15 Sep Aussie rock band to raise stem-cell awareness with Milwaukee concert
With its use of instruments such as didgeridoos and bagpipes, the Australian band Brother has created its own eclectic style — known as “mongrel music” — and emerged as a prolific figure in the world of independent music.
Brother is known in other circles as advocates for research into the use of stem cells to combating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Currently in the middle of the “Concert for Cures” to raise stem cell awareness, Brother will be playing in Milwaukee at the Miramar Theater on September 17. WTN recently interviewed Brother co-founder and songwriter Hamish Richardson, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 11, to learn more about the steps the band has taken to promote stem-cell research.
Wisconsin Technology Network: What is Brother’s mission in the field of stem-cell research?
Hamish Richardson: Primarily, our mission is to raise awareness and interest around the whole issue. We did a “children with diabetes” conference about a month ago in L.A., and all the parents there were talking about stem-cell research and how it had the potential to make a real difference to their kids.
From that our interest was kind of sparked in the whole stem-cell thing, and we looked into it and found there was quite a lot of inconsistencies and misinformation about the whole issue. Certain words and phrases tended to cloud the whole issue, causing ethical, religious, and political debates that were really unnecessary.
The more we looked into it, the more we realized it did hold a lot of potential, not just for diabetes but for many other diseases. When we got more informed about it we saw there was a way forward for research, where basically communities across America feel strong and confident about supporting it, and if we could just all get to the truth and the realities about it we could move it forward — help communities a lot quicker than just taking other people’s words for it.
WTN: What is the potential in stem cell research? What can it do?
HR: First of all, I have to get the point across that we’re not putting ourselves out there as the experts about it. [However] from the research we’ve been doing and the people we’ve been talking to, there’s certainly been some breakthroughs already, and a number of them have come out of the universities of Milwaukee and Madison.
The nice thing about stem cells — embryonic stem cells in particular — is that they have the ability to form any part of the human body they’re directed to. So the potential for it if we can effect the research is the breakup of a myriad of diseases. If it’s put in conjunction with other research that’s going on, it’s actually possible that within a relatively short period of time we could see some concrete advancement in the treatment and cure of diabetes, and an invitation to treat other diseases.
It’s all about where the money is put, and America is a shining example — if America moves forward in an area like this it can really pave the way for the world. We’re also very interested in if whoever’s in the White House supports this research … it eliminates a lot of the concerns and insures that this research goes on not behind closed doors and the public knows what’s going on.
What we’re really interested in is the potential the science community seems to agree is there. It’s stressed to us and we stress to our audience that nothing is guaranteed, but the general consensus is that it’s an area with tremendous potential.
WTN: What has Brother done to raise awareness for the issue, in terms of programs, concerts, etc.?
HR: We’re on tour at the moment, which we’ll likely look at extending through November. We’ve called the tour Concert for Cures, and everywhere we go to varying degrees — we’re an independent band and everything we do we finance ourselves — but what we’re doing is dedicating all our shows in the name of awareness raising.
At each show, we have representatives from JDRS — the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation — with literature, and sometimes they’ll get up on stage and speak to the audience. We’ve tried to make it very non-partisan and not take any sides. Our message is awareness: we’re all involved and we need to get informed, bring communities together because it has potential repercussions in every corner of every community.
It’s different at every show, but the basic focus is we’re not trying to ram anything down people’s throats — at the end of the day people are still coming to a concert to have a great time. We’re just trying to inform people about the issue — if we’re going to put up our hands one way or another, we should have some handle on the issue.
WTN: There’s a lot of controversy around stem cell research, because of the “sanctity of life” issues. How does Brother feel about that?
HR: That side of it is really just a small portion of that, but because of the emotion around that part it tends to cloud the whole area. Our feeling, going into it with good faith and our hearts in our hands, is that it’s not really a right-to-life issue.
The embryonic stem cells are all about working off excess cells in storage, a good portion of which would just become medical waste. We feel that words like ‘abortion’ and ‘embryonic’ tend to be very loaded terms, and they confuse and convolute an issue that doesn’t need to be confused.
WTN: Why have you chosen Milwaukee as a stop on the Concert for Cures tour?
HR: First of all, Milwaukee is very dear to our hearts — it was probably the first town to embrace the band in the state. Milwaukee fans have remained die-hard, constant through our whole evolution — different albums, different lineups — and we always love coming to town.
[Wisconsin is] also important because it was the University of Wisconsin [Madison], I believe, where they first discovered stem cells and how to encourage their reproduction, which was very important — they’ve been at the forefront of stem-cell research.
We have personal reasons and reasons pertaining to the concert, so Milwaukee makes a good stopping point.
WTN: Would you say that through your efforts you have raised awareness in the stem-cell field?
HR: We’re an indie band, a drop in the ocean, but we definitely feel very committed to making a difference, not just wandering around the country playing music, whether its working with kids with diabetes or the broader stem-cell issue.
We’ve generated a lot of discussion on our Web site which has been rewarding, and the majority of our fans are being very supportive. I think people have learned over time we’re certainly not trying to preach — at every gig we’ve played people have come up to us saying they feel personally about it and wanting to learn more.
The one thing that’s really been fascinating is to see people are aware of the issue, but surprising to see how little we really know about it. The more we talk the more interested people become, and see it’s not a Jekyll/Frankestein/bogeyman issue. It truly does hold magnificent potential, and at the end of the day it’s a wonderful feeling because that potential is to improve the quality of life.