But where others saw a funny little quirk of the election and switched from thinking too hard about it to keeping a running tally of which musicians had told the Donald to go screw, Dave Eggers and Jordan Kurland saw a golden opportunity to use that good, old-fashioned loathing for a grander goal. That’s why they started 30 Days, 30 Songs — an effort bringing together a wide range of musicians to produce protest songs against Donald Trump and release one every day in the last month before the election.
Only ten days into the campaign, we’ve already seen songs from Death Cab For Cutie, Jim James, Franz Ferdinand and Aimee Mann. And that’s not front-loading, as there are songs still to come this week from R.E.M. and Filthy Friends (a supergroup of Sleater-Kinney, Wilco and R.E.M. members). With so much guaranteed great music on the way, we took the time to chat with Kurland about why he felt the need to rally the music world against Cheeto Voldemort and how the project came together.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did the idea for 30 Songs come about?
Dave Eggers and I worked on projects in previous presidential elections, in 2004 and 2012. We were talking this year about doing something to really just create some sense of urgency around younger voters. And the idea for 30 songs came because Dave’s a writer.
He was at a Trump rally in Sacramento covering it for The Guardian, a UK paper. And he was really taken aback by the music that was being played. It was all Elton John, The Who, and Bruce Springsteen. Clearly not people who would want Trump using their music. So Dave came up with this idea for “songs that would be appropriate for a Trump rally.” A bunch of songs that talk about his policies or lack thereof and fit in with his campaign.
How did you select the artists for this? I know you have personal connections with Death Cab For Cutie and Thao [Note: Kurland manages both acts through his company Zeitgeist Artist Management] but how about the others?
Well, I started by talking to my management clients and Dave called up Jim James, but after that we went really wide with asks. We wanted to create as diverse a group of artists for it as possible. A lot of the people we asked were immediately receptive to the idea. Some people couldn’t because they didn’t have time to write and record a song. Others had time to write but not to record in-studio so they sent live versions.
What were those asks like? Did you approach people with rules on their songs? Was there a set list of topics to choose from?
We tried to keep it pretty loose and pretty wide on what would work for this. We didn’t come to anyone and say “Okay, we need someone to write about Trump’s wall.” Really we just wanted people to write something inspired by Trump and all the things he’s said and done.
Do you think musicians and artists hold a particular animosity toward Trump?
Musicians tend to be more Democratic. They tend to be more liberal, that’s a generalization but it seems to be true. Trump has really struck a chord with artists because of his character or lack thereof. His policies and behavior are so xenophobic, racist and misogynistic. Electing him would so clearly be a step backwards that it’s inspired people to denounce him in new and sometimes extreme ways.
Is there something about Trump that makes him a good character to build a song around?
Apparently, that seems to be the case. I mean, you can’t dream him up. He’s a demagogue who’s all about getting press. He’s okay with being completely vilified as long as his name is in the headlines. And it’s been cool to see how different people approach making a Trump protest song. Death Cab took a line, a specific thing that he actually said and made a song around it. But Aimee Mann’s song was more about being inside Trump’s head.
Do you think it’s easier to make an anti-Donald Trump song than it is to write a pro-Hillary Clinton song?
I think so. [Hillary’s] not the most dynamic candidate. She’s and incredible woman who has done incredible things, but she doesn’t inspire people the way that Barack Obama did. And in my opinion, it’s easier to write a song about something you’re dissatisfied with. It’s very hard to write a song about something you feel okay about with out it coming off as schlocky.
Do you have a favorite of the 30 songs?
Honestly, no. They’ve all been great in different ways. Maybe once this is over and I have a chance to sit back and listen to them all again, I’ll feel differently.
How did you select the Center for Popular Democracy to receive all the proceeds from 30 Songs?
Well, we were looking at other groups that were more related this particular election. But we realized, with the timing of it, we would be paying out after the election was over. So, we wanted to give the money to a group that will continue working and have an impact far beyond this election. And the Center for Popular Democracy will still be fighting for the cause of universal voter registration long after the presidential election.
30 Days, 30 Songs is running from now to election day. Find out more at their website and stream a playlist of all the available songs below. For more about universal voter registration, check out the Center for Popular Democracy’s website.
A Spotify playlist containing all the songs will be updated daily until the election: