Politics will forever be tied to the musical landscape, but the age of Trump has especially provoked artists to respond in kind and in force. The author Dave Eggers, for example, launched his “30 Songs, 30 Days” playlist, featuring original work from the likes of Patti Smith, U2, and Tracy Chapman, in order to “combat apathy, entertain the citizenry, and provide a soundtrack to resistance.” Other artists have framed their music specifically within this politically charged year: “FDT”, Fiona Apple’s “Tiny Hands”. The urge for musicians to frame this moment and provide its theme song is strong, and there is no shortage of material for artists to use to write these songs.
However, Alex Tebeleff, the songwriter of Paperhaus, drew his initial inspiration for the band’s new song, “Told You What To Say,” not from 2016, but from the 1980s. “[The lyrics] were inspired by a trip to Colombia and learning about the history of the war there,” says Tebeleff. “It’s also a reflection on my Jewish background and my life-long interest in the history of European fascism and its legacy in the world today, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Musically, the song rides a wavering synth line and an insistent snare—as the track goes on, it becomes louder, more urgent; the instrumentation explodes at the end, not content to let the song’s message of antifascism and its difficulties play out as a whisper. “The second verse,” Tebeleff admits, “does describe a scene similar to and partially inspired by the emotionally toxic rallies during the presidential campaign." The song’s tracing a line through different eras of fascism and conflict is its strength: events transpiring now have their origins and parallels in the past, and to connect them is to begin to understand how and why they hold such a grip on the human zeitgeist today. As Mark Twain more succinctly put it: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Paperhaus’ new album, Are These the Questions That We Need To Ask?, is out October 6 via Misra Records. Catch them on October 6 at Alphaville with Haybaby, Turnip King, and Sic Tic. They also play live on Facebook on October 6 at 4:30PM via Paste Magazine.