DJ with Holy Shit! / Photo courtesy of the artist
With the state's presidential primary set enrapture the nation this evening, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's name has been on a lot of lips (including ours). The failed presidential candidate and controversial-at-best governor has been in the news lately for a variety of assholish maneuvers. Whether he's enacting draconian voted ID laws or getting into public spats with Donald Trump—an angry fried wig of a man who has blasted Walker for being "too conservative"—the man knows how to cause a ruckus, and more than a few people are tired of his shit.
The coalition of metal, punk, noise, and indie musicians behind the new UNINTIMIDATED: Musicians Against Scott Walker have almost definitely not read the governor's self-serving memoir of the (almost) same name, but they have spent years living under his thumb, and they're sick of staying quiet about it. The new 16-track compilation is out April 8, and brings together a host of bands from across Wisconsin who came together to hammer out songs like Body Futures' "Right to Work" and "Bring Back the Guillotines," which comes from compilation co-captain DJ Hostettler's IfIHadAHiFi.
Hostettler and Anthony Webber of Heavy Hand (who contributed the poppy gem "White Power Norah Jones") will be donating all the proceeds from the compilation to local soup kitchens and Planned Parenthood—two of Walker's most hated programs, of course. In addition to the digital version, physical copies of the CD will come with a zine and DVD of live performances of the tracks.
On the cusp of the Wisconsin presidential primary, I called up Hostettler to talk Walker, protest music, and what the hell's going on out there right now.
Noisey: So, I would love to talk about this compilation that you put together. Honestly, when I first got the email about it, the first thing I thought of was about how my dad and his local went up to Trenton in 2011 to protest when Scott Walker passed all those union-busting Right to Work laws in Wisconsin.
DJ Hostettler: That's awesome.
Yeah, I was pretty proud of him.
He was one of the "out of state agitators" that Walker was talking about!
Yeah. Leave it to Jersey, right? So in regards to Walker's policies, all of the union-busting definitely caught my attention at first, but I didn't realize until I read up on him a little more that he really seems to have it out for marginalized people in general. Like, he was way ahead of the game when it came to defunding Planned Parenthood. He pulled that back in 2011, way before all that crazy Carly Fiorina "selling babies" mess even came out.
Yeah, but then of course, as soon as that video circulated, it got things going again. And that kind of ginned up the legislature to pass more restrictions on distributing the Title X federal funding that comes down from the fed to go to Planned Parenthood. They've actually passed a law to block that from going to Planned Parenthood, to distribute it to other places that aren't abortion providers. I haven't gotten the latest on how far that's getting appealed because I don't even know how legal that is. But they're attacking that, and [Walker's] turned down federal funds for expanding Medicare, he turned down $800m in high-speed rail funding from the feds that was to run from Chicago to Minneapolis, through Milwaukee and Madison up. And he turned that down. There was actually Talgo Train, a company that had opened an office in the north central part of Milwaukee to build those trains, that ended up closing up, moving out and suing the state for what they were promised in the contract they had signed when Jim Doyle was governor. So, not only did we lose the $800 million, but we ended up paying out, if I remember correctly, another $170 million to this company that ended up producing nothing.
Wow. Even just looking through his Wikipedia page, it seems like this guy is just hell-bent on making life really difficult for poor communities, working class communities, women, and people of color.
He's really got all the bases covered. And it's very careerist and it's very politically motivated. If you go back to his record as the Milwaukee County Executive before he became the governor, everything he did there was basically just to frame his record in a way that would allow him to run for governor as, basically, a Tea Party Republican. So everything he's done as governor was basically just to build his resume to run for president. Of course, we all know how that turned out.
Yeah, thankfully. What's the general public's sentiment about this guy? How do regular people in Wisconsin feel about this guy?
Well, it's obviously very divided. His approval ratings are the lowest they've ever been, and there are a lot of moderate working-class conservatives that hate him now, that have figured him out.
Well, he was busting the unions, and that's a key demographic for that issue.
I understood that there was a little bit of a sea-change starting when people I was Facebook friends with from high school that were super-conservative started yelling about him. I was like, "Oh, now you're catching on." Because a lot of those guys are working class union employees, and maybe they're conservative, but they understand what unions do for them.
Just real quick, because the union fight is such a big part of this guy's record, could you explain how his Right To Work policy has hurt the workers?
Yeah, certainly. Obviously he started everything with Act 10 in 2011, which stripped collective bargaining from public sector unions. And at the time he insisted, "This is just to fix a budget hole, it has nothing to do with private sector unions , it has nothing to do with this." Of course, when they went and passed Right to Work legislation a couple of years after that, that of course made law the fact that no union is allowed to automatically deduct union dues from a paycheck. So, in that time, we've seen our middle class shrink. The number of people in poverty in the state, that has increased. There are all these statistical studies showing that working and middle class peoples' income continues to dwindle. And it's also resulting in a lot of reduced employment opportunities, because businesses aren't hiring, they're not creating new positions, they're not coming into Wisconsin to start new jobs. It's a domino effect. It's hurt benefits, it's hurt take home pay, it's hurt job opportunities. And it's really hurting people the most in the most impoverished areas like the inner-city of Milwaukee which —because we're one of the most segregated [cities] in the country—it's a largely African-American community that's completely getting ignored. It's like a carpet bombing of the economy, really.
Has Walker had any thoughts or any statements about the Black Lives Matter movement? He pretty much has ignored it. I haven't even seen him say "all lives matter" or anything. He's been just pretty much silent. Ignoring Milwaukee has been kind of his MO since he was even Milwaukee County Executive. It has a lot to do with the political make-up of the state. Milwaukee, Madison and a couple of little spots up north and in the rural areas around Madison are very liberal. But the most of the rest of the state is pretty hardcore Republican, and the majority of rural Wisconsin is super conservative and they kind of turn up their noses at Milwaukee, because we're the big scary liberal city where all the black people are. And so that's really what endears him to the conservatives in the outlying suburbs of Milwaukee.
...who also wanted him to defund Planned Parenthood. After he did that, at this point, how accessible is it for a women who needs an abortion or wants an abortion to get one in the state of Wisconsin?
I would have to look and see how many clinics have been shuttered or if hours have been affected. In the more urban areas, it's still fairly accessible. We actually had an appeals court strike down one of the laws he had passed, which was that if you were going to provide abortions, you had to have a doctor on the premises with admitting privileges to hospitals. Last I checked, that was actually put on hold or outright struck down by an appeals court saying that it put an undue burden on the person leading the procedure, basically.
Body Futures lyrics in the UNINTIMIDATED zine
Still, clearly his stance on Planned Parenthood isn't exactly progressive, and I'm guessing that's why Planned Parenthood are the main beneficiary of the proposed profits from this compilation you put together, right?
They are. When we conceived of the project, a lot of those attacks were in the news. Obviously Planned Parenthood is a bit of a hot-button topic amongst people from either side. So going out there on a limb in Wisconsin and saying, "We are going to help these people," it's kind of a lightning rod that gets conservatives pissed off. If we can bum out some conservatives that are hard-line in his camp, that's cool [laughs].
Add thaty to the fact that you're doing it with punk rock and heavy metal, which are traditionally the conservative right's least favorite genres.
Well, one of the big reasons why I wanted to do it [like this] is that most of the musicians that I know in the area are punk/indie/metal people. But at the same time, probably since the 90s. real hard political content in rock music has been kind of on a downslope. I mean, it's still out there, but if you want to compare it to when Fugazi and the DC hardcore scene were around— like, I can think of maybe one or two songs off the top of my head that yelled against George W. Bush while he was in office.
Protest music is not a dying art but it's less common these days, so it's nie to see somebody taking the initiative to put something like this together—and to write a song like "Scott Walker, You're A Piece of Shit."
I'm so happy that one's on the comp [laughs]. I think we got a good balance of lyrical content that's a little more vague or a little more general, and there's some stuff that's flat-out saying, like "Scott Walker, You're A Piece of Shit," or how about "No Scott," where the lyrics are basically just like, "Fuck you!"
It must've been really cathartic to get this stuff out.
It was. And it was a really inspiring process by itself. The reason that we started it was basically to do something with our Facebook outrage, because Tony and I were getting fed up with the idea of ranting on Facebook while you're at work and hitting 'Share' and thinking you've done something.The premise of it was, I talked to my friend Shane Hochstetler who runs Howl Street Studios here and he's also the drummer in a band called Zebras and used to be in a band called Call Me Lightning. I came to him with the idea and he was like, "The studio is yours for the weekend. I'm all in."
So we got the 13 bands lined up, we scheduled them out. I coordinated with everybody. And then basically every band had a two-hour block, we set up a backline so everybody could use the house amps, everybody used my drumset, and brought their snares or whatever. They came in, they had two hours to pound it out and do whatever overdubs they could do in that time, and then it was, "Cool, you're done, clear out." And the fact that 13 bands ran on schedule and we didn't go over anybody's time was something that we stood in the parking lot at the end of Sunday night and just kind of giggled at each other for fifteen minutes about. We were like "That just happened. And there were no issues. That's crazy." Every band was motivated, every band was playing ball. Shane engineered 13 bands in a weekend, it was insane.
Did you guys all know each other, or did you reach out to people? How did you bring this collective together?
The scene in Milwaukee and the rest of Wisconsin is pretty tight-knit, because it's not as big a scene as in Chicago or out on the coasts, it's a very everyone-knows-everyone kind of scene, especially when it comes to louder music. In Milwaukee, a lot of the most popular music out here is, I guess, NPR indie. If there's a banjo it's gonna get a lot of radio play, that kinda thing. So all of the louder, noisier bands, we gotta stick together. Every band on the project, someone in the band is a friend of mine and I knew them from playing shows with my band, or by going to see their bands. I basically made a Facebook post and said "Who would be interested in this" and the entire thing was filled by people in these bands going "Yeah, we're in." So it was pretty easy to round people up.
The album is out April 8, and you're planning a few events around the release, right?
April 8th is the release show in Madison, and then we've got more release shows we've scheduled: two in Milwaukee, one in Kenosha and one up in Oshkosh, because then we've got the base cities of all the bands covered. In Kenosha, the proceeds are going to go to a women's group there, and I'm going to check with the Haunted Heads in Oshkosh to see where they would like those proceeds to go. We're going to try to raise money for local charities in that areas that are of the same mission as Planned Parenthood or the soup kitchens in Milwaukee that we're also going to raise money for.
So it's coming out right after the primary?
Yes. Initially, we were hoping to time it right before the Wisconsin primary when Walker was still in the presidential race, but now it's not as critical. But it is nice that it's going be right after the primary, because there are a lot of important races that are going on too that we're paying attention to. Like, not even just the presidential primaries.
Do you think Wisconsin's going to vote for Trump?
I will tell you that a lot of the conservative base in Wisconsin kind of get their marching orders from talk radio in the Milwaukee area. It's kinda weird; we're a city that has at least three really well-known prominent, regional, fanatic, right-wing radio talk guys. Charlie Sykes is the big one. He's actually subbed on Rush Limbaugh's show a few times. And Mark Belling is another one. He's a little more of a rabble-rouser. Like, he got suspended from his station for a little bit a few years ago for using the term "wetbacks" on the air. So he likes to be really provocative, whereas Sykes portrays himself as more of the cerebral Republican guy. Syskes and the other guy at his station, Jeff Wagner, they are both very anti-Trump. I haven't checked out Belling's show because his show's a sewer, I don't go anywhere near it. But yeah, it seems like at least the Republican establishment in Wisconsin is on the "anybody but him" bandwagon. But I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up carrying Wisconsin, honestly.
You'd think after Scott Walker people would figure out "Maybe we shouldn't go for the crazy extremist."
You would think. He's still got this deep vein of people who just have blinders and refuse to see him for what he is.
Our primary here on April 5th actually has some really important local stuff. I'm trying to not use the product to endorse any particular candidates, I'm trying to just keep it as an anti-Scott Walker kind of thing, but there's a Wisconsin Supreme Court race that has a well-known liberal judge running against a Scott Walker appointee, so that's a big deal. And the Milwaukee County Executive seat that Walker used to have is up for grabs, and one of the Wisconsin senators that fled the state in 2011 to protest Act 10 is running for that position. So I'm really hoping that he gets that.
People tend to forget about the local level—it's always all about the grand stage. Every four years, we get a big splashy presidential race, but otherwise, people don't pay that much attention and that's how we end up with people like Scott.
Our voter turnout in Wisconsin is lower for midterms, and our governor election happened during the midterms of the presidential cycle. Sure enough, yeah, when everybody comes out for the presidential elections we go blue, but then everybody stays at home in the midterms and then we get Scott. And then we get a gerrymandered state assembly and a state senate where the districts are all drawn so that they can maintain their Republican advantage.
It almost seems hopeless, but at least you guys are doing something about it.
That's the idea. I've been telling people, even if we raise like $50 for Planned Parenthood, if there's at least a document of art out there that says when all this was happening somebody was angry enough to scream "Fuck you" at this guy, then, awesome. I'm tired of my friends nationwide saying, "What the hell's going on dude? What's wrong with your state?" It's not me, I swear!
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; she's on Twitter.