Ed. note: As long as humans have been making music, it’s been used as a form of protest. As part of KQED Arts’ 100 Days project, documenting artists’ responses to our new administration in its earliest days, I’ve asked Bay Area musicians to get in touch with songs they’ve written or recorded that serve as reactions to our current political climate. A new one is posted each week.
In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, you’d have had to be in either a cave or a coma to not let the chatter of around-the-clock campaign coverage get under your skin. Most of us weren’t so lucky (though not for lack of trying!).
For San Francisco native Sam Chase, bandleader of The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, putting pen to paper was the only thing that helped. He began writing “Great White Noise,” the song that became a single and anchor for the band’s 2016 album of the same name, “around the beginning of the election cycle madness,” says Chase — even before Trump threw his hat into the ring.
“It’s sort of like when the Christmas decorations are up in stores a week before Thanksgiving… the realization that the next year and a half of your life is going to be filled up with empty political platitudes, plastic smiles, false equivalencies, and jaw-droppingly transparent insincerity.”
When Trump did emerge as a real contender — when America didn’t reject the values he represents, the way Chase assumed the country would — the in-progress song took on a whole new weight.
“I saw other rich white men revving up their rich white man bulldozers, chomping at the bit to demolish anything that our first black president had built,” he says. “I saw big fat-headed white pundits screaming on TV about how ‘blacks’ were the real racists by not acknowledging that ‘all lives mattered.’ I saw religious leaders taking advantage of their followers’ beliefs in order to turn these leaders into the men their holy books always condemned. I saw huge corporations controlling the outcomes of these elections with their pocketbooks. And I saw big pharma keeping us all medicated while exponentially jacking up the cost of life-saving medicines.”
So, yeah, that’s where he got the idea for “Great White Noise.” It didn’t help, says Chase, that he turned 34 on election night.
In the context of all that’s happened since Trump’s inauguration, the song’s lyrics — which touch on women’s rights and the repressive potential of religion — have the ring of commentary that will be relevant for the forseeable future. Chase also sounds as though he’ll likely have another protest song or two in him over the coming months and years, though he’s careful to note that such things can’t be forced, nor rushed.
“There are a lot of local talents that are still wrapping their heads around this whole mess, waiting for their inner social-justice pots to boil over. We will see what they come up with,” he says. “No beautiful movement ever started easily and comfortably. We all need the right solid kick in the head to let the right lyrics fall out. I have faith in our artists. It will be beautiful.”
If nothing else: “There is no doubt that they will be better songs than Donald Trump’s songs about us.”
The Sam Chase and the Untraditional perform at 9pm on Friday, March 24, at The Chapel in San Francisco; be sure to catch main support (and San Franciscan) M. Lockwood Porter too. Tickets ($15–$18) and more info here.
The Sam Chase also plays at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol on Saturday, March 25; that one’s $15, with details here.