Funeral Lakes band redefining climate activism

toronto musicians
Chris Hemer and Sam Mishos of Funeral Lakes, at a Toronto restaurant in November 2019. Meredith Omstead/Toronto Observer

The partners in life and music released their first album in December. Their apocalypse-folk-rock band, Funeral Lakes, sings about climate activism.

When Sam Mishos and Chris Hemer met, they could not have foreseen that six years later, they would be releasing a debut apocalypse-folk-rock album, and doing so in a way that helps fight climate change. 

In early December 2019, the Toronto-based musicians did just that with their band, Funeral Lakes. Their music is a call to arms about the impending environmental crisis.

To access the new self-titled album, listeners had to donate to the Pull Together initiative created by the charity Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs (RAVEN). The Victoria, B.C., group is raising $400,000 to help Indigenous nations fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. 

“We wanted to do something good with [the album], and it helped us heal personally,” said Hemer, 24, in an interview in a Toronto pizza restaurant on a mid-November evening. 

With topics ranging from changes in the natural environment to business executives making decisions that will impact the planet, the album of eight songs took them about a year to complete. During the first few weeks, they were able to raise $433 for RAVEN, almost half of their fundraising goal to contribute to the wider general campaign. 

Projects like Funeral Lakes are examples of a growing response to the broader problem that is known as eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is the stress, frustration and helplessness that people feel when they are unable to help stop climate change. Experts say these high levels of stress lead to common symptoms of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, insomnia, excessive worrying, and difficulty concentrating. 

“We’ve sort of been having that anxiety for a while and been talking about these things every day for years,” said Mishos, also 24, when reflecting on what the catalyst was for putting her thoughts into song lyrics. “We felt that we have a lot to share and a lot to talk about and a lot to work through, and this is how we did it, and we are just going to try to do something good.”

There is an area of research, called ecopsychology, that explores this relationship people have with nature. The term ecopsychology was formalized in the 20th-century book, The Voice of the Earth by the American academic, Theodore Roszak.

One of the pioneers of ecopsychology in Canada is Dr. John Scull, who helped create the International Community for Ecopsychology (ICE) in 1998. He is a retired neuropsychologist, clinical psychologist and teacher of psychology from Cowichan, B.C.. Scull’s love for the outdoors drew him to the field of ecopsychology. 

“A lot of people get really sad and depressed about watching the world disappear,” Scull said during a recent phone interview from his home in B.C. “When you see beautiful places that you love burning down, it tends to motivate people.” 

Ecopsychologists help their clients connect with the environment, but Scull believes that immersing oneself in nature is not the primary answer to their anxiety. Scull sees anxiety about the climate as a natural reaction to change and thinks activism is the only hope people have to reduce that fear. 

“I would hate to see any kind of therapy that would make people stop worrying about it. What you really want to do is manage your anxiety and do something useful with it, become an activist of some kind, get involved in making changes.”

That activism is precisely what Funeral Lakes is embodying through their music. It wasn’t until they saw the disconnect between what they were learning in university and the implementation of federal policies that they knew they had to do something revolutionary.

The couple met at Queen’s University in 2013, where they found solace in each other’s mutual understanding that music could heal you and give a person the ability to cope with the world in ways other outlets cannot. 

Mishos and Hemer knew they needed to change their approach to saving the environment after the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the pipeline project, something Mishos and Hemer opposed for many years. They felt the well-being of the planet impacted their well-being. Mishos and Hemer’s revolution was to quit their jobs and move from B.C. to Ontario to pursue their music career by forming Funeral Lakes. 

The album gave the new Toronto residents a way to practice their climate activism and challenge authority, aside from participating in protest rallies and raging about the issue in the privacy of their home.

“We would love to make other people feel like you’re not alone in feeling these things, and if we could kind of create a community around this, that would be awesome too,” explained Mishos, beaming, as she envisioned the possibilities of Funeral Lakes’ impact on Canadians with eco-anxiety.

The climate change activism community continues to grow, with 16-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg leading the global movement of Fridays for Future. In September, over 15,000 people protested in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto against the lack of global policy implementation to protect the environment. Grade 8 student Cate Jones was in that crowd.

“I watched some videos from Greta Thunberg, she showed that the government isn’t really doing anything, so we have to start doing something instead,” said Jones, a student at Earl Grey Public School, at an interview during the rally. 

As Funeral Lakes ramped up to release their album after the week long RAVEN fundraiser, they reflected on their journey. Mishos and Hemer have gone from young adults listening to music with political undertones from Canadian environment activist icons like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Buffalo Springfield, to being the newest ones writing it.

Funeral Lakes will have their album-release show on January 17, 2020, at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto. 

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Posted: Jan 3 2020 9:26 am
Filed under: News