Portland-based synth-pop artist Big Wild (aka Jackson Stell) released a new song and video Wednesday, titled “Who Do You Believe?” The video envisions people trapped on opposite sides of a room, reacting with increasing vehemence to projected images on screens dividing them. The song’s release is intended to benefit The Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan organization working to defend constitutional democracy and justice in the U.S.
I asked Jackson Stell via email about the song and video.
David Christensen: The video speaks for itself, about the problems we’re having as a people with polarization and dehumanizing others. In the video, people are literally separated by a screen, and they see each other for the first time when it falls away. How are you handling the flow of news and social media in your life?
Jackson Stell: “Who Do You Believe” imagines a transition from a world polarized by personalities, narratives and agendas, to one unified by individual critical thought and humanity. The current, seemingly national culture, appears to be one driven not by truth and fact — but by propaganda, self-serving bias and a distorted system of beliefs, fueled by prominent voices in our culture and our own egos alike. I wanted to show over time how our ideas of each other snowball into something far beyond reality. I’ve fallen victim to this myself and gotten mentally wrapped up in anger and assumptions about people and stories I don’t truly know. With the making of “Who Do You Believe,” I worked through some of that anger and with that came a little more self-awareness and compassion. There is no silver bullet, but by the end of the music video I try to present our shared humanity as the common ground where we can all meet and try to build upon.
Christensen: When did you move to Portland and how did you end up here?
Stell: My fiancée (now wife) and I moved up to Portland about two and a half years ago. Portland allowed us to have more space and for me to actually build out a proper studio, rather than using my bedroom or laundry room. … I really enjoy living in a city where there are so many creatives. In fact, the “Who Do You Believe” music video was shot, directed, and edited in Portland. I’m proud of that.
Christensen: It’s a fraught time in this community, obviously, with months of BLM protests, armed groups coming here for provocations and violence, and the complicated role of police and federal agents throughout. Do you find yourself explaining to friends outside Portland what’s going on? Essentially, “who do you believe?”
Stell: Portland has been through a lot for the past several months. My family is all in New England and always asks me how things are. The popular narrative about Portland is it’s being overrun by anarchists and Antifa while also being labelled an “anarchist” city alongside Seattle and New York by the Department of Justice. The truth, of course, isn’t that simple. In “Who Do You Believe,” I sing the line “I know what I see,” and what I’ve seen is a majority of peaceful protests and a city that overwhelmingly supports the Black Lives Matter movement but not the violence and destruction (from both protesters and police). People who don’t support BLM use the negative side of the protests to delegitimize the cause and slander Portland. It’s true, there is a lot of work and change that needs to be done in Portland, but we are far from being an “anarchist” city and that title was 100% politically charged. Of course, this is anecdotal so if you’re actually curious about the state of Portland, look into it beyond just my own account!
Christensen: How are you getting by, without live shows and tours during the pandemic?
Stell: My wife and I try and take everything day by day. It’s been a tough several months for us, as I’m sure it has been for just about everyone. Thankfully I had just finished renovating my garage into a home studio in January, so I’ve been able to spend most of my time working on music. Also, we have a pet bunny named Mopsy who completes our life. The lack of shows has left me craving being on stage. I miss that intense nervousness I get right before I run out followed by the massive reward of looking out at a crowd of beautiful faces. I’m very much looking forward to getting out and feeling human again, if that makes any sense.