Photography by Ty Snaden

Leah Fay Goldstein of July Talk on the Power of Pop

According to Leah Fay Goldstein of July Talk, musicians aren’t here just to get us dancing; they’re here to give a voice to the voiceless and try to change the world.

I co-front a Toronto band called July Talk, but as a child, I was cripplingly shy and so good at not taking up space that my father once lost me as I slept curled up in a ball underneath a blanket. I was mistaken for a pillow. I didn’t have the capacity to talk to people until I started taking dance lessons and realized how much I love connecting with audiences through performing. I loathed the aftermath—being singled out, congratulated—but the feeling of being seen by rooms full of people while onstage somehow helped with the fear of having my existence acknowledged offstage.

Things are more complicated now. My band is in the process of writing a third album, after touring the world for five years, and I still struggle with taking up space every day. I mean, how can one artist express their own struggle or truth while being aware of other artists who have struggled more? How can one justify indulging in the creative process when they could be helping others, numbing themselves or even embarking on a more “responsible” career path? Art forces us to stay present—emotionally, empathetically and politically—but how do we know if our truth is one that is worth amplifying? What could five white people in a rock band possibly contribute to our current climate other than “We should probably all stop talking now”?

We write lyrics about what pisses us off but ultimately partake in, and contribute to, what pisses us off. We put up welcome signs at every one of our shows that encourage safe space and discourage any form of discrimination, but how effective is that when the people who come to our shows already read what we read and think what we think? Am I really helping anything other than my conscience when I sit in an interview spewing my personal empathetic gospel about inspiring others to create, shine and share their truth when I, myself, am taking that interview time away from someone whose voice is typically less heard than mine? Should I just go fetal underneath a slightly bigger blanket and try to disappear until there are clearer answers to these questions?

Envisioning the type of world I want to live in, recognizing and using my privilege and platform to try to share that vision and then actually doing something about it are all part of the same task. I don’t yet know how to proceed tactfully without overstepping or advocate for a better world without speaking out of turn, but I hope that the point is to get as close as we can without ever assuming we know the solution in its entirety. The moment we are content with our understanding is the moment we succumb to complacency.

Luckily, no one is alone in this disillusionment. There seems to be a collective craving for honest, often uncomfortable truth. It’s as if any artist who isn’t trying to express it, or any viewer who isn’t trying to find it, runs the risk of being left behind or deemed irrelevant. In this way, the responsibility has never weighed so heavily on the shoulders of artists.

Still, some people say that “artists should stick to art and leave politics to the politicians.” One would think that in a time when the most powerful country in the world is being led by a former reality-TV star, those people would STFU, but that’s beside the point. When we’re content with the status quo, being afraid of truths that contradict our own is understandable. But when this fear makes us unwilling to examine how our own race, gender identity, body’s ability, appearance, sexual preference, age and class have either benefited or inhibited us, we exclude ourselves from the entire human race. No one has the right to do that.

It’s my belief that artists who are brave enough to reach into the depths of themselves and extract what’s inside, no matter how uncomfortable it is to do so, will show us what we need to see. An artist’s vision can illuminate both human frailty and human strength simultaneously. It can allow us to feel both individually unique and part of the all-encompassing oneness of earth and humanity. It can provide and inspire cathartic relief. As artists and non-artists alike, all we can do is listen closely to the world around us, speak our own personal truths and create and live empathetically with all of this in mind.