Musician and activist Evan Greer (she/her) is a fountain of knowledge and a cornerstone of two main, yet disparate communities in Boston. Greer devotes half of her passion to making music, touring, recording, and promoting shows. The other half goes towards activism. She is Deputy Director for the internet freedom group Fight for the Future, and is on the ground as a protester and organizer.
One of Greer's significant contributions is Break the Chains, a queer dance party which aims to unify communities in Boston. Their May 11 event celebrated the release of her new album, She/Her/They/Them, out now on Don Giovanni Records. Chris Hughes-Zimmerman, Music Editor at Boston Hassle, spoke to Greer about the intersection between the new album and her activism.
Chris Hughes: Considering your involvement with political work and activism and everything that goes into it, what makes you come back to making music?
Evan Greer: I guess I love watching people's light bulbs go on, whether that’s because they're connecting with other people like themselves for the first time, or whether they’re feeling at home or safe or good in a space for the first time. I especially love watching people in the LGBTQ community celebrate and have fun. So much of the mainstream media narrative about us [the LGBTQ community] is all about our trauma and our suffering — that's obviously part of our reality — but I just think it’s so important to have spaces to comes together, have fun, and celebrate what makes us special.
CH: How do you approach putting your emotions and also your activism into music? Do you find it’s an outlet, a catalyst, a respite?
EG: To me, music and activism have always been inextricably linked. I wrote my first song in high school when the U.S. was preparing to invade Afghanistan after 9/11. It was sort of an anti-war song, and I thought, "well, I can’t go around singing this song unless I’m gonna try to do something about this." So I helped organize a student walk-out. And the first time I ever played in front of more than a few dozen people was at a big anti-war protest that me and my friends organized on Boston Common in the build-up to the Iraq war. So those things have always been connected for me.
I like creating and consuming utilitarian political music. Like the songs you can sing at a protest or on a picket line or in a jail cell, that are “in your face political,” that are about a specific political current issue. But also, increasingly, I see the value, and appreciate creating art, that’s more medicinal. That’s more about teaching people on a human level that are grappling with all the interconnected forms of oppression.
CH: What messages are you conveying in your music?
EG: The biggest message I get from people around the world that listen to my music — that my music helped them know that they are not alone. That means the world to me because I know deeply that feeling of being alone and how painful it can be. That’s one the things that keeps me going. Knowing that even if just those few people, you can create a piece of art that gives them that feeling of connectedness to other humans. I can say that art like that has definitely saved my life a few times.
CH: Something that comes up in your music is “unity.” I think it’s an interesting concept. Is unity the underlying premise? It’s a simple question, but does it require a simple answer?
EG: I make music and do activism that's about bringing people together. A wide range of people rather than pigeon-holing myself in one sub-culture. The ideology or the term “unity,” especially lately, has been abused to silence the voices of marginalized people within communities. Especially in the LGBTQ community, trans folks have historically been told “shut up, don’t talk about that. We need to have unity.” You can’t have real unity when there are people in your community that aren’t being listened to and heard. What I try to do is hold up those truths and not ignore the fact that there are real problems within our community. But also always be looking for a positive, forward-looking outlook of the world. Let's actually talk about what we can do about them.
CH: When did you first come out as trans, and what impact has it had on your music career?
EG: I came out as trans right around the same time my kid was born in 2010, which was a lot of change and transition in a short period of time. I started changing the way I was presenting my gender a little before that. It was an interesting process, even the paradigm of coming out is complicated for a lot of trans and non-binary folks. For myself, it was one thing to come out to my friends and family. Then I had to think about how I had this fanbase, online primarily, that have been listening to my music for a while. So it was sort of a more active process. I had to decide and pick a day and be like, “this is the day that I’m going to edit and change my pronouns on my bio” or “when am I gonna start telling a reporter these are my pronouns when I do an interview?” It’s sort of been an evolution rather than a single moment of coming out. I still come out all the time.
CH: What was the recording and songwriting process like for you for the new album?
EG: It was a really important learning experience for me because studio recording is a different art form than playing live. When I write songs, I hear them with full instrumentation. 16 layers of electric guitars, and drums and horns and cellos and whatever else. But I’ve rarely had the resources or time to actually perform them in that way. It’s mostly been just me and an acoustic guitar. So going into the studio was a different project, this was about getting these songs ready for their closeup.
I’m not someone who can go in the studio and bang out ten tracks and be done. It took months and months and months and months. But I’m super delighted with the result and it’s amazing to finally let other people hear these songs the way I heard them when they were first created.
CH: Do you have any tips or tricks for folks who are just starting to become musicians, artists, or organizers?
EG: The first thing I always say to folks is advocate for yourself. I spent so long in my life taking every show that was offered and taking whatever was given to me and playing shows I hated playing. There was nothing redeeming about it all and I didn’t get paid, but I thought that I had to do it to get by.
It’s so important to learn that there’s nothing wrong with believing in your art and asking to be properly compensated for your labor, as well as asking to to play in spaces and find audiences for what you’re doing. That’s the biggest thing — especially for folks just starting out, or folks coming from marginalized identities. We can have a lot of imposter syndrome and think, “I don’t belong here” and, “I don’t deserve to be treated well.” Creating music and art is a form of labor. It is a form of work. So if you believe in workers’ rights, then you should be advocating for your own right as a working artist to share your art in a context that is safe and healthy and sustainable for you.
More concretely, I’d also say that the internet is here and it is not going anywhere. It doesn’t do us any good to complain or gripe about how the internet is killing record sales. We need to adapt. And I think the artists that are really succeeding out there right now are figuring out how to share their art in a sustainable way in the internet age.