There is a long history of musicians asking politicians not to use their music on the campaign trail. In this presidential election cycle alone, almost a half-dozen acts, including R.E.M. and Neil Young, have asked Donald Trump to stop playing their songs to advance his cause.
So it’s rare when a band not only wants a candidate to use its music, but will actually record a song that might help the campaign. Such is the case with "Let ‘em Feel the Bern," by Baytown political punks The Drafted. At a little over three minutes long, the pro-Bernie Sanders anthem exalts the Vermont senator as "every billionaire's concern" and the best choice for 2016.
“I learned about Bernie several years ago when I noticed that a couple of senators had an [Independent designation] next to their name, so I looked them up," says Drafted vocalist and guitarist Craig Stanley. "One was pretty lukewarm; the other was Bernie Sanders. Ever since then, I've been a big fan of his. After he announced his run for president, the song just kind of popped in my head while I was washing some dishes. Pretty soon Aaron and I were practicing it and we recorded it very inexpensively, yet also very professionally, with a friend of ours, Louis Cressy, at his home studio in Baytown.”
The result is a raucous endorsement of the perfectly punk rock candidate. We asked Stanley why this music community has taken to the hard-charging Democrat, so much so he’s become a popular punk-themed meme subject. There's an entire Facebook page of these entertaining takes called "Berned in DC."
“Honestly, I haven't noticed any Bernie ‘punk memes’ per se, and I'm a pretty regular Reddit and Facebook user, but it makes sense that he would appeal to that demographic because he's an outsider,” Stanley figures. “Historically, punks have been very progressive on social issues, so he's kind of the perfect candidate for those who hold anti-corporate, pro-personal-liberty sentiments. Bernie is punk rock!”
If anyone should know, it’s the Drafted. Stanley formed the band in 2003, and it formed with an express intent to take on the rubbish it saw in the political process.
“I'd wanted to play in a band since I was a little kid; I always loved music," he says. "At some point I bought Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables CD at Sam Goody, because I loved their song ‘Kill the Poor’ during the ending credits of the movie SLC Punk, and I just thought, ‘Why doesn't anyone sound like this anymore?’”
According to Stanley, the first incarnation of the band featured two of his junior-high skateboarding friends. Today, more than a dozen years later, The Drafted includes Aaron Hughes on drums, bassist Rylan Felder and guitarist John MacDonald. Their music is fast, precise and passionate, all elements that help listeners get turned on and tuned in to their own places in the political process. From there, Stanley suggests avoiding cable news “or taking it seriously."
"It sounds cliché coming from someone who writes punk songs, but the corporate media is not telling the truth, or at least the whole truth, about nearly all social and political issues," he adds.
Instead, Stanley suggests listening to local, independent radio, like KPFT 90.1 FM, and seeking out shows like Democracy Now! and Geoff Berg’s Partisan Gridlock. For “straight down the middle, nearly unbiased media,” he recommends NPR, aired locally on KUHF 88.7 FM.
And, he says, “vote in every election, every time! Small local elections actually affect your life to a much greater extent than presidential elections. Jello Biafra talks about this all the time. It matters who is on the school board. It matters who the sheriff is. Local elections don't usually get much attention, but you can find almost anything you need to know online — polling places, candidates' platforms and ballot initiatives.”
“It's understandable why so many young people are apathetic towards national politics,” Stanley continues. “We have a two-party system that's controlled almost entirely by large business interests. But if you don't participate, you can't complain. As Ralph Nader says, ‘If you're not turned on to politics, politics will turn on you.’ Bernie Sanders is showing us that collective action can still make a difference. He's been elected to the Senate multiple times as an independent and is running an impressive campaign without large political action committee donations.”
Of course, The Drafted has more going on than writing prospective campaign songs for its presidential nominee of choice. The band recently released Chemical Alley Discharge, its first professionally recorded project; it can be found on iTunes, Spotify and other platforms. As of this writing, their next scheduled local show is March 19 at Alley Kat with Japanese rock duo Mugen Hoso.
Just for grins, we asked Stanley how The Drafted might take on Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and The Donald.
“We're actually working on one about Ted Cruz,” he admits, quoting a verse:
Cuban Canadian, or only subhuman
Talk like a preacher, a despicable creature
You wanna be president of the USA
But a whole bunch of us got something to say:
Fuck Ted Cruz!’
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"Then we go into an Afro-Cuban kind of drum beat and play ‘O, Canada’ on top of that," Stanley says. "It may not see the light of day, but it's something Aaron and I have actually practiced once.
“For Hillary, I have a title, ‘In Hot Pursuit of the Parachute Pantsuit,’ but that's as far as I've gotten on that," he continues. "I haven't thought much about a Trump song, but I've been having little mini-nightmares about the thought of him actually being a Republican presidential candidate.”
And so it goes for The Drafted. Getting back to its candidate of choice, it has a message for Sanders, one that his fellow candidates are unlikely to hear from any musicians.
“For what it's worth, his campaign [has] full permission to use our song ‘Let 'em Feel the Bern’ in whatever way they may desire.”