Ley Line – Grounded By Community In Austin Texas.
by Lauren Jones
For Austin-based band, Ley Line, community is everything. Made up of two musical pairs, Kate Robberson and Emilie Basez and twin sisters Madeleine and Lydia Froncek, the women feel grateful to live in a city that supports their work as creatives and allows them to continue to share their stories through music, something they feel is integral and inherent to the human experience.
While making a living as a musician can be a struggle, it’s support in many forms, whether it be through relationships, financial help or from the government, that makes it possible for these four women to be able to thrive in a career they love. Since forming Ley Line after meeting at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2013, they have further elevated their craft, gotten to explore the role of music in other cultures and have also dug into the symbiotic relationship of the creative and society.
Come To Life: What role does the artist/creative play in society?
Lydia Froncek: I talk about this often on stage often because I play this drum from Senegal called a talking drum. In Senegal and in other parts of Western Africa, it’s played by grillos. Grillos are the keepers of culture and history and they show up at every important event. They use music and storytelling to tell the stories of their families and their entire community and I think that’s what we as artists are doing also. We are talking about what’s going on currently and what’s happened in the past so we don’t fall into the same cycles or make the same mistakes. I think we almost have a duty to uplift community through our music to bring joy, bring happiness and bring people together.
Kate Robberson: I really love this quote that Beethoven says, “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” I think that really explains what creatives do because how we mark society is by creative expression. I think that, as creatives, capturing the culture and passing it on and synthesizing the human experience through your own lens has an important role in translating what is happening energetically into the physical realm.
Come To Life: What are some of the challenging points where you find yourself needing support?
KR: A lot of artistic and creative people can feel what’s happening in the world and in society and that’s an integral part of creating deep work, allowing yourself to feel. It creates a certain vulnerability, and so to have societal support is a huge step. I’m very grateful to live in Austin where creativity is inherent in the culture.
Madeleine Froncek: This made me think about the exchange that happens with music and culture and how if self-expression is not being valued, and in some ways validated by the community, then what’s the point in doing it? There are shows that I’ve had when people come up and dance, and as Lydia talked about in West African music, the drummers play for the dancers and the dancers dance for the drummers. If that’s not happening in the community, then what’s the motivation to keep doing either of those things? The community, fans and friends acting as the supporters are creating this experience of creativity together.
Come To Life: What have you noticed about the role of the musician or creative outside of Western culture?
Emilie Basez: In spending time in Brazil and other parts of Latin America, I’ve noticed that music, and especially folklore and community music, is done regardless. In the United States, a lot of the struggle we see is making it financially and being able to sustainably produce art and live that life. In terms of community music, it’s really inspiring to me every time I go to see a community’s willingness to continue gathering and providing for the community regardless.
KR: A creative isn’t necessarily a job role. You are creative because that’s your culture and it’s centered around that. It’s passed down and it keeps tradition alive. I think something that is really wonderful about our experience in Brazil is to be included in these things where at any moment everyone can become a creative. Everyone can all of a sudden start dancing and making new lyrics and celebrating in these communal creative experiences.
Come To Life: What has been your experience living in Austin as a creative? What organizations have you found to be the most supportive?
LF: Austin, in particular, makes it possible to be a musician where a lot of places don’t. When I got to Austin, I hadn’t had healthcare for five years. With proof that I had played a couple of shows, I was able to get healthcare and dental care from HAAM, [an organization providing affordable healthcare for Austin musicians since 2005]. I think about it every day about how grateful I am that I live somewhere that, because I chose to follow my dream, someone is going to support me in that.
Come To Life: How has it been working with HAAM?
MF: I still get shocked because I can’t believe this is happening. It’s such a beautiful gift to be supported in that way and be validated as a musician.
EB: The healthcare industry is very intimidating. You’re often not sure when you’re going to get off the phone or when you’re going to get what you need. There are many loopholes.
One of my favorite things is when we’re touring, we meet other bands and they ask us if it’s true that we really get healthcare. It makes us very grateful to be in a city where we receive that type of support.
Come To Life: How do you practice self-care and why is it important for musicians?
LF: This is more a part of our group dynamic, but it’s a big part of what we do. We make sure to come together and process things. If someone said something that made someone else uncomfortable or offended, we spend time putting everything in the open and moving through those processes, so we can connect and be closer and support each other.
KR: As far as self-care practices, as a band we spend time in nature and have time to ground and unplug because we get caught up in business. We try not to move too fast, so that we can feel everything in the most authentic and real way without a clouded lens. I feel like if you spend too much time in front of a screen or in a car your lens gets cloudy and you need to have time to wipe it clean and have a fresh view. So, for us part of that is connecting with each other and airing out any of our own individual processes but connecting with source and with something greater. For us, that is represented in this physical realm as the earth and water. Whenever we are traveling, and we need an anchor, it’s getting in the water.
MF: This last tour we definitely focused a lot on self-care. I noticed how each of us has such unique needs and what makes us feel nourished and able to show up how we need to. Sometimes we can’t communicate those needs, but hopefully you’ve set up this network of trust. It makes me think of compassion and how everyone’s own process is different.
Guayaki Presents Come To Life Austin: The importance of art goes beyond its ability to connect and inspire. It is the conduit that spreads important ideas when barriers are present and words simply are not enough. Unfortunately, creators often do not have access to fundamental basic needs. During our time in Austin we are partnering with local groups that are solutionary in ensuring artists’ needs are met so they can not only continue to be makers in their community but movers as well. Join us on cometolife.com, and at our many events over the month of April as we explore this theme.