November 9, 2016 was a dark day for many Americans. Where were you when you knew? I remember waking up at 2 AM, restless and unable to get the previous day’s election off my mind: I picked up my phone, which was lying face-down atop my record player, and tapped on one of the news apps. There it was: Donald Trump to win the presidency. The United States had done what many had thought was unthinkable, and despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes, Trump was headed to the White House.
When I first heard the news I was drowning in sorrow.
This wasn’t about liberal versus conservative views. To the dismay of those who believe in open-mindedness and basic human and civil rights, a man who bragged about sexual exploitation, who openly supported religious persecution, and whose intolerance and bigotry contrasted with everything it meant to be an American, was now poised to become the leader of the supposed “free world.” In an attempt to break Wednesday’s enormous tension, my boss quipped, “At least we can expect some good music over these next four years.”
He wasn’t wrong: The best music comes from the most powerful and provocative places, and if there is one thing Donald J Trump actually succeeds at, it is inspiring intense emotion from folks left, right, and center. Portland indie rock band Souvenir Driver are among the first artists to respond to Trump’s election. Released 1/27/2017, Souvenir Driver’s Brace Yourself EP is an emotionally turbulent protest record consisting of four songs written and recorded in the period between Trump’s election and inauguration. Through raw, potent lyricism and powerfully transformative music, Souvenir Driver present their own four stages of grief over Donald Trump.
Listen: Brace Yourself [EP] – Souvenir Driver
Psychologists typically outline five stages of psychology: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Isolated and definitely in denial, “Winter Birds” opens Brace Yourself with a dark and ominous glow: Hazy guitars craft a warm psychedelic backdrop as the band capture that feeling of loss upon learning the election results:
Tell the birds to look for an answer
We’ve lost all we can choose
Brace yourself for your chances
When i first heard the news I was drowning in sorrow
I’ve got nothing but booze
I won’t sleep till tomorrow
The hazy glow fades into disgust and anger as fuzzy guitars and crunchy overdrive take over the narrative on “Glass Ceiling.” “The glass ceiling will not disappear,” sings guitarist and vocalist Nate Wey, channeling the angst and discontentment of punk predecessors like The Clash and The Ramones in an increasingly wild and enraged performance. By the end, Wey’s cacophonous yell is itself a symbol of changing tides:
I wanna know how they stole the cycle
I wanna know where the good times have gone
I wanna know how they stole the ego
I wanna know where the good times have gone
I wanna hope they don’t rob the future
I wanna know which side you are on
A man on the street is yelling with his arms saying
“everyone” (through his megaphone) “everybody run”
Anger subsides into sensitized desensitization as Souvenir Driver start coming to terms with reality on “Dumb Nightmare.” The warped lead guitar line provides the perfect instability as the band lament the oncoming storm:
Now I have to listen to the bullshit he’s going to say
Now I have to hear all the things I don’t want to hear
Now I have to listen to the bullshit he’s going to say
every day, every day
two shots, forget about it
sort it out, fuck it, its gone
now the dumb nightmare is all over our screen
now the dumb nightmare’s the only thing that we’re seeing
Souvenir Driver’s signature mix of dreamy bliss pop and shoegaze come out in force on EP closer “Normalization,” as the band rejects Donald Trump as any other president and promises to fight tooth and nail against him and the prejudiced ideology he stands for. “Please don’t normalize it now,” sings Wey on repeat. Souvenir Driver beg listeners to stay alert; to keep their eyes open and their minds aware.
I’m going to meet you after the war is done
I’m going to see you after the water’s gone
I’m going to climb on top of the waiting room
I’m going to excavate what’s in front of you
Wake up!, screams Souvenir Driver in their own texturally colorful, richly affected way. Brace Yourself identifies four stages of grief over Donald Trump: Isolation, Anger, Sensitization, and Rejection. There is no acceptance Souvenir Driver are currently working on their fourth full length, self-titled record (anticipated Spring 2017 via High School Records); in the meantime, all proceeds from the digital sales of Brace Yourself will be split evenly between the following non-profits (list subject to change): Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Civil Liberties Union.
Souvenir Driver are actively standing up to Donald Trump’s presidency. Atwood Magazine spoke to Souvenir Driver to learn a little more about the band and Brace Yourself. (NOTE: These questions were answered before the immigration ban, which has since shifted things into even more scary, extreme, and emotional territory.)
A CONVERSATION WITH SOUVENIR DRIVERAtwood Magazine: Knowing what we know now (Trump’s actions during the first few days) is there anything you would have changed or added to your music?
Souvenir Driver: I wouldn’t change much of what is there, but I would want to add extra songs to address the new issues and injustices. You could make a double album just on his first week…
So much has changed since we began writing this — and every day its like a new shocking thing happens.
Certain topics from back then might have faded into the background compared with the constantly changing things he does; but the rawness of our emotions then isn’t much different than it is now.
The things I feel most viscerally right now are the fast tracking of the racist, fascist wall; and on the flip side, the optimism from last weekend’s protests. Those are probably the two things I would write about first. But there’s so much. Our lenses change every day.
What about the particular time in which the EP was written stands out to you? Why be so specific about this period?
Souvenir Driver: The election hit everyone in my band as a complete and utter shock. Our first rehearsal after the election was so emotional we didn’t know how to approach the music we had previously written. It just didn’t make sense to us. We were close to traumatized by the results, as many people were. So instead of working on old material, we did some free jamming, I yelled some political anger through the microphone, and we decided we should write a political E.P. We didn’t know if it would be 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 songs, but we got to work.
It’s the first time I’ve personally written something specifically “political” and I believe its the first time the rest of the band has as well. (All songs were written collectively, with myself doing the lyrics). I think we were specific about that period because that was the only thing on our mind at the time. And we all wanted to preserve the initial energy that was in the music. We didn’t want to re write or re draft or polish or refine anything — just deal with our instinctual emotions. In a way it was a healing process, and also a small way to fight back artistically. To paraphrase, we were specific about that particular time because there was no way to escape it. Lyrically, I tried to blend both the specific and the mysterious; so that the emotional response was just as important as what created it.
Every day under Trump is like a new reality. This morning when I read about the wall and the doomsday clock I had to fight back tears. Its impossible to ignore the reality we are now in, so the only real option left is to engage with it.
Politics and music: What's the intersection?
Souvenir Driver: I’ve honestly never thought the band I’m in would make political music — our focus has always been on the internal, on dreams, on romance, on emotions both light and dark. But we’re always open to writing about however we’re feeling.
After the election one of the first thing I noticed was how I viscerally, emotionally, and almost violently felt political music. Bands ranging from The Rolling Stones to A Tribe Called Quest suddenly took on a new immediate emotion to me. It felt therapeutic to hear, and it felt energizing and alive. It was like a soundtrack.
The same thing happened to me with certain writers I’ve always loved (Roberto Bolano, JM Coetzee, Garcia Marquez) — the music and prose had an added texture, a new meaning.
I think when things are “relatively” good, its okay to be mad about certain topics but continue to write impressionistic-ally. Once the reality becomes overwhelming its something that you can’t ignore. You just can’t escape from it emotionally, so its going to come out. When you’re marching on the streets, making phone calls to Senators, signing petitions, then its impossible not to bring those feelings with you when you pick up your instrument.
My biggest issue with “political issues” these days is that much of what is on the table is really civil rights, not “politics.” How do you respond?
Souvenir Driver: I think that’s a very good point. Politicians have divided us on things we should all agree on, and shifted the debate to very philosophical basic ideas. Ideally the political issue would be, for example, how to address the gender gap, rather than whether or not it exists. I totally agree with you — and I think the most shocking things about Trump are his complete disregard for civil rights. Its terrifying.
What is your favorite moment on this EP?
Souvenir Driver: That’s a really good question and hard to answer! The whole process was so fast that I’m still too attached to really know. If I can cheat and be vague, I’d say my favorite moment was the experience and vibe of making something with your good friends to counter what we felt. If I have to be specific, maybe I’d say screaming into the microphone was healing for me — although its something I couldn’t have done without everyone writing inspiring pieces.
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cover: Souvenir Driver © Heather Boyd
:: Souvenir Driver Tour Dates ::
03/21 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR
03/24 – The Sound Lounge -Grants Pass, OR
03/25 – Starlite – Sacremento, CA
03/26 – Elbo Room – San Francisco, CA
03/27 – Continental Room – Fullerton, CA
03/29 – Harvard & Stone – Los Angeles, CA
03/30 – The Pour House – Oceanside, CA
03/31 – Til-Two Club – San Diego, CA