John Feldman is the lead singer and
guitarist for Goldfinger, a band that has been in the punk rock spotlight
for years, and whose popularity is still on the rise. But instead of
losing sight of his values as the band gains fame, Feldman is putting animal rights front and center
in his life and work. Their new album, Open Your Eyes, features
songs that deal with more serious issues than a lot of their previous
material, and includes an enhanced portion of the CD that features “Free
Me,” a song about our treatment of animals raised for food that is
accompanied by a video of slaughterhouse footage, a video you will most
likely never see on MTV.
Feldman took a break
from a studio recording session to talk with Rachel
Cernansky about his passion for animals, the role of politics in
art, and his favorite vegan ice cream.
What are some of the
more serious messages that you like to write about?
lot of the stuff that I sing about is animal rights-related. I was sort of
an activist when we first started—I had done some benefit shows for some
animal rights issues, but I wasn’t even a vegetarian. Obviously things
have changed a lot. I’ve been in the band for about nine years and a vegan
now for almost six. When we first started out it was really
relationship-oriented songs, but now that I’m married it’s not like I’m
getting my heart broken. I think it happens with a lot of musicians. I
consider myself pretty successful, and it’s not like I have the struggles
of trying to find my next meal anymore, and I feel like if people are
going to listen to what I have to say, I might as well sing about
something that has a purpose. Maybe I can change the world a little bit
because of my quasi-celebrity or whatever, you know?
think people are receptive to what you’re saying?
Most of our fans are young—teenagers, say 13 to 18—and I think that they
really respect people in bands they like and listen to what they have to
But it’s a fine line between being a preacher and just trying
to give suggestions or carry a message. That’s been the hardest thing for
me—you can’t say, “Dude, this is just wrong. Stop doing this, stop eating
meat, eating McDonald’s, because it’s just wrong.” As soon as you tell
someone what to do, they’re going to say “I’ll do whatever I want”—they
want to rebel against that kind of stuff. So it’s a matter of saying,
“Look, this is what I’ve discovered. And I used to eat meat, so in my
life, I know what it’s like to eat McDonald’s everyday and what it’s like
to be a vegan. And I know how I felt when I was eating meat, and how I
feel as a vegan. Physically, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been
because of my diet. So if it’s not about the animals, it’s about you,
about taking care of yourself.” But for me it’s ultimately about the
Even if you don’t like the band, if you see the
video for “Free Me,” how do you deny the suffering? I think that’s so
powerful; it’s really hard to deny.
Does the “Free Me”
video go on tour with you? What kinds of responses have you
The video is on the enhanced portion of our CD, so anyone
that has a computer can watch it. We have animal rights organizations
tabling and a TV showing slaughterhouse footage at all of our shows. So
kids see it every night and I always talk to them about it afterwards. You
get mixed responses—some think “Oh this doesn’t happen in every
slaughterhouse,” and I tell people it does; it’s not just some isolated
case, it happens everywhere and it’s happening right now. That’s the
truth. And there’s at least 20 kids after every show saying they went
vegetarian or vegan because of the video, or the songs, or our band, and
that’s more powerful to me than anything else I’ve done in my career.
Are you the band member who’s most vociferous about these
Well I write, say, 95 percent of all the music and the
guitar player Brian Arthur is definitely into it. He’s almost vegan—he
doesn’t eat animals but once in awhile he has a little cheese slip or
something. But I’m the most outspoken about this issue.
two guys in the band—the bass player and the drummer—once in awhile they
get a little bummed out because they’re in the band to play music and
don’t really share my views, and the music sometimes takes second place to
the animal rights issue. But they tolerate it because they know that I’ve
got to be able to talk about this.
Do you feel that artists
have a responsibility to speak out on political or social
Absolutely. I feel if you get lucky enough to be in
this position, to actually have people listen to what you say, you’ve
gotta say something good—whatever is in your heart, you’ve got to try. My
conscience will not let me not say something. Sometimes I get a little
frustrated when I talk to friends and other people in famous bands that
don’t want anything to do with anything, they just want to take that
middle road: “Well, we’ve got a vegetarian in the band, but the other guys
don’t want to alienate our fans who eat McDonald’s.” Are you kidding me?
Those people can ignore it if they have no interest, but maybe we can save
some animals’ lives.
It’s not necessarily all about animal rights.
If you have that position to speak out and maybe help someone, somewhere
in the world, or help some cause that doesn’t have a voice, I feel like
you should. But again, it is hard—say some kid’s family watches CNN or the
war all the time, he doesn’t want to go blow off steam at some punk rock
show and then have the singer just talk about the war the whole time. You
need to have some kind of a reprieve from the stresses of life.
I’ll talk all day to anybody on a one-to-one level about animal
rights because that’s the most important thing in my life. But I don’t
want some kid to pay $12 to come see our show and have my opinions be the
only thing he hears. In the end I am just an entertainer and I have to
remember that I’m not a politician. It’s a matter of saying, “This is what
I believe, maybe check it out.” I feel like a minute or two in an
hour-long set is fair, and more than that maybe I’m getting on my soapbox
a little too much.
Did you have an eye-opening moment that
made you go vegan?
It’s been a long process, it wasn’t one of
those things that just happened. A lot of kids will see something and are
vegan—from Big Macs to Boca Burgers—the next day. I didn’t get that.
The Earth Island Institute from San Francisco first turned me onto
the abuses of dolphins—the tuna nets and stuff like that. That was the
first thing. I said, “This is just wrong, what can I do?” So I stopped
eating tuna from companies that used nets unsafe for dolphins. From then,
I started paying more attention to circuses, where leather came from,
stuff like that. The movie Babe really made the connection with food for
me; I stopped eating pigs as soon as I saw that. Then all the other stuff,
like crunchy veins in the chicken I’d bite into, I’d be like, “Why am I
eating this? What am I doing?” It’s just so gross. I had no idea about the
atrocities in slaughterhouses at that time, I just said I’m not going to
eat a pig because I discovered that pigs were as smart as dogs, so they
were the first thing, and cows were soon after because, what’s the
difference? I have a dog, and my dog is just as human as I am—if not more
Then I started doing the research and found some slaughterhouse
footage, and it was just horrible. The more research I did, the more I
found out. To me, dairy is more horrible—I’d rather someone go vegan, but
I’d almost rather see someone eating a steak than drinking a glass of milk
because at least that cow is out of her misery. With milk, that’s not the
The entire industry is so horrible that for me it’s all or
nothing. It’s impossible to have a 100 percent vegan lifestyle because if
you have to drive, there’s glue in the tires; there’s always something.
But I don’t wear leather, I don’t eat honey, I don’t do any of that stuff.
And there may be some farm, somewhere using humane practices, but there’s
no way that I’m going to take that chance. Animals aren’t here to serve
Why did you get involved with PETA in
After seeing Babe, just hearing [actor] James
Cromwell talk about it, he’s such a big PETA member, that’s the first
place I went to. They’re the easiest to find. And because I’d already had
some success in Goldfinger, they jumped on it the quickest. They were able
to help me out, getting videos and getting publicity out for what I stand
for, and they’re just great people. I think with any animal rights
organization you’re going to have disagreements on some of the tactics,
but in the end I haven’t met an organization whose goal is my goal. And
that’s PETA—animal liberation, that’s their goal.
Undoubtedly; it’s just that their means are often more
controversial than those of other groups.
Yeah it’s tough. A
lot of people are talking about their new concentration camp campaign. And
maybe they’re pissed and want to go write hate mail at first, but maybe
they’ll at least see some horrible stuff that does happen. And maybe a
year or a month from now when the anger’s gone, the rational side of them
will realize—this is wrong, what we do to animals.
have been some of your strongest influences, as a
There’s so many. The Beatles, The Replacements, The
Who, The Cure, and Appetite for Destruction—Guns ‘n Roses’ first record.
There’s so many, but those are probably my top five.
you admire today, musically or otherwise?
Ani DiFranco for
sure, she’s so stern in her beliefs: doing it herself, being such a
talented musician, never going the major label route and just being who
she is and not worrying about what people think.
I just went to a
direct action conference here in LA. This one speaker spent five years of
his life working at a fur farm, a slaughterhouse and a vivisection
laboratory, getting undercover footage. Those people are my heroes. You
always say, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” But anyone can, and that’s
the thing. You just go and you do it. He feels the same way that I do
about animals. He’s out there for the greater good, killing animals to
expose the atrocities that go on behind those walls.
Also, any ALF
member is a hero of mine for sure.
Are there bands out now
that you think are doing a good job in activism?
I don’t know,
I work with Good Charlotte a lot. They’re probably one of the biggest rock
bands right now. The guitar player just went vegan and his twin brother is
going that route, he’s on his way, and I think they’re going to be good. I
have this Black Beauty van—it’s Eddie Lama-style, with big videos on the
sides showing Meet Your Meat, etc.—and he allows them to park in front of
the big arenas every night of the Good Charlotte/New Found Glory tour and
show this stuff to kids, so that’s a huge step.
guys taken a public stance on the war?
We haven’t taken a
public stance. It’s hard, we’ve all got such different opinions. Our
drummer lives in Canada. In the end, killing is wrong, war is bad, war is
wrong. For sure. But I don’t want to be president, ever, and as much as I
completely disagree with most of President Bush’s stances, it’s really
hard because I definitely couldn’t do a better job. So how can I judge
anybody? I don’t believe the news. But is Saddam Hussein a good guy, does
he need to be ruling a country?
So what do you do?
We’re going to take him out—yes, bad guy, let’s get rid of
him—but let’s get rid of all the other dictators that are horrible people
as well. Let’s do it. If it’s not about oil, which is what they’re telling
us, then let’s go for these other people.
favorite vegan ice cream?
I like Soy Decadence Peanut Butter
ZigZag, that’s my favorite. Soy Decadence has three awesome flavors,
there’s this chocolate brownie and this chocolate obsession flavor.
Tofutti I just kind of got sick of because right when I went vegan I ate
like a pint of it a night, but it’s good.
Any food you
I was just talking to my wife about this yesterday,
she’s vegan too. Her thing was brownies; we’ve had a hard time making
really good, moist brownies. But there’s nothing I miss. I missed pizza
for awhile but there’s a place in Philly that makes a vegan pizza that’s
awesome; there’s also this place in Boston that makes an awesome vegan
pizza once a week. And I can get Tofutti cheese and make my own. So no,
there’s nothing at all that I can’t fake.
To learn more about
Goldfinger or to watch the “Free Me” video, visit http://www.goldfingermusic.com/.