Doug Locke asks Why

Photo by Will Branske

Doug Locke is a truly multi-dimensional artist. With his feet in acting, music, modeling, and so much more this artist uses his heart and his voice to not only entertain but to help this world we live in become a better place. He has been in the entertainment industry for over 10 years but his advocacy for Civil and LGBTQ rights has been a part of him since he was born. He started this year with the release of Lunar I, the first in a series of EP’s named for the phases of the moon.  This EP included the disco groove of “Black Travolta” along with the fun pop beat of “Temptation” and the hip-hop of “Roll Dem Windows.”

Now Locke has released the second in the series, Lunar II, and has gone deep and hard-hitting, using his platform to present the harder questions.  The EP includes two songs, “Why?” and “#SayTheirNames”, both taking a look at the current situation we see happening in our world in a very powerful and moving way but always from a place of love. Not only are his songs open and vulnerable, asking one of the toughest questions in life, but Doug himself is more than willing to have open and honest conversations about the hard things.  If only we could all sit down and have deeper, more meaningful conversations such as this perhaps this planet we call home really could change for the better. And really, that’s what it’s all about for Doug Locke.  By using his voice and his talents through his music, he connects and by connecting we can all become a part of the bigger conversation of life. The power of music. You just gotta love it.


So before we get into some of the heavier stuff, I wanted to begin with some of your past work.  You are really a jack of all trades. Singer, actor, model, you just kind of do everything!  You had your debut album, Blue Heart come out in 2015 and something that I wanted to talk about was that, even with that first work, not only are you multi-faceted with everything that you do but that’s so evident in your music. There’s a little bit of everything in there!  Is that something you really pay attention to as far as bringing in all these different influences and all those things that belong to yourself?

That’s been really important to me. I do consider myself to be a bit of a renaissance man. I think that it’s a by-product of the house I grew up in.  I’m one of five children and my siblings are all artists in some form or fashion.  One of my sisters is an actress and writer and one is a novelist and screenwriter. I have a brother who’s a dancer.  They do all the things that I do.  I think it’s interesting because my dad was an attorney and my mom was an events coordinator so they weren’t necessarily in creative fields but they fostered creativity in our house. I think that another thing is the neighborhood that we were brought up in was mainly older people and senior citizens so we had to play with each other. We developed this creative language from a really young age.  Again, we grew up in a house where there was always music playing, singing, and dancing at every party or event.  That was something that was reflective of my first experiences of the world beyond what I saw at school.

When it comes to the first album, Blue Heart, in many ways it really was my heart. I have a very eclectic taste in music.  I mean I’m from Houston, Texas so I like country. I like R & B and pop. I like hip-hop, alternative, rock, and classic.  My parents have twelve years between them so my dad sort of raised me on 60’s soul, Otis Redding and all of that.  Then my mom kind of brought me up on the 80’s and 90’s pop and R & B. Then, of course, I have the music that I came up with so to me genre lines were never really something that felt like a firm thing.  I consider myself a pop artist but the beautiful thing is pop is such a fluid thing these days.  With Blue Heart, I did want to kind of dabble in different sounds.  I’ve got “Style on Fleek” which has a hip-hop influence. There’s “This Could Be Us” which has got a beachy pop vibe.  “Give It Up” is a song you would hear at a club so it was really fun to play with that.  There was also the innocence of being a new artist to be able to say “You know what? I kind of like this. Let’s chase it. Ok. Now let’s chase this.”  It felt like I could create my own rules.

 

Is that something you really want to try to keep going forward?  As you said, at the beginning of things it’s kind of fun just to play, but even looking at now with the EP’s you’ve come out just this year, those are vastly different.  Do you just want to keep playing with those influences?

 I think that I have very eclectic taste and I feel fortunate to be making music in this time now because I’m benefiting from years of the genre-bending movement growing.  I think back to the time of Run DMC and Aerosmith. Such a great song. It still sounds just as fresh today as when it was cut!  Or Jay-Z and Linkin Park with “Numb/Encore” and then you’ve got artists like Lil Nas X with “Old Town Road” in 2019.  That was something that no one had ever heard before and that really inspired me and I wanted to push that further.  With Blue Heart, it felt like I was in defiance of these genre lanes.  The album as a whole had different sounds but each song kind of fit into one lane. Like, this is a pop song, this one is a rock song.  Now, even within one song, we can pull in influences and that excites me!  It feels fresh and new.  I feel like music is in conversation right now.  One of the things that Eric McNeely, my long time collaborator, producer, and dear friend of mine, and I really wanted to do was be a part of the conversation that’s happening in music. We want to give something back to the conversation.  I feel that it’s really amazing to be able to pull from so many different genres to create something fresh.  That’s what’s next and new, still accessible but forward-leaning.

Absolutely!  And earlier this year you released the EP Lunar I which had “Black Travolta” on it. Is that forward-thinking what created that song?  I mean what goes through your head that says I’m going to take a disco riff and mix it with the old west?

It was an experiment gone right. The second verse came to me when I was in the gym on a treadmill. The lyrics kind of came to me so I brought it into the studio one day. First, we tried to marry it with a jam session that Eric and I had from a while ago and then one day I was sitting in the studio and it just kind of hit me. Maybe I was delirious. Maybe I had been on Instagram too long.  But one of the videos that had been circulating is this clip of John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis during this movie and they’re in this dance studio in their workout gear and looking across the room. It was sexy and fun and I was like, John Travolta…that man can dance, he has this sex appeal….I’m Black Travolta! Eric was like “Whoa!  Let’s dig into that!” So naturally, we had to throw in some disco nods. We gotta honor the Bee Gees but then also we had been working on another track called “Don’t Let Me Out The House” and it played with this western theme.  We had these elements so let’s weave this together and see what this is about. It took on this character and this vibe and it was really nice because it embodied this energy of this no holds barred, confident, I am who I am, larger than life persona that was so fun to embody for that song.

 

Well, you hit the nail on the head. It’s so catchy.  You can’t walk by that song and not find yourself a little groove somewhere.  Well done, you!

Thank you!  I feel like with a lot of our music, while it’s pop music, I always try to Trojan horse a little something in there be it a message or be it something we show in the video. Even this idea of this artist that I am I really love that “Black Travolta” showed up on so many country playlists.  Country is a genre that historically has excluded African Americans. Even though there’s been some that make contributions I love the fact that I can make this song not only defy categorization but also push ahead in genres that may not have initially accepted it.

It catches you off guard because it’s something that we’re just not used to yet, and that’s a good thing! So now you’ve just recently released another EP, Lunar II, and this one went a completely different direction, again playing with switching up those genres.  This EP has “Why?” and “#SayTheirNames”.  Let’s start with “Why?”. Could that song have come at a more important time?  You had been working on it even a year ago and how are you seeing it now with releasing it into the current state of affairs that we have going on all around us?

Why?” was actually the first song we started writing for this new cycle of songs.  I had gone to the studio with the idea that we were going to write a fun, dance song….another pop song.  That’s what I had been working on the weekend prior to going in. On the way to the studio, I received news of one of the many brutal attacks on black people in this country.  I was devastated. I broke down in tears. I got to the studio and Eric and I just kept asking the question “Why?  Why is this still happening? We’ve made so much progress but why is there so much hate in the world?” The song was born and we scrapped our original idea.  That’s the magic about the creative process. You can have a plan but also life informs so much and we’re so glad that we were able to make the space to honor that.  In many ways, it felt like therapy for me. It was so cathartic to put my feelings and emotions, my heart and soul, into the song.  It’s one that we kept revisiting throughout the year. It was really important for me to also have an element of hope. The lyrics are quite heavy but also… call me this magical Aries hippy but I really do believe in the power of love and I think that’s the only way that we’re going to make it through this for humanity, for our fellow man, fellow woman.  I thought it would be really powerful to have the sound of a gospel choir singing the word “love” on the chorus.  I wanted that to be in the DNA of the song as well.  We had these incredible women put so much love into it. That’s the thing that’s so special about the song.  There’s so much love in it, from the songwriting of me and Eric to my vocal performance to our lovely ladies on the choir to the mixing of it.

Photo by Ryan Pfluger

It was sort of set aside because I was putting together the first EP. This journey is really a by-product of adapting. That’s the one thing that COVID-19 has taught so many artists. You can have a plan but you also have to be ready to zig and zag as things happen. Initially, I was going to collect these songs as an album and I was going to shoot videos and do the rollout but as soon as COVID hit it was like well, that plan has gone out the window. I can either wait until the unforeseeable future when it seems like the perfect time or I can just adapt. So I split it into three. I called them the Lunar series because in my spirituality the full moon has always had a lot of significance. I’m very big into yoga, meditation and reflecting. The full moon comes every month and it’s a great marker of time for me to just make sure that I do a deep meditation of gratitude.  I really wanted to take that imagery and put it into this new album. I also loved that it could be a visual metaphor for the phases of the moon. It gave me permission for each EP to have a different sound. Lunar I is phase one so it has this pop sound.  Lunar II is phase two so it has this R & B hip-hop influenced sound.  Phase three, Lunar III, we’re going to be riffing on love in its different forms, be it romantic or love for your fellow human or love of self.  I didn’t know where “Why?” fit into it at first when Lunar I came out.  Because of the times we’re living in, after hearing the news of the murder of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, of George Floyd, the Central Park incident…I couldn’t hold the song in anymore. I was heartbroken and devastated but I also felt like this song was my reply.  I could write a think piece. I’ve been protesting. I’ve been using my voice and other forms of activism but I really felt like now was the time.

We included George Floyd in the song because I also felt like in that line where I say “Never thought I’d mourn this way from Trayvon to Big Floyd and on,” those to me represent bookends of this movement in my lifetime. This has been a journey that’s been going on since before I was born but I still remember how my heart broke and a piece of my heart died back in 2012 with Trayvon Martin and each case since then has robbed a piece from me.  Ultimately that was what inspired the subsequent track “#SayTheirNames” because I wanted this EP to be really simple. I didn’t want to spend too much time writing other songs. I really wanted to speak to the times.

With “#SayTheirNames” I researched a lot of the cases that had a lot of similarities.  While I lived through some of them, some of them I didn’t. My dad lived through Emmett Till. I remember hearing about James Byrd in Jasper, Texas when I was a little boy. It’s a really simple track. It’s a simple keyboard part and just me saying the names but I researched each person and what happened to them so that as I said their names I could honor the life that’s no longer with us. I really wanted to take my time and just put that energy into the track. As the track ends we let it ring out so that it can really sink in and you can think about them but also, unfortunately, because I know that George Floyd isn’t and won’t be the last and I wanted to emotionally and energetically leave space for that.

What had to be going through your mind?  I mean you were just probably getting ready to finish up with this song anyway when the George Floyd murder happened. What were you feeling knowing that you had this song and then there’s another murder. It’s an extremely tragic one and it’s right there all over the media?

Right. We witnessed a murder in live and living color for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  For me, it was really conflicting because a part of me hates that I ever had to write the song “Why?”.  I hate that it has to exist. But it was also cathartic and a way of channelling these feelings. I wish we didn’t live in a world where this song was necessary but I also saw it as an opportunity to really continue to use the platform that I’m building through my music to raise awareness.  I think that one of the things that’s happening now on the other side of the George Floyd case is that we are not only nationally but internationally having conversations on a wide scale that I really think are leading towards a brighter future. It’s a rocky road with a lot of pain along the way. If someone hears a song that doesn’t know me, that doesn’t know this journey, what I want them to hear is just the humanity. I want them to hear the struggle and the pain. The chorus asks the really vulnerable question “Why do you hate me so much?” but that was really what I felt.  Even now I hear the song back sometimes and it will still make me cry a little bit but I also feel like, again, it’s just an encapsulation of a feeling, an emotion, and my truth. I feel grateful to have the ability to channel that into music that hopefully will touch others and soften some hearts and change some minds.

 

And it’s very obviously a song about the race wars going on, but seems to have other parallels.

The bridge of the song is a nod to the victims of the largest gun massacre in US history, the shooting at Pulse Orlando night club, which was also such a devastating thing to hear about.  Such senseless violence.  I wanted to draw that parallel that the struggle to be seen and accepted and loved is not exclusive.  One of the things that’s been painful for me to witness in my life is that I’ve seen a lot of homophobia in the black community.  I’ve seen a lot of racism in the LGBTQ community.  I’ve always seen it the same way in that I am an advocate for the women’s movement and for equality across the board for all groups, all people. Ultimately, we’re all asking for the same thing…to be seen, to be heard, to be respected. That was another thing I wanted to put into the song, to show that these experiences can co-exist in one.

 

That’s exactly where I was going with that. I mean, even though race is the obvious part of that song it can cover so many other things.  Like you said, as far as LGBTQ or women and the #metoo movement, all of those things. The line that hit me so hard was “the hater the hated the same. We all in this cycle of pain.” That just ..wow…that speaks to everybody. I don’t care what the color of your skin is. I don’t care what your sexual orientation, your religion, anything is…we’re all living those cycles.  It’s really powerful.

I’m really touched that resonated with you because, to be honest, that’s actually my favorite line of the song.  It was this experience where I was talking to Eric about going to the women’s march and the experiences I’m learning from my friends who are survivors.  I recognize those parallels and it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. We all just want to be loved, seen, respected. Because of the timing, I think that the most visible element of the song is the racial element in terms of addressing anti-black violence. You are absolutely right. That’s my heart.  My heart is for how can we unify as a collective?  How can we respect each other, uplift each other and see each other?

 

And it really comes from such a place of love and with a heart of love and I want to give you kudos on that because so many of the things that you hear are so negative, especially right now.  We’re just bombarded with “black lives matter” and “so do blue lives” and “what about all lives”. We get it coming at us from every angle so to come at it from that place of love is touching.  Then to hear “#SayTheirNames”…I’m not gonna lie. That song came on and I was outside watering flowers and listening with tears running down my face.  To have that beautiful keyboard melody and then to just say the names…nothing else, just the names, is so incredibly powerful and resonating.  I’m so happy to hear that you researched each one of those and could really honor them.

Thank you for that. I felt that song was really just about honoring those people because who knows what their lives could have been? First of all, their lives were already full. They had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, loved ones and what could their futures have been?  With this entire EP and everything that comes with it- the streams, the video, the sales, I’m donating 50% of the proceeds to the movement because I just wanted to give back. It’s still shocking to me that with the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor still only one has been put on administrative leave and that’s it. I think because there’s still so much injustice and the hardest thing is we keep seeing this pattern.  I’m not a police officer. I don’t know what it’s like to be doing that job but because of the pattern we’ve seen of excessive force, senseless violence, and then there’s seldom anyone brought to justice for it, it’s heartbreaking. I feel for children coming up in the world. I think about my nieces. What must it be like for people who are young and seeing these headlines and living thru this right now?  I send my love to them and I hope that we’re able to really use this time to continue to have this conversation to create solid change.

 

You come from an activist family. Your father was out there fighting that fight all those years ago and to so many that fight has been considered somewhat over.  I think if there’s anything good that we can say can come out of this it’s that blinders are being taken off of a lot of people.  A lot are realizing that the fight didn’t end 50 years ago. 

It’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the conversations with my dad was that me and my brother had both gone to the protests.  We called my dad to speak with him afterwards and at first he was saying how proud he was of us for standing up for what we believe in and showing up. He was glad that we were healthy and safe.  The next day he woke up and he was devastated.  He was pissed off because he was like “Why is it that my sons 50 years later are protesting the same thing?”  That really landed on me. But the message of hope that he brought out of it was that the reason this does feel different than anything he experienced was that never has he seen so many non-black voices speaking up and saying “Enough is enough. We will not tolerate this. We are not only going to not be racist but we are going to be anti-racist. We’re going to call it out when we see it.”  That, for my father, was really a marker of progress.  I do feel like the illusion of progress has been scaled back.  And yes, of course, there has been progress but I think we all wanted to jump and say ok we’re done. That was solved. And that’s not the case.  There’s power now in calling a thing a thing because if you don’t acknowledge the existence of systemic racism or unconscious bias then it becomes invisible. It gets swept under the rug.  Now because we’re having these conversations I think we are setting ourselves up for change to be made.

 

Photo by Will Branske

I’ll be honest.  I live in a small town in Montana. I can only think of maybe a handful of black people that have lived here in the many years that I have.  It’s not something that I, as a white woman in a small northern town, have to face on a daily basis.  I was listening to a podcast recently in which a woman was speaking about “the talk” with her children as far as raising black boys.  They would want to go to the park and they would have to have “the talk”…don’t wear your hoodie, don’t put your hands in your pockets, and so on.  It hit me because that had never occurred to me before.  I’m a mom of two sons and I have NEVER had to worry about having that kind of talk with them. But then, as you said, those conversations are opening up as long as people are willing to hear them. Do you think we’ll find the answers on the other side?

I have to hold on to hope. Some days it’s harder than others but I have to hope so because I do believe in the power of people to change, to have a change of heart.  It requires work. It requires introspection. It requires us all to look at ourselves.  I have to look at my own subconscious bias too. Our society has racist beliefs in place so none of us can come through this and not subconsciously hold bias. Even if it’s not something we actively chose to believe it was reinforced through messaging, through the media, through narrative, through the way things happen on the news.  So I think when we can step out of the personal “I” and not make it about “I” but make it about “What beliefs do I have that no longer serve me?  What has been something that someone else taught me that I now can recognize as truth, or recognize that more than one thing can simultaneously be true?”  I think that we’re now getting to a place where we can start to imagine and recognize the experience of others.  Again, I grew up in a middle-class existence in a really safe neighborhood in Houston Texas and I had quite a sheltered upbringing in some ways. I don’t know the experience of someone who is dealing with police violence in their neighborhood on a daily basis. That wasn’t my experience.  But I also remember being a little boy at the park, maybe 7 years old, and my dad was the city attorney at the time.  We got pulled over due to racial profiling and my dad had to then teach us how to navigate police when we had to. It wasn‘t a question of if, but when.

The legacy on the other side of the horrible murder of George Floyd now is that we all witnessed that murder. I think that one of the things that’s happened in the past, unfortunately, is that the victim has to be the “perfect victim.”  If they had anything that didn’t make them the perfect martyr people would discredit them. “Well, they smoked marijuana one time when they were 15.”  At the end of the day, no one deserves to lose their life. In the case of George Floyd, it was so clear that we are now looking back as a society on how we may have dismissed some of the other cases, how the humanity some of the other cases may have been kind of ignored because of a preset narrative. The narrative was that they were a thug or a thief or whatever.  Even if, at the end of the day, all of that were true, which sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, did they deserve to lose their life? No.  Now the conversation is becoming more sophisticated and I think that we’re all looking inward at how we can address subconscious bias within ourselves. Oftentimes if we’re too afraid to look at ourselves because we don’t like what we might see.  That’s one of the ways that we’re going to see a shift.

 

I do want to come back and touch on that again in a moment, but in the time we have left I want to make sure to touch base on what you’ve got coming up.  You have another EP with Lunar III and then an end with Full Moon.  What are your focuses going forward?  Are you still focusing on the music as somewhat of a platform or will you just disco it up?

Right now that platform feels authentic to me so I can’t say that every song will have as heavy of a message threaded into it but I will definitely continue to speak.  I feel  it’s an artist’s job to reflect the world and how they see it through their art.  There will be elements of that but I’m excited for the next EP, Lunar III. It’s exploring those themes of love so, romantic love but also love of self, love of humanity.  I haven’t written them all yet but one of them could be a song all about self-love which is a message but can also be something you can get down to, something you want to put on before you go out and hype yourself up. I’m just excited to see how that shakes up and see what comes out of me on the other side of this movement that we’re collectively going through.

Another thing exciting that we have in the works is that this weekend I am actually shooting the music video for “Why?”.  We’ve rented a beautiful warehouse space and taken all of our precautions to keep people safe but having that artistic visual element to complement the song and the lyrics video is what I’m excited to explore.  I’m a multi-disciplinarian artist and I consider my works my children.  For me music videos kind of feel like the ultimate culmination of my passions because I’ve got the song that I’ve written and recorded but then I also get to perform on camera and also play with the visual elements like costume and lighting and all of that. It really feels like a great way of creating the world that the song is. I’m also really grateful that throughout this COVID crisis I can really lean back into my own creativity and how I can create from home. I’ve been doing sessions from home and streaming concerts and trying to keep those creative shoes on. It keeps me grounded and motivated throughout these uncertain times.

 

Alright, last thing.  We have a thing we call “My Four” in which we ask our features for 4 things.  For you, given the conversation we’ve had, I would like to ask you for four things that someone like me, a white woman who’s a wife and mom, lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere, can do to contribute to the conversation more, to support, or to be more of an ally?

 I love it!  My four things to amplify the conversation and keep it going would be

  1. Educate. And when I say educate I mean that this is a great time to listen to podcasts or watch documentaries.  I highly recommend 13th by Ava DuVerney or the creative series When They See Us. goodgoodgoodco did a great list of resources.  Educate through reading black authors, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and all of those things for yourself because the more we know the better we can be of service. The more that we know the more we can advocate which would bring me to my next one.
  2. Advocate. We all, myself included, have that problematic aunt or cousin or grandparent who has said things that in the past we would say “Oh, that’s just grandma” but now we can have that conversation. It’s not about saying “You’re a horrible person. You’re a racist,” but it’s more like “Hey, I don’t agree with you and here’s why.” The more ammo you have in terms of educating yourself and having the facts then you can engage in that dialogue.
  3. Amplify. Use your platform, use your social media, or even at a dinner party talk about what you’re learning. So say you’re reading this fantastic book by James Baldwin. It’s great that you’re learning these things but you can take it even further by engaging your followers. Tweet about what you’re reading and invite people to talk about it and what you’re learning.  As you’re reading, post on Instagram or if you see a great video on YouTube that you found to be really educational share it with a little personal message saying something about it.  We’re in such a share culture that things can get lost but if you can just add a sentence about it teaching you something you didn’t know or even just that you really enjoyed it that can make someone else take notice.  It’s like you’re co-signing and saying “I know we’re seeing a lot right now but this is worth your time.”
  4. Donate. When I say donate I mean finding a movement that you resonate with. Maybe it’s something specifically for education and funding schools in underprivileged neighborhoods. Maybe it’s donating to a black scholarship fund for black creatives. Maybe it’s to a grassroots organization that specifically deals with protestors who’ve been arrested and need help with costs.  I would say those are my four because most people can do them from almost anywhere in the world and I think we would all be surprised at how much influence we all can have.

Lunar I and Lunar II are both available now wherever you get your music and please be sure to follow Doug Locke on the socials.
Don’t be afraid to speak your truth, and above all, do it with a heart of understanding, peace, and love.
Perhaps one day, no one will have to ask Why?


Doug Locke on the web: website | Instagram  | Facebook  |  Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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