Unleashed with a fury in these Trump times, the far right likes to position itself as the new counterculture despite relying more on meme magic than music. Through folksy voices like Woody Guthrie, Malvina Reynolds and Buffy Sainte-Marie, protest songs have solidly sided with the left for decades. Josh Hanson of Yellow Red Sparks, one of Orange County’s most beloved indie-folk bands, turns the tunes around in becoming an unlikely Trump troubadour sounding more like Tony Dolan than Bob Dylan these days.
The well-traveled musician played bohemian venues throughout the years whether at SolArt Gallery in Santa Ana or Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. But now out as a conservative crooner, Hansen has joined forces with notorious Trump troll Mike Cernovich for Hoaxed: Everything They Told Us Was a Lie, a documentary assailing #FakeNews media with screenings already lining up for its promised release this fall. The film features appearances from the likes of racist ruminator Stefan Molyneux, Proud Boy Gavin McInnes and deplatformed demagogue Alex Jones. In efforts to make the production more polished, it also touts a banner song in Hanson’s “The Great Media Hoax.”
Cernovich and Hanson teaming together for Hoaxed is a match made in OC. The far-right documentary filmmaker, who came to prominence drenched in #GamerGate misogyny, hails from Laguna Niguel. Last the Weekly checked in with Hanson, the singer-poet moved back to Irvine in 2015 after trying to take his folk band to new audiences in Los Angeles. But then, his guitar suddenly fell silent after the release of six-song New Fangs, Old Pangs collection that year which, in retrospect, served as a final testament to the Yellow Red Sparks OC used to know.
Hanson’s voice rose again out of obscurity when the sleekly produced music visual for “The Great Media Hoax” appeared online in February. It’d been the first for a Yellow Red Sparks single since “Happiness Comes in a Box” four years ago. Since then, the band parted ways with Darren “Goldy” Goldstein. Multi-instrumentalist Sara Nishikawa then dropped from the roster. Yellow Red Sparks carries on under Hanson and the singer hasn’t missed much of a beat even if he seemingly changed his political tune. The new song opens with a slinky guitar melody before Hanson’s silvery vocals heighten a poetic chorus penned with every bit of skillful contemplation that won him top honors at an annual International Songwriting Competition in 2013.
For those unaware of the Cernovich connection, the song by itself is almost subtle enough to go unnoticed as the MAGA anthem it is. Hanson strums and sings in the backdrop of a black-and-white montage blending political street brawls with newspaper headline clippings that have defined the past two years in one way or another. It may even seem like a folksy “What’s Going On?” in the midst of turbulent times. But then Hanson sings: “No matter what you say / your hoax is on display / we’re a light in your darkest cave / and our fire won’t go away.” The singer’s lyricism starkly contrasts with the alt-right and alt-light’s penchant for crudeness alike.
But by the time the marching snare drums brings the song to a close, it’s readily apparent whose hoax it is–and it ain’t Breitbart or even InfoWars. “Look at your tiny retraction, you’ve already gotten the views, those methods to keep up divided, how else would you spread your fake news,” Hanson sings, all the while visuals hone in on the New York Times and CNN. There’s certainly a critique to be had of corporate media–the late Edward Herman and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media readily comes to mind. But the amateurish #pizzagate pendejadas that Cernovich promoted don’t come close to an antidote.
Having spilled ink in praise of Yellow Red Sparks for years, the Weekly recently called Hanson to ask about his new musical direction. The man on the other line, sounding very much like the singer, claimed to be his manager “Billy Bob,” and refused any interview requests on Hanson’s behalf. The abrupt exchange followed an email to Hanson where a down the middle piece exploring what turned him onto Trump had been offered to no response. But the Weekly that regularly hailed Yellow Red Sparks probably now qualifies as #FakeNews in his mind.
Long before officially becoming the voice of Cernovich’s Hoaxed, Hanson’s political outspokenness on social media signaled a change, depending on where fans followed the conversation. On Facebook, Yellow Red Sparks remains largely apolitical save for an update last year alluding to a musical collaboration of sorts with Ali A. Akbar, a pro-Trump teabaggy blogger and consultant. It pales in comparison to the free for all on the band’s Twitter account where Hanson’s been explicitly active for awhile tweeting aboard the Trump train. He trashed antifa during Huntington Beach’s Battle of Bolsa Chica MAGA march last year and more recently laments the deplatforming of far right conspiracy theorists on major social media sites.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like being Alex Jones right now,” Hanson tweeted on Sept. 6. “Coming to the realization that none of your ‘diehard’ fans are willing to fight for your very existence has to be some of the most depressing shit ever.”
Not as depressing as your favorite local folk singer turning full tinfoil in exalting the MAGA Emperor.
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.