The mutually valuable relationship between politics and music is a precious tradition. The arts, in general, have long been a way for activists and those seeking to create social awareness to get important messages out there. Music, in particular, can become both an emotional outlet for the artist as well as a vehicle by which change can be inspired through reaching a listening audience. Think Pete Seeger, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and so many other musical activists who have existed throughout our collective history.
I recently had the privilege of getting to interview one of these modern-day musical activists, LA-based indie-folk-pop singer-songwriter Terra Naomi. Terra just released her latest song, “Machine Age,” which is a first preview of her upcoming album (coming this summer!) as well as a reflection on the one-year inauguration mark.
With “Machine Age,” Terra meditates on the shock of the 2016 election in America, as well as an issue even closer to home for her.
Upon the announcement of her wedding, Terra’s husband’s family claimed that they could not take part in the marriage because her husband, Scott Turner Schofield — a trans man — is “really a girl” and the idea of “two girls getting married” goes against their religious beliefs.
Terra’s passion for both politics and music has helped her on her path to emotional healing and acceptance throughout this difficult year. She has used her art as both an outlet for her passion as well as a voice for others who have dealt with discrimination and similar issues to her own.
Terra provided me with insights into her music and life, and I am both grateful and excited to be able to feature her story here on Only Slightly Biased!
OSB: When and how did you get into making music?
Terra: Music has been a big part of my life, in one form or another, from the beginning. I started with classical music, singing and playing piano and French horn, then musical theater and opera, and began to write my own songs after college.
OSB: What are the biggest influences on the kind of music you create?
Terra: My biggest influences have always been my own life experiences, which are inevitably shaped by whatever is going on in the world. My writing is usually the result of something that’s happened in my own life, often something negative, unfortunately. That’s why it’s always funny when people ask if I’ve written a song about my husband yet… I’m like “no, and it’s probably a good thing I haven’t!”
OSB: Can you tell readers a little bit about your personal life?
Terra: I only recently started to place value on my personal life. Before that, my career took up most of the space in my life. Family is really important to me, and spending time with my husband… I’m a serious introvert, so I need a lot of alone time.
I work most of the time, mostly on my own music, but I’m also working on a musical with a wonderful Spanish writer/composer. I do graphic design sometimes to make extra money, since I’m funding my own career now, and it’s not cheap.
I take breaks for yoga. I love movies and television — I finally started watching Madmen, and can’t stop. I’ve been binging it hard and don’t know what I’ll do when I get to the end of the final season.
My husband and I volunteer at an organization that makes and distributes bagged lunches to homeless folks in LA — it’s a program affiliated with our spiritual practice (“Spiritual practice” sounds scarier than it is… it’s mostly just yoga!).
OSB: Can you tell readers about the inspiration behind “Machine Age?” What would you like readers to know about the song and its message? And what about your upcoming album?
Terra: I didn’t plan to write “Machine Age” — it came to me suddenly and unexpectedly, and basically wrote itself in under an hour. The whole thing came out as you hear it, with only one major change — the omission of a verse — because I felt like it was too incendiary.
My intention with the song is to heal and inspire, not further contribute to the anger. The song is ultimately about choosing love over hate as an act of resistance in this age of outrage.
The upcoming album is softer, more about love and longing and my own experiences. “Machine Age” is the only political song on the album.
OSB: What would you tell readers about getting into the music scene and rising as an artist? What’s the journey been like?
Terra: Everyone’s experience is completely different, but it’s been pretty challenging for me. I had a lot of extreme ups and downs, moments when it seemed like things were about to get easier, and instead they got harder; big excitement, like playing for 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium, and then even bigger disappointments. I’ve had a lot of self-doubt, and got confused for a while about who I am and who I want to be.
It took me a long time to sort it out, and create music that’s authentic to who I am as a person and as an artist, but sorting through all that has made me a better artist than I ever would have been had the path been easier. So I have no regrets.
OSB: What would you like readers to know about the journey you and your husband have faced? How have the events of the past year or so influenced your relationships with your husband, family, friends, music and fans?
Terra: It’s been an intense year for my husband and me! We met and had an amazing first year. Then Trump was elected, which affected us greatly since my husband is transgender, and there was a lot of focus on removing certain rights and protections granted to LGBT people. Not to mention a serious increase in hate crimes. So for the first time in our lives, we began to question our safety in this country.
So we were already dealing with a lot, and then basically found out that a whole branch of his family, people who seemed to understand and support my husband, were essentially bigots. They couldn’t celebrate our marriage because they consider us to be “two girls getting married,” and it conflicts with their “religious faith.”
This is hurtful and offensive on so many levels — first of all, if we were two girls getting married, is rejecting someone you’ve loved, who’s loved you deeply for 30+ years, really the Christian thing to do? I don’t think Jesus would tell someone to reject their gay family member. In fact, it seems like the exact opposite of what Jesus would tell us to do.
And the most problematic part is that they’ve pretended to understand and support my husband for the last fifteen years since he came out to them as transgender. They’ve called him Scott, used the right pronouns. And for some reason decided our wedding was a good time to let us know how they really felt. It was sickening, literally, and it’s been really hard for my husband to move past this. He works on it every day, and I know he’ll feel better eventually, but it was a major blow.
Family is the most important thing to him, and this was absolutely crushing. So you can imagine it affected me equally, in a different way, and triggered all of my protective instincts and defenses. I don’t react well when someone hurts one of the people I love the most.
I think the events of the past year made me focus more on the people in my life — friends, family and fans. It felt like everyone really stepped up to compensate for the damage done. We felt more support and love around our marriage than I ever could have imagined.
I know so many people are dealing with this same sort of thing, whether single or as part of a relationship — and I hope they know they are not alone. There is a big community of loving people out there, and sometimes the family we choose is even more important than the family we are born into.
We deeply appreciate Terra taking the time to provide us with an interview, and wish her all the best in her personal and professional journey. We recommend readers check out her song, “Machine Age” — it’s a beautiful song and can be found on Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud. Also, be sure to keep an eye (and ear!) out for the release of Terra’s full album this summer! J
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