On Wednesday, some members the music industry, including two publicists and the head an independent music label, received a mysterious package containing a tape labeled “TRUMP/COMEY RECORDINGS” and “CONFIDENTIAL,” with printed Russian text on the cover.
One these packages bore a return address listed as P.O. Box 54, Pelham, North Carolina, 27311, an address associated with a chapter the Ku Klux Klan. Another bore a return address associated with the Westboro Baptist Church. The tape indeed contained a poorly recorded conversation between Comey and Trump, as well as a link to a Website with an e-mail address.
Almost immediately, those who received the tape began speculating it was a weird marketing stunt for a band. Music industry hoaxes are nothing new. Of recent infamy was a stunt by YACHT, who claimed to be selling a sex tape before admitting it was all a sham to promote a new music video. In March, a mysterious package claiming association with Kanye West was sent to MTV News, who speculated it might be related to a new album, before the rumor was denied by his label Def Jam and MTV took down its post.
This was received very differently, though. Three the people who went public about receiving the package are Jewish and — given the events the weekend, where a white supremacist march in Charlottesville led to the death a counter-protester, as well as statements from the President the United States that somehow failed to unequivocally condemn the neo-Nazis and racists involved — it felt less curiously mysterious and more like something vaguely threatening. Almost immediately, those who received them speculated that perhaps the packages were directed only to Jewish people. Indeed, if this was some kind promotional marketing stunt for a band, it was certainly in poor taste.
Gossip around the package suggested it was related to Portland band the Domestics. An inquiry to public relations firm Sacks & Co., who were promoting the album, returned a non-answer: “We don’t know anything about this, you’ll need to speak to the band directly.” On Wednesday afternoon, the Domestics e-mailed a statement to Spin revealing themselves as the creators behind what they called a “viral marketing project.” A joint statement between the band, Portland record label Tender Loving Empire, and management company Silver Morning Management said the stunt was indeed crafted to promote a forthcoming album from the band.
The statement claimed the “vast majority” the packages were mailed to right-wing media sources such as Info Wars and Rush Limbaugh. “Our intention with the project was to troll the right wing media into briefly thinking they were getting the actual Trump / Comey tapes,” it read. Presumably, these sources would rush to breathlessly claim they were possessing tapes containing conversations critical relevance, when — surprise! — some light digging would instead reveal indie rock.
Most crucially, the statement rejected the idea that the tapes were e-mailed specifically to Jewish writers. “Religion has absolutely nothing to do with this project or who we sent the tapes to. The band, label, nor anyone else involved ever took religion or ethnicity into account with who the tapes were being mailed to. Both the label head, the band’s manager, and many people involved with the release are proudly Jewish.” It also said that packages were sent to “local music media in Portland, a couple student newspapers in the Northwest, and a few music industry non media contacts. We did not send any tapes to national music media.”
The statement also said the tapes were mailed before the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, a claim at least partially corroborated by a mailing date Aug. 9 listed on one the packages. The band’s Michael Finn told Pitchfork that the return addresses for the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church were included without their knowledge by Tender Loving Empire employee Jed Overly. “To be clear, we had no knowledge prior to these tapes being sent out that they would be sent out with these return addresses attached,” Finn said. “Our label has acknowledged this decision was a serious error in judgment and we sincerely hope we are effective in explaining how contrary any division this caused is to the beliefs we hold dearly.”
The band’s initial statement failed to include an direct apology, instead fering the waffly explanation “Our intention was not to fend anyone by sending them a tape, it was to pique interest in the band’s upcoming album.” Prompted by Pitchfork, Finn went a little further: “This is an explanation, but it is also an apology. Our intention was never to instigate any political tension or cause anyone fear or concern, and I’m deeply saddened and sorry that this has taken place.”
In a later statement sent to Spin, Overly writes, “As a Jewish African-American, I can clearly say that the Trump-Comey Tapes were not targeted at people the Jewish faith or any faith or race for that matter. It was never my intention to alarm or frighten people.”
A Sacks & Co. page for the band now returns a 404. A rep from Sacks & Co. confirmed they are no longer working with the band. “We didn’t know anything about this, but when the facts came to light, we excused ourselves immediately.”
You can see where the Domestics were going with this. Getting online attention for your band is a tricky prospect; people in the music industry are busy, like anyone else, and receive literally hundreds inquiries a day advertising a new song. Spin covered the Domestics in 2015, but searching my inbox now, I have multiple e-mails promoting the band that went unopened not because malignant apathy, but because it’s impossible to acknowledge every query. Had the Domestics successfully conned Alex Jones into raving about them on his show, they surely would’ve received some bemused coverage from publications who would’ve embedded the new song.
Instead, the whole thing backfired spectacularly. There was probably never a moment in history when pretending to be the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church was a good idea for promoting an album that wasn’t specifically going for an edgy vibe. But we are once again living through a time when the rejection violent white supremacism requires vociferous condemnation from our elected ficials, because the people who’ve felt emboldened by the election a president who wasn’t at all subtle about stoking racist sentiments during his campaign.
That’s really the key lesson, if there is one for bands aspiring to get some coverage for their band: If you have an idea like this, be very considerate about the potential reactions. In this case: “Will it freak out Jewish people to receive a package purporting to be from the KKK, just a few days after real white supremacists publicly marched in support their ideals?” The answer should be obvious.
Read the joint statement below:
This article was originally published on Spin.