Soundtracking the Resistance - Moving Forward in Hard Times (Plus An Interview with Dave Depper)

Plus James Comey Testifies and the Conservatives Stumble in U.K. General Election

Jun 09, 2017
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Welcome back. This week we have Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Dave Depper discussing his new solo album and the place of protest music in the Trump era, plus James Comey slamming the President, election surprises in the U.K., the Manchester benefit show, and two ongoing rows amongst musicians.

The Big Event

According to the publicity surrounding his debut solo album, everybody knows Dave Depper. He's the guy you turn to in the Northwest if you need a touring musician or an accomplished guitarist. Over the year's he's played with the likes of Menomena, Fruit Bats, Corin Tucker, and Laura Gibson. Then recently he joined a little band by the name Death Cab for Cutie.

Now the Portland based musician is branching out alone into synth-pop with the emotionally revealing yet infectiously enjoyable Emotional Freedom Technique, a record long in the making. Speaking over the phone from drizzly Oregon, he's relaxed and friendly, and all too happy to discuss everything from the long gestation period his debut went through to the terrifying world of Donald Trump.

It's the solo album he opens with, explaining why it took so long. "I started working on it about five years ago and it was just a classic case of things getting put off. The timing was poor because it coincided with touring all the time. I'd be gone for much of the time and come home and have forgotten what I'd even done."

None of this explains why he decided to go solo, or why he chose synth-pop. The two became closely linked. "I struggled most of my life yearning to make my own music but really having no idea what that sounded like. Then I accidentally stumbled upon the sound of this record."

The accident came via a punishing game that gives 12 hours to knock together 20 songs. In amongst the hastily assembled tracks that Depper describes as "a pile of bad country songs and terrible R.E.M. impressions" came the surprising discovery that synth-pop is his jam.

Running with it leaves a person described in his own publicity as "the perennial sideman" centerstage for the first time. It's a daunting challenge not lost on Depper, especially as he frequently stands next to Ben Gibbard on stage. "I'm in a band with one of the most beloved songwriters of his generation and I'm keenly aware of that. I'm not looking for comparisons or competition. It's a challenge I'm finding I need to rise to and there are days when I'm more confident and days when I'm less confident."

There's certainly confidence in his music. His record opens with the ambitious and at times almost freeform "Do You Want Love?" From there he bounces around catchy radio friendly hits like "Communication" and "Your Voice on the Radio" (featuring Laura Gibson). Then there's the closer, the emotionally battering "Hindsight / Emotional Freedom Technique." It was here he found the lyrics to match his new sound.

It didn't come easy though according to Depper. "I was so excited by this sound I found I was recording heaps of tracks but no lyrics. When it came time to write I was just like, 'Oh, I'll start another song.' It was like pulling teeth and I realized I didn't have anything to say. Then one day I was reminiscing about this relationship which happened 10 years ago. I don't know why but I wrote 'Hindsight' and it just poured out. The rest of the songs didn't exactly pour out but it became easier to focus on that as what I wanted to say."

As Depper has mined the dark corners of his heart for material, the world around appears to have exploded out of control. It's not lost on him. He mentions reading about politics and the difference between the pre-and post-November 8th articles. "They seemed like time capsules from a different age. Listening to my own record is kind of like that. It's all, 'Hey, this guy is sad about love, man I want to live in the world he's in where I'm not afraid of nuclear annihilation.'"

Is he concerned about releasing Emotional Freedom Technique in this maelstrom? The answer is kind of. "At first when this all happened I was like, 'Why am I putting out this fucking record anymore. Who cares?' I've come back from the ledge on that one but those were my initial feelings for quite a bit after the election."

Not that Depper is only now undergoing a political awakening. He's a remarkably clued up guy with a Twitter feed full of references to everything from Republican misdeeds to Dutch and Austrian elections. He also played on a couple of Trump protest songs in 2016 with his old friend Laura Gibson and as part of Death Cab. Both were very different. "Laura's was such a beautiful expression of the violation of trust and of truth. Death Cab's was a classic character slam." He sees the place for that kind of music as having now passed. "I'm super proud of those songs and I wouldn't change a thing about either of them but going forward in this environment, this kind of approach is not productive."

 

He's not abandoning the fight so much as focusing his energies. On Trump Depper explains, "He won, he's the president. We lost and just writing screeds against him isn't going to achieve anything." What should people do instead? "I'm more drawn to the universal human experience and finding common ground. Realizing that I realized just because Donald Trump is president doesn't mean people aren't going to fall in love anymore or have their heart broken or not appreciate being at the coast on a rainy day. If anything, bringing that kind of shared response to life is more important than ever."

This is far more than a justification for the release of his record. He returns to concerns over continuing the politically motivated songs dominating the run-up to the election. "Speaking totally personally, I question whether specifically written political songs can change anyone's mind at this point. People are so dug in." He mentions Bruce Springsteen, who released a Trump targeting song shortly before we spoke. "Look at the comments section online about a Bruce Springsteen song which isn't even about Donald Trump and there's thousands of comments like 'fuck this commie turncoat.' They're not going to listen to a second of any song, never mind one about Trump."

Depper has his own approach. "It can feel good to unite for a cause. I would love to emphasize the coming together aspect." He sees early signs of this in the music world as artists grapple with the Trump era. "I've heard a few really beautiful examples of where we are now, like the new Kendrick Lamar album, which is absolutely amazing. My friend Laura Burhenn from The Mynabirds is also working on something which is an unbelievable statement of togetherness and humanity. It's an affirmation of the strength we have."

The marches aimed at Trump play to Depper's point. "That's what was so great about all the marches. It was realizing you're not alone at your computer or with a phone. There are real breathing people who are hurting and upset and we're in this together."

That's not to suggest Depper believes the world can be fixed by coming together for a day to march on Washington. He sees no easy answers, only pitfalls that must be avoided. "Something has to change. I'm not a political scientist but the neo-liberal order is not working for a lot of the population. It's worked great for me and a lot of the people I know, but I'm in my own bubble. It doesn't work for a lot of people. I'm not pleased with people voting for Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump or Brexit, but ignoring the voices that did is unfair and at our own peril."

As far as he's concerned, solidarity could stretch beyond the current battle lines. Only then can improvements begin. "I don't agree with a Trump supporter in rural Wisconsin or wherever but do I want the same things: affordable healthcare and safety for my family etc.? Yeah, and obviously they do not feel like they're getting that and their concerns are valid. I'm not interested in saying, 'Fuck that guy.' I'm interested in finding out what we can agree on and how we can compromise."

What's Going On

Trump's ongoing FBI problem continued this week as James Comey, the former FBI director he fired, gave testimony to a Senate Committee. While there wasn't quite a smoking gun, it was otherwise a terrible session for Trump. Comey confirmed Trump was not under investigation personally but otherwise attacked the President's credibility repeatedly. According to Comey Trump did demand he pledge loyalty, tried to convince him to drop the investigation into General Flynn, and strongly believed Trump would lie about their meetings. This one will continue to run but it was a damning day for Trump.

Just in case we need any more reminders about Trump's flaws, he displayed his worst nature after London suffered another terrorist attack last Saturday killing eight. The event was horrific and the response from many beautifully humane. Not Trump. After a brief stab at sounding concerned on Twitter, he then used the opportunity to tout his travel ban, bizarrely support firearms, and slam the London mayor Sadiq Khan by taking his words out of context.

Speaking of the U.K., a national election has just taken place throwing up an earthquake of a result. The ruling right wing Conservative Party led by Prime Minster Theresa May called the election hoping to romp home with a massive majority. It has all gone wrong and they've blown a 20% lead, managing to lose seats. While remaining the biggest party, they're now short of a majority. This is one plan that hasn't worked out. Now they have to walk into imminent Brexit negotiations with everything thrown high in the air. So much for the strong and stable mantra May repeated endlessly on the campaign trail.

Speak Up!

The Manchester One Love benefit concert took place on Sunday to raise money for the victims of the recent Manchester bombing. Coming only a day after the London attack, the show was also used to honor those harmed the previous evening. Stars were out in force for the show including organizer Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Marcus Mumford, Chris Martin, Liam Gallagher, Justin Bieber, and Pharrell Williams. Here are a couple of responses to Manchester and London from those involved in the show.

 

 

The aftermath of the show was not without its own mini-Gallagher created controversy. After performing on stage, Liam took to Twitter to lay into his brother (and former Oasis bandmate) Noel for not attending.

Since then it's emerged Noel has been donating royalties from "Don't Look Back in Anger" to victims and their families, something that began before the concert apparently. And Liam is apparently now doing the same with his royalities.

In an entirely different area, another row continues to simmer. After Radiohead faced opprobrium from over 50 prominent cultural figures for continuing to perform shows in Israel, Thom Yorke hit back in a Rolling Stone interview to complain that "artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision," and rather than talk directly to discuss it, they "throw shit at us in public."

Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, one of those figures criticizing them in the first place, has since responded with a statement claiming Yorke's version "doesn't tell the whole story" as efforts had been made to "start a dialogue" with Radiohead.

Song of the Week: Ariana Grande & Chris Martin - "Don't Look Back in Anger"

As we've already been talking about it, here's the old Oasis classic performed by Chris Martin and Ariana Grande in Manchester on Sunday. It's the perfect sentiment for a world currently creaking under pressure from increased terrorist attacks, the malevolent incompetence of the Trump administration, and the growing disaffection of great swathes of people. But as Dave Depper eloquently explained above, there's no point holding onto past rage or refusing to talk to people across the divide. So, come on everyone, don't look back in anger I want to hear you say.

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