Jordan Kurland (right) talks with rapper Chuck D. at the annual Treasure Island Music Festival in California, which Kurland founded.

Courtesy of Jordan Kurland

On Blending Art and Activism

Music executive Jordan Kurland, a NationSwell Council member, rallies his famous friends to speak out — or, more precisely, sing out — about the 2016 election.

Every day until November 8, bands are releasing songs about what’s at stake in this election. As part of an effort called “30 Days, 30 Songs: Musicians for a Trump-Free America,” new original music, live recordings and remixes are dropping daily. (A sampling of the work released so far includes the songs “Million Dollar Loan” by Death Cab for Cutie; “Demagogue” by Franz Ferdinand; and “Same Old Lie” by Jim James of My Morning Jacket.) Jordan Kurland, owner of the San Francisco–based Zeitgeist Artist Management, says he organized the project along with author Dave Eggers “to save our country.” Kurland spoke with NationSwell about his latest politically-driven project.

When did you first get interested in music?
I was an obsessed music fan from a very young age. At 6, I had every KISS record, and it just went on from there. It became a driving force in my life through high school and into college. At Pitzer College, outside of Los Angeles, I started reviewing records and interviewing bands for the school magazine and freelancing for some local publications. Through that experience, I started to meet people in the industry. That’s when I stuck around L.A. for internship opportunities at record labels and management companies.

Kurland recruited a number of musicians to record songs in opposition to Donald Trump. Courtesy of Jordan Kurland

What effect are you hoping to see from the “30 Days, 30 Songs” project?
Music has always been an important part of politics and protest. In 2012, there was a surprising amount of apathy around Barack Obama’s second term: People felt like they all had bought into this idea of change and hope, but that he hadn’t come through on a lot of promises. When we launched “90 Days, 90 Reasons” [daily pro-Obama writings from cultural heavyweights] to motivate voters to re-elect him, we felt like it was an easy way to get people to pay attention to what’s at stake. It’s very much the same this year. We’re getting artists to come out and say, ‘You know what, there’s a lot at stake here.’ Donald Trump is a huge threat to our democracy and our belief system. And we need to point out his hypocrisy and the danger he poses, or play up what’s great about this country and what we want to preserve.

How do you fold public service, whether it’s raising money or awareness, into the music business?
That’s always been part of my DNA, and I’m grateful I have clients who also are interested in that, whether it’s donating money from tours and merch sales or getting involved in political issues. Artists have a way bigger soapbox to stand on than I ever will. I’m fortunate that I can help them come up with a plan and execute it. Maybe it’s sometimes to the detriment of my management company, because maybe I’d be cultivating a new artist instead. But it keeps me passionate about what I’m doing. There are periods of time where you’re doing the same thing for 20 years, so to get involved in things that keep it fresh is important.

Kurland cites The Who's "Quadrophenia" and "Who's Next" as among his all-time favorite albums; he's pictured here with The Who's Pete Townshend. Courtesy of Jordan Kurland

What albums have you listened to most in your life?
The Who’s “Quadrophenia” and “Who’s Next”; John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”; Bill Evans’s “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”; and “The Bends” by Radiohead. Those are my mainstays, the handful of records that mean a ton to me. I’ve certainly worn out my copies of them.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?
I’m proud that I’ve been able to do this as long as I have. When I was young, I struggled for almost 10 years. There was a long stretch where I wasn’t anywhere near the level of success I wanted to be at. During that period, I always felt that if I had a gold record to my name, I’d have a level of success that’s really meaningful to me and I could decide whether or not I wanted to continue in this career. I’m proud I accomplished that and then some. I’m proud that I stuck with it and was able to take a path that not as many people travel.

Chris Peak is a staff writer for NationSwell. He previously worked for Newsday, the San Francisco Public Press and the Point Reyes Light. Contact him at [email protected]