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PE Bassist Hardgroove Doesn't Believe The Hype

March 24th, 2008

april /may 2008 santa fean 21
Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff

A key member of the revolutionary
hiphop group Public Enemy, Brian
Hardgroove is also an activist, producer,
and host of The Fusebox on
Indie (indiesf.com). Hardgroove,
who moved from New York—his
hometown—to Santa Fe in 2006,
talks about his creative mission, the
fight for independent media, and
the power of fatherhood.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
When did you first know that you wanted
to make music?

HARDGROOVE

I always wanted to do something good
in the world. So, as a kid, I was headed
for a career in law enforcement. And
then I saw an Earth, Wind and Fire
concert when I was fourteen and I
realized, after seeing them, that I could
help people before they got into trouble,
by playing music that had an impact.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
And you went from that to being the musical
director and bassist for Public Enemy, a band
whose most famous song is Fight the Power?

HARDGROOVE

Law enforcement is necessary. As a
species we haven’t evolved past needing
that. Fight the Power is not about
fighting authority—it’s not that at all.
It’s about fighting abuse of power.
How did you first become politically minded?
My mother and father were affected,
growing up in the South, by political
decisions that were put in place before
they were born. So you don’t have to be
“political” to be political. It’s about doing
what’s right. And entertainment is just
as effective, if not more effective, than
being a politician. What politicians do
will affect your daily life, but how you
respond to that can be greatly influenced
by people in entertainment.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
And what are you up to these days?

HARDGROOVE

Here in Santa Fe I’m the host of The
Fusebox, a mixture of music and interviews.
And, besides Public Enemy, I’m
also the production manager and bass
player on the upcoming James Brown
Tribute Tour, which is starting in May
and will include dates in England and
Japan. Plus I’m producing three street
punk bands in China: Demerit, Brain
Failure, and Subs. These bands are incredible
because if you choose that life, you
choose failure in life generally, if it doesn’t
work out for you. There is no part-time
work. You do your band or you work.
What brought you from New York to Santa Fe?
When it was time for my daughter to go
to school, my wife and I didn’t want her
in New York. My wife’s father lives here.
We didn’t labor over it; we just went.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
How much has having a child amplified your
concerns about the future?

HARDGROOVE

A lot. Children are the greatest blessing
one can have in life. Once your offspring
start relying on you, you really have to
watch what comes out of your mouth.
This is why you watch what comes out
of the mouth of television.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
It’s ironic that part of Public Enemy’s recent resurgence
stems from [band member] Flavor Flav’s
misogynistic reality TV show, Flavor of Love. How
do you and [band leader] Chuck D, who are very
forward thinking, continue working with him?

HARDGROOVE

Well, what he does is not something that
I would do. And I don’t watch the show,
frankly. I’ve quit Public Enemy twice, but
after a number of conversations I realized
that there is a bigger picture here,
and I continued on. My commitment
has been to what Chuck was trying to do.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
How did popular hiphop get to the sorry state
it currently finds itself in?

HARDGROOVE

It got there when record company executives
realized that they have to make
money, not art. When large corporations
like Thorn—a defense contractor—buys
EMI, or Sony—an electronics company
—buys Colombia. Their purpose is to
create revenue. So when you have to
deliver $10 million more than last year,
you’re not going to go out and sign the
most positive talent for the future, you’re
going to sign talent that can sell as many
records as possible. It’s very easy to get
young black kids who don’t have much
money to say all kinds of negative things
about themselves. Record companies will
tell you, “We’re not going to deal with
you unless you do that.”

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
With bands like Radiohead skirting record labels
altogether, where do you see the future of
music distribution going?

HARDGROOVE

I do think that major record labels are
going to be involved. I don’t get on the
bandwagon that says all record labels are
evil. There were labels that did have
vision. Those labels know where they
screwed up—they are being run by
lawyers and accountants. And do you
know what’s going to help that? When
the multi-nationals drop them because
they’re not making any money.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
You recently spearheaded a battle to save the
independent radio station, Indie 101.5, now no
longer on the air. What was the fight about?

HARDGROOVE

We don’t need one company owning a
whole bunch of stations. Period. This
fight isn’t about [Indie 101.5]; it’s about
keeping things from becoming locked
down. That’s why we have the problems
we have in this country, because the
independent voices are squashed. We are
in [the Iraq war] because all the news
networks, whether they admitted it or
not, supported it.
Defenders of the mainstream media claim that
the market is responding to what people want.
Yeah, the media is reporting on every
move Britney Spears makes. What people
want that? People watch it because
it’s human nature to watch a train
wreck—these things capture our attention.
But is it what they really want if
given the option? You have these moguls
making their decisions based on how
much money programs will make. The
airwaves are public, and there is a
responsibility that goes along with that.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff-Q
Is there hope for independent media in Santa Fe?

HARDGROOVE

Santa Fe calls itself the City Different
but I haven’t seen anything different yet,
regarding these critical things. Santa Fe
is either going to go the way the way of
Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles, or
it’s going to do something different. I
hope it’s going to do something different.
“Talk is cheap”—that’s what Keith
Richards said.

Catch Brian Hardgroove on The Fusebox,
streaming from the Indie website, indiesf.com,
Wednesdays, 7–8 PM, Saturdays, 12–1 PM.
22 santafean.com april / may 2008
q + a
interview by Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff
photograph by Karen Kuehn