Meet Big Scythe!
Before rehearsals began for Like Sheep to Water, or Fuente Ovejuna , Trinity Rep’s Ziyi Yang endeavored to learn more about the show’s music director and local musician, Jerediah “Big Scythe” Gonzalez.
Ziyi Yang: How would you describe yourself as a musician?
Jerediah “Big Scythe” Gonzalez: I’m mostly a hip-hop producer, making beats through sampling and drum sequencing. I love music of all kinds, and get my influence from many different forms of urban music like funk, R&B, rock, jazz, blues, reggae, salsa, etc. I call my style Urban Eclectic. In the last few years I’ve been creating my own music without any samples. I’m self-taught and play keyboard, drums, and hand percussion, congas mostly. My flavor of production is dynamic. I love big sounds like horns, crunchy guitars — music that drives. I don’t like to follow trends. My music comes from inside me and my influences. So I make music that touches my soul, and the souls of people who listen.
Ziyi: What are you making for the music in this play?
Jerediah: Since the play is set in 17th century Spain, we are dealing with the Baroque/Medieval periods. We decided to modernize the music — using its cadences and giving it a more modern feel — as well as blending it with the influences I mentioned earlier, but also keeping some songs true to form by sampling music we found. I also experimented with blending it with Dubstep.
Ziyi: What are you most excited about for the creative process?
Jerediah: This being my first go at being a music director, I’m really excited. I get to expand the ways I think of music production; I get to build on my strengths as a hip-hop producer while strengthening my weaknesses as a musician. I’m not classically trained, and a lot of the music in that era was in the 3/4 time signature. Kind of a waltzy feeling. Most pop music is in 4/4 time. So I gotta use a lot of triplets to blend melodies and drum patterns. I’ve done theater before as an actor. I’m familiar with the play process but not at this level. A whole lotta awesome is about to happen!
Ziyi: At the core of this play is a message of communal bonding. What is the role of the music, especially in relation to our present-day narratives about community?
Jerediah: Music has the ability to allow people to connect to one another beyond the limits of their own perceptions. It’s been that way since humans discovered rhythm. The drum hits the heart, which evokes the spirit of dance, and the melody hits the soul, evoking the spirit of song. The rhythm brings us together. Music is a way to communicate, a method of storytelling. The Civil Rights Movement was driven by song. From the churches to the radio, people were in sync with each other and the message through the music. It helps provide an outlet to challenge social norms and give light to social commentary.
Nowadays, with police violence, the Dakota Pipeline situation, an imbalanced political system, and a politically polarized population, we need music more than ever. But socially-conscious music isn’t played on the radio anymore. Corporations have no interest in enlightening and uplifting people. They want us to be consumers. The last really popular socially conscious songs I can recall are “Waiting On the World to Change” by John Mayer and “Where’s the Love” by the Black Eyed Peas. And that was like 11 to 14 years ago. So today’s social movements aren’t driven by music as they were in the past. Janelle Monae and her crew Wondaland had this joint called “Hell You Talmbout” to support the Black Lives Matter movement’s battle against police brutality, but it was more of an underground song that had no real radio play. We need music to bring light to our humanity again. That is to say, the narrative of music and its wider impact is tied into the media. So when we talk about music, we need to take corporations into consideration.
And to your point about the theme of the play: Yes, there is a sense of power obtained by a community sticking together, but in that very moment, the exact opposite is also true. By continuing their loyalty to the monarchy, the people of Fuenteovejuna relinquish the very power they’ve obtained by taking control of their situation. They leave themselves at the mercy of the king and queen. All to uphold the ideal of serving something greater than themselves, in this case, the kingdom. This reinforces their own narrative and sense of normalcy. Not unlike what we do today in this country, and perhaps the world over... which does make you wonder: What does it say about our social consciousness? What is a rebellion? What is a revolution really? These are the questions I want to pose through music.