Ever since the Vietnam War, when an unpopular military action was often unjustly employed as an excuse to treat veterans of that war with disdain, artists have found it difficult to navigate the terrain between paying respect and playing politics.
But Buffalo's Breakerbox has found a way to toe that line with deft precision, by emphasizing empathy over rhetoric in its lovely, lilting R&B-tinged ballad "Miss You," a song born of the personal loss suffered by the band's Christina DeNee' and Scott Calandra.
In late March, the duo teamed with The Wounded Warriors Project, a charity organization that, according to its website, "connects, serves and empowers" veterans by "providing free programs and services that address their needs and fill gaps in government care." A video and digital single of "Miss You" has been released, proceeds from which are earmarked for the wounded veterans' charity.
I caught up with Breakerbox singer DeNee' recently to discuss the partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and how personal loss translated into a feeling of solidarity with wounded veterans and their families.
Question: Tell me how the partnership with Wounded Warriors came about.
Answer: We noticed that "Miss You" connected strongly at our live performances and we started to get messages and emails from fans from all over with their own stories of loss. They said the song had helped them cope, or gave them peace.
As a writer or musician, that kind of connection is what you pray you can achieve with your work. We found many of the people touched by the song were from the military community.
Eventually, we were contacted by a mother whose son was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who took his life after struggling to adjust to civilian life, sadly. She played "Miss Yo" at his funeral, which moved us beyond words. It opened our eyes to a way we could possibly support suffering veterans and their families, people who don’t necessarily have a voice, except through organizations like the WWP. So, we reached out and they were beyond excited.
Q: Both you and Scott lost a parent at a very young age. How did that affect the writing of 'Miss You?
A: "Miss You" was originally written by Scott and myself specifically about the loss of our parents. The song was released on our debut EP "These Are Strange Days," in 2011,a nd we re-recorded it for this project. Scott lost his father at age 14, and I lost my mother at 10. We wanted the song to capture that feeling of loss.
We have always believed that songs are gifts, that they are given. This one was truly given to us. The music came first and the chord changes, for some reason, truly invoked that feeling of missing someone you love. The words came quickly and easily. We laid down the vocal right away, while both of us were feeling very emotional. It was a moment in time that we captured, and we are blessed that people seem to be connecting too.
Q: Did your loss give you a sense of empathy for the families of military personnel?
A: We have always had a place in our hearts for the veterans and their families, as everyone does. We are pro-peace; we aren't being political here. We are about people and connection. We have many friends involved in the military and many more who are veterans suffering while trying to fit back into civilian life.
I grew up with most of my family in the military - my grandfather was a Marine, my cousin is in the Air Force, I have nephews currently serving in the Navy, as well as cousins deployed in the Middle East.
With the military the size that it is, with our country being at war for so long now, and with the weight of college loans - something that young people are understandably looking to avoid - the armed forces have become a logical path for many young people in America. So, this subject hits a wider audience than even we realized, until we really delved into the community.
Q: You guys have straddled the line between pop and heavier rock for a long time, carving out your own niche in the process. Can you tell me a bit about the dynamic between you and Scott?
A: We are pretty equal partners in writing and production and our business in general, and over the years, we have really found a fluidity and honesty that can only be achieved by being in the trenches together. We come from different worlds, but at the same time, we have so many common elements. Over time, I guess we really have carved out our own niche - filling the gap between pop artists like Katy Perry and Sia and rock groups like Halestorm and the Pretty Wreckless.
We fall right in the middle. We have always looked to Eurythmics as sort of a model. They really had a unique sound; some people categorized them as pop, some as rock. Either way- they just did them.