Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Trump inspires new era of Northwest protest music

Wimps singer/ guitarist Rachel Ratner
KUOW Photos / David Hyde
Wimps singer/ guitarist Rachel Ratner

Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexico border has inspired plenty of protest. Including a song by Portland-based musician Kyle Craft, “Before the Wall."

“It's just one big question,” Craft said, asking “what does that wall represent, not only to people inside of it, but outside of it?”

It's just one sign that a new era of protest music is brewing in the Northwest as Trump prepares to take office on Friday.

Most of Craft's other songs sound more like David Bowie than Woody Guthrie, and in the past he's tackled more of the personal than the overtly political. But Craft says things feel different right now.

"This moment, it's a cloud hanging over you," he says. "In the same way that these love experiences and romance experiences sort of hung over my life like a cloud, it feels silly to even have personal problems like that, right now."

Other Northwest artists are feeling the same push and pull, like Rachel Ratner, the lead singer for the Seattle band Wimps.

"Before this election, I was writing songs about day-to-day minutia like not wanting to go to work. And now those minutia aren't as important to me as the larger issues that are faced in the world," Ratner said. "How I'm going to translate that into song is still being figured out."

Ratner said a lot of Seattle bands are feeling the same political mood right now, and it’s not just about the music, but also about political causes like "how to make sure immigrants, women, Planned Parenthood and abortion rights are supported. I've noticed bands doing a lot more benefit concerts - that kind of community activism."

Seattle music critic Charles R. Cross says political moments like this one tend to usher in big cultural changes, particularly when you look at the history of popular music. In his political opinion, having a conservative government is “bad for virtually everything other than old rich white guys, but it seems to be good for music."

Cross ties the cultural transition to history this way:  "There is almost an absolute, direct correlation that every great rock and roll song was written during a right-wing administration."

Seattle band Death Cab for Cutie also contributed an anti-Trump protest song. "Million Dollar Loan" mocks Trump for claiming to be a self-made man.

Seattle feminist punk band Tacocat have always been political, but lead singer Emily Nokes agrees that this moment is different.  "I kind of tend to skew towards humor in writing," she said. "And now I’m finding it a little hard to do even that.  I don't feel funny about any of this right now. "

And when it comes to writing music, Nokes said, "I just feel pissed off, like I want to write an album full of shrieking harpy noises."

When it comes to the Northwest music scene, she thinks a change is going to come, with "a lot more people feeling mobilized and feeling like they need to do something about it. Certainly in my community people are just like: What do we need to do?"

Year started with KUOW: 2004