If campaigns are as much about stagecraft as about politicians, Republicans always seem to get tripped up by the soundtrack. Ronald Reagan ran into trouble when he used “Born in the U.S.A.”; Bobby McFerrin blasted the elder Bush’s campaign for using “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” But at this week’s Republican National Convention, it’s the retro pop of Interpreters USSA (formerly and better known as just the Interpreters) – a sort of Kinks meets the Knack meets the Jam meets the early Who – that’s assuming the Fleetwood Mac role in setting the George W. Bush campaign to music. “They’re part of the new, dynamic sound we’re looking for,” raves Mark McKinnon, Bush’s media consultant. “Typically, Republican conventions are all about the Oak Ridge Boys.”
The Faustian subtext of hitching his music to a campaign is lost on the Interpreters’ founder, Herschel Gaer (second from left), a 26-year-old aspiring filmmaker turned rocker with a weekly D.J. gig at Halo and a mullet hairdo that suggests a baby-faced Ray Davies. “At first, I was like, I can’t do this – this is the Nazi party,” Gaer says breathlessly. “But then my dad said, ‘You should. It’s a way to get your voice heard.’ ” Gaer describes himself as a liberal, but he’s happy his song “Marathon Man” is being considered as Bush’s campaign anthem. With a chorus of “Run run run” repeated for sixteen bars, it was written “as a metaphor for life,” he says. “But it’s been brought to my attention that it’s a metaphor for the campaign, too.”
The Interpreters’ big break has made for strange bedfellows: McKinnon was hipped to the band by relentless scenester and sometime political documentarian Donovan Leitch – who also supplied Gaer with bass player Nigel Mogg, formerly of Leitch’s band Nancy Boy. “All the girlfriends in the band are mad at me,” Leitch says. “They think this is the death of the Interpreters. But, I mean, Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees.”
Gaer insists he’s playing to Republicans, not with them. “I figure I could do film when I’m 50, but I can only do a band now,” he says. “The sellout age is coming soon.” Maybe sooner than he thinks.