The Argonaut Feature Interview: Joselyn & Don - "Singing for the Planet"
WESTCHESTER DUO JOSELYN & DON CELEBRATE LOVE’S HEALING POWER AND ADDRESS THE UNIVERSAL THREAT OF CLIMATE CHANGE WITH DEBUT ALBUM ‘SOAR’
By Bliss Bowen | October 1, 2020
It’s been almost 20 years since Joselyn Wilkinson and Don Barrozo met and bonded at a jam in Venice. During that time they married, raised a family, and supported each other’s creative projects. Wilkinson, a music educator and musician who founded the celebratory female-vocal-and-drum ensemble ADAAWE, played percussion on Barrozo’s trumpet-driven 2005 album “Blue Talk”; Barrozo, a longtime editor for “The Simpsons,” produced and created horn arrangements for Wilkinson’s 2010 solo album “Chance for Rain.” But not until recently did they formalize their collaboration as a folk-rooted musical duo.
Over the past year they’ve occasionally tried out new songs onstage, such as the soulfully percussive “Broken” and “Wayfarer’s Son,” and they began recording in their home studio in Westchester. According to Barrozo, when the coronavirus pandemic compelled them to start working from home in mid-March, they “never missed a beat” because they “were able to get right from the office into our home and start right away” on their first album as Joselyn & Don. In early September, they released “Soar.”
The opening track is “Storm,” a dramatic ballad Wilkinson says she wrote when wildfires were devastating Sonoma County in 2018. Its lyrics eerily echo the plight of many wildfire, hurricane and flood refugees across the country in 2020, and brings to mind the ongoing Angeles National Forest’s Bobcat Fire, which turned Southern California skies orange for weeks, and current fires in California wine country.
“Where do I run to when paradise is burning Scorching the hills of the home I used to know How do we hold on with the flood water rising Where do we go now that the storm has reached our shore”
The visually striking video for “Storm,” shot by Wilkinson’s brother, Oakland-based filmmaker Spencer Wilkinson, shows them performing on the rugged shores of Montaña de Oro State Park along the Central California coastline. Those scenes are interspersed with stock footage of a prairie rainstorm and smoke arising from a massive fire. Taking a metaphorical rather than literal approach allowed them to “embrace that universal threat that we’re all facing” from climate change, Wilkinson said during a recent phone call.
“I wanted to fill out the story, and I wanted images that weren’t literal, that were more metaphorical,” Barrozo explained. “I didn’t want to use footage of California fires; we’re so inundated with those images.”
They’re utilizing the video for “Storm” as a tool of support for firefighters and other first responders who’ve become modern-day heroes for citizens up and down the West Coast. A note posted on YouTube with the video directs viewers to California Fire Foundation (cafirefoundation.org) and GlobalGiving — California Wildfire (globalgiving.org/california-wildfires).
“It’s not an ongoing campaign, but we wanted to shine a light on the efforts of those two organizations. When folks are looking for a way to make a meaningful contribution, we wanted to provide those links to groups doing powerful advocacy work,” Wilkinson said. “California Fire Foundation is giving direct gift cards to families affected by the fires, as well as families of fallen firefighters. GlobalGiving — California Wildfire is doing direct support for firefighters and supplying emergency supplies to people in need.”
Videos for other songs from “Soar” further underscore how vital nature is to the duo’s creativity. The video for “All It Takes Is Time” was shot just outside Malibu Creek State Park, while the lyric video for “Mama Bird” celebrates the connections bonding all living things.
“Our identity and musical inspiration is tied very closely with the natural world,” Wilkinson said. “‘Mama Bird’ speaks to my connection with other mothers but acknowledges that we have more in common with creatures in nature than we realize.”
Barrozo and Wilkinson lived in Venice and Marina del Rey for many years before settling into their Westchester home, but both are natives of Montana, where they return each year. That background gives them a broader view of the existential changes being wrought by the climate crisis.
“The glaciers in Glacier National Park are receding at a real fast rate — almost gone. They’ll be gone within our lifetimes,” Barrozo said. “I’ve never seen green grass in winter in Montana until this year.”
“We’ve seen massive changes in our lifetime,” Wilkinson agreed. “The farther north you go, the more you notice climate change affecting landscape in a very real way. When I was growing up, we had winters where we had cold snaps of 50 degrees below 0 for weeks at a time. We don’t have those kinds of winters anymore. It’s not that you don’t ever get those kinds of conditions, but we’ve seen the climate change right before our eyes.”
That sensitivity to the environment informs “Storm” and other songs on “Soar,” just as their rhythmic buoyancy tinges them with hope. It’s one of the reasons Joselyn & Don pushed ahead with their album release plans after initially putting them on hold.
“We felt it was important to go ahead and release it this year,” Wilkinson said of “Soar.” “Even though some of the songs are about challenging subjects overall, they have an uplifting quality and we felt like this music is right from our hearts. We wanted to offer it out to our world, even during a time that’s more challenging — or because of that — and see if it can be a force for healing.”
To learn more about Joselyn & Don, visit www.joselynwilkinson.com