Born into a showbiz family, jazz trumpeter Rhys is making his own mark on the world…
When and why did you go vegan?
Studying at university led me to consider the ways our individual choices have impact far beyond our immediate physical world and community, and I found friends there who chose veganism. Taste wasn’t a big issue when giving up dairy or meat, but it felt difficult to feel healthy or satiated. For a while I was weighing up the ethical goodness of veganism with the personal experience that I was missing out on important nutrition. I now know that it feels amazing if I eat enough and in the right balance, of grains/beans/veggies, and then nuts/teas/fruits, and whole nutrition supplements and shakes.
My primary motivator now is reducing my carbon footprint. Climate change is a giant concern, and I hope will be for everyone, especially those in my generation and younger. After four to six years of being almost but not strictly vegan, I saw again six months ago this stat that 51% of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change are from the meat and dairy industries, and I realized that the most accessible and powerful way to make change as an individual is to dramatically reduce dairy/meat consumption, or better yet, just be vegan.
Tell us about your work with ETAF?
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation supports hundreds of organizations providing life-saving work around the globe. I try to do whatever I can to help the foundation and continue my grandmother’s work, sometimes representing at events and speaking on behalf of the organization. I travelled this summer to Malawi and South Africa to see some of the programs ETAF supports, and I brought my trumpet to connect on a fun musical level with people involved in those programs. I represented my grandmother’s foundation alongside my cousins at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. I have also participated at AIDSWatch, the largest constituent based HIV/AIDS advocacy event in the country held annually in Washington, D.C., for several years now. Lending my voice to advocate for legislation needed to help end the HIV epidemic in this country is something I’m honoured to be able to do, and I think more and more Americans realise that active participation in US policy is the only way to ensure certain types of crucial change.
How do you promote veganism and environmental activism through your song writing?
Readers can discover for themselves if they check out the lyrics on my website rhystivey.com. In some of my songs, I grapple with the gargantuan task of coming to terms with climate change as a single individual. They aim to include some grief, desperation, humour, hope and empowerment.
How influential do you think music can be in raising awareness?
Very. Music heals and inspires. People can take healing and inspiration, and initiate changes of thought and behaviour to create the world they want to live in. If one thing could be learned from my grandmother’s legacy, it’s that fame is an incredible opportunity to be revolutionary. Anything less is self-protective bullshit. I imagine if a music star loses one listener from ideological integrity, in this atmosphere of rising awareness, a star would gain three. Although this is not about music, Leonardo DiCaprio is an inspiring example of someone using his celebrity to raise awareness about sustainability.
What are your favourite ingredients?
I love a top-notch squash so much, whether kabocha or butternut or acorn. I love purple yams and sweet potatoes. I’m getting into cabbage and broccoli more right now. Of course kale. In terms of beans, lentils are so quick and good. Rice and quinoa of course, but buckwheat is a favourite.
What is the best vegan restaurant/café you’ve ever been to?
In Los Angeles, I love Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre. In NYC, I love Peacefood, Candle, Blossom and Jungle Cafe in Brooklyn.
What’s next for you?
I just released a new album, Backward EP, and an accompanying music video, and had a couple of big release shows in Kingston, NY and NYC at Mercury Lounge. I have a monthly residency playing at the Manderley Bar at Sleep No More’s Mckittrick Hotel. I’ll be continuing to write new music, collaborate with friends in my community, performing, and I have performance events in the works for joining activists of different specialties under the effort of sustainability. This July through October I’m going to break from life in NYC to do a farming apprenticeship at the Corner Garden at Hawthorne Valley Farms in upstate New York, where I’m excited to learn first-hand about bio-dynamic and organic farming. I hope to learn everyday new ways to help create a more just, equitable and sustainable planet.