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Local band helps start protest song site

Local lead singer joins Hollywood director for website of songs to demonstrate by

Peter Mongillo

Kevin Hoetger, lead singer for the Austin rock band English Teeth, took Adam McKay, writer and director of films including "The Other Guys" and "Step Brothers," to see singer-songwriter James McMurtry at the Continental Club in September. Listening to McMurtry, whose repertoire includes songs such as "Cheney's Toy," which offers up a less-than-flattering perspective on former president George W. Bush, they began talking about why there weren't more contemporary protest songs, especially with the political dialogue as heated as it has been in recent years.

"Listening to the lyrics, we both started talking about doing some kind of politically infused rock tunes, and we said, 'Let's make it kind of a protest thing, and see what happens,' " Hoetger says.

McKay and Hoetger had been introduced to each other several years earlier by Hoetger's brother, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and already collaborated on music that has appeared in some of McKay's films, including "Talladega Nights."

McKay, who has experience writing comedic songs from his days at "Saturday Night Live," would provide the lyrics, and Hoetger would put them to music. Originally, they planned to just put out an album of music recorded by English Teeth (Hoetger, Kevin McKinney, Alexander Lynch and Kyle Crusham), but the idea evolved into a more interactive project where they would invite others to write their own protest songs.

Eight months later, Public Domain Protest Song was born. They launched a website, publicdomainprotestsong.com, where they made a four-song EP available as a free download. On the title track, the band offers a bleak view on the state of the nation: "I pledge allegiance to Goldman Sachs/Under God and shadow PACS/Fox News and a wall of white noise/Confuse the girls and confuse the boys."

To generate interest, McKay published a mission statement on the Huffington Post.

"Sure Rage Against the Machine was amazing and Neil Young had his say about Bush, but I'm always amazed how even small local bands stay away from the fact that our country is being ripped off, polarized and lied to by huge corporations that don't pay taxes and weirdo billionaires who inherited all their money," he wrote.

As for music recorded by others, 60 or so submissions have already been shared on the site, with a wide range of topics including corporate tax breaks, abortion rights and the protests in the Middle East. Contributions include folk music, rock and rap.

For McKay, music is the key to making boring, dark political conversations more palatable. "It's not fun to be aware that you're being ripped off, it's not fun to realize that you have limited outlets for your power and there are large, powerful entities out there screwing you over on a daily basis," he said over the phone from Los Angeles. "People need to be inspired, and we need to remember that anger and outrage can be fun, and nothing does that better than rock 'n' roll or punk or just good music."

While McKay hasn't exactly been shy about his political beliefs — his 2010 film "The Other Guys," a buddy comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, wrapped up with a sequence of animated charts highlighting issues including the federal bailout to AIG and other banks and the Bernie Madoff scandal — the project is Hoetger's first foray into activism. English Teeth is more early '70s Stones than early '60s Dylan, and none of Hoetger's contributions to McKay's films was overtly political.

Part of the reason Hoetger decided to get involved was because his life was directly affected by the recession. A few years ago, he was laid off from his job at an Austin ad agency (he eventually found another). With a 6-year-old son to support, Hoetger says, he began thinking about the future more than ever.

"I feel like I ended up doing this as a happy accident, but at the same time I feel like maybe my whole life was leading up to this," Hoetger says.

McKay and Hoetger are still figuring out the best way to take advantage of the web traffic generated by Public Domain Protest Song to bring about change. In an April interview about the project, Hoetger talked about tariffs, tax breaks and other issues, but wasn't sure what the point of the site was going to be. Now the message is simplified: They want people to vote.

"Our message was all over," Hoetger says. "Voting seems to be the easiest thing that people can do, and the election is coming up, so we might actually be able to make an impact."

They also are planning concerts, including one in two weeks at Lamberts as well as one in L.A. Wayne Kramer of the MC5, one of the most politically radical bands in American history, and his wife, Margaret Saadi Kramer are involved as well. Hoetger says they are considering concerts in other cities, and, depending on how that goes, maybe even a larger tour.

For now, he's happy with the direction his life has taken. "Having some sort of positive impact on people, our country, our kids, our friends, this might be a good thing, a healthy message for an aging rock 'n' roller," Hoetger says. "I don't see anywhere else I could possibly be as far as where I'm going."

pmongillo@statesman.com

English Teeth presents Public Domain Protest Song

Where: Lamberts, 401 Second St.

When: 10 p.m. July 14

Cost: $5

Information:lambertsaustin.com