Published in the Indianapolis Star, June 7, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders is no stranger to the indie music scene — or, surprisingly enough, to collectors’ edition releases. Sanders dropped his own indie album back in 1987, a cassette-only release called “We Shall Overcome” that found him crooning legendary folk songs. Three decades later, Sanders’ message is the same, but his musical exploits are a bit more high profile.
On June 1, Indianapolis record label Joyful Noise released “Feel It In Your Guts,” a song composed by Sonic Youth’s legendary Thurston Moore and featuring empowering audio from Sanders’ speeches. But the single is more than just music — it’s a tool to raise money for the presidential hopeful’s campaign. Instead of selling the song, Joyful Noise is offering it to fans for free with proof of a campaign donation. The 1,000 copies pressed on limited-edition white vinyl sold out in five hours.
The Sanders-Moore collaboration arrives just in time to raise money prior to the Democratic National Convention in July, but, according to Joyful Noise president Karl Hofstetter, it was initially planned to boost Sanders’ profile in the indie rock world.
Discussing the idea with his staff in 2015, Hofstetter “wanted to use our skill set as a label to support Bernie,” he says. “The idea evolved into pairing Bernie with a well-known musician, and that was the challenge. But that day, I emailed [Moore] and he emailed me back within 10 minutes: He definitely wanted to do it.
The Sanders campaign was quick to get on board and sent hours of usable recordings. Moore composed and recording two instrumental tracks, and everything was sent to Mike Bridavsky, whose Russian Recordings is a popular Bloomington studio. Within weeks of the initial idea, “Feel It In Your Guts” was wrapped and pressed.
“Then we sat on the records for six months. We started this project when Bernie was polling really low. As his campaign kept getting bigger and bigger, the release was delayed; Bernie’s team was focused on bigger things,” laughs Hofstetter.
In that interim time, Sanders’ popularity skyrocketed, and musicians including Dave Matthews, members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Killer Mike and dozens more publicly showed their support. The goal of Moore’s single shifted from awareness to fundraising and motivation.
“Campaign finance laws were our biggest hurdle. We’re a for-profit company. We couldn’t just cut them a check,” says Hofstetter. Instead, a screenshot of a donation to Sanders’s campaign earned fans a now-sold-out vinyl copy with original artwork. Downloads are still available.
Even with Sanders trailing Hilary Clinton, “I think it’s still a good time to release the song,” says Hofstetter. “We imagined it being an introductory piece, but now it’s a momentum-building piece. Longtime Bernie supporters aren’t giving up on him. And this is a little thing to keep people excited and motivated.”
On June 11, Joyful Noise will join pro-Sanders organization Indy4Bernie, PRN Graphics and eight local acts at The Hi-Fi for A Concert for Bernie. Just like “Feel It In Your Guts,” the show directs people to Sanders’s campaign website instead of its own: fans will send a donation to the campaign from laptops set up outside the venue, then entry is free.
Classic Indy punks Zero Boys will headline the show, with acts including Pravada, Bonesetters and There Are Ghosts rounding out the bill. Hofstetter never intended Joyful Noise to be an overtly political record label. “We’re just about making good, honest art,” he says. “But sometimes that spills over into spreading an honest message.”