On Controversial T-Shirt Slogans, The Paris Terror Attacks And Powerful Messages In Music

30 November 2015 | 12:54 pm | Annelise Ball

"There's constantly horrible and horrific things happening on our planet, and this was yet another one."

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The last time Nahko & Medicine For The People toured Australia, Nahko Bear won the immediate respect of the Melbourne crowd when he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan 'Fuck Tony Abbott'. "I still wear that T-shirt, it's my go-to shirt to spark conversation," says Bear, laughing. "I was walking down the street in Melbourne, saw some guys selling them and thought, 'I'm definitely wearing that to the show!'" Although Abbott has now thankfully been given the arse, Bear's packing the T-shirt for his March 2016 gigs just for kicks anyway.

"How many people in the Middle East die all the time? We don't hear about it at all, and in part, we're quite responsible for those actions."

Like Australian politics, much has changed in Bear's world in the past 12 months. "We've toured extensively and had a lot of changes in the band," he says. "We're still super close to everyone, but we've got a different vibe going on. We've been very transparent about our mission, and I think we've done a lot of growing up too. We've been working hard on our new record, and really honing our vision even more."

Given Nahko & Medicine For The People's pretty stellar existing mission is to be 'the motivation and inspiration for all that have become members of [their] tribe', the vision for the next few years sounds even more beautifully on point. "We're doing a vision board on questions like, 'Who do we want to team up with? How do we want to water the seeds in all the countries we're travelling to? How do we continue to work as caretakers of all the activist groups we support who need a soundtrack to their movement?'" he ponders. These are super deep questions the average band probably never considers, but Nahko & Medicine For The People just ain't your average band. "A lot of beautiful things have manifested around where we want to go," says Bear, un-self-conscious and genuine despite the overtly spiritual vibe of the topic. "We're all on the same page now, which wasn't always the case, and it's super important to have that unity within the band."

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Talk turns to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, where at least 89 Eagles Of Death Metal fans were gunned down at the Bataclan Theater. "We played that venue in April this year," says Bear, searching for the right words but faltering just a little. "There's constantly horrible and horrific things happening on our planet, and this was yet another one. It's a reminder that there's still massive hate everywhere." Bear suggests that before governments retaliate, we should all carefully consider the much bigger picture. "How many people in the Middle East die all the time? We don't hear about it at all, and in part, we're quite responsible for those actions," says Bear frankly. "It's a terrible tragedy, but it happens all the time all over the world." Bear is however proud to offer up assistance where possible. "We're happy we can offer a soundtrack to help carry us through these tough times," he says honestly. "I'm glad I've figured out a few points on what I'm here to do."

Nahko & Medicine For The People are just about to embark on a four-month winter tour starting in Hawaii and ending in our very own Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, but not before playing Bluesfest come Easter time. With a new record on the way mid 2016, Nahko & Medicine For The People will be test running a few brand new tracks. Bluesfest punters beware, Bear actually turning up to his own gig is currently a risky proposition given the line-up. "Oh my gosh!" Bear says, just a little fanboyishly. "I'm so excited Kendrick Lamar's playing, we're pretty excited about seeing The National, City & Colour, The Cat Empire, and Tom Jones? I cannot believe he's playing. We're so excited."

Having worked with Grammy Award-winning producer Ted Hutt on their new album, Bear is positive the band will be able to deliver something far more mature. "I think Ted really helped us define our sound," says Bear. "I didn't think that would ever happen! We don't consider ourselves professionals at any rate, so he helped us really make the songs as best we could."  Tribe members have plenty of good things coming to them on the new record. "The storytelling is so important on this record," says Bear in closing. "It has plenty of powerful messages within. I'm excited to share it because I think it's really important for people to hear it during this time."