Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard on Donald Trump's 'Textbook Fascism' & 'Disappointing' Choice of Candidates in 2016 Election
Many musicians took sides on Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders, but once the 2016 election segued to its general phase, the chorus seemed to die down. Sure, Clinton had near-unanimous support from the industry, but artists weren’t going for it like they had in years past. But as the specter of a Donald Trump presidency became more tangible, the resistance began to grow. Earlier this week Death Cab for Cutie led off the 30 Songs, 30 Days project, with a brand-new, Donald Trump-bashing song.
The same week his band released “Million Dollar Loan,” Gibbard hopped on the phone with Billboard to talk politics. “I will be voting for Hillary Clinton,” he assures, though he stresses 30 Days, 30 Songs -- a month-long, daily rollout of unreleased music from a variety of artists -- is more about defeating Trump than latching on to any political party. "I fear, in my darker moments, that what we saw [during the second debate] has forever broken political discourse in this country," he says. "To get in front of millions of people and push out authoritarian rhetoric, specifically to threaten your opponent with prosecution upon winning an election, is textbook fascism."
From your perspective, how did 30 Days, 30 Songs come to be?
I’ve been friends with Dave Eggers for a while. We’d been discussing with our manager Jordan Kurland this idea of some kind of soundtrack of protest songs, anti-Trump, anti-fascist, anti-racist songs going into this election. There’s so much music being used at all these rallies but we thought we could contribute our musical voices to all the other voices of protest that’ve been springing up around Trump’s candidacy.
Of all his offenses during this election, why was it the "small loan" comment that inspired you to write "Million Dollar Loan"?
I wrote the song a couple months ago. If I’d have known I was gonna get so much more material in the last two weeks alone… I would have had such a large selection of topics to choose from. I wish I didn’t have that swath of topics; I wish I didn’t have to write the song in the first place.
Getting a million dollar loan from your father is not something the overwhelming majority of Americans have access to. And to speak so flippantly about a large sum of money -- a sum of money most people won’t see in their entire lifetimes, specifically his entire base -- his ability to say that and have nobody supporting him say, Wait a second, this guy has absolutely no understanding of what my struggle has been; this person has no idea what it’s like to be a working class American; why should this person represent me? That that did not happen in any real way is still amazing to me.
Have you supported Hillary Clinton throughout the election cycle? Did you support Bernie Sanders at all?
I should make it very clear I’m not a Hillary Clinton supporter. I didn’t write this song for... we didn’t sign onto this project because we are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton… The choice we’ve been given in this election is disappointing, to say the least.
When I look at how we’ve gotten to this place, there tends to be a lot the last year and a half in the press saying the way the Republican party has embraced the fringes of the right, the more backwards social policies pertaining to women, the LGBT community and minorities, [the Republicans] caused this. The DNC is also partially responsible for where we are. It’s very clear to me that they decided Hilary Clinton was going to be the nominee in 2008. If you think back to the early Democratic debates, it was Bernie Sanders -- a guy who nobody saw coming -- Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley. Who the hell’s Martin O’Malley? They spent eight years not grooming anyone for this office other than Clinton… She has an enormous amount of skeletons in her closet. I’m not super excited about voting for Clinton. But because of how I personally view authoritarianism, fascism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny -- conquering those ugly corners of our country are of paramount importance. I can’t think off anybody in the Republican field over the past year and a half I would have voted for over Clinton. I haven’t been really active with any candidate on the left because it seemed obvious from the beginning that Hillary was going to be the nominee.
Have you ever interacted with him? Do you think he even knows about Death Cab For Cutie?
I doubt he knows we exist. I met [his daughter] Ivanka [Trump] maybe ten years ago. She came to an after party after one of our shows in New York. She seemed nice. [She's] just a person; we chatted a bit. I think you can see where the conversation would have led if this was, like, a month ago.
We are a successful band in a particular niche of the world, but we’re not Bruce Springsteen, so I don’t think he’s aware of us. Nor do I particularly care either way. This song was put into the world not to get his attention -- let’s put it that way.
Have you written any songs in the past you’d call overtly political?
This is quite literally the first overtly political thing I’ve written. There’s been a couple things that have ended up on the scrap heap along the way. There’s a particular authority and voice some songwriters have to present political material in a way that gives it a particular strength. Bruce Springsteen is obviously one of those people. I just never felt comfortable taking on that voice before. When I’m at my best, I’m dissecting small moments in life and unpacking them and putting them on the table and showing the listener all the pieces. I feel like I’m doing that with this song as well. I’ve been making records for 18 years; this is the first time in my creative career I felt very compelled to make an overtly political statement musically.
I’m not naive enough to think writing a song is going to change an election, but I do think this is a particular crossroads in our nation’s history where everybody needs to do what small part they can to try to help us avoid this potential catastrophe of a Trump presidency. It is the most pivotal and dangerous moment in our nation’s history.
I’m not naive enough to think writing a song is going to change an election, but at the end of the day, I put my own reputation and the reputation of my band on the line to make this statement because I felt I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t.
In recent elections, musicians were very active towards ousting George W. Bush, supporting Barack Obama, etc. This time, they've seemed a little less vocal. Have you noticed that at all?
I can only speak for myself, but -- like many people -- I thought this was going to be a funny couple months before he crashes and burns because he’s a clown and doesn’t know what he’s doing… Then all of a sudden, over the last fifteen months, it's become very not funny.
It seems to me that there are a lot of people who are so upset with politics in Washington that they’re willing to throw their support behind anybody with charisma and a populist message... The media gave him so much air time. Any time he’d want to be on any show, they’d bring him in on a feed. He was getting all this free advertising. Now I think the forces at play have started to buckle down and do their job, which is to save us from fascism. Trump’s campaign keeps screaming about a liberal media bias, but even Bill O’Reilly is done with this guy.
30 Days, 30 Songs will also include submissions from Aimee Mann, Thao Nguyen, clipping., My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Bhi Bhiman and a previously unreleased live recording from R.E.M. All proceeds will go toward the Center for Popular Democracy (CDP), particularly its efforts to register all American citizens to vote.