There’s been no shortage of anti-Trump songs since the 2016 US Presidential election, ranging from tongue in cheek side-swipes like Fiona Apple’s Tiny Hands, to rapper YG’s very much on the nose FDT (Fuck Donald Trump).
Meanwhile, last year’s Low album Double Negative struck the White House at an oblique angle, with crumbling electronics and glitchy ambience growing like weeds over the resigned protest.
Filthy Friends hit the nail somewhere in the middle of all this with the track November Man on their new album, which doesn’t explicitly reference the Donald, but with lines like “Long skinny tie/ And hair of gold/ You made the deal/ Our future sold”, you don’t need much of a guide.
This political shot is one of many anti-establishment moves on the second album by Filthy Friends, a supergroup of sorts led by former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney.
Speaking on the phone from her Portland home, Tucker says the song was originally Buck’s idea, but they both hammered it into shape, fuelled by “the many different emotions since the election… anger, resentment”.
She adds: “I think that it’s just our way of expressing it, putting it into a song. Just making a marker of that time, and just how incredibly dark that day was. It’s hard to deal with on a day to day basis but when you write a song, it’s our way of taking a stand, making our voice heard.
“It may seem futile but it’s about becoming part of the protest and it’s it’s a way of connecting with people over our shared intense anger, sadness and despair… all of these things.”
Emerald Valley is the follow-up to the 2017 debut album by Filthy Friends — formed after years of mutual respect between Buck and and Tucker for their music, and completed by REM touring guitarist Scott McCaughey, Fastbacks guitarist Scott Bloch and The Baseball Project drummer Linda Pitmon. Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Ministry’s Bill Rieflin appeared in an earlier version called Super Earth.
Tucker seems to drag out an angrier side of Buck — while his side project Tired Pony with Gary Lightbody went down a gentler, rootsy, Americana path, Filthy Friends channels more of Sleater Kinney’s lo-fi indie-punk edge, along with raw blues and the janglier guitar lines he’s more known for.
‘Supergroup’ is also a stretch, if you see footage of Filthy Friends recording and rehearsing in a wood-panelled studio with vintage mats and ragged couches. It illustrates Tucker’s impression of the band as a group of “lifers”, adding: “It takes a lot to kind of hang in there.” Filthy Friends was hatched as an experiment after Tucker appeared on Buck’s first solo album, and accepted the offer to write an album. She says it felt “very natural to put the first album together… Peter is very flexible… but in a way making a second record feel a little bit more deliberate”.
And this time it’s more personal for Tucker. Emerald Valley is the nickname given to her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, a “really special place with a special ecosystem”, famous for its green spaces, parks and views of the Cascade Mountains.
Tucker says recent summers have been “kind of unbearable”, with wildfires causing smoke and pollution, “and just everything that comes along with it, it’s changed… how much further are we going to let that go?”
Emerald Valley’s opening title track lures us in with idyllic images of rolling fields, fertile soil and budding trees, before it’s choked up with pick-ups and underpaid workers. The track Pipeline warns of the “snake that runs through the ground” poisoning lakes and fields, and The Elliott feels like Tucker is chaining herself to one of the trees in Elliott State Park in Oregon as the chainsaws approach.
Tucker says that the album feels like a “manifesto” in parts, especially during this period of environmental warnings that get more bleak every month or so.
“Our country, and the world is going through a really tumultuous time right now,” she says. “I just I felt like this record was an opportunity to really use my voice to let people know how I feel. There’s also the fact of growing older and maybe looking back a little bit at my time here in the Pacific Northwest.
“We have so many privileges here and in Oregon and Portland, we have some of the best food in the world, right? But we have to realise that you have to take care of the land in order to grow the food properly. There are people that pick the food and they’re mostly migrant workers from Mexico and Central America. If we’re gonna be mistreating those people and discriminating against them. I just don’t think that we can stand by and let that happen without thinking.”
In the last decade or so, certain areas of the US have become microcosms of the country’s spiralling inequality, with parts of New York and San Francisco becoming virtually uninhabitable for regular workers. Portland has a similar problem, while also becoming a shorthand meme for so-called hipster liberal elitism, captured brilliantly in the whimsical sketch show Portlandia, created by Fred Armisen and Tucker’s Sleater Kinney bandmate Carrie Brownstein.
On the track Last Chance County, Tucker recalls a bus journey in the Pacific Northwest when she was a teen in the 80s, waking up “at the end of the county where most folks have given up” – an image that could describe hundreds of towns in the US in 2019.
“I think that If we don’t listen to what is going on in a country we’re not going to be able to make meaningful change,” Tucker says. “We can’t just ignore those people, people who have no work and we’re working our tech jobs and like drinking lattes and whatever… we have to look at the big picture.
“It’s pretty severe now in terms of have and have not right now in Portland and I feel like we have the opportunity to address it and to make things more equitable – and to really do something about it to the point before we hit the point of no return or things being worse.”
Of course Trump made empty promises to these people, and even though Tucker admits “nothing seems to stick” to the President, on November Man she warns that “winter comes to everyone”, so maybe a reckoning is on the horizon: “Yeah we’re hanging on to that hope.”
- Filthy Friends play the Button Factory in Dublin next Wednesday, May 29. Get tickets here.
(Extended version of piece in Irish Star)