Heroic Tale – Blank Tape Tax Honors Change Agents on Anti-Trump Anthem ‘Hey Donnie’

Blank Tape Tax combines pithy hardcore punk and bebop jazz elements throughout their anti-Trump anthem, “Hey Donnie.” Artwork – Mikaila Downing

For Blank Tape Tax, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King serve as the true heroes of our time.

The Detroit experimental group seeks inspiration from the two activists as they push the boundaries for equality and change in a polarizing post-Trump world. Today, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and Yolanda Renee King continually inspire a new generation of political and creative leaders speaking up about the nation’s growing social divide.

That new generation of leaders includes Blank Tape Tax drummer-vocalist Ben Yost and a rotating collective of members and collaborators, including Emily Parrish (vocals), JJ Stanbury (keys), Ja’Vahn “Jay VII” Peterson (production) and Greet Death’s Logan Gaval (guitar). Together, they poetically channel that political struggle on Blank Tape Tax’s latest single, “Hey Donnie,” via Kickpop Records.

“From my perspective, Bobbi Jean Three Legs was the leading voice in the fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. To this day, her eloquence and bravery makes me emotional to think about when it comes to the clear abuses that took place surrounding DAPL, not only in regard to the brutal treatment of protesters, but also to the sheer disregard on behalf of the American government toward indigenous people in general,” Yost said.

“Yolanda Renee King is the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and in 2018 spoke at the March for Our Lives, which I saw replayed on TV. I was inspired by her because of her poignancy and age. She was very young, and her message was very succinct. Seeing so many young people stepping up to the plate, so to speak, at that time in my life made me want to make music that reflected the emotions I felt seeing all of this happen.”

Along with Yost, Blank Tape Tax wraps that intense emotional spirit in pithy hardcore punk and bebop jazz elements throughout the 44-second, anti-Trump anthem, “Hey Donnie.” Enraged drums, roaring sax, buzzy electric guitars and fierce bass sonically protest the opposition as Parrish defiantly sings, “Hey Donnie, I want to know.”

“I’m not sure ‘Hey Donnie’ comes close to serving as a fitting anthem. They should have sent a poet. But sometimes just trying can mean the whole world, and we may not have gotten it perfect with this song, but maybe someone will come along and do it better. That’s what I learned from Bobbi Jean Three Legs, to try your best, even if you’re not a Malcolm X, MLK, Bob Dylan or Woodie Guthrie,” said Yost, who initially wrote the track in 2017, but believes it takes on new relevance in 2021.

“The meaning of the track has not changed; we won’t back down. That being said, I’m not a great political activist. I’m just an average musician. Real activists are people like Nakia Wallace here in Detroit. I just write songs.”

Blank Tape Tax will release their next single, a demo of “My Book,” in March.

Hey Donnie” also seeks creative inspiration from Penny Rimbaud’s L’Académie des Vanités album, Yes Sir, The Truth of Revolution, a rework of the 1983 Crass release, Yes Sir, I Will with jazz and spoken word influences.

“Jazz has taken on many genres and has added their nuances to the language of jazz musicians with a few exceptions. However, jazz musicians have not adopted the work of DIY, including hardcore, emo and indie musicians. ‘Hey Donnie’ is supposed to be another drop in the bucket on the short list that fits that exception,” Yost said.

Blank Tape Tax also defies genre boundaries on “Hey Donnie’s” spellbinding jazzy hip-hop B-side, “Positive Force and the Discipline of Non-Violence pt. 2.” Throaty bass, propulsive beats, shimmery synth and soulful sax drench listeners in a whimsical, throbbing six-minute reverie that emerges from the subconscious and serves as a tranquil juxtaposition to “Hey Donnie.”

Yost decided to fuse modal jazz and trap together after hearing Migos’ 2017 track, “Bad and Boujee” featuring Lil Uzi Vert.

“In 2015, when Dillatronic by J Dilla came out I quickly fell in love with all things Slum Village and Jay Dee related, which in part informed my taste in jazz. I couldn’t not listen to Migos just being the age I was. I was already a fan of No Label and No Label II, and I knew people like Bones and Slug Christ were combining black metal and hardcore with trap,” said Yost, who collaborated with bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton on the track.

“It made sense hearing the similarities between ‘Bad and Boujee,’ and say, ‘So What’ by Miles Davis to try to modernize jazz as much as possible in the music I was writing at the time. That being said, these tunes were also my first songs outside the world of punk and emo, so they’re not overly influenced by jazz tradition.”

Hey Donnie” and “Positive Force and the Discipline of Non-Violence pt. 2” serve as Blank Tape Tax’s first release since dropping the Live at Cow Haus Recording EP in November. Yost and his current Blank Tape Tax lineup of Michael King (upright bass), William Marshall Bennett (piano), Mark Royzenblat (guitar), Isaac Burgess (guitar) and Parrish recorded the four-track EP last March for the Hazel Park-based podcast, “Broadcast from Cow Haus.”

Blank Tape Tax continues to hone a multi-genre sound filled with punk rock, folk, instrumental, hip-hop, avant-garde and jazz sensibilities. They will release their next single, a demo version of “My Book,” featuring Kavon Williams (keys) and Parish in March and have already sold out of a limited edition 7-inch pressed on translucent green vinyl via Kickpop Records.

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