With other accomplished songsmiths content to regurgitate past glories from their stay-at-home digs, the task of penning an uplifting anthem for our phantasmagoric times fell to the all-but-forgotten Men of Milk. With nothing less than the future of the free world at stake, could they deliver once more?
According to main milker Lory Kohn, they could, but: "I had to dig really deep. At this stage, turning 69 next month, I thought I'd be getting out and about, one guy and one guitar, performing acoustic versions of my greatest misses at discriminating listening rooms from Big Sur to Asheville. Hah! The last thing I had on my mind was tackling an epic studio production—with a political theme, no less."
Well . . . what pulled the sexagenarian super-ager back in?
"Having time on my hands during a pandemic to watch all those people marching in the streets for Black Lives Matter. I thought I'd never see that kind of activism again in my lifetime. I took note that there was always some kind of music playing at marches and rallies—though none of it was purpose built. It seemed like the anti-Trump movement could use a "rallying cry," if you will, which addressed the immediate task at hand. What was the immediate task at hand? Since it was becoming readily apparent that no matter how many marches and rallies were being held all over the country the Republican-controlled Senate wasn't going to acknowledge that black lives matter—or release the thousands of immigrant Latino children they separated from their parents and caged—the only available solution was voting every Republican out.
"Meanwhile, I'd had the music for a song with a strong Native American "pow wow" beat in my back pocket. But I hadn't come up with anything thematically that I could really get behind. Aha! The "we will vote them out this fall" lyrics and melody popped into my head. It was so catchy and so simple that it was easy to visualize masses of people singing along to it. Then there was no choice but to commit to the long, arduous process of writing, refining, and recording "Vote Them Out!" in, shall we say, less than ideal times and conditions. On the other hand, those less than ideal times and conditions were much easier to handle now that I was on a mission with an outlet to work through the feelings of helplessness and despair that anyone with an shred of compassion has had to contend with under the Trump administration. I felt like I was actually doing something constructive to help the situation, instead of sitting idly by and stewing about it."
But work on "Vote Them Out!" got underway a mere three months before the election. What was it like trying to pull off an epic production with the clock ticking?
"Nervewracking! In the normal course of events, if I haven't recorded anything seriously for a while, I'd start off with simple productions, then work my way up to ever more demanding ones. Except there wasn't any time to dilly-dally around with the election right around the corner. There was no choice—I had to go for it right away, whether I was in top form or not. Fortunately, I've picked up a few things in my travels that came in handy."
"First off, I was able to step back and see that trying to rush things was counterproductive. I reverted to my usual pace, which is snail-like, to say the least, cause I try out a lot of things—but tends to turn out well in the end. Also, forgive me for going a little spiritual on you, but at some point, relatively late in the game, but not too late, I realized I don't necessarily have to force things with my conscious mind alone. Another strategy has been there all along, I just didn't realize it: a benevolent universe wants to speak through me—and it will—if I just allow it to come through. Once that dawned on me, every time I run into a roadblock and can't seem to figure out a part with my conscious mind—and there are a lot of those times—I send an SOS out to the universe for help. It might not come instantly, but if I'm patient, and I keep putting it out there, the seas tend to part when I need them to the most."
Was Lory claiming that he channeled the entire production?
"Don't I wish! What you hear on the final version of "Vote Them Out!" is channeled universal inspiration polished by my conscious mind—which for better or worse still retains its compulsive tendencies. I'd like to think of it as positive compulsion, dedicated as it is exclusively to artistic pursuits.."
Speaking of channeling, "Vote Them Out" seems to channel certain beloved Neil Young classics from a bygone era.
"Guilty! The intention was to capture the vibe of Neil's early 70s rockers like "Cinnamon Girl," "When You Dance," and "Ohio." For you guitar players out there, that means drawing from his songs in double-drop D tuning—which made them stand out from the crowd in 1970 and keeps them so fresh-sounding to this day. I had concerns that, some fifty years later, listeners might find that style a little dated . . . until Marcus Cliffe, the mix engineer who consistently intuited exactly what the song needed, pointed out that twentysomethings seem to love those songs just as much today as they did fifty years ago. Timeless is timeless . . . so I just forgot about what year it was, embraced those type of chords and that type of guitar sound, and went with it."
What about those cellos?
"Well . . . that's more channeling, which, er, seems to have become a subtheme of this interview! The cellos channel some of the best T-Rex tunes, like "Telegram Sam," "Jeepster," "Get It On," "and Baby Strange." They're one of producer Tony Visconti's signature moves, like hiring Flo and Eddie from The Turtles to sing backup for Marc Bolan's backup vocals. Which reminds me, I should point out that the guy singing along with me and hamming it up at the end is David Steele, who's sung backup for the likes of Motley Crue, Foreigner, and Bon Jovi, to name just a few. You could say that "Vote Them Out" is an amalgam of vintage Neil Young and T-Rex with lyrics and production that's pure 2020."
Lory has spent years living in a Taos casita overlooking sacred Indian land. That's where the pow wow beat comes from.
And that that pounding pow wow beat which brackets the song—where did that come from?
"Without reprising the entire horrific history of racial prejudice in the United States, there were two groups who experienced it the most. One of them I've already mentioned, and the other, Native Americans, we don't think about as much for the simple reason that most of them have been exterminated. The ones who haven't been are exiled in out-of-the-way reservations where they're largely out-of-sight and out-of-mind. There's one notable exception: the Taos Pueblo Indians are the only Indians who got their land back, and their corner of God's green earth is one of the most awe-inspiring spots on the planet. I've been lucky enough to live right next to it, close enough to hear them drumming away for days on end at gatherings of the tribes. That's the significance of how and why a pow wow beat found its way into the production and why it's such a key element."
Lory performing on the rooftop of his Taos casita overlooking sacred Indian land.
"Vote Them Out!" has received a much-appreciated plug from musicologist and Twist and Shout Records owner Paul Epstein; Paul is also Co-Chair of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Here's what he wrote in the latest issue of the Denver institution's newsletter:
In an ideal world "Vote Them Out! would have been released a lot sooner than six weeks before the 2020 election. Yet there's still time to pitch in, pass it on, and uplift fellow liberty-lovers before the most consequential election of our lives.
A downloadable copy of "Vote Them Out!" is available here.