Music Times Interview on Counter Trafficking

Here’s an interview I did with a great lady named Kim Jones of Music Times.  We ended up talking for an hour on the phone about human trafficking and the fight against it.

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“Remedy Drive’s song, “Commodity,” has spent six weeks at #1 and the story behind it has already made the rounds. In this exclusive interview, David Zach goes deeper into why he is so passionate about human trafficking and doing something to stop it.

Kim Jones – Human trafficking has become a buzz word in the media, but many people really have no concept of what it is or where it happens. How did you personally go from seeing it in the news to actually taking a trip with The Exodus Road to see it up close and personal?

David Zach – My first attachment to the injustice to children was watching the Kony 2012 video where boys are kidnapped from their villages and then brainwashed to fight a war for an insane warlord. We had been doing benefit concerts to raise awareness on this issue with a group called Invisible Children over the last 5 or 6 years. But when I watched that video my heart was moved in a significant way to get in the fight. It was then that I started writing a lot more lyric specific to injustices towards children and wanting to get in the fight but being scared to. I met with Matt Parker from The Exodus Road. He has 3 kids just like I do. I realized when we were meeting that if I’m going to have any impact calling people to action – real action on the front lines – then I need to be on the front lines myself. Awareness and advocacy are important – but I want to multiply action – so I asked if I could be trained as an undercover operative and join him and Delta Team (the Southeast Asia branch of The Exodus Road) on covert missions into the darkness.

Kim Jones – There are so many NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that work within the international trafficking community, what was it about The Exodus Road that drew you into a partnership with them?

David Zach – The majority of the emphasis with NGO’s that I’ve seen is either rehabilitation and restoration after a victim is rescued or awareness and prevention before someone is taken captive. There is a massive deficit in the NGO community of groups that are actually going in and facilitating rescue. Rescue doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have great partners in our coalition that we can work with to restore dignity and hope to a victim – but I believe in rescue and that is where my heart was pulled. It’s more dangerous and it has a higher level of exposure to things no one wants or should see. Once I started to see the infrastructure and vision of what The Exodus Road is doing I was drawn more and more to leverage everything I’ve built in 14 years of making music and touring – to support them and tell the story of the brave operatives that are empowering rescue.

Kim Jones – When you went on your trip with them, I know that you mentally and spiritually prepared yourself – but what did you encounter that you absolutely were not prepared for?

David Zach – There was nothing that I encountered that I was prepared for. You can’t prepare yourself for what it feels like to sit with a 13 year old that’s for sale. I had to pretend to be someone interested in sleeping with a minor and for many people that I met – that’s all they know of me (even though I went under an alias). The other thing that was hard is seeing footage and surveillance of gangs that are trafficking 8 year old boys by motorcycle. And then being on a mission to find out more about the traffickers by waiting at a place where they frequent for lunch. Seeing this guy 10 feet from me that I know is such an agent of evil – that was pretty strange. But we got his address that day and we found out more about his network. Riding on a motorcycle taxi on the wrong side of the road – that was the scariest part. More scary than walking into a place with mafia security etc. Those motorcycle taxi drivers are crazy.

Kim Jones – I know that there are things you can never un-see – the things that can haunt your dreams. Is there one story, one young face that you will never forget?

David Zach – Her name is June and I remember her better than most of the other girls I met because it’s easy to remember her name – my birth month. I know that you can’t just break down the door and run out with a victim but that night my heart couldn’t make sense of it. I wanted to just take her hand and run – but instead we had to leave her there in that karaoke bar on the outskirts of a major city in Southeast Asia. What made it worse is I had to get in a taxi to the airport, then fly to Japan and then to Denver and then back home. And she’s still there enduring that hell night after night.

Kim Jones – Now that you truly know the horrors of human trafficking, how do you come home and tour (or even be off the road, at home, being “normal”) knowing that many of the people you see every day have no clue what horrors could be right down their own street and often, don’t want to know? In other words, how do you not just want to grab people and shake them, yelling “Wake up! This could happen to YOUR child! This isn’t just a ‘boogie man under the bed’ story?”

David Zach – Ha. I don’t grab people by the shoulders – but I play rock music at 110dB and tell June’s story over and over – night after night. I’m going to challenge everyone that hears our songs or reads these interviews to reevaluate this sub-culture of ours that cares so much about redecorating our places of worship that we spend a mere hour or two at per week. That’s where we’re sending our precious 10%? For comfortable well designed sanctuaries with overpriced sound systems that can’t even exceed 95dB? It’s like buying a Lamborghini for the congregation but then not driving more than 35 mph. Maybe we should spend our treasure, our time, our influence, our intellect on sanctuary for the oppressed. Maybe we should invest our lives on something much more valuable than our comfort and our security. Who decided that christianity should be safe for the whole family? I don’t believe it. It’s time, as MLK Jr. said, to live with a dangerous selflessness. I aim to call the righteous out of indifference. If a songwriter from Nebraska can carve out a couple weeks to Southeast Asia to be trained as an undercover operative – what can you do? I can’t afford a two week vacation with my wife and kids this summer because this is what we’re investing our time off into. And we’re doing the same next year. And my kids wonder if I’ll make it back when they dropped me off at the airport. “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Read the interview at Music Times:

http://www.musictimes.com/articles/8830/20140815/remedy-drive-david-zach-shares-why-passionate-human-trafficking-exclusive.htm

The Story Behind Making a Counter Trafficking Album

This is a transcript of an interview between me and my friend Francesca Torquati.  She’s always been great at helping me gather my thoughts.  We had this interview in the studio while recording songs from Remedy Drive’s new concept album on counter trafficking and freedom called Commodity.  

—As I sat down to ask these questions a metronome clicked in the background, pieces of the half-finished songs from Commodity found their way under the door from Philip’s workspace so that the air was full of this ambient noise of distortion and incomplete melodies while we spoke, and David knelt down beside me and spoke slowly, pensive, taking his time to say what needed to be said—

 

On approaching Philip:

 

“I started listening to the Arrows and Sound record when he put it out and my son started asking for song number 5 all the time and he’s always asking and my daughter would say ‘hey can we listen to uncle Phil’s album?’ …and the more I listened to it the more I realized, man, Phil has some talent. He really knows how to pull out emotion through all these, these sonic landscapes.”

 

“He always had it, but I never gave him space when we were in the band together. And I realized actually, when we were working on Jack’s birthday cake, that man if me and Phil can just kind of divide and conquer and not both try to do the same thing at the same time we would actually be pretty good collaborators because he made Spiderman and I made the walls that Spiderman was climbing on for Jack’s birthday cake,” (this was a year and a half ago)

 

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Do you have favorite songs, ones that speak to you more in different ways?

 

“There’s three that stand out, Commodity, you know, is so personal to me, and so, and it’s so mean and so compelling when Phil and I stumbled upon this bass sound and it just kind of rumbles through, it just captivates me and it almost casts a spell over me. And then another one is Under the Starlight, and on that one, both of those songs, two years of lyric ideas that everyone told me I couldn’t use got stored away and all of them got put into those two songs, and most of the lyric broke my heart—from articles about boy soldiers or articles about child trafficking and there’s little lines that I pulled out of movies and quotes from articles…so those two, but then Take Cover was a song that, I knew it was a great song, and I was too scared to find a lyric for it because I knew the melody was perfect—and the melody just came out of thin air one day—I sat down and it just came out in 30 seconds and there’s this melody and then I was almost too, I didn’t feel like I could find words for it, so it took me forever and then one day the words just came.”

 

What day?

 

“I don’t remember the day but it was, it was a day that I’d been reading a lot about these boys in the 90’s in Liberia that were forced into battle.”

 

Who are the songs for, who does the album belong to, in that sense?

 

“I want the songs to belong to anybody that feels like they’ve been taken advantage of, or oppressed or diminished. Anybody who’s felt like they’re under some kind of control of someone else, some sort of selfish structure that would take our essence and would squeeze out our souls and drain us of our vitality, and hopefully this album is a place for us to acknowledge that that is the dark reality of existence at this point of history, but also hopefully that acknowledgement will be a sort of freedom for any of us that have dealt with that sort of oppression. And, in acknowledging it, but also moving towards hope.”

 

The night you recorded Commodity?

 

“Well I had been messing around with changing the last line of the second verse, and my dad had told me, he had read from a psalm to me earlier that day, this line that I remembered when I was a kid but I hadn’t thought of it in a long time and it was ‘the sides of the north, the city of the king,’ and so I moved some lyric around and got rid of a lot of lyric so I could say ‘carry me on six wings to the sixth rung on the sides of the north in the city of the bright ones’ and no one had really—it was time to record and I hadn’t really shared it with Phil yet, but I don’t know, it just felt like there was this sense of urgency and sense of purpose to the song being recorded. The whole band was here, me and Phil were here, and there was just this sort of eerie, eerie, haunted, beautiful thing happened where all of us were almost in tears and it was, we all knew that what we were doing was bigger than ourselves, that moment was bigger than anything we could try to come up with on our own, there was an inspiration and there was a muse and there was an importance that was beyond us.”

 

You tried to get Commodity on Resuscitate and couldn’t, is it relieving that it has a home now?

 

“I think it wandered like a ghost for the two years that it was put on the back burner, but it was still so deep in me, that idea, and even more so because it was a lyric that I was told wouldn’t work, or couldn’t work, or shouldn’t be said, and that it was not positive, it wasn’t encouraging, it wasn’t…so for me to reinvent it, you know I tried to find a home for it several times in three or four different versions of the song and all of them were trying to be a different song—some of them felt too much like Daylight, some of them felt too much like a ballad, and then this chord progression came out of nowhere. It’s not a new chord progression, you know I’ve used it before, a ton of people use this chord progression, but it was just so, it just wrote itself the fourth time around.”

 

Why do you think the songs are just coming to fruition now?

 

“Sometimes I think that whether or not we know it, it’s time for this album. It’s time for songs of freedom protesting oppression, protesting humans being taken advantage of, a counter-trafficking album, an underground railroad album, it’s time for that to be heard. And I don’t know how many people are going to hear it, but when people hear it it’s going to move our hearts. My dream is that it moves hearts the way that so many beautiful pieces of art have moved my heart and all that inspiration from other artists, I think Philip did such a good job at helping capture that…there’s a story of Phil and myself, the story of child soldiers, the story of girls and boys being trafficked in Southeast Asia, that story is finding it’s way into the melody, in between the notes and in the quiet spaces between the lyric and the beat.”

 

What did you learn in the last two years to make you want to go independent again?

 

“Well, the biggest thing that I’m scared of is trying to write something that I think somebody wants me to write. You don’t necessarily solve that by being independent because as an artist you want to be true, you want to be honest, you want to tell your own story and tell someone else’s story, but you also can’t help but think about how it’s going to be heard and whether or not someone’s going to understand it so there’s so much pressure on my part to play it safe all the time now. I have a family to feed, I have melodies that I want people to enjoy and I want to get them to people through radio, you know, I want the songs to be liked, but I realized at one point that if I’m just editing myself for the sake of editing myself to try to make a certain subgroup of the population happy, then I’m never really going to be free myself—and how can I sing about freedom if I am subjecting myself to a squeezing of my soul and a diminishing of my art, a diminishing of the words and the melodies that I feel compelled to write?”

 

But what do you do with that fear? When you make the art, what do you do with that fear about your family and the future?

 

“At some point I think, in this day and age, when there is more and more honest songs being written, the only risk is to not take a risk. And going independent and counting on our community and our friends and our family and the network of people we’ve met over the last decade making music for a living, that’s a road that I’m willing to take a gamble on because I believe people want to hear where I’m at in life and they don’t want it to be watered down, they don’t want me to dilute the blood that I’m bleeding for the sake of you know, some censorship. I don’t want that from any art that I pay attention to, so why would anybody want that from us?”

 

Why Exodus Road?

 

“Well I had just finished writing this whole record on children being taking advantage of, children being oppressed, boys on the front lines of conflict in Africa, and girls in the dark corners of the red light districts around the world and a counter-trafficking organization called Exodus Road just reached out to me out of the blue and I was so excited. I met with them and when I was sitting there with them you know you feel as an artist that your job is to use your platform and their job is to go do the hard work, but in that meeting with them I realized how can I represent freedom, from the stage, and talk about how it’s important for us to live as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says with a ‘dangerous selflessness,’ how can I ask that of the people I’m singing to and challenging and trying to inspire if I’m not living with a dangerous selflessness? And I felt compelled, I felt pulled, literally like—compelled—to be part of it.”

 

If you could, what would you want to tell June?

 

—large intake of breathe— “I’d want her to know, first, that I wasn’t there to sleep with her. I would want her to know I wasn’t there to take advantage of her, because that’s what she thinks to this day, that we were there to purchase her. I would want her to know that I think she’s valuable, and that she’s beautiful, inside of her soul there’s a beauty. And I’d want her to know that she’s not helpless, she’s not hopeless, but sometimes I’m not sure I even believe that myself. Because the magnitude, just in that one country alone that I was in, the magnitude of this evil is too much. It’s accelerating and even though we’re just kind of rising to an awareness about it here in 2014, it hasn’t stopped accelerating, it’s not slowing down because a few people put a red ‘X’ on their hands, it’s moving forwards and I would want, you know in the romantic fairy tale sense, I would want to tell her I’m gonna come back for her, but I’ll never know where she ended up, you know?” —voice cracks on second “I would want” toward the end here—

 

When you realize how big the trafficking situation is, how do you maintain hope?

 

—uncomfortable laughter after first sentence—“I don’t maintain hope. I have so many questions for why it is the way it is. Why does the king of the universe allow this, why doesn’t he do something about it? Where is he on the streets of Southeast Asia.  I know it’s happening even worse in Brazil and in South America and all over the world—where is the king of the universe? And these children, there’s nobody that’s less protected and nobody that’s more vulnerable than these children that are 5 and 6 and 7 years old or these girls that are 13. But the way that I maintain hope is that I met people. I met heroes. I met girls that teach yoga and do the hair of these girls that are ready to go out on the street that night, saves them that much money, maybe saves them having to sell themselves one time that week to meet their quota. I met a guy, one of the few straight cops in the country that I was in, that’s not taking bribes, and as a result he’s doesn’t make a lot of money but he has a facility for forty kids and I got to hang out with those kids and seeing him gave me hope and seeing these selfless operatives that put their lives at risk every day, that gave me hope too. And seeing other people like myself, just ordinary people giving up a couple weeks of their time to go do undercover spy work on the other side of the world, normal people with normal day jobs, that’s the way they spent their vacation for that year, playing, pretending to be somebody else in Southeast Asia.”

You can hear some of the new record and watch some video and pre-order the record here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/remedydrive/commodity-a-counter-trafficking-album

 

 

Another Song of Freedom

“Won’t you help me sing – these songs of freedom – are all I ever have – redemption songs”

I’ve never been more excited about one of my songs being played on the radio before.  I believe that songs can accomplish remarkable things and that’s why I keep writing and recording after 18 years of making music.

I want to sing songs of freedom in the this war scorched land where the kingdom is under siege – where the shadow holds temporary sway. Commodity is a song that belongs to anyone that’s been oppressed, taken advantage of or diminished. This song is a captive’s dream of liberty, of a modern underground railroad, of a highway home from our exile. The King’s kingdom is a kingdom where the oppressed can find refuge, where the marginalized can find hope, where the child soldier can find safety, where the trafficked daughter in the red light district returns to her innocence as a princess of the realm. I believe in freedom and in the power of a King that can repair this damaged territory and restore these exiled prisoners to royalty. This song is a petition to the King of Kings to untie these chains that hold captive the most vulnerable among us – and at the same time a prayer for my own soul to be set free.

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Rescue is Coming

i was in southeast asia with the exodus road for a good portion of this month.  a lot of people have been asking how they can help us in our partnership with the exodus road and here is how:

http://www.theexodusroad.com/remedydrive/

i’m a soul inside a body – i’m not a commodity – no – untie me i’ve gotta be let go.

i met a girl last week whose name was june and two of her friends – we sat at a table together and i bought her friend a drink.  these girls were being offered to us for around $60 each and they barely seemed to be 13 years old.  it was this odd dimly lit room where karaoke was being sung in a language i didn’t know.   june’s eyes were really pretty – she was probably 95 pounds and she barely would look at me – her smiles were forced and it was obvious she didn’t want to be there with us.  the operative from the exodus road’s delta team was able to gather evidence of the negotiation with the girls’ handler and then in a rush we had to pay for our drinks and get out of the place because he felt things were no longer safe for us to stay there – while i was fumbling with the money to pay a group of four scary looking guys came in the back entrance.  the adrenaline of just being in that spot – the strangeness of pretending to be the very thing i despise – the heavy tropical air – and the fear i had at being discovered –  i didn’t sleep that night except for a bit in a taxi that smelled like curry and a bit more at an airport.  i couldn’t get the reality of what i had just seen and been part of out of my mind.  and i still can’t one week later.  those baby girls are still there – somewhere in southeast asia – being sold against their will.  i am haunted by her beautiful eyes that should be innocent at her age but have seen indescribable cruelty.

i spent 10 days in several cities and the countryside of southeast asia shadowing matt parker of exodus road and the coalition of remarkable human beings that have made rescuing children from sex trafficking their focus in life.  i sat in on meetings where matt gave high tech gear (like james bond type stuff) to the head of an anti-trafficking police unit – these units are underfunded and understaffed and this particular officer was like a kid in a candy store – not just to get the equipment, but to have the support and the help in the investigations.  that equipment was provided by funding that came through the exodus road.  i heard the high level officer talk in specifics about different rescues and raids where the equipment helped.  i was in a couple of safe houses funded by the exodus road that are used to have meetings (away from the danger of corrupt law enforcement overhearing the rescue plans sand surveillance operations).  i got to see case files from delta team on a bunch of traffickers and rings of pedophiles and was sworn to secrecy about the identities of the operatives and specifics about the tactics used to gather intelligence.

at one point i got to be a “trigger” (still not sure what that word means in this context) for a surveillance mission on a network of guys that are using southeast asia as a place to do crimes against children.  even though i wasn’t in any danger, when the guy walked into the restaurant we were at, my heart was pounding in my chest because i recognized him from the photos pinned to the wall at the safe house , and for the first time the realization sank in that i’m doing something, something very very small, but something that is going to contribute to taking this guy off the street and maybe even protecting a child from his evil intentions.

and yet who am i?  i’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life chasing my dream and my rock band just trying to write songs that are meaningful.  a month ago i’d never even been to asia – the only places i’ve traveled to are germany and the netherlands for concerts – but now here i am on the other side of the world, participating in something, in a very small way, but still participating in something that i believe will contribute to pushing back this evil.  before last month i’d never been in a brothel in my life but matt took me into at least 30 brothels in an effort to identify underage girls being sold, potentially trafficked from poor farming communities and villages in the hills down into the commercial sex industries of the major cities – hidden inside the clubs, out of view from the mainstream.  these places i was in are places i’d never want my daughters to know i’ve been to – and yet matt has been in over 800.  and he says it’s because good men aren’t going into these places that the forces of evil are able to operate with such impunity.

but i’m only one person – and looking up at the stars on the other side of the planet i felt like the smallest thing in the world – up against this force of darkness and oppression that goes so deep.  it’s so complicated.  what can i do?  i’m just a songwriter from nebraska.  but there i was trying to sleep in the red-light district of one of the biggest centers for forced prostitution in the world.  trying to sleep at a hotel that they rent by the hour.  i put a shirt over the pillow case and wore a hoodie over my head.  but i didn’t really sleep that night either.  thanks in part to the terrible cover band across the street from our hotel that played till 3am.  i feel so small under the starlight.  it feels like the fight isn’t making any difference but i can see the lights floating out in the distance.  i can hear the bright notes over all the dissonance.  can i make a dent in this?  is there any hope for change?  will the righteous rise again from indifference?  maybe we can take back these daughters from the heartless – maybe we can tear a little corner of the darkness.

the reason i went to southeast asia is because i want to be able to help raise awareness using the small platform i have with my band and whatever other influence i have.  i’m talking about it to other parents at baseball practice, on airplanes, after concerts and train rides.  but once i was over there i realized i don’t want to just talk about it.  tomorrow morning i’m going to write a red x on my hand and on the hands of my babies before they go to school.  because i think that a red x will help shine a light on slavery.  but i think it takes a whole lot more than a red x to made lasting systemic change in the lives of the oppressed and this system of oppression that is so prevalent today.  i hear about a kingdom where the oppressed are found and the captives are set free.  i want to figure out how to be part of that kingdom today.   i believe in what the exodus road is doing, i’ve seen it first hand and i intend on returning as often as i can between tours and recording.  and i would love for you to help us rescue these children.  justice is in the hands of the ordinary.  rescue is coming!

i’m dreaming of a sweet sound of liberty – a railroad underground to deliver me –

i’m a soul inside a body – i’m not a commodity – no – untie me i’ve gotta be let go

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Keeping The Darkness at Bay

“I’m a musician. I write songs. I just hope when the day is done I’ve been able to tear a little corner off of the darkness.”  – Bono

I find much encouragement in this quote during 12 hour drives in the bus or on days when an engine failure puts us on the side of the road in Montana or Iowa.  Sometimes I ask myself what am I really accomplishing?  Can a song really change the world?  Or a contribution to a non-profit or a couple hours downtown giving food to homeless families?  It’s just a drop in the ocean.   

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

So it’s more than just a song or a display of love – it’s a beam of light that pierces it’s way through the night sky like a laser and puts a dent in the universe in which we reside.  We’re part of something significant wether we know it or not and yet I still have the tendency to feel like nothing more than a blip on the radar.  I loved Gandalf’s response when asked by Lady Galadriel as to why he chose a hobbit, a small creature, for such an epic quest.  

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.”  Gandalf the Grey 

We are a force to be reckoned with.  Song writers, abolitionists, students, philanthropists, doctors, carpenters, accountants and domestic engineers – we will rise up in our small spheres of influence and will raise torches in the darkness.  We will shoot holes in the night sky until the light breaks through.  It’s the Daystar that has risen in our hearts that reminds us that the dawn is not so far off.  

 

So we will hasten the day, 

we will restore the ancient ruins, 

we will reshape rooms, 

we will rebuild from the rubble, 

we will rescue and rehabilitate child soldiers, 

we will breathe life into empty spaces, 

we will tear a corner off the darkness,

we will keep the darkness at bay,

we will make a dent in the universe

and we will look to the east until daylight breaks.