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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Tacoma Center 1600’ By Nana Grizol

Every sweetly sung Nana Grizol song plays out like a diary entry or a letter written directly to a friend, which make the band’s meandering personal-political poetry all the more impactful. The didactic nature of the music makes the stories more potent, and the embedded values more accessible.

Since 2003, over the course of three full-length albums, the band has crafted a distinct style that draws from indie rock and folk punk. They incorporate the types of off-kilter horns and strings that tend to decorate the underground sounds of its hometown, Athens, Georgia.

Though primary songwriter Theo Hilton (also of Defiance, Ohio) has since relocated to New Orleans, the group originated in Athens, and includes members of local bands like Elf Power and The Music Tapes.

In 2008, Nana Grizol released its debut full-length “Love It, Love It,” a quickly-recorded, scrappy, and timeless collection of wordy pop songs about getting older, reckoning with the past and the future, and keeping in touch with old friends. Like 2010’s Ruth, the songs are full of heart and subtle hints of anti-authoritarianism.

Last year, they released “Ursa Minor,” perhaps one of the year’s most overlooked albums. And on their latest, Nana Grizol’s songs sound sturdier and steadier than ever, and contains some of their most urgent protest songs.

One highlight is “Mississippi Swells,” where Hilton sings about oil refineries in the Mississippi watershed and references Cindy Milstein’s “Anarchism And Its Aspirations.” Another is “Tacoma Center 1600,” first released in 2014 as part of a fundraiser for the Queer Undocumented Immigrants Project.

“Tacoma Center 1600” is a radical protest against the prison industrial complex. On Bandcamp, the band explains that the song is about a “Northwest (deportation) Detention Center, a really terrible place run by a terrible company called GEO.” Over quick riffs and sirening horns, the song starts:

Tacoma Center sixteen hundred suffer sleepless nights
No phone calls home to families, no reading, no Miranda rights
A second tier of prison, as if the first was not enough it seems
A citizen’s great promise is a place to stretch when they lock you up

In the liner notes, the band recalls attending a protest at the detention center and seeing how it was “nestled in an old industrial park, with all these billboards around advertising lawyers and politicians” and wanting to write a song about “how clearly there were these forces coming together and wrecking people’s lives.”

Listen to “Tacoma Center 1600”:

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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? Send submissions to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

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Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly