Soapbox: Jason Samel on _Occupy This Album_

Jason Samel on March 13, 2012

Crosby and Nash performing in Zuccotti Park

As I walked through Zuccotti Park on the third day of the Occupy Wall Street movement in downtown New York City, the sound of a harmonica, guitar and voice belting out some of the best lyrics I have heard in recent memory caught my ear.

The song resonated through my soul and reverberated through the growing crowd comprising Occupy Wall Street. I introduced myself to the musician after he finished the song and struck up a conversation about his involvement in the movement. When I asked for his card, he handed me a piece of cardboard that simply read Matt Pless in green marker.

“Just look me up online,” he said. “You’ll find me.” As I walked away, he launched into a song that dealt with inequality and his frustrations with the government.

I suddenly heard music everywhere over the constant hum of frustrated protesters as I continued walking through the park: a guitar player with hip-hop artists spitting lyrics to simple chord changes; a beautiful hippie girl singing to the accompaniment of the car horns on the street as she raised her protest sign; reggae singers performing with a backing ukulele; and, of course, a drum circle bringing people together in rhythmic motion through the celebration of a collective voice that has been silenced for too long.

Occupy Wall Street had a pulse and rhythm unlike anything that I had heard before. It was the sound of change. It was the sound of people creating new music, poetry and art who were learning how to use their voices again.

I asked myself that day, “How can I shine a light on all of this incredible music?” The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to create a soundtrack for people to march to; a compilation of sounds that would speak to the world through the universal medium of music.

But how to get it done when I didn’t know anyone in the music industry?

As luck would have it, I met Michael Moore a short while later and he was the first person to sign on to be a part of the project. A week later, I met Jane’s Addiction at an airport on the way home from my best friend’s wedding. They invited me to their show where I happened to strike up a conversation outside the venue with Maegan Hayward and Alex Emanuel.

Maegan is the COO of Soundtrack Studios and Alex is a professional actor and musician. They were interested enough in the project that we set up a meeting a few days later and I instantly knew I had found the team to make this happen.

The three of us were mulling over potential disc names when Alex coined the title as a subtle homage to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, which advocates rebelling against governmental and corporate authority.

Thus began Occupy This Album, a benefit record for Occupy Wall Street.

The support from the music industry was overwhelming. I contacted Tao RodrĂ­guez-Seeger who said, “Wow! Yes, I would love to be part of this project. Let me know if I can be of help in any way.” He referred me to his friend and old bandmate Mike Merenda of Mike + Ruthy, who then referred me to the Guthrie family.

As a huge jamband follower, I decided to try and get in touch with Warren Haynes. Not only did Warren come onboard but his Hard Head management brought DJ Logic and The Nova Echo, too. When Megaforce Records heard about the album, they called to tell me Third Eye Blind was currently in the studio working on a track for the record.

Then one day Michael Moore’s producer, Eric Weinrib, text messaged me that Crosby and Nash were just interviewed on television and were asked if they would make an album for Occupy Wall Street. Their response: They would love to. Their managers confirmed as much – as did their other clients Jackson Browne and Joel Rafael who had supported the movement.

This project will allow world-renowned musicians to be able to stand together and say in one voice: “We demand change. We will Occupy This Album so that the whole world hears our voice.”

And, for the first time ever, both established and disenfranchised artists share an album equally. As Alex says, “Our album is, in essence, a modern-day Alan Lomax project. We, too, are playing the role of a field collector – creating a disc to both honor the movement and cement the legacy of its music.”

This album is the voice of the 100 percent. It is unified and all encompassing just as we would like our world to become.

Occupy This Album will be released this spring. All proceeds will be donated directly to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Please visit www.musicforoccupy.org for more information.