It has been awhile since a submission from an independent artist was featured so this week’s selection comes from a punk rock band from New York and Connecticut called Poor Lily. The band recently released a “punk rock opera” inspired by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and global mass surveillance.
Poor Lily took two “songs” from the album, “Honey Trap,” and, “Eyeball Constructors,” and released them together in a music video. Using parts of the documents Snowden disclosed, the band created a stop motion animated video that uses pictures of band members and cut-up NSA documents.
The lyrics for “Honey Trap” are basically some of the names of top secret surveillance programs repeated, like “Egotistical Giraffe,” a name that always deserved its place in an American punk rock song.
Adam Wisnieski, bassist for Poor Lily, told Shadowproof the band was inspired by Snowden. In 2013, they developed multiple songs and wrote lyrics about the NSA’s illegal spying on millions of Americans. While they had written political songs previously, this inspired them greatly.
“I believe in privacy rights,” Wisnieski shared. “After the Snowden revelations, I started arguing with friends and family constantly about how important Snowden’s revelations were. And when anyone gave me the usual ‘I have nothing to hide’ line, I just got angrier.”
Writing lyrics became an outlet. The band also sought a challenge. They developed the idea for a concept album that technically would be one single piece of non-stop music for 30 minutes. (The length was chosen because it was appropriate for Slayer’s Reign In Blood so it’s appropriate for just about any album.)
Wisnieski was drawn to the “whole world of odd spy program names and peculiar graphics.” These were used as inspiration for a loose narrative, where the person singing realizes angry protest songs won’t change the world but transforming NSA or Five Eyes alliance documents into art may have some kind of meaningful impact.
“For these songs, we wrote a bunch of lyrics that use phrases lifted directly from the documents, sometimes we just sing the names of the oddly named spy programs and operation code names. It was a lot of fun,” Wisnieski shared. “The album art was also constructed this way. The entire album art (front and back cover and 20-page booklet inside) was created using leaked documents. We cut up and pasted the documents into different collages.”
“Some of the early songs on the record are straight-up protest songs about privacy rights and how awful the media was in propagandizing the government’s picture of Snowden as a traitor. Then the record explores the personal side of mass surveillance. Spying changes behavior. I believe it changes the way people act. It squashes creativity. It makes people less likely to challenge authority and it breeds conformity. It’s the exact opposite of punk rock, which is about challenging authority and waving that freak flag and looking at the world differently than everyone else.”
With the election of Donald Trump, the band hopes the record is relevant. President Barack Obama, as Wisnieski points out, did nothing to curtail a massive surveillance system built by President George W. Bush’s administration. The Obama administration even expanded the system. That system remains largely in place and now Donald Trump will control the most powerful surveillance system in the entire world—and “in the history of mankind.”
“That scares the crap out of me. We need to fight for privacy rights now more than ever,” Wisnieski concluded.
“Dirt On Everyone” was released on October 14. It is available for streaming through Spotify and Bandcamp. Digital copies are on sale at Amazon or iTunes. Download it off Bandcamp or buy the LP if you want to support the band. And to watch the music video for “Honey Trap” and “Eyeball Constructors,” click on the player at the top of the post.
Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com