Fossil Fuel Kid: An Interview with Hayride Casualties

The topics of music and politics tend to stay far away from one another. Musicians aren’t looking to sway their audience one way or the other and politicians composing songs about their views is unheard of. For indie folk-rock band Hayride Casualties, writing with a political undertone materialized one day and stuck around.

Daniel DeWald is by no means a politician. However, his band’s debut album, Fossil Fuel Kid, is a mixture of political and ecological topics that explore his background in activism. This is his story, in his words:  
I grew up in a somewhat rural area, the south fork of Long Island, and developed a sense of connection to nature pretty early on. I feel especially connected to the seasons, which are so dramatic here in the northeast. In my early twenties I started learning about climate change: how multinational corporations, aided by the purchased loyalty of political leaders, are using the atmosphere like a slop sink (to paraphrase Bill McKibben) and have been doing so for decades. This industrial carbon pollution is disrupting the global climate. How could someone not become obsessed with that? 
At first I didn't want to make music about it. I thought I'd be of better use doing community organizing. I got deeply involved in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, then helped start a campus fossil fuel divestment campaign, and also worked with a renewable energy advocacy nonprofit. I was in my late twenties by then and had a lot of experience writing songs and poetry, and eventually this protest voice just emerged in my writing. I gradually stopped working as an organizer, and decided to focus my energy solely on music as activism.
When I developed the lyrics for Fossil Fuel Kid, there was a certain aliveness to them. Now hearing the finished product, and performing the songs, they've maintained that energy. I think that has everything to do with the subject matter. It comes from a clear and authentic part of myself. I'm not sure my music before Hayride Casualties always did. So, I'm willing to accept that some folks are gonna be turned off, because that means the songs will hit that much harder for other listeners who are more open-minded. Also, on a personal level, I think it's healthy as an artist to make some people angry. I have personal karma of trying to be agreeable and non-confrontational, often at my own expense, and I care a little too much what people think. If everyone is pleased with my work, it may be an indication that the work is flat lining. For some art works, that observation doesn't apply, but it's a good general guidepost for an artist, I think.
The album, Fossil Fuel Kid, is named after the title track, which is a song that tries to capture that moment when a person makes the connection between their own personal life and the life of something much larger than themselves. In this case, that much larger thing is our planet. The song attempts to strip away all the abstraction of climate change, and make it about personal experience. As a citizen of a highly industrialized nation with lots of privilege, I'm both an agent and beneficiary of the violent machinery of climate change. That's fucking heartbreaking, but it's more complicated than just that. When I investigate really closely, growing up a fossil fuel kid is deeply intertwined with my sense of who I am, so there's some moral ambiguity there. It's a subtle point, but maybe the most important one on the album, so it emerged as the album title.  
We're so divided as a country right now. It's the worst I've ever seen in my lifetime, and the impacts of that are overwhelmingly negative. So while I am not afraid of taking a clear stance, I also try to be really critical and careful about how Hayride Casualties frame the issues, trying not fall prey to the rote partisan rhetoric that automatically triggers the opposite side into writing us off. The entry point for that is personal experience; sharing what you actually feel about what's happening. When you strive to do that nakedly, the hope is that you can transcend the divide. Some of the songs on Fossil Fuel Kid definitely fail in that regard, but I think others get close. I want to move more in that direction as a lyricist.   
I think it's natural to feel alienated from the crazy state of the world right now. It can be really hard to see the link between your own life and what's happening with the climate and global ecosystem. Questioning that feeling of alienation, wanting to connect to something bigger, and wanting to respond in an authentic way but not knowing quite how can be pretty painful. But it's also incredibly exciting. I hope there's a variety of ways to engage with all those feelings by way of the record.