Protesters speak loudly. Protesters with a microphone and a guitar can speak even louder.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his presidential candidacy in the summer of 2015, Wisconsinites DJ Hostettler and Tony Webber, along with many others, got angry.
But instead of posting a slew of links to articles and political memes to gain an amusing laugh and possibly a like or share, they came up with a response promising a much greater impact. Avoiding what they deem slacktivism, the two were the masterminds behind Unintimidated: Wisconsin Musicians Against Scott Walker, a CD and DVD project that unites 16 Wisconsin punk and metal rock bands to write and record protest songs.
Hostettler and Webber enlisted bands including Damsel Trash, IfIHadAHiFi (Hostettler’s band), Heavy Hand (Webber’s band), and Tyranny is Tyranny, and brought them to Milwaukee’s Howl Street Recordings last August to record. Each of the songs on Unintimidated disseminates information about Scott Walker and his disastrous policies that have directly affected many people in the state.
“What I’ve been telling people is as long as we have this document out in the world, we would show a bunch of musicians in the 2010s were pissed off enough at what was going on in Wisconsin to make noise,” Hostettler said. “The last thing I want is for people outside of Wisconsin thinking that everybody here is compliant with everything that’s been going on. I want people outside of Wisconsin to know that there’s a strong undercurrent of people that are working to get these idiots out of office.”
The project will be released to the public on April 8 online and at High Noon Saloon, where four of the bands will be performing. Before the show, Hostettler spoke to WiG about the project, the recording process, and how this will be helpful to the Milwaukee community and political activism.
For those who aren’t really familiar with the project, can you give me the basic concept of it?
We actually got a lot of inspiration for the project by watching the video series, “Burnt To Shine,” which is a series of live videos shot in several different cities around the country where a number of bands got together in a building that is condemned or due for demolition and they have a limited time frame to go in and set up and play live with no re-dubs and leave with everything documented. So it’s a cool document of that city’s music scene at that time.
Our project was kind of inspired by that, but what we did was we invited a bunch of our friends’ bands from around Wisconsin to come down to Howl Street Studios in Milwaukee, which was kind enough to donate their time and work at the studio for a weekend. Thirteen of the 16 bands on the compilation were able to make it that weekend. We gave each of the 13 bands a block of two hours to come into the studio and bang out a anti-Scott Walker or an anti-Republican song with minimal overdubs. We did vocal and instrument overdubs if the band had the time within the two hours. Basically what they could do to record a quality song in that two-hour time span and the process was filmed during the entire thing so we could document it on video. We’ve been trickling out videos of each band leading up to the release, which is a release of a CD and DVD booklet that has lyrics and whatnot.
So that way people can experience the recording process as if they’re in the studios with the bands at that time of the recording, right?
Definitely. We’ve had a few handheld and a few GoPro cameras set up around the studio. Each video has a unique look and feel to it, but they all capture that recording process of the band performing the song in the studio.
What is the ultimate purpose behind the project?
The main goal, ultimately, was to do something constructive with our outrage aside from making angry Facebook posts (laughs). The monetary goal of it was to raise money for Planned Parenthood and local soup kitchens. The primary goal is to get a creative document out into the world that a group of artists in Wisconsin are really, really upset about what’s been going on with Scott Walker and the Republicans’ policies.
When did the project really come to fruition?
Probably around last February. There was obviously a lot of chitchat about Walker making a presidential run and Tony and I were at a music festival in the Upper Peninsula discussing how irritated we were about everything that’s been going on since 2010 really.
We were also expressing our frustration with Facebook slacktivism. … There are a lot of people that end up taking whatever righteous, justifiable anger they have about what’s going on to wrap it into social media. They’ll rant about something and hit “share” and then that has dissipated their anger and they go about their day, but it doesn’t really help or solve anything. Our thought was, “Well, neither of us are super outgoing in a way that (we can) phone bank or anything for a particular candidate. So the best use of our energy is to put a creative thing out into the world that can possibly raise money for some of the people that have been most affected by these policies.
One of the coolest things about this project is that the proceeds will be going towards Planned Parenthood and local soup kitchens. What has the response been from those organizations? Has Planned Parenthood or any other group commented on the project?
They have not and that’s okay. We have reached out to their promotion department to give them a heads up and we wanted to kind of get their permission or their blessing. Since we’ve never done a project like this before, I didn’t know if we needed their okay to specifically say anything about them while we’re doing it. I actually did not get any response from them.
Based on that, we’re just going to go ahead and once we’ve gone through selling a number of these and playing shows and raising money that way, we’ll cut them a check and be ready to go. There was one specific soup kitchen that I reached out to that did get back to me and they were very enthusiastic and very grateful but asked us if we could not use their name because as a nonprofit, they keep themselves non-partisan in order to not alienate any potential donors.
Do you think that’s one of the reasons Planned Parenthood hasn’t responded?
I’d imagine it’s hard for them to remain non-partisan since they’re such a lightning rod. Really, Planned Parenthood should be non-partisan. There should be nobody in the state or anywhere else that looks at providing quality healthcare to low-income women in any given area that should be something that anyone on either side of the aisle should get behind.
Has the project been met with any criticism?
Nothing that we’ve seen yet. To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll get much of an acknowledgement from the right. I fully intend to send one to the Capitol with Scott Walker’s name on it. I want them to know that it exists.
That said, we’re fully aware that in the history of artists and especially bands trying to do something of substance with their art and make a statement, generally the people who disagree with that statement will shrug it off or even laugh it off or be snide like, “Oh, these dumb punk rockers don’t know what they’re talking about. They should just stick to singing.” It’s kind of like the reaction the Dixie Chicks had in the 2000s when they spoke out about George W. Bush. I already know that if anybody from that side responds to this, it’s going to be like that.
What has been the reception so far to the project?
There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve had a number of bands reach out and ask to be on it. We filled up the number of bands that we could squeeze on probably within the first day of talking about it. We’ve had a decent outpouring of people that have offered to help promote and be part of it. People are stoked so it’ll be interesting to see what their response is once the music is out there.
The music that’s on it is largely punk rock and some metal. It’s stuff that’s not typically thought of as protest music, which I think in the last five years in Wisconsin, most of the protest music has been like that acoustic and folk style, which is fine. But we were definitely motivated to get some locally charged music going through the louder scenes in Wisconsin again.
The Unintimidated album release show will take place at 9:30 p.m. April 8 at High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave., Madison. Local bands Venus in Furs, Body Futures, Heavy Hand and Damsel Trash will perform. Tickets are $8. For more information, visit high-noon.com.