FAIRBANKS — Singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson is known for her politically directed musical missives. Her words have been flung at blatant capitalism, environmental degradation, politicians and the general populace.
But Gilkyson doesn’t consider herself a political songstress.
“I’m not a huge fan of political music as a genre, even though I write political songs,” she said from her home in Austin, Texas. “I’d rather be moved by something. I’m a very visceral writer and I write what’s in my mind and heart. I aspire to be a poet and have good melody and lyricism. I don’t really want to just lay down a message without an emotional and musical component.”
Those components were striking in Gilkyson’s song “Man of God,” which became something of a rallying cry against President George W. Bush and his war policies.
“That was a rant for that time,” she said. “At the time people really weren’t saying anything. People were afraid to be labeled unpatriotic.”
Gilkyson’s music career began in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, yet she was anything but political in her music back then. Instead, Gilkyson was more of a folk flower child involved with the counterculture and into “turning on and dropping out.”
It was only after raising a family — including a spell living off the grid in New Mexico — and moving to Austin that her political interests were piqued. Then in 1991 the first Gulf war happened.
“That was a real wake up call for me. I wasn’t used to looking at U.S. empire policies. I hadn’t really done my homework (to see) how concentrated wealth and power played out in our country,” she said. “It wasn’t until I moved to Austin, the kids grown and gone, that I suddenly began doing the research and became extremely angry and upset. Then I started to feel we had so much at stake that it’s really become my life now.”
Her last album, “Beautiful World,” tackles many of these big political subjects in a series of grand musical sweeps. Songs drift through lush melodies and harmonic interludes filled out by a full band, or through the pulsing rhythms of stripped-down solo guitar. Gilkyson’s vocals alternately snap out venomous tirades or entice with passionate refrains.
“Roses at the End of Time,” a new album due out May 3, takes a different approach. Rather than “preaching about what’s wrong,” Gilkyson puts herself inside each song’s narrator and lets the story unfold from their eyes.
“It’s more of a storytelling record and I tell stories from a lot of different angles,” she said. “I think in ‘Beautiful World’ I was trying to tackle large themes of patriarchy but still make them musical and interesting. For this record, instead of making it the overarching theme, I got inside of it and made the point of view from the character’s storytelling. It’s a different angle, but it still tells what’s on my mind.”
And with years of performing behind her, Gilkyson, who has been to Fairbanks a couple of times before, always relishes the solo experience.