Soft Voice, Strong Opinions. Dede Wedekind Discusses Her Vision of America United

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Dede Wedekind's "America United."

Nearly every musical artist has something to say. Otherwise, why bother with the art?

Indie Music Channel's 2016 Best New Female Artist, Dede Wedekind, has several things to say about several things, but more recently she's garnering attention for her latest number, a patriotic piece called "America United" that contains a lyric that ought to ring familiar with anyone who has come into contact with a working television set for the past year. We spoke with Dede about the inspiration for "America United," her experiences growing up in music, and her own vision to "Make America Great Again."

How has your history of making music led up to what you put into “America United?”

I have been singing my whole life. At a very young age, our whole family was taught to sing because my dad was really musical, and my mom too. My dad had a part time job working as a choir director. So we were always singing, all five kids growing up. I had four brothers and sisters – now I have six brothers and sisters because my dad remarried and had two more – and all of us are very musically inclined. I’ve done a little research into it, and I think my dad’s family, because they come from an area that is very music-based, story-based…our family is out of Wales, Scotland and England. And the tradition there is telling stories through music. So we tend to all be able to sing and we all play at least one or two instruments.

So at a very young age I was singing. I picked up harmonies really well. My older sister could sing harmony so I started listening to what she was doing. And I could always hear the chord even if it was just a note. Then I started taking piano when I was 8 years old. That was a prerequisite in our family. My dad played trombone and he could play it pretty much by ear. So I took a lot of piano, and I liked the piano aspect, but I didn’t really like my teachers. My teacher was kind of like that nun you hear about with the ruler; she didn’t have the ruler, but she was like one step away from that. Looking back, I’m really glad that she was that way. She was a really sweet lady and a fantastic piano teacher, and she taught me theory and all that. But I just decided that I didn’t want to practice very much. I got burned out on it. So I stopped practicing and playing when I got to college, after I’d taken it for about twelve years.

At college I majored in music and business. And I decided to drop the music because I decided there was probably a lot more money to be made in business, and music was taking a lot of time in practice hours, plus money for private lessons. And in high school I had decided that I liked singing way better than I liked playing the piano…and I decided through the years that I was really much more talented, I think, as a singer than I am as an instrumentalist. But I’m really glad that I had the instrument skills to back me up, because now I can actually use those skills to write music. I don’t think I could write music well without them. I know a lot of people that don’t have any music theory skills or instrument skills that can write music, but you always have to rely on somebody else to copy it down for you and play it for you. So it’s really good that I can compose at the piano.

You’re not just composing your music, however. You also have to write your lyrics, which brings more of a poetry aspect into it. Is that what you normally do, or do you have others write your lyrics?

I normally just hear songs in my head, and the words and music start coming together. As soon as I start hearing something, I try to run over to the computer and record it like a garage band, so I at least have me singing the melody and the words that I’ve come up with. Then I’ll sit there and think of another verse and a chorus, and I’ll record that and save it, so that when I have time and the spirit moves me, I’ll go back and look through them and pick one that I really think was promising and spoke to me, and I’ll review it. I always start with a snippet of a melody and then I start getting into the lyrics.

I think I’m a little bit more lyric-driven as a songwriter. I’ve always been a writer. I love writing and reading. I do a blog. I used to write for a newspaper here…and I really enjoyed it. I always enjoyed writing in high school and college, so the writing was always there. I had a really good English teacher, but she was kind of like the piano teacher. She was so mean. I’d turn in a paper and she write on it, “What is real?” or “Too wordy.” I’d think I wrote this fantastic treatise that’s going to be published somewhere because it’s so great, and she’d give it a C-minus. She was really good. You have people who critique you and hone your skills and make you better. You hate it at the time, but looking back I’m really so glad I had that English teacher.

I understand that the lyrics for “America United” came to you while you were in church, and you started writing them down there.

Yes, my husband and I were in a church service here locally. It was right around the 4th of July. This was right before the election of 2012, and we were really concerned about everything that was happening – actually even more so now. I was just sitting there listening to the message, and he was saying how there was no unity and our nation was so divided. And I thought that this was a common theme I was hearing, not just from Republicans or Democrats, but just in general. America is just fighting amongst ourselves, we’re blaming each other for everything: It’s the poor people’s fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, it’s the white people’s fault, it’s the immigrants. Instead of just going, “Hey, we’re all Americans; let’s pull together and make this a great country,” we’re all “It’s their fault it’s this way. It’s the government’s fault.” We’re pointing fingers and nobody’s really taking responsibility, and we’re not unified the way we used to be as a country. We used to have a lot of pride, a lot of work ethic. “I’m going to work hard! I’m an American! If I work hard enough I can make it, I can do anything!” When I was little, that’s what I believed. And I don’t see that so much with young people nowadays.

So I was sitting there listening to this message, and words and music started coming to me. And I start writing it down with this chunky little pencil that doesn’t even work, trying to be incognito. And as we were coming out I was telling my husband, “I think I wrote a song…I really heard something in that service.” It was a really amazing experience to sort of hear this ‘push’ saying “You need to write this song right now.” That has happened to me several times. It’s not the usual way that I write. When I got home he and I rewrote the song a little bit, and then in less than an hour I had a song, words and melody.

You never know when inspiration’s going to hit you. It’s like anything else being an artist. Sometimes I’ll hear a phrase and think that it’s a really cool title for a song. Or I’ll have a subject that I’m really interested in writing about. One of the things I wanted to write about was the city of Nashville – not that anybody has never written about that place, certainly not a singer or songwriter! But I wanted to say a few different things about Nashville, so I’m writing a song right now about that. I’ve got some other things that I’ve been writing. It’s weird, because I can’t speak to one genre. It seems like everything that comes to me is always different. If I try to make a pop song into a country song, or a country song into a rock song, it doesn’t really work. So it’s cool that I’ve had so much exposure to so many instruments and so much music. I’ve had classical music – I’m classically trained in voice and piano. I’ve got pop music. I’ve been in jazz bands. I’ve been in country bands. So I kind of hear it all, which is really cool in a way. But in another way it’s hard to categorize me. In “America United” I started it out as a pop anthem, and then it moved into Americana. I rewrote it this year for the election of 2016.

I was going to say that if you wrote all the lyrics I heard in 2012, then there was something prophetic taking place.  Because some of those phrases come up every election year – ‘Make the right choice.’ ‘People take control.’ But when you add in ‘Make America great again” – if you had done that in 2012, I was going to be really super-impressed.

Okay, I’ll tell you that I did.

No, I didn’t. But you know who did say that before even Trump, and many people don’t realize this, but it was Ronald Reagan. I love Ronald Reagan. He’s one of my biggest heroes in American history. He was a great leader, he reached across the aisle to both Democrats and Republicans. He always had a sense of humor, even when he was being serious. If somebody criticized him he would always turn it into something self-deprecating, and then turn it around and make this brilliant statement. And that was one of his statements.

And I think it’s true. This country is lacking right now. We’ve been through eight years, if not longer, a kind of ho-hum, sending jobs overseas, letting people beat us up and push us around...the kids are just going crazy nowadays, because they don’t have a dream. They don’t have a goal; they don’t have a purpose. They’re signing up for ISIS, for God’s sake! Americans, kids that are from good decent homes that have had morals and ethics and understand that killing people for nothing is wrong, they’re just doing all these crazy things because they don’t have anything to believe in.

So this song is to try to help bring people together, throw our differences aside, agree to disagree. We are Americans, we’re all different, but deep down we’re all the same. We all want the same thing. We want a good life, we want happiness, we want some nice things – a house to live in and maybe a car to drive. We want to have a place to call our home. Most of us want to have a family. Most of us want friends. Most of us want to be safe. We want to see America prosper for the most part, and if you don’t, why are you here?

The song isn’t aimed to exclude people. It’s not a song I wrote for Donald Trump – it was written in 2012. You can probably still hear the old version online, which I really like. The old version has a little more meat to it: it’s got three verses, it’s a little different, and it’s got more words. You could kind of hear where the song was going then. And now more than ever I see our country even more divided. The media is perpetrating – I call it the Giant Race Myth. I don’t think there is any racism anymore, really, in America. I mean, there’s pockets of it, but the mainstream population here, including Republicans, including white people, including black people, everybody – there’s not really racism. And I think to sit there and say this group is racist and this group is racist, you’re just really causing more trouble – you’re stirring things up that don’t need to be stirred up. Does everybody have all the rights everybody else does? No. But where in our Constitution does it say that life is fair and that everybody is going to get a fair shake on everything? There’s no way we can do that for everyone. But as far as opportunity, as far as the chance to make something of yourself, a chance to make America great, this is the place people are actually dying to come to. And it still is, because we still have more freedom, more opportunity, more equality, more justice…more everything!

This is why so many people want to come here. But I do think we need to be careful about just letting anybody in. Because this is what’s going to destroy America, letting in people that don’t care, letting in people who have a totally different outlook on life like “I want to kill you. I don’t really like Americans. I hate Americans.” I don’t think those people should be here. Why are they here? Go where you want to be, where you like the people. And if you don’t like the people anywhere, then maybe you should examine what’s going on in your own life.

So that’s where I stand. Stop the nonsense, America. Stop pandering to these hate groups, like ‘This life matters,’ or … I think that they’re making mountains out of molehills, and it’s just stirring up this racism and dividing our country. And I’m not saying anything negative about any particular group. I understand that they have things they’re concerned about.  But just taking it to the streets and being so militant, like at an Elvis thing. Really? Elvis was not a racist as far as I know. It’s just nuts behavior, all these riots and stuff. Really? It just shows that we’re ignorant, it’s not solving anything. It’s not standing for anything, it’s just a bunch of people paid to show up and riot for a cause that nobody even knows what the cause is. It’s dividing our country and it just needs to stop.

We have a leadership in this country that is doing everything that they can to incite people to protest, to be racist, to harbor grudges and hatred, to not forgive, to not move on, to not be accepting of other people. It’s like reverse discrimination is the worst that I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

Have you made the song “America United” available to any of the candidates this year? Is it possible we could hear it at a rally sometime?

We have tried to approach the Trump campaign, because honestly the song is perfect for him. I can’t imagine Hillary and her camp picking this up because it does use Donald Trump’s slogan in the song. But it wasn’t written specifically to use that slogan. I had heard it from Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump started saying it, and I thought there was a lot of sense to that particular slogan – to make America great again – because I haven’t seen that happening. I’ve seen it declining. So what are we going to do? We’ve got to all work together, we’ve got to all stick together, unite, believe in each other, and believe in America again. Stop the hating and the “We just don’t like America and we’re going to apologize for our past behavior.” No. America has done a lot of great things in the world, and we need to stop focusing on the negatives and start looking at the positives and be what we need to be. It’s the America dream. We need to accept in our hearts that we have a purpose in life, and it’s not just to lay around and have fun and collect food stamps and unemployment. Our purpose in life is God-given and we need to go find it and we need to do it, whatever that is. Even if it’s just volunteering, helping someone out. It’s not necessarily making money, but it’s not sitting around going, “Who’s going to take care of me?” And that’s been our problem. We need to all take care of each other and take care of ourselves. That’s what’s going to make America great, and that’s why I wrote “America United.”