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. 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. As I took in the footage of marches and rallies, I noticed there was always some kind of music playing; however, I also noticed the lack of purpose-built songs, or a "rallying cry," if you will, that organizers could blast for people to sing along to. I also visualized that if the right protest song was catchy enough, on-point enough, and easy enough to remember, politicians could use it as entrance music at campaign stops.
"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 something thematically that I could really get behind. Then all of a sudden the "we will vote them out" lyrics and melody came to me. I couldn't get them out of my head, so I said what the hell and fully committed to the long, involved process of writing, refining, and recording "Vote Them Out!" in, shall we say, less than ideal times and conditions. On the other hand, now I had an outlet to work through the feelings of helplessness and despair anyone with an shred of compassion has had to contend with under the present administration. It made me feel like I was doing something to help the situation, instead of sitting idly by and stewing about it."
What was it like trying to pull off an epic production with the clock ticking?
"In the normal course of events, if I haven't recorded anything seriously for a while, I start off with simple productions, then work my way up to more demanding ones. Except there wasn't any time to dilly-dally around with the election coming up. 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, I was able to step back and see that trying to rush things was counterproductive, so I reverted to my usual pace which is methodical, to say the least, but tends to turn out well in the end. Also, excuse me for going a little spiritual on you, but at some point, relatively late in the game, but not too late, I realized that anytime I run into a roadblock in a creative project, I don't necessarily have to force things with my conscious mind alone, there's another startegy that's been there all along, I just didn't see it: a benevolent universe wants to speak through me—and it will—if I just allow it to Now, every time I can't figure out a part with my conscious mind, and there are a lot of those times, instead of standing on my head wracking my brain, I'll ask the universe for help. That help might not come instantly, but if I'm patient, and keep putting it out there, lo and behold, the seas often part when I need them to the most."
Was Lory claiming that he channeled the entire production?
"Er, not quite. Don't I wish! What you hear on the final version of "Vote Them Out!" is about equal parts channeling universal inspiration and polishing that with my conscious mind—which for better or worse still retains its compulsive tendencies. I'd like to think my particular brand of compulsion is positive compulsion, since it's dedicated exclusively to artistic pursuits."
Speaking of channeling, "Vote Them Out" seems to channel certain beloved Neil Young classics from a bygone era. Pressed on the topic, Lory confirmed that's not exactly a coincidence:
"Guilty as charged! 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 why they remain so catchy and fresh-sounding to this day. I had concerns that, some fifty years later, listeners might find that style a little dated . . . until Marcus Cliffe, my mix engineer who consistently intuited exactly where the song needed to go, 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 what year it was, embraced those type of chords and that type of guitar sound, and let the song go where it wanted to go."
What about those cellos?
"Looks like channeling has become the 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 always using Flo and Eddie from The Turtles as Marc Bolan's backup singers. 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 that are pure 2020."
Lory has spent a lot of time in a Taos casita overlooking sacred Indian land. That's where the pow wow beat comes from.
And that that 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, and the ones who haven't been were exiled to out-of-the-way locales 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 tribal gatherings. That's the significance of how and why a pow wow beat found its way into the production, and why it's a key element."
"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; however, there's still time to pitch in, pass it on, and uplift fellow liberty-lovers before the most consequential election we'll ever face.
If you'd like to download a copy, "Vote Them Out!" is available here.