Monday, March 6, 2017

Getting it Wrong: A Chat with Jamie from Audio Antihero

Audio Antihero is a record label that specialises in all shades of off-kilter indie music. The label's very first release was the furiously fidgety We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On to Block Out the Noise by Nosferatu D2, and since then Audio Antihero's purview has expanded outwards to include everything from folk music to laptop pop, experimental soundscapes to route-one punk.

The man at the helm of the Audio Antihero frigate is Jamie Halliday. Jamie lived in London when the label first launched, but he has since moved to the USA, a country that - as you may be aware - recently elected TV business guy Donald Trump as its leader. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, Jamie (with the help of many cool bands and artists from the US and elsewhere) put together a compilation album called Unpresidented Jams to raise money for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Unpresidented Jams was released on the 26th of February, and is now available to download from Audio Antihero's Bandcamp page. Jamie very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for The Album Wall about the comp and the political climate that compelled him to curate it - read on to find out what he had to say.

The Album Wall: Why have you chosen to donate the proceeds from this compilation to the SPLC and the NILC?

Jamie Halliday: I'm new here, but they're two lovely organisations that are committed, in different ways, to opposing the victimisation of vulnerable people. This feels pretty essential right now but it's something we should really have been ready to support had a Democrat won the Presidency too. This compilation seemed like a good way for an anxious dyspraxic who never wins arguments to do a little bit of good.

TAW: Are all of the contributing artists Audio Antihero alumni?

JH: No, I wish. I was really happy to be able to work with a few Audio Antihero artists on here, they gave me some really wonderful stuff. Benjamin Shaw wrote his first song with lyrics in about three years for this comp - time flies!

Elsewhere, lots of guests. People like Jeffrey Lewis, Yr Friends and Hanging Freud have been on previous compilations that I've done, whereas Okin Osan, Pearl Crush, Deerful and the others are all new to my tiny musical world.

TAW: Who designed the cover art?

JH: Shay Spence! Shay fronts Brooklyn's Vassals and is frequently part of Magana's rhythm section. She's a wonderful artist, musician and songwriter. The final cover was actually a pretty last-minute solution: our planned artist had to drop out, and I found this among Shay's unused designs and she was kind enough to let me use it. I'm really happy with it.

TAW: Is the Creature from the Black Lagoon supposed to represent Donald Trump?

JH: Kinda. I don't think it was designed with 2017's political climate in mind, so it isn't to be taken too literally or thought of as the perfect analogy or anything. But I felt like it could be interpreted in a few fun ways. Ultimately, something terrible has emerged - something that we liked to think was buried pretty deep - and it most certainly is keen to attack women.

Image source:

I've never actually seen that film though. Is the creature actually really nice or misunderstood? I don't know. One of the considered titles for the compilation was 'Republicans are Lizards' - I think this image could have made a fairly solid cover for that, too.

TAW: Were most of these songs written specifically for this charity compilation? A few tracks (most obviously Dictator Seeks Reichstag Fire by Jeffrey Lewis) are pointedly political, while others are less so...

JH: Most of them aren't political in content, but several were written or recorded exclusively for the compilation or are otherwise unreleased recordings from 'the vault'. There are a handful of songs here that had already been commercially released too, but I really wanted to include and share them anyway. I figured I'd much rather have gorgeous songs from Betsy Ross, Fridge Poetry, i hate sex, Hanging Freud and Mulligrub than not.

I wanted this compilation to be a celebration of people and their creativity and their voices and ideas, and I think that's what it is.

TAW: How do you discover new acts? Where do you hear about all the artists whose music you release?

JH: My label started out pretty isolated; I don't really know anybody. I was working on a record from Nosferatu D2, my favourite local band, and then with Benjamin Shaw too, who was a friend. So for a long time, records have come from friends and the recommendations of my artists. I'm hoping to break out of that bubble a little more if the label lasts long enough. I receive a lot of demos, I get recommendations, and I sometimes approach people that I've found through blogs or have admired for a while. I don't end up taking on very much, though - Audio Antihero is such a small label that it wouldn't make sense for a lot of people to want to work with me. I'm also maddeningly picky about who or what I want to spend several months focusing on, as it's hard to do more than a couple of records a year any justice on my level. Just keeping up with my current roster's output can be pretty difficult, which makes new signings pretty tricky.

TAW: As a Brit who migrated to the USA, how are you finding life in Trump's America? How does it differ from life in the UK?

JH: I'm a relatively young white agnostic with a green card, a good safety network and a safe country I can return to, so aside from the looming threats of the Affordable Care Act repeal, ludicrous attacks on the environment, worker's rights, minimum wage and cuts to medicare, medicaid and social security, I'll be among those who suffer the least. But I have no respect for an administration or a country that will seek to deny people the basic rights I enjoy because of their gender, race, sexuality, identity, religion, income level or country of origin.

I've always struggled with what I interpret as America's distinct lack of interest in its people's wellbeing, whether it's the dangerously unaffordable healthcare system, wealth inequality, institutionalised racism, police brutality, the NRA's immunity, or a lack of security for workers. But I can only see this worsening now as people have more and more to contend with. Paid holiday is important, the right to see a doctor regardless of your income is imperative, but while trans people are being told they can't take part in public life and Muslims are being told they can't enter the country...well, people are gonna struggle to keep up all of the older causes. It's becoming a huge ordeal just to speak to your representative in the US.

I haven't been in the UK since before the bullshit referendum, so I really hesitate to suggest that Britain is a dreamy place to be right now. But we do have the remnants of a national health service, which I really hope can survive the Conservatives and their seemingly endless reign. A year under the American healthcare system has really really helped drive home the value of a national tax-funded service and the dishonesty of anybody who tells you otherwise.

It just feels like we're all getting it so wrong.

TAW: Do you think Trump's presidency will last a full four years? What are your predictions for the future of his administration - impeachment, resignation, re-election in 2020?

JH: All bets are off, man. The 2018 elections will give us some indication of where things are going, but the Democrats have been pretty uninspiring lately and the Republicans have shown little willingness to challenge Trump or Steve Bannon on much of anything. It's not a prediction, but I will go so far as far as to say that I would not be shocked if Trump successfully ran for re-election. We the People apparently like to do the wrong thing.

TAW: You were a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders during the primary process last year - you donated the proceeds from the last Audio Antihero comp to the Sanders campaign. What did you see in him that you didn't see in Hillary Clinton?

JH: Primary fever had me acting pretty feral but I should say that, had I been eligible to vote, I would have absolutely voted for Hillary Clinton in the election. I should also say that Bernie Sanders isn't a dream politician: his history on gun control is mostly infuriating, and he's made some pretty disappointing statements and votes in his career. Generally speaking, though, I really viewed Sanders as a true step forward. I don't believe that Sanders is pushed around by lobbyists, and I do think he's an egalitarian, albeit one coming from a place of privilege. He supports social programs and safety nets, especially ones that are truly designed to benefit people, rather than businesses. How his presidency would have gone is impossible to know, but he was certainly very inspiring to me. I wanted the change that people needed, rather than the change that the wealthy were willing to authorise.

Hillary Clinton, while she offered the basic minimum guarantee of being a Democrat, has a history that's filled with prejudicial policies and stances. Among other things, I just feel that if you needed to 'evolve' on equality then you have no place leading a country or making laws. There was a lot of talk about the 'enthusiasm gap' with millennials or how she could 'win over Sanders supporters', but it wasn't about memes, buzzwords or presentation; I just don't feel she believes that what progressives want is right. But again, I’m not above choosing the lesser of two evils.

Clinton certainly suffered a great deal of sexism during the election, in both the primaries and the general. I'm not a great fan of the Democratic Party, but she's no more neoliberal than a great deal of other Democrats (or more war-hungry than most Republicans). I wish she had won the election, because then we'd be pushing her for better healthcare, better wages, stricter banking regulations and gun control, rather than just hoping to maintain a basic democracy. But she is ultimately much too conservative for me. In my uneducated view, the Democratic Party that we have now can defer Trumpism for a term or two, but it can't defeat it. I'd rather see us beat fascism with equality and prosperity than placate it with institutionalised lower-case white supremacy.

TAW: What role do you think music can play in resisting Trump and Trumpism?

JH: I don't know. I think Trump's election may have woken up blissfully ignorant bros like myself to the fact that all some of us have been doing up to this point is giving our immediate circle of white guy friends a voice. But there's always been great political music, and how much has the message been able to change since the first protest song was written? We still starve the poor, we're still misogynists, we're still racists, we're still homophobes, we're still violent, we're still trying to deny people healthcare, we're still breaking treaties, we're still working people into early graves for the lowest price.

But a lot of policy change comes from what society is ready for. The more people wake up to the threats faced by the kind of society they desire, the more that awareness can be reflected in music and the way we run our businesses. Maybe we can try and reshape the norm. But is my label with a crappy name going to fix the world? Fuck no; I struggle to sell thirty cassettes. Are Alex G, Mitski, Beyoncé or whoever else going to the fix the world by themselves? Unfortunately not. But maybe some of us can provide comfort to those who need it, and a few of us can help wake up the people who are as clueless as I've always been.

I'm not a smart person; historically, I haven't even been a political person. But none of this feels like politics to me. Homophobia is not a difference of opinion. Racism isn't policy. Letting guns flow across the nation isn't conservative. Lies aren't vision. I don't believe in moderation or compromise when it comes to equality.

TAW: What else can we expect from Audio Antihero in 2017?

JH: About as much as I can stand.

Buy the Unpresidented Jams compilation here - the minimum donation is just £2.99, and all proceeds go to the SPLC and the NILC.

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