David Rovics (born April 10, 1967) is an American indie singer/songwriter. His music concerns topical subjects such as the 2003 Iraq war, anti-globalization and social justice issues. Rovics has been an outspoken critic of former President George W. Bush, the Republican Party, John Kerry, and the Democratic Party.
Rovics is critical of the United States government's policies and claims that the "U.S. government's foreign policy represents U.S. corporate interests" and that "the U.S. government does not like democracy either at home or abroad."
Although some of Rovics' work is not self-published, and much of it is commercially distributed, Rovics has made all of his recorded music freely available as downloadable mp3 files. He encourages the free distribution of his work by all non-profit means to promote his work and spread political messages, and speaks out against websites or programs like iTunes that charge money for downloading his songs. Rovics has also advocated the performing of his songs at protests and demonstrations and has made his sheet music and lyrics available for download.
David Rovics was born in New York City. His family moved to Wilton, Connecticut when he was young. Rovics was politically inspired during his adolescence by his experiences with the conservative-oriented, Christian milieu of his home town. His parents, both classical musicians and educators, were liberal in their outlook. Perhaps for this reason, while in his teens Rovics acquired interests in nuclear disarmament, vegetarianism and other counterculture issues. He has described himself as an "anti-Zionist Jew from New York".
In 1985, Rovics enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana but dropped out and moved to Berkeley, California. He worked in varied occupations, including as a cook, barista, secretary and typist, while pursuing his musical interests as a street and subway performer and in small clubs and bars. He immersed himself in leftist counterculture and made contact with other songwriters and performers on the underground circuit.
By the early 1990s he was a full-time busker in the Boston subways.
On May 1, 1993, Rovics was involved in a traumatic incident in which a close friend was shot dead after intervening in a gang shoot-out. This was a turning point in his life, forcing him to concentrate on his songwriting career, initially as a means of dealing with the grief over his friend's death. He had already amassed a fair collection of lyrics and songs by that time, but his own admission, his compositions prior to this time were inferior and "preachy," and none were used in his later albums.
From around the mid 1990s, Rovics has spent most of his time on concert tours around the world. In 1996 he self-released his first album, Make It So, which consisted mostly of covers of other artists’ songs. He released his second cover album in 1998. He produced a series of five original song albums between 1998 and 2003 as self-released titles. The album Who Would Jesus Bomb? was entirely distributed in mp3 format over the Internet and had no commercial release, although it was included in a later "best of" album.
Rovics is a Wobbly- a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. “In that Wobbly tradition of sharp social commentary, David is a master.” — The Industrial Worker.
In 2003 Rovics signed up to Ever Reviled Records and produced a studio album, Return. Later that year, he released Behind The Barricades: The Best Of David Rovics in association with AK Press, including titles from his earlier self-releases which met with minimal commercial success. He has since released the Songs for Mahmud album as a self-release in association with Ever Reviled Records. Despite being the sole performer in most of his work, he usually describes himself only as a songwriter.
Although Rovics' work has never met with great commercial success, it has been acclaimed in sections of the press and continues to be popular with a small yet widespread base of fans with similar political interests, as well as supporters of internet file sharing.
Rovics tours regularly on four continents, playing for audiences large and small at cafes, pubs, universities, churches, union halls and protest rallies. He has had his music featured on Democracy Now!, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Acik Radyo and other networks. His essays are published regularly on CounterPunch and Truthout and the 200+ songs he makes available on the web have been downloaded more than a million times.
He currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his family and has a daughter, Leila, who was born in 2006.
In an interview article with the Baltimore Independent Media Center entitled “Inspiring the Troops” Through Music, Rovics said:
"...when I first started writing any songs that were any good I had already become very much involved with activism and wanting to talk about what was happening in the world. But when I first started writing songs, I wasn’t writing political songs..."
"I say, that I’m not really hardly at all involved with the folk music scene and I don’t play for the folk music audiences so much and shows don’t get booked by the folk music presenters. Everything I’m doing pretty much in the activist scene. I find that when folk music aficionados come to my shows that they usually like it. I think I could be doing fine in the folk scene if there was enough interest there for more people to be booking shows. The interest in the kind of music I’m doing is almost entirely in the activist scene, which is fine..."
"If you look at it – take a real cursory glance of the world around you we see that pretty much every institution out there uses music in one way or another. Every corporation uses music to sell their products. The military uses music to inspire their troops. I use music for my troops. It’s the same basic function that music is playing. You know, even from a capitalist perspective you could say it’s used to sell products and to foster – in the military for example, that people are working together – that they’re part of the same thing, that they’re sticking up for each other. That’s what we’re using music at marches and rallies. It’s to inspire the troops. And in other settings it’s to educate people about things that are happening and to talk about it in a way that hopefully might be more memorable than a speech..."
"Yes, to communicate to people on an emotional level. And perhaps even a spiritual level and reach them in a way that people don’t often get reached by other means. And it’s just one of many means of communication, but I think it’s a [sic] an important one and when we have events, whether they’re protests or educational events or whatever, the events that have music and food at them are so much different from the ones that don’t. Everyone, whether or not they’re conscious of why they come out of those events inspired and feeling like they’ve learned something and they’re going to do something with that knowledge – that’s the difference between even a really good speaker, they’re still – are not really pessimistic but good educational optimistic speaker – there’s still something missing compared to when you hear that speaker and you sing a few songs before or after – preferably after I think because then you leave on a feeling on more togetherness and optimism even when the songs are not particularly optimistic. There’s something about music that makes people feel optimistic..."
David Rovics supports file sharing of his own work. "Feel free to download these songs. Use them for whatever purpose. Send them to friends, burn them, copy them, play them on the radio, on the internet, wherever. Music is the Commons. Ignore the corporate music industry shills who tell you otherwise. Downloading music is not theft, you're not hurting anyone, I promise. (And in any case, yes, this is legal, and I'm making all of these songs available myself.)"
Rovics' album Meanwhile In Afghanistan features a track entitled Steal This MP3, in which Rovics encourages listeners to steal the very track and states "I've got words for these plutocrats who claim to represent me. Steal this MP3." The song is critical of copyright and the record industry.
In August 2013, David Rovics was refused entry to New Zealand due to being unable to furnish an adequate visa. He was forced to land in Tokyo, which he wrote songs about while in his hotel room. He later distributed them on YouTube:
I should be in New Zealand but instead I'm in Japan
Thinking maybe I should have been a salaryman
In an air-conditioned office I wouldn't need to worry
How to get twelve different visas for twelve countries in a hurry
I wouldn't have to figure out how to get to the next show
Stranded in Tokyo
He has since faced difficulties with travel to Australia and Norway. Rovics was initially denied a tourism visa in Australia, and in Norway he was selected via detection dog and strip-searched under suspicion of possession of drugs. Due to these recent experiences, he believes that his name is on multiple blacklists for his social and political views.Make It So (Self-release, 1996)
Pay Day at Coal Creek (Self-release, 1998)
We Just Want the World (Liberation Records, 1999)
Live at Club Passim (Liberation Records, 2000)
Living In These Times (Liberation Records, 2001)
Hang a Flag In the Window (Liberation Records, 2002)
Who Would Jesus Bomb? (Self-release, 2003)
Behind the Barricades, the Best of David Rovics (AK Press/Daemon Records 2003)
The Return (Ever Reviled Records, 2003)
Songs for Mahmud (Ever Reviled Records, 2004)
Beyond the Mall (Self-release, 2004)
For the Moment (Yoyo Records, 2005)
Halliburton Boardroom Massacre (MI5 Records/Caroline Distribution, 2006)
The Commons (Irregular Records, 2007) Recorded live at Club Passim
Ten Thousand Miles Away (Liberation Records, 2009)
Waiting for the Fall - A Retrospective (Liberation Records, 2009)
Troubador: People's History in Song (Liberation Records, 2010)
Big Red Sessions (Liberation Records, 2011)
Ten New Songs (2011) (Liberation Records, 2011)
Meanwhile In Afghanistan (Liberation Records, 2012)
99% (Liberation Records, 2012)
Spies Are Reading My Blog (Liberation Records, 2013)
A Coup That Wasn't A Coup (17 Aug 2013)
Everything Can Change (Liberation Records, 2013)
Into A Prism (Liberation Records, 2013)
Falasteen Habibti (Self-release, 2014)
All the News That's Fit to Sing (Self-release, 2014)
When I'm Elected President / Wayfaring Stranger (Self-release, 2014)
The Other Side (Self-release, 2015)
Har Har Har! Pirate Songs for Kids (CD Baby.Com/Indys, 2008)
Ballad of a Dung Beetle (2011)
The Progressive - Interview with Matthew Rothschild, editor of Progressive Magazine and host of Progressive Radio, October 2006
The Jason Crane Show (mp3 file) - September 2006
ZNet - The Soundtrack to Protest: An interview with David Rovics by Matt Dineen, September 2006
Alternate Music Press - June, 2006
Port Townsend, Washington - Me and Attila the Stockbroker from early March, 2006
Climate Change Rally in London, England - December 2005
Toward Freedom - Radical Folk Music: An Interview with David Rovics by Matt Dineen, August 2005
Infoshop News - April 2005
Lone Star Iconoclast - Beyond the Mall, March 2005
Free Speech Radio News - by Stefan Christoff that was broadcast on CKUT in Montreal, September 2003
CHRY Toronto - by Tom, September 2003
Baltimore IMC - "Inspiring the Troops" Through Music, November 2002
Boston Indymedia - Willimantic, Connecticut, August 2002
KUNM - New Mexico public radio, very well done, January 2002
Free Radio Burlington - Me and Jim Page, December 2001
DC Indymedia - During the IMF/anti-war protests at that time (unedited, sound quality varies), September 2001
Robots and Electronic Brains - March 1999
Free Radio Burlington - Me and Jim Page, December 2001
"'Flat-Picking Rabble-Rouser' David Rovics" on Rag Radio by Thorne Webb Dreyer, The Rag Blog, June 6, 2012. Includes video and podcast of Dreyer's June 1, 2012, Rag Radio interview with David Rovics. (57:01)
Interview and Songs of David Rovics on Bread and Roses Radio by Elliot Tarry, September 30, 2013