Trapdoor Social isn’t only a band, it’s an environmental activist musical collective and their music is heavily grounded in a push for environmental regulation and sustainability. Their most recent song, “The Move”, is quite literally a call to action, encouraging its listeners to live sustainably and protest the lack of existing environmental policy. Not only do the members of Trapdoor Social spread their message through music, but they’ve taken action to produce outdoor solar-powered concerts around the US. On top of their impressive initiative, the band is set to release a full album and embark on a national tour this spring.
I sat down with Trapdoor Social co-founder and vocalist, Skylar Funk, to learn more about their recent single “The Move” and the future of their environmental activism.
Ariel Zedric: First and foremost, how’d you guys meet?
Skylar Funk: Merritt and I met in the Pomona College Environmental Analysis department in… 2008! and started the band a couple of years later. We have picked up members since like a snowball careening down a frosty slope…
When and how did you decide to form a band?
I reconnected with Merritt in 2011 when he let me know he was starting a recording project. We had always geeked out about songwriting, and I liked the production sample he showed me… so we went for it! We also had this wild idea that together and through a platform like music we could do something to save the world. More on that later.
Where does the band name ‘Trapdoor Social’ come from?
Imagine some kind of underground gathering of all your favorite writers, philosophers, musicians, etc., past or present, playing cards and shooting the sh*t. That’s the image we had in mind when we chose to run with that (weird, weird) name.
Your recent single, “The Move”, is quite literally a call to action. Was there any one event that really motivated you to create this song, or would you say it was a culmination of several events?
More of a culmination. Ever since our education in ecology and whatnot, Merritt and I have shared a sense of urgency around environmental issues and have agreed to use our voice as artists to promote action for a less-messed-up future. We see protest music from past decades as a powerful force that we’ve always dreamt of bringing back… This song was one of many attempts to write that ‘Eco Anthem’… but in a fun, juicy pop package… kinda like Macklemore did with “Thrift Shop” (which is actually a super poignant commentary on consumerism in America today).
What was your favorite part about filming the video? Was it hard to bike with no hands and sing at the same time?
You know, I get a huge kick out of riding my bike around town. It’s not a particularly safe activity… more like an extreme sport… but I love the speed, the adrenaline, the satisfaction of passing cars stuck in traffic, etc. I don’t know if that makes me a jerk but I really think it’s the best and everyone should try it! You don’t pay for gas or parking, and you get a workout… it’s the best.
The video was inspired by the simple act of me commuting around DTLA on my bike when we first had a demo of the song from the studio. I was so pumped about that groove and funky bass line… I just found myself dancing around while riding down 8th street — I didn’t know it was possible to shake my booty so hard on a bicycle! I knew I wanted to promote this carbon-free transportation option, and I knew the energy of riding felt right for the energy of the song. I admit it was exhausting to ride for hours while shooting, and singing didn’t make it any easier… but it was a blast and super worth it.
The music video also contained a lot of footage of protests for an environmental change! Tell me about your dedication to sustainability and what organizations you work with.
Our videographer for this project, John Haas, is originally a friend of mine from the environmental scene. I knew him from campaigns like Live From The Front Lines and Oil Money Out, and I was stoked that he was willing to be strapped to the back of my buddy Adam Kudynski and driven around on a moped to shoot! What a bold soul.
As we were working on the edit, John offered to add some of his own footage from recent protests, which he said might help drive home the pro-sustainability message of the song. Riding one’s bike and protesting in the streets are very different… or maybe just two sides of the same coin. I dig that addition.
You also perform at solar-powered concerts, that’s amazing! Would you say it requires more effort than a live show would usually take? Or would it be an easy switch for more bands to make?
Setting up the solar-powered show is quite a bit of an extra step, yes. We invested in a bunch of gear — sound system, hardware, cables, mics, lights, mixer, road cases, tents, power distribution, the solar generator itself, etc. etc. — and maybe someday we’ll see our return on investment! Haha. Plus the labor hours it takes to essentially create (and later pack up) an entire outdoor music venue each time we do it… It’s a lot.
I 100% encourage artists to do their best to promote the causes they believe in! However, I must acknowledge that we were particularly lucky to have the resources to spare when we decided to take on this challenge.
Your songs are very focused around the environment and climate change. Walk me through your writing process. Do you ever find inspiration outside of the activism you do?
I would actually say that the majority of our writing is inspired by other themes outside of politics/environment. It is definitely one of our major themes… but so are love, philosophy, sadness, the life of the artist, the desire to encourage others to be their best selves, and so on.
The writing process for me usually starts with the piano, guitar, or maybe my mom’s harp or an instrumental track from someone else. Out of a compelling musical base, a nice chord progression or sound, I’ll start singing, riffing on melodic ideas, with gibberish for lyrics, and then the vibe of the music and my intellectual inspirations of the moment inform what kind of lyrics to fit into it. Or… something like that.
If you weren’t a band, would you all be full-time conservationists?
Maybe! I have some great friends working in that space, and that’s pretty much what my college degree was leading me into… but also making hot sauce is super fun. I’ve been having a blast selling that, and if music stopped existing tomorrow I would be quite tempted to scale up that business to pay my bills! See UncleSkys if you’re curious 😉
What’s the most difficult part about balancing a music career and such a strong activist agenda?
We are definitely learning a lot about how to find the balance between activism and music. We spent the last three years organizing Sunstock Solar Festival, which was a huge passion project, but also expensive, time-consuming, and generally exhausting for our team. It was a really great experience, but we’ve decided to put it on hold for now, so we can focus on music year-round, find our way in that craft first, and maybe someday we’ll go back and pick up that banner again.
Festival organizing is an insane job and I don’t necessarily recommend it to everyone. Getting hired to come produce a solar stage for a music festival at a college, however, is much more manageable, leaving time to develop our art in between events. There may even be another path we don’t see yet that will let us use art to make our statement in an effective and sustainable way. We just have to keep trying things and see!
Your second full-length album is set to release soon; what can fans expect? In what ways will it be similar to your earlier tracks, and in what ways will it be different?
There are certainly some strong common threads between our latest batch and earlier recordings. Our collaborative songwriting, our voices, the influence of our producer, Curt Schneider — all that is still there. I suppose you will hear some new directions and styles in the forthcoming album, as we are (hopefully) always evolving, trying new things, and being influenced by things we hear and events in our lives. For one, I think you’ll hear more saxophone and other horns… about time! My inner band nerd is very excited to share.
If you could give one piece of advice for young aspiring artists or activists, what would it be?
Stay in the game! There will always be setbacks and distractions, but if you really want to make a difference, just don’t give up. Apply constant pressure without burning yourself out. Almost nothing happens overnight. Stay flexible, see the big picture, and don’t underestimate your contribution — it is way better to light your little candle than to curse the darkness!
Featured image courtesy of Trapdoor Social