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Don’t Pretend to Be the KKK to Promote a Band

On Wednesday, some members of the music industry, including two publicists and the head of 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 of these packages bore a return address listed as PO Box 54, Pelham, North Carolina, 27311, an address associated with a chapter of 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.

DomesticsPackage-1502981400

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 the post taken down by MTV.

This was received very differently, though. Three of the people who went public about receiving the package are Jewish and–given the events of the weekend, where a white supremacist march in Charlottesville led to the death of a counterprotester, as well as statements from the President of 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 of 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” of 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 of 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 of August 9 listed on one of 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.”

Update (5:31 p.m.): Overly has e-mailed a statement to SPIN. “As a Jewish African-American, I can clearly say that the Trump-Comey Tapes were not targeted at people of the Jewish faith or any faith or race for that matter,” it reads. “It was never my intention to alarm or frighten people.” Find it below.

The band’s initial statement failed to include an direct apology, instead offering the waffly explanation of “Our intention was not to offend 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.”

A Sacks & Co. page for the band now returns a 404. E-mails to the firm about whether they’d stopped working with the band have not yet been returned. Update (2:39 p.m.): 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 of 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 of 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 of violent white supremacism requires vociferous condemnation from our elected officials, because of the people who’ve felt emboldened by the election of 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 of their ideals?” The answer should be obvious.

Read the joint statement below:

As a viral marketing project, 63 tapes were mailed out. The tapes were labeled “Trump / Comey Recordings” and contain some poorly found audio of 45 and Comey discussing Russia. On the tape there is a web address that leads to a website with an email address. Our goal was to get people to email us at that address, at which point we’d send them the band’s upcoming album “Little Darkness” in advance of the 9/1 release date.

Our intention with the project was to troll the right wing media into briefly thinking they were getting the actual Trump / Comey tapes. We had hoped that right wing media would write about it wondering what it was, and in turn be writing about a viral campaign the band was pulling off.

The vast majority were mailed out to right wing media sources (Info Wars, The Blaze, Rush Limbaugh) to troll them. We also sent some tapes 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.

There is a rumor going around that these tapes were only mailed to Jewish music writers, this is definitely false. 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.

The tapes were mailed out before the tragic events of Charlottesville. Given the current political climate, we can see how people could be put off by this project without knowing the facts about it. Our intention was not to offend anyone by sending them a tape, it was to pique interest in the band’s upcoming album.

Tender Loving Empire and Silver Morning Management

The day after Trump made that threatening tweet months back teasing that there might be tapes of his conversations with Comey, we got a call from one of our good friends at our label asking Leo and I to sit down with him to hear out a viral marketing idea he had come up with. TLE had purchased trumpcomeytapes.com and his idea was to create a fake Trump / Comey cassette tape to send out to select contacts, and along with it a trail of breadcrumbs for a curious mind to follow. We knew people would fairly immediately know it was not an actual highly classified tape of the President and former FBI director, but the hope is it would be weird and timely enough to cause them to dig a little deeper and eventually be led back to our new record, which is exactly what happened.

Today it blew up, and our inbox was flooded with emails asking if we were behind the tapes and for our comments. I also got two emails that suggested somehow Jewish individuals in the music industry were specifically targeted in the distribution of this tape which is totally not the case. The tape was sent to about 60 different outlets, mostly in right wing media to troll them. The mysterious packages were marked with the return addresses of Info Wars, The KKK’s headquarters, and The Westboro Baptist church in hopes that any tape that bounced back in the mail would end up flooding the mailboxes of these bigots.

The claim that we could have intentionally targeted Jewish individuals with this made my stomach churn so I wanted to clear that up immediately, especially in light of all the devastatingly sad hate, racism and violence that has infected this last week.

Much love, from The Domestics

As a Jewish African-American, I can clearly say that the Trump-Comey Tapes were not targeted at people of the Jewish faith or any faith or race for that matter. It was never my intention to alarm or frighten people.  Our sole objective was to pique interest in The Domestics. No one at The Domestics, Silver Morning Management, or TLE knew about the chosen return addresses. I had made a last minute decision to change return addresses and thought it was obvious that this was a gag, and I could not have been more wrong.

To anyone that has been offended, I am sincerely sorry.  This campaign is in no way representative of the band, their management, the company I work for, or myself. The Domestics are an awesome band of good people who create great music. I hope people can see that my intent here was the result of trying to get them heard and gain fans; not to scare anyone or associate them or myself with hate groups. Allow me to explain.

As part of a viral marketing campaign for The Portland band The Domestics and their new album – “Little Darkness”, my team and I created physical copies of what were supposed to be the elusive “Trump/Comey Tapes”. The package contained a cassette tape with collage-esque audio of Donald Trump and James Comey as well as back-masked garbled audio snippets of the band’s music. We purchased TrumpComeyTapes.com and left a trail of digital breadcrumbs that included images from the album artwork, instrumental tracks from the record and an e-mail address where those searching would receive an early link to the record. In early August, (prior to the tragic events in Charlottesville) we sent 63 tapes to mostly right-wing outlets with hopes they would fall for the gag and write about the “Trump/Comey Tapes”

“We found the tapes” was the response we were hoping for.  I used bogus return addresses for Infowars, in hopes that any unsolicited mail would be returned to those outlets to, solidify that it was not a real tape in any way and only serve to troll the recipients.  The tapes were postmarked from Portland, which I thought would negate the return address and be a clue to the recipient, should they receive it, that it was a red herring return address. Separately I sent several of these tapes to people I know. I made a last minute decision to use a different return address for the KKK HQ and Westboro Baptist Church. This was a mistake. I errantly thought  this would be humorous or mysterious at worst. I thought they would immediately correlate the campaign to me once they had made their way through the digital labyrinth because of the Portland post mark.

Several people who received the tapes were deeply concerned and alarmed. One person I work with often and email nearly daily was traveling and their mother found their mail, and notified him of what he received. Another person didn’t think anything of it and brought it home where it was found by his spouse who also became alarmed. Both of these people began a hunt on social media to find if it was a real package from the KKK or a hoax. As they dug deeper they developed a growing concern for their safety. They thought they were being targeted for the their religion or ethnicity, which is completely untrue. I literally had no idea that all of these people were Jewish.

As to the contents of the tape, it contained no anti-semitic content or political affiliation. You can preview the final website here:
www.trumpcomeytapes.com
PW: 9117

To reiterate. This was a marketing campaign that was trying to get press for a really great band that I believe in. It was in poor taste to use those return addresses without thinking through the possible outcomes. Again, The Domestics, Silver Morning Management and TLE had no knowledge of the return addresses. I am sorry for any anguish and pain I caused.

Sincerely,
Jed Overly