LIVE FROM SXSW 2013: Hurray for the Riff Raff Plays Startling Song

Tell me what a man with a rifle in his hand is gonna do for his daughter when it’s her turn to go…

—Alynda Lee Segarra

Hurray for the Riff Raff is making a big splash this week at SXSW. Alynda Lee Segarra seems to be gaining confidence every time she plays and shows an understanding of the history of American music alongside a willingness to rewrite it on her own terms. The most dramatic example of this is a new song about gun violence that is riveting in live performance and could easily become an anthem for the growing gun control movement.

Hurray for the Riff Raff, Aaron Lafont, photo, SXSW 2013

Hurray for the Riff Raff (photo: Aaron Lafont)

The song, a murder ballad told from the victim’s perspective, doesn’t even have a name yet.

“We’re just calling it ‘Murder Ballad’ right now,” said Segarra as she sat in the green room at Austin Convention Hall after one of the band’s eight performances at SXSW. “We’re still figuring out how we’re going to produce it. It just came to me as I was driving, and it came to me very fast. It’s my response to the tradition of murder ballads, and I feel like we don’t need to continue with them anymore because they’re so focused on violence against women, and I feel that somebody needed to continue the conversation. In folk music, there’s this great history of conversation and response, and I feel that’s something that has been really lacking lately, like the conversation’s gone quiet. So this is just me giving my voice about it.

“I was listening to a song on the radio and thought how I was so tired of hearing that music as if I wasn’t even an audience member. I just want to get across this personal feeling of ‘That’s me you’re talking about, and you’re saying you’re going to kill me. You have detached yourself from that meaning, but I want to remind the singer of these songs what it really means what they’re saying. That was really my goal.”

Segarra wrote the song in December. Three days later a mass murder of children took place in Newtown, Connecticut.

“I was not coming from that place,” said Segarra, “but I have a line in there about how a man would feel if it was about his daughter. I realized after that event happened it gave the song a whole new meaning. It turns into this whole other conversation about how our country is talking so much about gun control right now and also just giving a different side of seeing a tragedy like that, that did happen to people’s daughters and sons.”