This interview almost never happened, but in the end it taught me that perseverance is worthwhile. This busy man worked on the answers over the course of a year. At one point I told him I was ready to publish it all as is – before it was complete – but my patience got the better of me. Conducted in sections throughout the year 2014, this interview can be surely considered as a useful and reliable source of information of Greg Bennick. Being a remorseless interviewer means never leaving any subject behind, so feel free to find almost everything related to Greg in our “little” piece below. Enjoy and share the following thoughts with your friends.
Greg Bennick is an award-winning speaker, a writer, a curious world traveler, a film producer, the vocalist for the hardcore bands TRIAL and BETWEEN EARTH & SKY, a humanitarian activist, the founder of One Hundred For Haiti organization, The Legacy Project, co-founder of The World Leaders Project, a touring spoken word performer, and a guest keynote speaker for all kinds of conferences, companies, educational groups, and research institutes.
In other words, Greg is a dynamic human whose addictive performances, great charm, and thought-provoking angle on various subjects will not leave you indifferent. He’s a passionate and funny entertainer who proves his reputation of utilizing an extraordinary power of language to transform minds using words as weapons.
“After listening to your presentation, I can truly say that what I remember is life changing.” — Cassie Recchio, Green River Community College.
I would like to send a special dedication to Greg’s mom, who is said to be at least one person to read through the following interview, regardless of its length :)
Photo by Chris Zibutis.
Hey Greg! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! How are you? Busy as always, or perhaps taking a well-deserved rest?
Thanks for taking the time to interview me. I am good, in Argentina today co-leading a trip with The Legacy Project. In 2007 my friend Dave and I started leading trips for students around the world to places that have experienced intense political or social trauma, to learn from the people there how they managed to survive and how history informed the present. We have gone to Poland to study the Nazi occupation there, South Africa to study Apartheid, Canada to study its treatment of First Nations peoples, and now Chile and Argentina to study the effects of Operation Condor and the dictatorships with their disappearances and treatment of activists here in the 70’s. More is at thelegacyproject.com.
Well deserved rest? Not quite! I just got back from a spoken word tour of the west coast of the USA talking about community and action, and before that I was in Haiti for two weeks with One Hundred For Haiti. It’s been a busy year so far. Rest sounds fun.
Amazing. I was wondering about how active are these projects of yours, especially The Legacy Project. What makes you want to show these places to young people? How did you decide what the purpose of TLP was going to be in the first place?
They are very active actually. The desire to show these places to young people is based on testimony I have heard from survivors: that educating a new generation of young people is one of the best ways to help with healing from historical trauma. The other way is through justice, which obviously is dependent on people being highly educated. Education on these trips is not just historical. It’s emotional and empathic and critical. We don’t just show people historical sites, but instead ask them to think about connections they can make to the present and to global situations currently affecting people. We ask them to think about what role they might play in a transformed future. And the thing is, inspired students might actually be able to do something to support efforts for transitional justice in these countries. There are global models in place in terms of truth commissions who have produced a tremendous body of work to draw upon. From this work and from seeing what has and what hasn’t worked for survivors, maybe it’s possible to draw new conclusions. That’s the place from which the work starts. The idea for The Legacy Project started in 2007 when I wanted to bring a movie that I had produced to Poland to concentration camp cities to share its ideas with local people there. The film is about fear of death and global violence. While speaking to my friend Dave about it he suggested bringing high school students along. And so The Legacy Project was born. Without Dave’s input it would have likely been a tour, but combined with the students it’s a whole project.
So I guess these trips is the place where the knowledge is being acquired and systematized, right? How about broadcasting and sharing it? How can you spread these ideas and do not limit yourself to the excursions and meetings themselves?
Yes…we all learn a lot on these trips. Me included. As for how to share them with the world, for me, a book sounds like the best idea. Or, of course a song. TRIAL hopes to write a few songs this year and ideas from this trip might be integrated into them. Also, the podcast (‘Between Mirth and Die’ on iTunes, search “mirthdie“) I do with Happy from BETWEEN EARTH & SKY could be a good venue for sharing ideas too. I will propose it for a future episode. And the trips will continue too for sure whenever we can make them happen.
Greg, do you think it’s important for writers to be socially active? Wouldn’t you prefer to compose in secluded areas and share these ideas remotely, i.e. through books, without the need for such interaction with people?
I can’t speak for anyone else but having interaction with people, preferably live, holds tremendous value in my opinion. People’s attention spans are limited. And our lives are about as short. So when people grant a speaker a few minutes of their one and only life, the pressure is on. They know it and you as the speaker know it. So when you deliver, the impact can be very powerful. Their time has been spent wisely, they get something for their investment, and the effect is more immediate than if I wrote and released and then had them read a book. That said, I think approaching people and ideas on all possible fronts is a great idea. Thus writing a book or two or five coming up in my near future.
Great! And I guess your spoken word tours like the one you did last year with FOCUSEDxMINDS and YOUNG TURKS are a good way to approach people, aren’t they? How do you remember that trek? Besides your professional career as a speaker and presenter, was it the first time you mixed your presentations with regular punk shows?
I loved that tour. Both bands are such great friends for me. We had a really good time. I have done a number of spoken word tours in the last few years: four tours of the western USA, one east coast USA tour (with HOLLOW EARTH), one tour throughout all of Europe, and one of Ukraine along with a full spoken word tour of Russia (which I have been told was the first ever spoken word tour of Russia by an American). I challenged myself on the FOCUSED MINDS / YOUNG TURKS tour to not repeat any material for the first ten nights of the tour. It’s terrifying to do that but you end up with such a solid awareness of where you are ready to bullshit in order to just fill time and where you actually have something solid to offer the audience. Because that’s the key right? Whether I am trying material that is funny, or that has a message, or both, my goal is to share something of value both for the audience and for me, and not just talk for the sake of talking and not relying on sure-bet stories every night forces you to dig deeper than you would otherwise. It makes it more immediate and real. And that is a part of what hardcore is about: not just being or experiencing the world as surface level but pushing ourselves communicatively to offer and share something more, in the moment. When hardcore lives and it truly palpable is when its immediate. That is true in your personal interactions. Kiss a girl and call her by the name of the person you kissed last week and see how that goes. It will be a train wreck mainly because you aren’t present in the moment. Kiss someone and be present with them like it’s the last minute of your life, and that is where real electricity and fire happen. The same is true for live performance, speaking, and so on. Be there. In that moment and no other.
How would you contrast and compare your audiences at punk shows to those at your other professional presentations?
Hmm…that’s a comparison between a job and something entirely different for the most part. It’s a totally different venue and requires completely different approaches, topic, and tone…so it’s difficult to compare. But at the core, communication has the same goals: to have a message reach an audience with impact. My commercial events are often themed to one topic, like my punk spoken word shows, but the main difference is that the audiences are not looking to have their worlds rocked and upended but rather gain new perspectives or maybe be entertained. They want information and ideas communicated in a way that is solidly entertaining. And ultimately since it’s my job, it’s all about serving the client.
Sometimes clients tell me to rock their worlds. But its rare. People think they want to have their worlds rocked but really they just want the illusion of that: they want things to remain mostly the same but with the impression that they did something new or different. Because what does it look like in our lives when things actually do get upended? These become entirely new times with no road map, and for the most part, individuals and organizations don’t work well in that context. It is too terrifying. So often I come in with challenging ideas or creative approaches to managing the unexpected and dealing with failure – and I do that while juggling a machete as a metaphor for risk taking – and I let the audience run with those ideas, but its really up to them ultimately. The goal is always transformed minds, but as in all things, its what they actually do with those ideas after the fact, meaning after the keynote is over, which counts most. My hope is always for people to really push themselves towards real personal development, and not just be happy with the lip service often attached to that concept. I have been to countless keynote speeches and trainings which were so devoid of anything challenging and genuinely exciting that I had no idea what my real takeaway was supposed to be from them.
Spoken word shows are different: all bets are off. I can come out one night and be funny, another and be more focused and serious… whatever I want for that night to communicate the ideas most effectively. There is a freedom with the punk shows that would likely get me into trouble if I took the same liberties with my commercial audiences. That said, I like bringing elements of each to the other.
Aren’t you tempted to step down and “retire” from music, like Henry Rollins did? If not, at least tell me how many years are left for you to leave TRIAL, BETWEEN EARTH & SKY and start a solo / acoustic folk project? ;)
Would you ask the same question of someone who was 23 years old? I don’t have any intention of stopping my involvement with hardcore. I believe in TRIAL, BETWEEN EARTH & SKY, and hardcore today just as much as I did at the very beginning of each of them in my life. Let’s leave retirement for the jaded and bored, whatever age they are.
And one more thing that comes to mind… How do your professional partners and clients look at you, a member of punk groups, when they realize you do pretty crazy stuff after work?
It’s interesting but most of my professional clients, when they get to know me, are fascinated by my involvement in punk rock and human rights. Granted they see it as bizarre and unusual but it’s also a source of depth for them. Because most people in the normal world stay surface level all the time to protect their jobs and image in the eyes of others. They take no risks. Life is safe all the time. So to hear about something entirely new and different is refreshing. It’s led to a lot of great conversations about Haiti, touring, and why I scream at audiences with the bands yet seem so calm and collected for their events. It also explains why in commercial events why I get so excited and intense onstage and have fun the way I do. People often say “Ohhh…I get it now. You sing in a punk band? No wonder you are the way you are…”
Having met so many young people while being a musician and working in several foundations or other undertakings, do you think that there is some kind of a change in the attitudes of young people these days? Is it possible to identify a trend toward raised social and environmental awareness?
I think there is a constant trend towards that. We see that in the USA all the time and not just in terms of youth but across the board. Forty years ago it was unheard of to consider that throwing garbage out of your car window was something you shouldn’t do. Fast forward to today, and people wouldn’t think of doing that. Racism was so deeply ingrained fifty years ago that it was inextractable from the social fabric. And ten years ago, the idea of gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar for most people, especially not conservatives. There is a strongly liberal trend in the USA these days amongst young people as far as I see it. That said, there is always opposition and the left needs to stay mobilized in the mainstream and active outside the mainstream if we are going to combat the well-funded and generally pissed off right.
You’ve been to a hell of a variety of places last year. Geographically or socially-wise, were there some unique spots that caught your attention above all other?
Russia was incredible. To be able to travel across the entire country from one end to the other and back and see it all. Culturally and geographically it was amazing. Especially for me having grown up at the end of the first Cold War. These were supposed to be a nation of enemies and crazy people. Instead I found a nation of friends with a few lunatic leaders driving the country. Just like home. In addition geographically, there is a lake in eastern Siberia called Lake Baikal. Its frozen all the way across and has all of these rivulets running through it of water so clear its almost blue. The frozen surface of the lake looks like snow but as you get closer you realize that the snow is actually the tips of an endless vertical array of tiny icicles. I have no idea what natural process caused that. Maybe its just another project by the godlike and sexy Vladimir Putin. The guy can wrestle tigers shirtless, invade countries, and is a black belt in judo. Who’s to say he couldn’t fill a frozen lake with vertical icicles, bless his little heart.
As for socially, I have no idea how to pick a single standout from the resilience of the Haitians, the steadfastness of the Polish people, or the courage and hope of the Chileans and Argentines amongst a dozen others. That’s not to mention the appetite of the Hungarians, the hockey of the Canadians, and the bizarre language of the Dutch. These are all top-notch qualities that I got to see first hand around the world. Learn how to say “Eighty eight beautiful canals” in Dutch and if you survive trying it, you will know how varied and incredibly the world can be.
How do you look at Putin’s recent action in Ukraine? What do you think the nature of that operation was? What, do you believe, exact interests does Vladimir have here? Is it a matter of geopolitics, just prestige, or pure madness of a leader?
Anyone who has followed Vladimir Putin’s career knows him to be a frighteningly patient strategist in a quest for power. I am going to skip first to the last part of your question, the part about the reasons behind the Ukraine encroachment. It’s all three: geopolitics, prestige, and pure madness of a leader. Putin is challenging NATO to see how far he can push before the world is forced to respond. Remember that the USA is in a weak position geopolitically now. It is no longer the intimidating force it once was. The two useless wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq have not only served as bleeding arteries for the US economy for a decade, but more importantly have tapped the will of Americans to engage in war. And we love war. In fact we more ominously don’t even care much about it when it all comes down, because we as a country don’t really acknowledge the existence of any other country until it shows up in the news. And by the time it shows up in the news there is a PR campaign in place to sway our opinions of that country. Do you think most Americans have an opinion about Silvio Berlusconi in Italy? Or for that matter do you think many give a second thought about Boku Haram in Nigeria? Unlikely. We like to sit comfortably in our relative geographic isolation and with the ignorance we have cultivated about the workings of the world over the last 200 some years since our inception, we just live our happy lives and wait for something to happen. So this is why I say we don’t care about war yet we love it. We don’t care what happens in the world, yet when suddenly someone says the equivalent of “Let’s go kill so and so because they did so and so” our human nature kicks in and we love to be the dominators, and off we go happily cheering as our idiotic troops use our tax dollar bought weapons to aim blindly into the terrorist wilderness. But here is the issue when it comes to Russia. The years of “war” in Iraq and Afghanistan have started to really hurt the American people. We expected to go into Afghanistan after 9/11 and find and kill all the terrorists. It didn’t work out that way. We expected to go into Iraq and kill all the supporters of terrorism. It didn’t work out that way. In fact by the time Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were killed they were essentially afterthoughts amidst what had become a seemingly endless struggle just to maintain any sense of stability. We at first had become numb to the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan but then started to realize as a country that something was dreadfully wrong here. We weren’t winning the war on terror. We hadn’t really found who we were searching for in the first place. We as a country were seeing more body bags and bad press about the war, and our ideas about our involvement in it changed. We began to grow wary of war. This is critical in terms of the situation in Russia and Ukraine. Remember Syria a year or so ago. They were accused of gassing civilians. Barack Obama did his best George Bush impression and said that we would bomb Syria for this transgression. But we live in different times now. This isn’t September 12th 2011. On that day, Bush could have gone ballistic and bombed any country he had wanted and gotten full support from the US citizenry. But Obama can’t, and didn’t. He was made to look like a fool for talking tough without having the backing he needed to follow through with his boasting. Then Vladimir Putin pulled a genius strategic move. In the midst of Barack talking tough, Putin came in like a lamb and said to the world “Why can’t we just talk about this?” and with his op/ed piece in the New York Times, made a complete fool of Obama and in one piece of writing undermined US authority worldwide. Suddenly Russia and Putin were the great liberators and Obama seemed like the dictator. In my opinion this was part of a master plan by Putin for what has come to pass in Ukraine. The world softened to Putin. We took our eyes off of him for a moment. And as we did, he did what he has wanted to do for decades: to flex to the world and demonstrate that he can do whatever he wants. He knew after Syria that the USA would have a hard time garnering support for military responses to any incursion, whether in response to a violation / invasion of a NATO country or not. And so he made his move with Crimea. In terms of interests, he wants unrestricted access to the Black Sea strategically and likely a free flow of natural gas to Europe through Ukraine / Crimea without having to pay for that gas to be transported. But, and now I am looking at your questions in reverse, the nature of the operation needs to be considered. Putin took Crimea, but then because of that element you alluded to – about the sheer madness of a leader – he wanted more. My close Russian friends were telling me months before anything happened there that we needed to pay attention to Lukansk and Donetsk and Kharkiv. And that prediction came true. Putin, in my opinion – and I am obviously not alone in this – used agents provocateurs to infiltrate and incite pro-Russian actions in those cities. He knows that they are centers of Russian support. This is all strategic. If he can get an upswell of support by nationalists favourably to Russian intervention he can push into Ukraine (knowing all the while that NATO and the USA are weak currently) while the world watches him do it. What are we going to do? Freeze his bank accounts? Inhibit Gazprom from doing business internationally? Unlikely. NATO is fractured currently because the idea that all the NATO states look out for one another is hindered by the fact that the states which put less money into defense are dragging down the countries with more to risk and more financial backing of their militaries. In my opinion, Putin is doing what he has worked for decades to do: excise his power and influence knowing that the world will watch him do it. I said on my spoken word tour across Russia last year that Putin was determined to create a new supreme Soviet state. And now we are watching the beginnings of it as it happens. Rest assured, eastern Ukraine and Crimea were and are small pieces to the puzzle geopolitically on a global scale, but they signify much larger actions in the future. Putin is just testing the waters currently.
Alright Sir, but regarding that nature of his actions, why do you think Crimean residents voted in such incredible numbers to become part of the Russian Federation?
Did they? I don’t believe anything I hear about voting anymore. When was the last time 97% of anyone voted in favor of anything? But my skepticism aside, Crimea does have a large Russian support base and maybe its possible that people felt – in the aftermath of the EU vote and the President jumping ship, that Putin sexy shirtless self was truly the way of the future. I hope Crimea is happy with that choice. When I spoke in Simferopol last year I could have never have guessed that this was just around the corner.
Are you concerned about being disappointed by all kinds of international organizations, mostly by the European Union?
Yes, and I would hope we all are. That disappointment leads – and I say this at the risk of upsetting anarchists and those with anarchistic leanings – to better reform of those organizations, because for the moment they represent the people. That said, reform is a slow process, and one which often favors those with influence and money, and by no means should reform be an end all proposition rather than considering a dismantling of institutions that no longer prove their effectiveness in favor of new structures that more acutely represent the will of all of the people, not just those with money and influence. I am a loud voice with no strength behind it however because if you asked me exactly HOW to rebuild international organizations that do what I have suggested I would shrug my shoulders like every other ignorant American and say “i dunno?”. So I am a critic without a real solution which is the worst type of critic to be.
It’d be extremely hard to come up with an easy solution, just like that. Some might say the world would need a major disaster or a courageous rebellion to experience a breakthrough. Do you share this belief?
I do think that major crises upset our feelings of calm and control and inspire us to react. I also think its possible to inspire that reaction in each of ourselves if we take a moment and step back from the influx of messages and ideas that pound into our minds and hearts constantly. And I am not talking about a “they” who do this or that to us in terms of that messaging. I am talking about us – humans – in western societies. Our propensity is toward inaction, sloth, laziness and succumbing to the fear that inspires the same. It is easy to feel insignificant and meaningless. Ultimately we are. But we counteract that with actions and ideas that make us feel greater than simply human. That said, when something threatens to disrupt the effect of those actions and ideas – say 9/11 just as an example – we are left feeling like everything we’ve built has fallen to pieces and that we have no psychological leg to stand on. This is where our propensity for war comes from. And that’s only if we succumb to our gut responses to fear, or to the allure, as political theorist Jean Lipman-Blumen put it a decade ago, to the “allure of toxic leaders”. We immediately move to change the world in what I feel are negative ways. But, and this is a big but, a la Sir Mix a Lot, if we are willing to face our demons and deconstruct them outside of the context of a crisis or disaster, we can move to build a better world – positively dare I say – if we are willing to be unsure for a moment during the transitional time. When people lose their footing they often lose their minds as well.
Back to Russian quest for regional dominance, do you think that the recent happenings are going to cause rather more tension between Russia and Ukraine? Do you think that these kinds of unbelievable operations we even might see more of situations like this or the one with Georgia back in 2008? What do you think that Russia’s objective is right now? As Polish citizens, should we be scared?
Georgia in 2008 was largely ignored by the world. America saw it as an internal issue and we let it go basically unnoticed. As I mentioned before, Russia’s objective is to challenge NATO and see how far the US and other NATO alliance members will bend before they break. Russia also wants to strengthen and expand its borders to include strategic points on the periphery. As for being scared in Poland, I’d be concerned, but not until Russia figures out a way to move into the western of Ukraine should you be thinking about escaping to Germany with a backpack full of kebab vegetarianski. Kiev isn’t going to fall to Russia without a civil war breaking out. If Ukraine hedges towards civil war, then yes, pack a nice lunch of bigos and consider heading west.
Haha ;) Nice one. Speaking of food and beverages, even though you are not a drinker, I wonder… if you could sit down for a drink with Vladimir, who would you say to the great conqueror?
“Hey dude…a couple of quick questions for you: are you really a judo expert? If so can you throw me onto that table over there just for fun? (crash) Cool, thanks…that was intense. Let me ask you something: what really behind the invasion of Ukraine? I know you left your wife a little while ago. Was it for some high school sweetheart in Donetsk who you always wanted to make out with but didn’t? Come on Vlad, you can tell me. (pause) Ok fine just sit there in silence and stare at me. Ok serious question: what do you think of this sentence? ‘Quit Stalin: tell my why you Putin troops in Ukraine?’ Get it Vlad? Funny right? Come on Vladdy baby, work with me here! Hey wait…who are all these guys with FSB patches on their jackets. Why are they surrounding me? Why are you putting that black cloth bag over my head? Vlad? Vlad? Are you still there? Are you mad that I didn’t offer to buy you your beer?” (Greg is dragged into custody and sent to a Siberian gulag where he spends the next 30 years teaching other dissidents how to juggle rocks in the snow).
Hahaha :D You made me fall out of my chair ;)
Ok, one more about Count Vlad. With such leaders gaining huge support of their people (I realize there are thousands of friends hidden behind lunatic leaders, but let’s not be misled – there are legions of people cheering up for Putin’s actions), do you still believe it’s possible to be continually moving towards the goal of end sufferings of the masses? A lot of people, not only in Ukraine, truly believe that this situation is literally hopeless, expressing not only their real drama, but the disappointment in many officials’ failure to act.
I am an optimist for the most part. I know that’s a terrible thing to be sometimes because it leads to passivity. But I truly believe that as long as people don’t maintain comfort and silence at the expense of being opinionated and vocal, that change is possible. Restructuring is possible. New systems are possible. And less suffering is possible. We will never end suffering. It can’t be done. We can diminish it however and develop the mindset that a world with less suffering is always desirable than having more suffering exist. We need to think and act when we see an issue pop up. Remember everything happens in balance: our passivity comes as a result of someone else’s offensive moves. Our silence is the result of another’s voice. With that in mind, when we are lazy and stupid and still, it means that someone else is energized and smart and in motion. Check yourself. Get involved with people who are doing something and having their voices be heard. Or do it yourself. If you see an empty space – and I am saying that metaphorically – then step into it and fill it. You have the ability to craft the world into what you want it to be. And you can make that happen. That’s not empty bullshit. If you think it is then you have lost already. Get intense and get real with yourself. You’ll basically be dead in the equivalent of hours. So spend the minutes you have actually doing something for the world.
We’re on the verge of the European Parliament elections. A bunch of young people simply hate the idea of voting for spongers, who earn way too much money for doing some undefined stuff kilometers away from their country. The EP isn’t the most exciting of organizations, and that these aren’t the most thrilling elections, that’s a fact. On the other hand, you can’t argue with the fact that it has a lot of influence on own country. Furthermore, every chance to stop the extreme-right is a good reason to vote. One way or another, we are confused. Do you think it’s really important to participate and vote? Why?
I can’t say that it is inherently important to vote. Time and time again we experience a vote and then feel disempowered as a result. However I can say that to not vote and to not doing anything else as well is idiotic and stupid. I hear a lot of bullshit about how voting changes nothing during election times. And yes, to think that only voting is going to upend the status quo is naïve at best and detrimental at worst. But to not vote and to do nothing in its place is equally bad, maybe worse. Because in this case you give up illusionary involvement in the games played by power but then resign your own power as well. If every person who didn’t vote on principle then went out and did something on principle, I think we would have a far more interesting world. People’s power is in themselves not in their vote. But because we are generally lazy as a creature/species we tend to give up our power because it requires work to engage with it and to get involved in something other than waiting for someone to control and/or guide us.
Alright Greg, back to your trips and seeing the world through travels… Considering not only your professional or musical endeavors, are there still some places you’d just love to visit?
As for places I’d still love to visit, I dream of hunting poachers in Africa someday with a small clandestine army. Trophy hunters who kill lions, elephants, or rhinos make me sick, even though I understand the reasons are economical. It doesn’t matter. I am still bull headed about this. There are two things that make me irrational – or maybe hyper rational – and think about extreme measures: ending poaching and stopping drunk drivers. There aren’t enough resources to fight poachers effectively due to internal corruption at the government level, and a lack of alternatives for income for people who are engaging in the violence. While I want to say that trophy hunters deserve to be killed (is it possible to teach lions to shoot back? That would be a great solution), and while I’ve always dreamed that I would get to be the one to take action to stop them, I currently don’t have an answer except to shift my focus domestically to support direct action activists at home working to stop trophy hunting, like the Animal Defence League in Canada. They are putting their lives on the line to stop trophy hunters in BC. I dream of doing the same. So maybe a safari or two is in my future. It would be dangerous work in Africa given the firepower and corruption there. If I could figure out how to fund and put a team together, train, and figure out how to put that clandestine group to work then I could go on the vacation of a lifetime. Other than that fantasy, I want to go to every country in South America on a spoken word tour, back to Russia, go to Belarus, and then explore south east Asia and also Australia. That should keep me busy for awhile.
It’s been 11 years since you released “Flight From Death”. How do you, after all these years, keep things fresh and interesting? Doesn’t it get a little less engaging after a certain point? What’s changed in your life in the last 15 years that makes today a pleasure?
Ok…that’s about three questions in one. Let’s take them one at a time! Flight From Death continues to be potent, because the messages in it are universal and by their own nature timeless. I don’t say that from the sense of “look at what a great film producer I was!” but rather just from the sense that Ernest Becker’s ideas stand the test of time. As for how I keep things fresh and interesting, while it maybe be true that there are rarely unique and new ideas in the world, its certainly true that we can always take existing ideas and apply them to situations we encounter in new ways and from new perspectives. I try to do that as often as I can. That way every time I speak is from THAT moment, rather than the one that came the night before. If your brain and heart aren’t dead, you can always find new inspirations to be present in moments. What’s changed in my life that makes today a pleasure: I finally learned everything I needed to know about being in difficult relationships. That was a major change. And I word it specifically that way because if a dear friend of mine who I saw a few years back after about ten or eleven months. He had lost some crazy amount of weight for the first time in forever. I asked him how he did it. He calmly looked at me and said, “I finally just realized that I had learned everything I needed to know about being fat.” For him that was it. With nothing left to learn he was able to change his behaviors because there was only that one new option to explore. Same happened with me. I graduated from bizarre relationships and it’s been like a Greg 2.0 revelation. As for what’s changed in my life in the last 15 years: I started to do spoken word finally and found my voice amidst that. Forever and a day I told myself that I couldn’t do it. But hundreds of shows later, if I can’t do it, I am definitely doing a good job of fooling both myself and my audiences!
A lot of people, especially within the hardcore scene, associate your outside music commitments with your mission to help Haitians after devastating earthquake they experienced in 2010. Can you explain what led you to focus on this particular disaster and the needs of these particular people in One Hundred for Haiti project?
I had been producing a documentary that was in part about Haiti. This was the summer before the earthquake. We had been there a few months before, filming visiting a small village in the jungle near Jacmel in the south of Haiti. When the quake struck I was concerned about my friends, and was posting about them constantly. This caught the attention of some adventurous friends who had a boat and a plan. They offered me the opportunity to sail to Haiti with them on their sailboat that we filled with medical supplies and food from around the Miami area. I went for it. We were at sea for eight days and nights in open ocean and it was at times incredibly peaceful: 360 degree views of the sea as flat as glass under the sun and us jumping off the boat into it and swimming deeply. And at times insane: twenty foot waves in the dead of night blocking out the moon and pounding us into oblivion. When we got to Haiti, with our rudimentary supplies (rice, beans, basic medical etc) we were – as far as we can tell – the first private relief boat to make it to the southern coast of Haiti. A man on the dock waiting for us took the first armload of supplies and said to me, “Welcome to Haiti. We see you as if God has arrived.” That stunned me. The sheer need and appreciation and desperate state of the people there was so powerful. I stayed as the boat went back to the USA and looked for my friends and checked in with them to see how things were going for them. All was well more or less. My friends were okay, though they had lost some more distant family members. When I got back to the USA, after being evacuated out on a military cargo plane, I decided to keep the support going. One Hundred For Haiti started from that point on. We are a 501c3 now and people can find out about what we have going on at www.onehundredforhaiti.org.
What was the inspiration behind The World Leaders Project? How does it differ from the rest of your pursuits? Is it still active?
Very much so. I got a personal letter just yesterday from the President of Switzerland. The project involves sharing ideas about the psychological underpinnings of human behavior with people in positions of power around the world to connect with them face to face and discuss violence. We made our first contacts in 2001 and the events of 9/11 got in the way of most meetings except for the meeting with the then-President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo. We flew to Guyana and met with him directly in hopes of sharing ideas about human behavior and influences that might, if considered geopolitically, diminish our active role as violent participants in the world. It was good…not an earth-changing meeting, but that access was incredible at the time. We – meaning my academic partner and I – are sending invitations regularly to a very specific list. Check back with me in a year and I will have very exciting news about more meetings. Since 2001 we hadn’t tried to connect with people regularly but now we are. And as for the inspiration: the idea is that all the time I connect with people amidst the 99%, meaning the rejects and outcasts of the world, punks or activists or the common people like myself. The idea was to go directly to leaders with new ideas and see what they had to say about them to see if a top-down effect might be helpful rather than a bottom-up approach to dealing with violence on a global scale.
How far do you look down the road? Do you have specific priorities lined up for the next 5 years?
I don’t have specific goals for the next five years. But certainly there are things I want to do: write books, more records, travel/tour, read everything and become smarter, and maybe text a little less. I would also like to learn to juggle seven balls consistently and maybe be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute. It wouldn’t hurt to be speaking more often as well. And I would like One Hundred For Haiti to be at an advanced level too. These are already too many goals. If I had half a brain I would just pick the top two and see them through and them move on.
Haha, good point!
Ok Greg, it would be unwise not to ask you about your bands. I’ve read some good news about the next BETWEEN EARTH & SKY album. Can you reveal some plans for that matter?
Well, BETWEEN EARTH & SKY has twelve new songs in demo form for an album. None have lyrics, but I have about 250 emails that I have sent to myself with lyrical bits and words and ideas and phrases…and a few potential themes to explore overall on an LP. Our plan: revise those songs. Cut the ones that aren’t strong. Write a few more good ones. Then write some lyrics that explore human experience as that of living / dying creatures led by our aspirations to achieve greatness and permanence but ultimately being restricted by our temporal nature. Then record those songs. The LP…or if we cut too many songs EP…will come out in Europe on Refuse Records, and possibly in conjunction with an American label too if we can find one that likes potent songs written by an excellent band who plays rarely. We are a label’s worst nightmare.
Haha, poor labels!
How about TRIAL? What can we expect from you guys in 2015?
TRIAL will also write some new songs. People keep asking me “Are you guys playing any more reunion shows?” For the record, we never played even one reunion. When Brian died in 2009 we agreed with his mother that if we played it would never be a reunion, as there can never be a TRIAL reunion. Instead we are just playing. Yet, because this is the era of reunions, people assume that if a band breaks up then plays again, then it’s exactly that. But what if they play 60 shows, which we have? Are they all reunions? How many reunions happen before the reunion becomes a normal show? I am not sure. Maybe I can search #reunionfacts or look on tumblr and find out. Point is: 2015 = playing Phoenix for the last RUN WITH THE HUNTED show on April 18th, writing some new songs, recording an EP hopefully, doing a tour of Europe definitely, possibly just for fun rerecording our Foundation EP because the original recording is a disaster, and maybe (fingers crossed) doing a couple shows in Ukraine and Russia. I love TRIAL. I always have and always will. The words and ideas are as potent in my mind as they have always been. One of the book ideas I am working on is based on the TRIAL “Are These Our Lives?” LP, with each chapter devoted to the idea or concept in each songs. I will have more news on that in a month or so. People can write me and ask if they are interested and I would be happy to update them.
Photo by Matt Miller.
Awesome! What inspires Greg Bennick in late 2014?Are there any new writers, musicians, works, or simply people that have grasped your interest recently?
As for writers, Sheldon Solomon’s new book The Worm at the Core about Ernest Becker’s work and its applications in the world is going to be incredible. I have an advance proof of its and its amazingly insightful.
Musicians: I am currently writing lyrics for a project band with Mike Moynihan from HOLLOW EARTH. Mike is a creative fireball and he sent me some QUICKSAND-like songs that really caught my attention so that is inspiring because I have to actually sing and not scream like a lunatic. I will record vocals for the first demo of that project on January 2nd 2015.
As for others, it’s always the classics. Give me ANYTHING carved by Bernini, anything painted by Caravaggio, and anything written by Mozart and I will be in awe and inspired. Sure those guys have been dead awhile, but their resonating legacy is the sign of true genius in my opinion. Bernini maybe most of all. If you go to the Villa Borghese in Rome and stand before the Bernini statues Apollo and Daphne, Pluto and Proserpina, and David which are in their collection and aren’t either in tears, speechless in awe, or both…let me know and I will call for a medical team to take your pulse and make sure you are still alive.
Last question, I promise: police murder in the USA and racial tensions. Thoughts on that?
Ah joy. The police. My thoughts go a little like this. We have created a monster in the police and their relationship to the military/government. We let them get too intense, too powerful, too weaponized. And we did this through our silences and insecurities. We always need a guide. We are not self-motivating. As much as we want to believe that we are, we just aren’t. Even if that motivating forces is love, or devotion, or hope…SOMETHING carries us forward. In the midst of a lack of that the vacuum kills us, and we turn to whoever offers guidance or safety. Enter the police. We want them to help. We want them to guide and save and protect and serve us. This is not a choice. It is psychological. And in the midst of this longing we let them get away with a little more here and a little more there in the name of that which we want: protection and security. But then suddenly we wake up one day and realize that we have given them too much control. Add to all that, the fact that the police aren’t machines. They are flawed human beings just like the rest of us, but flawed plus guns and power. This is a dangerous combination. They are subject to racial discriminatory actions like anyone – and yes, I am saying that people have the subconscious influence to connect more strongly with people who are like them than they do people who are unlike them. There is a body of scientific research to support this (note, the Solomon The Worm at the Core book I referenced earlier). That isn’t to say we are all KKK members at heart but rather to say that we have unspoken aggressions and influences which given too much rope will be impossible to control. Thus the police. This isn’t to sound sympathetic, but how can anyone think that they can be in high-pressure situations and still monitor themselves accordingly in terms of emotional responses and reflexive responses to physical danger? They can’t. And so the police are inherently flawed and extremely dangerous. And this is me saying that as a white male. I have no idea what life would be like as a person of color, but I can see from the evidence, that at best it is bad and at worst it is horrific. Add to all of this a system which benefits whites and which is out of balance legally and socially and the situation is nightmarish for the people in the line of fire. The bottom line: Michael Brown didn’t deserve to be murdered. At the very least that should have been determined in a trial. Eric Garner’s choking death is unforgivable. The lack of a trial there too is seemingly an even worse miscarriage of justice. And Tamir Rice should obviously still be alive as well. Someone has to be brought to trial for that, right? I won’t hold my breath. For some solid ideas, search the Washington Post website for the piece entitled “Body cameras won’t stop police brutality” in which the author talks about body cams recording PEOPLE not the police and that what is needed due to the systemic racism and power imbalances is to have situations like these cost something financial in a major way to the police. Since the police can act with impunity they have no reason to stop killing people other than that the paperwork is inconvenient, unless they feel the pain of financial loss. This is going to be an ongoing question for years in the USA. I will leave it at that, and will just add that the murder of the two police officers yesterday in NYC does nothing to help the cause. It is too bad the headline makes it sound like two of the most important people in America were murdered, when two random people wouldn’t have made the headlines at all if people didn’t make a huge issue about it (read that as Michael Brown and Eric Garner). That sad irony aside, I can’t feel solidarity in the slightest with the killer, a man who killed his girlfriend first before killing the two cops. The world has enough violence and enough violence against women for anyone to stand behind a guy who kills his girlfriend. I don’t care what his excuse was.
Well said. Thanks so much Greg! It was a great pleasure to talk with you. Congratulations on winning the Humorous Speech Contest! :) Take care and thanks again for your time!
Thank you! Anyone still breathing after reading this – I expect anyone who makes it through the entire thing will have aged twenty years in the process because it’s so long – should drop me a line anytime if you have questions or thoughts about anything I brought up here.