basis. I go to the Middle East. I go to Bosnia. Everybody is basically disappointed by the people in power. Once you get to that level, it doesn’t matter because you had to compromise your beliefs at some level sooner or later, otherwise that many people with that much money would support you to win a position. It’s all about the people, it all comes down to the people.

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the Black Angels @ Austin Psych Fest 2014. Photo: David Lacroix

Alex Maas: Imagine if all of the modern country people were singing about real things as opposed to say, drinking beer. They have such a huge influence over the people who need to be influenced. Modern country is too tied into Christianity in a way, it’s too jaded. But imagine if all of those people dropped all of that shit and they were talked about real things. Is psychedelic music cynical sometimes? Yes but everything is cynical. Everybody is. It’s easier for psychedelic bands to be cynical because I’m not sure they always take themselves so seriously. I’m not sure that the rest of people take them seriously either. At some point, maybe the whole scope of psychedelia can change, maybe it can be more of a tool and be amazing music, because it’s already really good music. Just tack on an important message, why not? It’s so much easier. Change a couple of words and now you have a message.

Leila Mavris: It’s a perfect symbiosis in a way because you create this little seed, a little wave, a little process and that’s where an organization such as Global Majority comes in; “okay, you’ve been motivated, you’ve been inspired, what do I do now?” We all need to play together.

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the Black Angels @ Levitation Vancouver 2015.Photo: David Lacroix

Alex Maas: I completely agree. I feel guilty after having several amazing, inspiring conversations with Leila and not really tying it all into the bigger picture. You guys come in and  sweep up and educate. We come in and get people interested but there has to be someone like Global Majority doing things that are educating and having amazing relationships with all of these nations, getting people who don’t even talk to each other to communicate. It’s fucking awesome. But the tie-in hasn’t happened yet, once that happens it will be unstoppable.

Leila Mavris: On the other hand, there is a time and a place for everything. If somebody comes to a concert, you can have a place to sign a petition or something like that but they are separate things and we need to work together to inspire and educate and all of that. What we really need to do, everyone, not just us but everyone in general, figure out the bridge between “people are coming to have a good time” and “yeah, people are going to hear about some shit.” What is the follow up action to that?

Again, I take it back to Bosnia and the war. U2 did kind of an amazing thing during the war in Bosnia. At every one of their European concerts, they would say “okay, now we have a special message,” they would stop and set up a satellite connection from the city of Serevejo, while the city was under siege. All of the sudden in the back screen there were people who had to risk their life to get to the TV station to have the satellite conversation. All they were able to do is say “hi, my name is so and so, it’s so hard please help us, I have family members there, please tell them I’m okay, I have no way of communicating.” Thousands of people at the concert were transported into the war. It was super powerful because it was instantaneous and raw.

Alex Maas: I feel like we always come to a culmination, the more you talk about it, that’s where it starts. I always feel when we end our conversations about “how do you change” with “you talk about it.” You discuss it. More people could have turn people onto their music, having these little sneaky underlying messages which is what in theory people should do. Should someone be like “this is what you guys should be doing” is that too preachy? Or should you let it just happen in a natural progression.  You have something that sounds pretty and the underlying message is what you want people to take from it, you use that as a platform.

Leila Mavris: I think what is palatable is the truth. That is the bottom line.

Want to Help? Make a Donation to Global Majority or find out more about Global Majority Education Programs.

Artwork: Marie Ingouf. Photography & Article: David Lacroix.

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