On the evening of November 8, 2016, Jon Coombs, the Managing Director of Publishing for Secretly Canadian, made his way to a small party in Brooklyn to watch the election returns. By all accounts, the evening looked likely to bring about a suitable end to the harrowing campaign season. But by the time Coombs headed home, he was filled with despair and shock at the news that Donald Trump had won the presidency, and that Republicans had maintained control of the House and Senate. “It hit like a ton of bricks,” he says. “It was a somber departure that night.” The next day, though, brought a radically different sentiment. Coombs began to rally his colleagues around an idea that could make a concrete difference in the face of an unknown new reality: “We had a stroke of inspiration: ‘There’s work to get done here.’”
Along with his team at Secretly Group—which encompasses a handful of labels including Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar, and Dead Oceans—Coombs began working on a fundraising effort unlike anything the organization had done before, with the aim of bringing awareness to and raising money for some of the causes they considered the most threatened by the Trump Administration. The project is called Our First 100 Days; on each of Trump’s first 100 days in office, a new song by a different artist, both on and off the Secretly roster, will be released. All of the money raised by the project will go directly to a handful of non-profit organizations fighting for inclusion and equality. Not all of the music on the compilation is necessarily political or topical, but it is united by a collective spirit of tolerance and community.
Much of the inspiration for Our First 100 Days came from a similar project dreamt up by the author Dave Eggers and Jordan Kurland, the owner and founder of Zeitgeist Management, called “30 Days, 30 Songs.” During the month leading up to the election, they released an original song each day by artists including Andrew Bird, Ani DiFranco, and the brilliant MC Open Mike Eagle. The songs were all explicitly about the then-Republican nominee; titles included “Before You Vote,” “Make America Great Again” and “The Clown.” Eggers and Kurland collected the songs into a Spotify playlist, and used it as a means of encouraging people to get out and vote.
Secretly’s project differs most notably from “30 Days” in that it doesn’t merely provide art and a sense of catharsis for listeners, but generates money for organizations that will likely need it when Trump’s term begins. “These are strange and disturbing times,” Eggers said recently. “We need music to make sense of it — or at least provide a soundtrack to our climb from despair to action.”
To determine where donations would be most effective, Secretly teamed up with RPM, a non-profit organization that connects artists with activists and causes. The organizations they settled on include All* Above All, which provides abortions to women who cannot otherwise afford them; Cosecha, which fights for rights and protection of undocumented immigrants in the United States; Southerners on New Ground, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, and the People’s Climate Movement. Funds generated by the compilation will be split evenly among the organizations.
The artists featured on the compilation (not all of whom have yet been announced) represent a wide range of styles and labels. “We feel really strongly that the music community is an inclusive place,” said Phil Waldorf, the co-founder of Secretly Group. “This is an opportunity for artists to sit side by side with each other, artists who aren’t typically thought of in the same sentence.” The vast majority of the artists that Coombs and Waldorf contacted, like Toro y Moi, Whitney, Mitski and the Mountain Goats, were eager to jump on board. “It’s been backwards for a while, even before our election, but there’s little time to argue or feel defeated,” says Angel Olsen, whose “Fly On Your Wall” will kick off the compilation “Make 2017 about taking up a worthy cause,” she continued, “whatever it may be—just make an actual move.”
Tom Krell, of How to Dress Well, added the following: “The disabled community is just one of the many that will be under threat from the Trump administration. We have to do anything and everything we can to help in protecting civil liberties for everyone in our country. It was important to me to take part in the First 100 Days project because it is working to do just that — to raise money for organizations that are supporting the causes and people that are under threat.”
Anyone familiar with the artists represented here may be tempted to dismiss the project as an echo chamber for angry liberals, but Our First 100 Days is much more than a means of burning off steam. As Waldorf, the Secretly Group co-founder told me bluntly, “We felt like we have a platform where we can do something.” Our First 100 Days isn’t just about the music—it’s about supporting those who will need support the most.
—Max Savage Levenson