When passion, purpose and what seems to be a push from the universe come together, you end up with the collaboration that is Street Pharmacy and Giant Panda Guerilla Dud Squad. Street Pharmacy frontman Ryan Guay and James Searl, bassist and frontman for GPGDS, have joined forces to put out the powerful and relevant song, “They Don’t Give A $$$$”.
When passion, purpose and what seems to be a push from the universe come together…
Check out what the two had to say about how they met, their influences for writing the single and their hope for the future — both musically and the world at large.
Not often do we see such a great collaboration between a Canadian and American band. While Rochester, NY and Welland, ON aren’t that far apart, how did the two of you come to work together?
- Ryan (of Street Pharmacy): Back in 2018, Street Pharmacy was playing a show at a yacht club in Fort Erie, Ontario. The club’s members are predominantly American. At this show, a fan — who ended up becoming a really great friend — introduced himself and mentioned that Street Pharmacy should meet the guys in Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad; he was convinced that we would hit it off. This mystery fan had a really great vibe and since I was already a big fan of everything GPGDS has done, I was open to the idea. A few months down the road, I received an email to head on down to meet James at a show in Canandaigua, New York. The show was great and James was really gracious and took the time to check out some of my music. From there, we became really great friends and found out that we shared a lot of the same influences. James, and the rest of Panda, even had us open for them on a couple of shows in New York State. I am super grateful for that fan’s introduction. I’ll let James take it from here.
- James (of GPGDS): I’m a pretty social person and willing to talk to just about anyone all the time. So, Panda was playing in DC and I was rushing backstage for something before the show and our merch seller came and said “hey, there is a guy who wants to say hi”. And, for really the first time in 15 years of touring, I felt kind of overwhelmed and said “you know what… I don’t know that guy and right now, I can’t”. But then, I stopped, got over myself for the movement and said in my head, “who are you to not have two minutes to talk to someone who is here to enjoy your bands music?”. So, I went out and met the guy, who, it turns out, was just there to tell me about Ryan. He said that he just had a feeling that Ryan and I would hit it off and he wanted my blessing to share my contact info with Ryan. He was a really nice guy and told me him and his kids loved the music; I said thank you and was glad that I had gone out there to meet him. Good vibes. He later contacted me and asked if Ryan could come say ‘hi’ at a show. Ryan showed up and said hi and handed me a one sheet, which is not typical in my band-to-band, bro-to-bro interactions, but it was a good thing he did, because it’s what made me realize I needed to follow up with him. The next day, I was getting ready for a big drive and eating breakfast. I glanced over at his one sheet and was perplexed at how he had gotten a picture of me on his one sheet. It didn’t make any sense. I looked closer and realized that the picture I thought was ME was actually RYAN! It’s very strange when that happens to yourself… Maybe someone has said before “hey, so-and-so looks like you”, but when you mistake someone else for yourself, it’s extremely surreal. I sent the picture to Panda drummer Chris and my wife and asked them each where they thought the photo of me was taken. They said they didn’t know where, but both minds were blown when I told them that it wasn’t even a photo of me. Anyways, for whatever reason, that’s how I ended up following up with Ryan and I’m so so glad that I did.
Tell me about the process of writing the new song.
- Ryan: James and I had a lot of conversations that always led back to the fact that the powers that be in our world don’t really give a f**k about anything, but the bottom line. After one of these conversations, I recorded an iPhone memo of the chorus and sent it to James and invited him to collaborate on it with me. James had written some first great lyrics right away, which became the second part of the second verse. Over the next few months, James made the trip to Welland and we laid down the bed tracks in my home studio. This took place in November of 2019, before the lockdown and the global upheaval that came as a result of the Coronavirus. Once we were in lockdown, James and I finished the song through sharing files over the Internet. James did an excellent job of recording his own vocal. He has an uncanny ability to capture emotion when he is taking his vocal tracks and that really shows here in this song. At the very end of the process, Eli Flynn (of GPGDS) tracked his own guitar solo and sent it to me. Our mutual friend Adam Tune of the EDM group Keys N Krates and co-producer Mike Tompa helped us put it all together.
- James: This was Ryan’s vision from the beginning, but our interest in the outcome was shared and organic. Usually when I write lyrics, I have a hard time moving away from the first inspiration. For this tune, I actually wrote three different styles of verses over a couple of months. When I finally sat down to make the final product, Ryan had developed the entire song. It was such an inspiring sound, combining elements of all the music that has influenced me in my life that I, right then and there, just started free-styling lyrics. The last lyrics I had written were on a beautiful fall day in a downtown Rochester Park with a statue of Fredrick Douglass next to me and BLM signs dropped over the churches. But now, I find myself quarantined in my basement in Indiana. People were just starting to come out on the streets and raise their voices about the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. It seemed like a call to action was necessary and the lyrics took a turn toward the present, instead of just a critique of the past. Ryan and Adam were exceptionally supportive and helpful in making me feel powerful as a creative.
I admire that not only do you address COVID, BLM and the corruption of the government, but that of the marginalized and houseless community.
- Ryan: Our lyric video also addresses the plight of Indigenous people, which is something very important to me. Specifically, the lyric video contains clips from various Canadian media sources of the rail blockade that took place earlier this year. The rail blockade, which was nationwide, took place in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory in British Columbia, who were fighting a 416-mile pipeline through their territory.
- James: People need to wake up and see that however the most vulnerable and marginalized populations are treated is the standard of a society. They don’t give a fuck about you. You have the freedom to starve, be kicked out of your home over hardship and be left to die on the streets. We should all try to empathize with the worst-off folks, not just out of humanity, but as a means of future survival.
How has the Canadian government and the U.S. government in the handling of the current Global situation influenced the creation of the song?
- Ryan: Corruption is everywhere in every government. The response by each of our respective governments to the Coronavirus, racism, sexism, pollution, etc. is vastly different, but I think James and I can both agree that the primary driver of policy-making in both countries is the corporate bottom line. Profits over people is never okay.
- James: Canada and the U.S. represent a good majority of ‘North America’. The connections to the British Empire and the rollover from Neocolonialism into an unapologetic Neoliberalism continues to be the same wolf-in-different-sheep’s-clothing. The situation is constantly revealing itself and the multiple crises affecting the globe seem to be the consequences of problems never fixed, but simply painted over. Ryan is a brilliant historian and a genuinely well-read intelligent guy and we both — during the writing of this song — brought up whether Malthus was right in his warning of humans overextending ourselves, for the sake of ease, [as we] continually reach levels of environmental and economic collapse. Ryan for PM?
Who are your influences musically to write this song?
- Ryan: I believe that James and I both discovered Rage Against the Machine at a very young age. It’s also very important to note that protest music and reggae music come from the same place and are synonymous in many regards. Sonically, we were channeling the music created in the early 90s by alternative rock musicians that we both admire. It was both of our hopes that a young music lover would discover this song, much like James and I discovered Rage Against the Machine, and become aware of the issues that plague our world today.
- James: In this whole debate over statues coming down, it has reminded me exactly what Ryan said. Where do we learn our history? From statues? I learned and became interested in most things important to me through modern music and the culture surrounding it. Particularly punk, hip hop and reggae. Despite a great suburban education, a great supportive family and a college degree, it was music that made me interested and music that made me care. Rage Against the Machine was definitely the first wake-up call for me to pay attention. I was 11 when the first record dropped.
Who are your influences (positive or negative) politically that influenced the writing of the song?
- Ryan: The circumstances of the world in its current state was definitely a major influence. I think that seeing positive protests calling for change and young people and older people alike entering into a dialogue about what’s really going on and what’s really wrong was a major factor in helping this song become what it is.
- James: Honestly I’m so sick of the subject. It’s so wild to think of a song being relevant for ‘this time’ when in fact ‘this time’ is a bit over 500 years old. 1491 and 1492 by Charles C. Mann are excellent books about the world pre and post-Columbian exchange. We are at a breaking point. It will probably take another 500 years to get out of it and who knows where it will take us. This urgency and exhaustion certainly influenced the energy in this tune.
Tell me how you come up with the idea to use a cash register sample in conjunction with ‘$$$$’?
- Ryan: The chorus lyrics and the use of the cash register sample in the midst of a heavy alternative rock-oriented chorus allows for two things to exist: one, the use of profanity for the purpose of severe effect and, two, to highlight the issues of corruption and wealth distribution that have marginalized and plagued poverty-stricken people for far too long. We also wanted to make something that was edgy, meaningful and radio-friendly, so that the message could reach the most amount of people and not lose its meaning. The sound of the cash register perfectly exemplifies what it all comes down to in the end — money.
- James: That was 100% a Ryan original idea from the very first phone call he made to me about the tune. I love sampling. I think that it is representative of a much greater ingenuity of recycle and reuse and the recontextualizing of sounds triggering people’s brains in incredible and complex ways.
With the ever-changing sociopolitical climate and how relevant the song is today, are there any plans for a livestream of it in the near future?
- Ryan: It would be great to get together and do a livestream about the song and to maybe perform an acoustic version through the use of various Internet tools. If that’s something that you’re interested in, maybe you can host it! Maybe we can encourage people to donate to local factions of the greater movement.
- James: It would be incredible to rage this tune live at a massive festival with both bands.
*Top Shelf note: If you build it, we will host it.
What is your greatest hope for change that you wish to see come from this single?
- Ryan: It starts with the individual. If one person hears this song and becomes more conscious and critical of the power structure that exists in our world, I feel that we’ve done our job.
- James: Same. If there is a person out there that hasn’t thought about these issues or had that ‘AHA’ moment about the world and its power relations, we would be more than thrilled if this was the inspiration for it.