Fay Milton is best known as the drummer in the band Savages, but on a recent tour across the US, she defied expectations of what musicians get up to between gigs. Fay spent the tour recording Very Important Things, a series of intelligent interviews with an eclectic range of figures who are engaged in the struggle to raise awareness of, and ultimately address climate change.
From a rabbi to a NASA scientist, filmmakers, musicians and activists, she created a series which explores what is happening to the planet and what we should be doing about it. The power of the films is increased by the fact they are sober rather than sensational, but that’s not to say they lack energy – how could they when they feature the likes of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Cowspiracy director Kip Andersen?
The films, four of which debuted exclusively on WeTransfer this week, are meant as a call to action, a reminder that doing nothing isn’t an option any more. We caught up with Fay to find out more…
Where did the idea of doing a project on climate change first come from?
In December 2015, I went over to Paris during the COP21 climate talks. My aim was to shoot a short two minute film depicting the climate movement with the same visual language we are used to seeing depicting the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, to relate the feelings of nostalgia and pride that we have for those images to the hard working activists and campaigners of the current climate movement.
While I was over there, I attended talks and spoke to lots of people, I learned so much about the incredibly huge range of issues that tie into the one problem of climate change. I tried putting some of these ideas into my film but it ended up exploding it from the inside out. I realised that a series of interviews could maybe start to cover some of the things I had learned.
How did you select the people you wanted to interview?
The first interview I did was with a guy called Tadzio Mueller who I saw speaking about TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ) at the conference. He was such a powerful and fun speaker that he managed to make even a boring old trade deal sound dramatic and urgent. From there, I followed my nose.
I was on tour in the US for several months this year, and managed to meet up with people right across the states, from a rabbi in St. Louis to a film director in LA. The process was to find people who could eloquently and informatively talk about ideas that I had swimming in my head.
Why is climate change an issue people still seem so reluctant to properly engage with?
Because it’s huge and for most people it’s not drastically affecting their lives just yet. I’ve been aware of climate change for as long as I can remember, but it’s only recently that I’ve actually thought maybe I should start doing something about it (it was Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything that gave me the kick up the ass I needed).
But still, my job is playing in a touring band and touring is the least environmentally friendly activity of all time Maybe I’m a hypocrite – I’m open to discussing that – but I think I’m one of millions whose lifestyles disagree with what they know to be the “right thing” in the case of the climate.
I think most people understand that solving the climate crisis involves personal sacrifice and so that’s a very unattractive thing. Looking at the much bigger picture, perhaps personal sacrifice is something that can make us happier as well, but that’s a whole other story.
As an artist, communication is something that comes naturally and as an irrepressible urge, so I used that energy to take a first step.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during the interview process?
That London, New York and Shanghai might be under-water within 20 years. Anyone over the age of 30 knows that’s, like, really soon.
What do you hope people take away from this series?
There is a great quote by Anonhi about her album Hopelessness: “My goal, more than anything … is not to change people’s minds, but to galvanise and encourage the people whose minds are already clear”
I feel the same applies to this project. There are a load of very short, impactful videos about the climate crisis – The Guardian, The Green Party UK and Greenpeace are all great at those. These videos are aimed at people, like myself, who are already well aware of the basic facts, and are interested to learn more.
One of the encouraging moments of making these videos was speaking to Chris McKay at NASA who stressed the importance of online communications in solving the climate problem.
He believes that if enough people know enough information about the problem, then the solution will be certain to emerge. That’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve learned making this series – like every problem we have solved so far as a species, we are more than capable of solving this.