Nomadic at heart and a creator at their core, Zoe Boekbinder (they/them) was born on a farm into a family of four children. While music wasn't very present in their upbringing, Boekbinder recalls some of their first memories as making up songs. For them, music is as natural and as necessary as breath, and the way they engage as an activist. Boekbinder was raised, in part, by their grandfather — a Holocaust survivor. Having survived the horrific, prejudiced violence of his past, he instilled in Boekbinder a deep belief in justice. Songwriting has become their resistance language.
Boekbinder is one of the founding creators of the Prison Music Project and the album, Long Time Gone. Using music as a platform to bring light to stories and voices otherwise unheard, lost or forgotten, Boekbinder continues their work from their hometown in New Orleans, LA, performing both as a solo artist and in collaborations with artists including Ani DiFranco, Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Mal Blum, and Mirah.
Glitter Box: The most real, most honest piece of advice you have for someone working their way up in your field (or any field).
Zoe: Do what you love. Do what makes you feel good.
Glitter Box: What do you think is the most important thing we need to do to achieve a more equitable and just society?
Zoe: Dismantle capitalism.
Glitter Box: What does your artistic/creative process look like? Is there a particular project or piece you're excited about right now?
Zoe: I pick up new interests all the time. I have difficulty focusing on one type of art/one medium for very long. I used to be hard on myself about it but I've realized that my joy in the process is a better measure of success than any price tag will ever be. I'm currently excited about making a podcast. It's a brand new art form for me - but I've always loved telling stories through music so I'm making that a part of this process too. It is an exciting way to empower folks in telling their own stories, amplifying their voices, and challenging our ideas of justice. The podcast is all about reimagining justice and thinking about how we move away from the current criminal legal system and towards a system that is truly just and actually keeps us all safe. As Leyla McCalla once said to me (from my memory, probably quite flawed), "if I'm not making political music, then why make music at all?". That's how I feel about art. It's not just pretty (though hopefully it's also pretty). It should challenge what we take for granted. It should encourage us to question everything we think we know.
Glitter Box: Why New Orleans? What does creating in New Orleans mean to you?
Zoe: I moved here without having any kind of community here. I was drawn to the feeling of the place more than anything. A decade later I feel like a very different person but I still love the things that drew me here... the unnamable things. I've been learning (not ever done learning) how to honor this place, its history, the people that make it what it is, the people it was taken from, the people who were enslaved and bought and sold here. At times I feel unsure if I should be creating/taking up space here at all.
Glitter Box: How does creating/making influence the way you interact with the world?
Zoe: I approach art making much the same way as I approach relationship/community building. It is inspiring to work with people to create something beautiful, something inclusive, something accessible, something safe and just. There isn't a clear line for me that separates my "work" from the rest of my life. It's all creating and it's how I interact with the world.
Glitter Box: What does success look like to you? What are you working towards/striving for?
Zoe: I've been thinking a lot about how we measure success in a capitalist society. Even those of us that reject the the prescribed lifestyles - we still feel the pressures of measurable impact. In my view, it all stems from the idea that we are not inherently worthy or inherently lovable. We must earn money, praise, or position in order to feel worthy. At least we think that will make us feel worthy. There is no arriving when that is the path. That is capitalism sucking as much labor as it can from us. It needs us feeling unworthy otherwise we will start to ask ourselves what we want and what makes us feel good. I am working to redefine success as joy and contentment. That doesn't mean I feel like a failure when I'm sad either. I've realized that my existence has very little impact on anyone else. I can relax and focus on loving myself and doing things that feel good. I like being in nature. I like singing and making art. I like hanging out with my dogs. I like eating yummy food. I like watching bad movies. Doing those things is what makes me successful... not my social or economic status. In short, I'm striving to watch more bad movies, while snuggling my dogs, and eating snacks in a cabin in the woods. #AttainableGoals