Like It Is

11 July 2012 | 7:59 am | Aleksia Barron

Newcastle hip hop four-piece Whitehouse have dropped their new album A Funky Intervention and are heading out on tour to spread the word. Aleksia Barron talks politics with frontman Grant Saunders.

"We decided that we wanted to be a 'message band',” says Grant Saunders, also known as Sonic Nomad, of the unashamedly socially conscious hip hop group Whitehouse. Saunders has no interest in burying his politics under a layer of metaphors or allegories – his mission is to make music that entertains and energises his audience, but gives them some ideas to mull over when they go home.

Whitehouse – a four-piece hip hop and funk fusion outfit from Newcastle – are releasing their album A Funky Intervention (a play on The Northern Territory Intervention) and are setting out on an East Coast tour to get the word out. They've certainly come a long way since forming in Saunders' cousin's garage back in 2006. Saunders and Al Morris (the group's guitarist) got together with a couple of musicians to have a bit of a jam, and ended up putting together the track Wake Up, which appears on the new album. “That's how long that little number has been around for,” says Saunders. “We decided on the strength of that track, we felt like we had something powerful. And I felt that I had a lot to say as a lyricist about things that mostly concern Aboriginal Australians in this country – and things that affect [the greater population], too.”

The name Whitehouse, Saunders explains, was chosen because of its paradoxical nature. “Someone came up with the name 'Whitehouse' as an ironic thing, because we're blackfellas in this political type of group,” he says. “We love playing around with parody and juxtaposition and that sort of thing. It's a less confrontational way to address pretty serious issues.”

Serious issues certainly don't scare Whitehouse – Saunders is determined to get his point across in his music, and he doesn't pull any punches. The album's first single, PM Gonna Save Us, which has been played on triple j's Home & Hosed show, is a prime example. “PM Gonna Save Us is really the track that I penned as soon as the [Northern Territory] Intervention was announced in 2007,” explains Saunders. “I get really inspired by things like that, that anger me. Writing a song is my way of responding to it.”

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It's astounding – and depressing – how relevant a track written about a 2007 Howard Government policy still is, thanks to the controversial Stronger Futures legislation. “That's an extension of the intervention in the NT, and that's flying in the face of so many thousands of people who are against this bill,” says Saunders. His issues with the legislation are manifold – its attempt to tar all Aboriginal men with the paedophile/alcoholic brush is offensive, and, he points out, the motives for such legislation are rather suspect. “All these lovely intentions [for Aboriginal woman and children] are all good and well, but why specifically Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, and not elsewhere?” he says. “You're talking about a bill that wants to scrap the permit system for anyone entering into Aboriginal land.”

Saunders cites a situation taking place in Tennant Creek, where an attempt to dump uranium waste is blocked by the rights of the traditional landowners. “These are the sorts of things that can occur in Northern Territory land through this legislation, because it scraps the permits that protect the Aboriginal people on their land,” says Saunders. In a country where the news cycle is fuelled by short, sharp soundbites, it's the sort of issue that doesn't get nearly enough recognition or discussion, which is why Saunders is so determined to get the message out in his music. As a fan of Rage Against The Machine, Saunders knows just how powerful music can be when it comes to raising political awareness. “Hopefully it'll trickle down – people will get onto the vibe of the music and really enjoy our performance, and take a CD home with them and read the lyric sheet and find out what we're really about.”