Lindsey Wilson is a singer-songwriter known originally for folk music who has moved into free jazz over the past couple of years with her band Lindsey Wilson and the Human Hearts Trio, featuring Michael Trotman (bass) and Reggie Sylvester (drums). The band also often guests the legendary multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter. Trotman’s origins are in R&B and Sylvester has played in free jazz and rock contexts, perhaps best known for his work with the late guitarist Bern Nix. The trio will be playing Saturday, August 19, at the Dissident Arts Festival at 5C Cafe which showcases a number of bands beginning at 7 pm.
Cisco Bradley: I am here with Lindsey Wilson and Reggie Sylvester at Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side. To begin, how would you describe the band Lindsey Wilson and the Human Hearts Trio?
Lindsey Wilson: We are a band of consciousness using different genres of music to put our conscious lyrics into a form for everybody to hear. You don’t have to like a certain genre to like our music. We call it expansion music. It expands people’s minds and it allows people to not feel put out. I take pride in that. When I see the things that are going on in the world and then I put them into song, I want people to understand the impact of it. And, actually, jazz right now is a really great vehicle to put these messages in because of the expansiveness of it.
Reggie Sylvester: We’re playing the pulse. We’re not laying down the usual grooves. We have a vocalist whose time is incredible, so I can play all kinds of stuff against her timing. And we’ve got this bass player, Michael Trotman. Lindsey had a recording session for “Piece of Pie” back in 2012 that I was on and some other musician who couldn’t do it last minute. I happened to be coming out of J&R Music World and ran into Michael. Hadn’t seen him since 1994. “Michael, are you still playing?” “Yeah. I’m just playing in this bunk, man” “I’ve got a recording for you!” He’s one of the most original bass players.
Lindsey Wilson: He’s the best kept secret, Michael Trotman. I approached this project initially as a folk singer, though when I was in the folk community, I wasn’t quite considered as a folk singer, strangely enough. I thought of myself as a folk singer/songwriter but that community was like, “No.” strangely enough, “You sound kind of jazzy.”
Reggie Sylvester: She’s an improviser.
Lindsey Wilson: I like jazz a lot but I didn’t see myself as a jazz singer. I saw myself as a singer/songwriter leaning more toward the folk genre. So when I met up with different musicians, we did rock and I found out I had a thing for hard rock. When I met up with Reggie, he was able to bring a certain jazz element to it which I love. I just never had any opportunities to do jazz before. And what happened is that the folk and the jazz, strangely, in the avant-garde free jazz community actually worked.
Reggie Sylvester: Matt Garrison had jams in 2015 on Wednesday night. That was a well-kept secret. I knew about them. And these jams were once a week at Shapeshifter Lab at 9:30. They were free. And it was from February through about the end of October. She was the only singer. She came to 90% of those jams. She totally improvised it. Garrison would just call out a tune and Lindsey would improvise lyrics about getting home late at night in the Bronx or whatever was on her mind. She was a natural.
Lindsey Wilson: That was me thrown into the water.
Reggie Sylvester: No fear.
Lindsey Wilson: So to answer your question in full, our music is an expansionist experience filled with conscious lyrics that are as palatable to the mainstream. So it could be anything at any moment.
Reggie Sylvester: I hear Nina Simone. And I hear Jayne Cortez, Joni Mitchell, Jeanne Lee in it. Remember this show at Joe’s Pub with the early band. She did “Tides” which was an expansion of a song asking “Who got shot?”
Lindsey Wilson: I wrote “Tides” in 2013. Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012. It took a year. But that particular incident really blew my mind for some reason. Out of all the incidents, for some reason, that really broke my heart. I just sat on it for a year.
And then in 2013 there was a brother, his name was Darrius Kennedy, who was shot on 38th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, near Times Square. I saw that depiction on the daily news. It had this big picture of him with the hands up in the air, you know, he had a plastic knife or something, you saw this cadre of cops pointing guns at him. It’s a great shot. It brought up anger and frustration in me. What do I do, run out and scream? I cried. It was unacceptable. And something told me sit down and write a song about it.
Cisco Bradley: So when you say music of consciousness what does that mean to you?
Lindsey Wilson: Music with a pulse. Music with a heart. We’re starting to lose our feeling. I’m not a crier. I’m pretty strong, but the killing Kennedy, just broke me down. I’d reached my limit. I was already sitting on it for one year with Trayvon Martin and then to see this happening again I felt like we were under attack. I really felt that for a moment. And I had to say we got to get aware. I’m already awake. We’re awake right here. Are we conscious? Are we aware? Are we feeling anything right now?
And the answer, at that time for me, was no. I wanted to write a song about it to bring awareness to Trayvon Martin because people were starting to sleep on it, like “Oh, yeah. Okay. Yeah, that happened.” It was still real for me in 2013 as if it just happened. That’s how “Tides” was born. I did it as a surprise. People didn’t know it was going to be that heavy.
Reggie Sylvester: When she did it at Joe’s Pub the audience was split. You would have people going [gasp] and then you had some people that sat in stony cold silence.
And then with some of those Branded Saloon gigs and some of those other duo gigs that we did, we got the same response.
Reggie Sylvester: We would be playing in environments that are, quote, progressive or at least liberal environments. I’m talking about Branded Saloon. Or even the Joe’s Pub thing. And a lot of these people that did the stony cold silence were people that you would call at least liberals and it was like real ice.
Lindsey Wilson: But it touched people. It made people aware. And that’s all really. I’m just an instrument for that, straight up. I have worked in corporate America, in advertising and publicity and I was filled with understanding of how to write that story and get it out and make this spin. I went to school for it. I got away from that because it was trying to break my spirit because and almost did, I might add. I got out just in time. The money was great but my heart wasn’t in it and my mind and my spirit wasn’t in it.
When I started to do music I did a lot of love songs and songs about consciousness and I wanted it to reach people’s hearts. My responsibility as a musician and an artist is to express what’s going on in the world right now. I’m the town crier right now.
Reggie Sylvester: It’s a dirty job but somebody got to do it.
Cisco Bradley: How did you get from “Tides” to “Turning of the Tide?”
Lindsey Wilson: It evolved. When I wrote it initially I wrote it as a folk song. And I have recordings of it as a folk song and it sounds very Joni Mitchell, very pretty. I had some friends listen to it and they said, “You’re talking about Trayvon Martin being shot and this is just too pretty. The melody line is beautiful. The lyrics are piercing. We need this to match up because you’re hiding. You’re trying to make something pretty that’s not pretty.”
Reggie Sylvester: Bern Nix would come to the shows and he would say, “Reggie, you really got a good pop band. That’s a great pop band.” And he would come and see our shows spending his limited amount of money, which he didn’t have much money. But he would come up and see us try new lyrics.
The jazz community got it. It’s really strange. You know, just my opinion, really strange about the older folk community, they get it. But with this younger folk community—
Lindsey Wilson: The younger generation is intrigued. The older generation was like, “Where have you been?” We’re bringing back the style that they knew because they came up in this serious revolutionary time. Things were real then.
Cisco Bradley: So folk music has been depoliticized to that extent?
Lindsey Wilson: Yes.
Reggie Sylvester: Really depoliticized.
Cisco Bradley: So this is sort of re-politicization?
Lindsey Wilson: Yes. Re-politicization is really on the money on that. I think that’s where we are going. We have even been able to take covers and re-politicize covers which—
Reggie Sylvester: You heard “Missionary Man?” We changed the time signature. She put it in 6/8 actually.
Because I remember we had it with the old rock band. The former guitarist we had was trying to play it off the record and I revolted and the bass player didn’t want to do it. And then the next week she came in and started playing it in 6. She totally deconstructed the song.
Lindsey Wilson: Musically… Reggie will say it musically, in my head and in my heart I saw the “Missionary Man” song as a split. The “Missionary Man” would come in to these countries and colonize countries. That’s the “Missionary Man.” So when I sing it, I sing it as a young woman who sees them coming across the water trying to tell her mother, “Missionary men are coming. They got God on their side. They’re coming for us.”
People know “Missionary Man.” It was a hit in the ‘80s. I could actually sing it in the same rock form but I said no… let’s see what happens when I make it slow so people can hear the lyrics and then put the energy into it and twist it a little.
So the re-politicization might be an easier way to say it but it is on point. We want to be able to bring that energy back and let all musicians do it. We don’t own that. We got a job to do. We got to make people aware. Wake them up, make them aware because it’s coming. This is a mild version of sounding the alarm without having people, you know, freak out in the process. That’s my vision for it.
So as far as the style of the music, it could be anything that’s going to capture your doggone attention and make you listen to what we’re trying to tell you because we’re trying to give you the heads up.
Reggie Sylvester: It’s all pulse. We’re actually a different kind of rhythm section, in my opinion. I finally got two other people that really react to pulse. I finally got a lyricist/singer who can actually think like that. It’s intuitive stuff.
Cisco Bradley: Do you feel jazz is naturally suited to music that is a voice of resistance or is it the audience that you found more receptive?
Lindsey Wilson: That’s a good question.
Reggie Sylvester: It’s coming from us. That’s such a powerful question because when I write my songs I write it backwards. I usually write the music first and then the music will take me to that lyrical feeling. And I do write poetry too.
Cisco Bradley: I’ve seen you perform three times, April 2016 at the Shrine, June 2016 at JACK in Brooklyn, and then July 2017 for the Bern Nix memorial at Scholes Studio. At the 2016 shows, I thought of you as a folk band with a jazz edge. By the 2017 show, you had thoroughly transformed. Can you talk about that transition?
Lindsey Wilson: Thank you for recognizing that transition because it was.
Cisco Bradley: Oh, it’s stunning. I expected something completely different at the Bern Nix Memorial.
Lindsey Wilson: We did that transition and I’m happy. I’m very proud of that. I know when it happened too. During rehearsal, Reggie gives certain rhythms that I jump onto that allowed me to be free—out. It was very powerful.
Reggie Sylvester: The rehearsal happened right after Bern died. That was such a heavy rehearsal that we had a little dinner over afterwards, it started to rain a lot. It was such a heavy rehearsal that I actually left my cymbal bag with the cymbal that I used on the Bern Nix album. David said, “Well, Bern took back the cymbal.”
Lindsey Wilson: I was ready for that transition to come. It was gradual because in order to be authentic I had to learn it in time. And I knew I had it in me and I wanted to stretch. And I told Reggie, “I’m ready to stretch now. I’m going to throw caution to the wind. I’m just going to let it loose.”
And that is really what happened that day. I took everything that I’ve ever known, everything that I learned, all the sounds that I’ve heard, and just let all the sounds, anything I feel come out and it will make sense to me. It’d just be free. Go with the band and just go with the flow. And I gave myself permission to do that and this is the result of it and I’m so happy.
I’ve matured as an artist and I can take it anywhere I want. I have a piano now. I’m doing all types of things where I can hear things now. My head is exploding with possibilities about how to get this across using multimedia, using films and pictures, using sounds and, yes, in some cases collaborating with other artists that take it as far out as we can possibly go and bring it back so that people can understand it. Take them on the ride … bring them back to safety … let them walk out saying, “Wow, what just happened there?”, and be able to take action on what’s going in their communities, in their families, in their world.
Reggie Sylvester: It’s very socially conscious. On the other hand, there’s a level of musicality that’s always with this, the Bern Nix harmolodic thing is always going to be there.
Cisco Bradley: What do you see as the big social tensions that you’re trying to address?
Lindsey Wilson: There’s nothing new under the sun, Cisco. I mean, everything has been done ten times over whether we know it or not. Whether we think it’s our ideas it’s already been thought out.
But, spiritually, I’m going to another place in my life. I’m not going to go too deep into it. But, you know, as far as the God element of things, I’m starting to see the big picture for me about that. And it has had a change on how I approach myself and approaching my process. Let it rip but be responsible for the impact that it has on people that you’re singing for.
I’m really a little bit more conscious on making sure that it’s pure, making sure that there’s no angles and negativity coming in there to snap people outside their head. I want it to be powerful and impactful. Spiritually, I feel like I’m ready to do that, if that makes any sense.
As far as where the world is today … it’s exactly where I expected it to be. There was no way that it was going to be sunshine and puppy dog tails. The way history shows it, we were going in this direction, okay. Whether people want to understand that or believe it or be hopefully optimistic, that’s fine. But if you look at history, we were going this way. We weren’t going backwards. We’re going into a way that will require us to be responsible for our actions.
I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of that movement. It is a movement. We have to be able to take our art and use it like you would use a bat or use a gun. That’s how we have to use our drawings, pictures, posters, music, spoken word… audio, pictures, photographs. Use it like a battering ram and work it. It’s like a civil disobedient approach. Like say for Sandra Bland, we are here, we’re swinging back… back with a beat. Not a bat, not a gun, but a beat. With our minds and our hearts we’re swinging back with that.
Reggie Sylvester: Do you know how how that when we would rehearse that tune people would stop? We used to rehearse at this studio inside of Drummer’s Collective and Mike Stern was doing a video in the next room and he stopped his video and came in and said, “You’re singing your heart out.”
Lindsey Wilson: Because I was that day. I was singing my heart out. I was going through a rough time that day.
Cisco Bradley: How long after Sandra Bland’s murder did you write that song?
Lindsey Wilson: Six months. I cried so many times for that young lady. And, like I said, when I start crying that means something’s hitting me deep. Because I have a strong constitution and I can take a lot of things. If you saw the recordings of Sandra Bland on YouTube, this young woman had a lot going for her. And she was conscious. She was an activist. She was 28 years old. She had all her life ahead for her. And she was doing the right thing. She did everything that we’re supposed to do. Went to college and she got a job at her alma mater. She was for the people and for the community and she volunteered and …
Why is she dead? She knew her rights.
With Sandra Bland, I just kicked into it. And, as my brothers, Reggie and Michael thought, “Okay, she’s obviously going through something and got something. Let’s roll with it.”
We still don’t know what happened to her. That’s like a parent having their child taken away and not knowing that their child is dead or alive. It’s hard to live with. That’s how we as a community are living with this woman. What happened? And it’s not settling. It’s purposely keeping us off balance.
Well, I want to be able to sing that song and remind us so we are a little bit more on depth. We’re more balanced in knowing—
For the last show I did at the Shrine, I invited a young lady. She’s about 23. I met her during jury duty. Lovely. Smart, very friendly, very vivacious. And she came up to me at the end of the show and said, “That story you were talking about the young girl, Sandra, is that real? Did that really happen?” I swear—I kid you not. And there was someone that said, “Yes, child, that really happened.”
She didn’t know. How can that be?
Cisco Bradley: How can that be? No, that’s a real question. With Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and so many others, we could make a mosaic of faces on a wall of the people who have been murdered by police in this country. It doesn’t seem to be changing. Where do you see things going from here and how do you see your work evolving?
Lindsey Wilson: It’s going to get more blistering. It’s going to get more in your face. There’s a lot of shouting because it’s time to sound the alarm. There is a sense to be merciful because we’re all going to feel it. So it’s not a white-black issue at all anymore. We’re all going to feel that pinch. Some people feel it more than others, but we are all going to feel it.
As a musician, as a vocalist, as a poet, as a singer/songwriter… we have a wonderful opportunity to walk people through this process. So this music is going to change yet again. There’s going to be other forms of it. But these songs are my legacy. When I leave this planet, these songs are going to speak for how I feel. And the beauty is that it’s going to change again. Like we’ve changed these songs so many times, they have gone through a metamorphosis.
I love punk rock. We’ve done punk versions in rehearsal.
Reggie Sylvester: And in a gig at the Trash Bar.
Lindsey Wilson: We went in another direction after that because it was a lot of hard hitting to play that way. It’s a lot of energy.
Reggie, you have the most energy ever known in man but we couldn’t do that all the time. We had to give it a break.
Punk is unapologetic. It’s literally screaming in your face, possibly spitting on you. It’s like to get the point across, look at me, I’m angry, I’m enraged.
Reggie Sylvester: And even that is pulses too when you take the bar lines out of those fast 8th notes. You know, when you have 8th notes going– When you have stuff going 200 beats per minute, the straight 8ths and the triplets gradually merge. You can’t distinguish them as much when the time goes up. We would play with that a lot. There really isn’t a time. There’s not numbers on it. Everybody in the rhythm section is internalizing it. She internalizes it.
Lindsey Wilson: So for the future, we are going into expansion mode. It’s going to go like that. It’s going to spread out and it might come back in. But it’s going to go as far as we can take it. No apologies. Not over scrutinizing ourselves. Not being overly critical and saying, “Oh, well, that wasn’t good.”
It’s going to be like, we’ve got something to say, we’re going to say it and we’re going to say it in different ways. And you may be used to this way of us saying it and now we’re going to give you something else. You’re going to know. Like it’s going to be different. Can you handle that? You’re going to get the same message. We’re not going to stay this way only.
Reggie Sylvester: We do what we feel.
Cisco Bradley: You mentioned everyone is going to face this. We all do feel the pinch to some extent but I must say that as a white person, when I interact with a police officer I’m not likely to be shot.
Lindsey Wilson: Well, look at it this way, you know, as black people we’ve been pinched for so long, you know, you end up getting a scab. So when people pinch we don’t feel it as much because we’ve been pinched so long. The pinch is not as sharp.
Now for white folks, you’re really going to start feeling what it’s like to get that initial impalement, which hurts a lot.
Cisco Bradley: As things continue to decline?
Lindsey Wilson: As things continue to decline. We, on the other hand, that impalement has to go through years and years and decades and decades and eons of scar tissue. It’s going to really blow your freaking minds.
The truth of the matter is, white people need to step up for black people and you need to step up for yourselves. I mean, you’re doing yourself a favor by making white people informed on the underpinnings of the problems.
Reggie Sylvester: People come to this country and believe they can have the American dream.
Lindsey Wilson: But then look at Greenwood and look at Black Wall Street. Did we not do it? We lived the American dream. And white people destroyed it. It was blatant. It’s not that we can’t have the American dream. Harlem was the American dream.
We went to college. Not that that’s any big deal because we know what college is. That’s for another time. But we were so-called educated black people.
Now, why is it that my ancestors can go to school and get an education but we’ve got kids here that can’t go to school and can’t get an education? Black kids. What is that? There’s some type of bamboozlement, a mind fuck going on here.
The problem is that we work hard. Sandra Bland worked hard, did the right thing, was conscious, went to school, got a job, did all that, and that she could be taken out. After playing by all the rules that make the American dream and she could still be shot or hung or whatever?
That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re having this conversation.