If
you’re a right-of-center music lover, you’ve undoubtedly happened upon an
Internet list of allegedly conservative musicians. These lists range from the tried-and-true roll call to the dubiously inclusive, but they usually
operate the same way: by capitalizing on a stray lyric or an out-of-context
remark to make the case for "fill-in-the-blank-with-a-surprising-musical-name"
as a closet conservative.

Does
50 Cent really lean rightward because he once declared George W. Bush a "gangsta"?
(And where was that gangsta during the 110th Congress?) Did Nikki
Minaj actually support Mitt Romney, as she claimed on a Lil Wayne mixtape? (Nope.)

The problem with this sort of exercise is the
implicit idea that conservative musicians are the two-headed calves of popular
culture. The phenomenon is viewed as an anomaly, reminiscent of Dr. Johnson’s
famous remark about a dog walking on its hind legs: "It is not done well; but
you are surprised to find it done at all." So it is with conservative
rockers: their music is usually recognized for its alleged novelty, not its
quality.

But if rock ‘n’ roll has always been the music of
the counterculture, then musicians on the right are the only ones who can truly
claim to be countercultural today. The Left is The Man–and has been for some
time, at least as far as music is concerned.

Indeed,
ever since John Lennon made his endlessly-satirized plea to "imagine no possessions,"
leftist musicians have struggled to pass themselves off as countercultural
rebels. It’s a difficult trick to manage when 1) most assumptions of the 60s
left, including an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, and anti-American bias,
have become mainstream attitudes, and 2) through their decades-long dominance
of pop culture and mass entertainment, they’ve become charter members of the 1
percent. As a result, we’re still routinely lectured on the evils of capitalism
by working-class millionaires like Bruce Springsteen, who have in fact become
everything the left purports to despise–right down to the part where they seek out questionable tax loopholes.

Like
other rich lefties in the entertainment business, from Lady Gaga to Kanye West, The Boss wears his countercultural
attitude, with its familiar gestures and rhetorical cliches, like a uniform. It’s
really a form of camouflage, even though it’s as transparent as your average
Miley Cyrus ensemble. But when people like the music and grew up with the myth,
it’s easy to ignore the Emperor’s see-through wardrobe. (For more reading on
this topic, try Fred Goodman’s The Mansion on the Hill.)

Meanwhile,
something else is being ignored, something much more important that has gone
unnoticed even by many conservatives. After decades of progressive taxation and
political correctness and apologies for America and infringements on civic and
personal freedoms, there’s a new counterculture rising on the right. Unlike the
left-wing counterculture, which has become nothing more than a fashionable pose,
a matter more of style than substance, this counterculture is authentic. It’s
raw, rude, unvarnished, energetic, and above all true to its principles.

It’s
this new counterculture–being developed and refined in basements and
garages, on laptops and iPads, by a new generation of web-savvy musical
entrepreneurs–that Liberty Island exists to showcase, explore and support.

Does
that mean we’re going to be cheerleaders for every right-leaning musician who
can manage three chords and the truth, to use Bono’s famous phrase? Not in the
least. We’ll identify the best music we can find, whatever the style or genre. And
we’ll celebrate those that should be celebrated, while offering criticism of
those who we think could do better. If the new counterculture is going to
become a worthy new chapter in American musical history, its creators have to
produce great music first, and advance their conservative ideology second.

With
that in mind, we’ve put together our own list of conservative bands. These
rockers have three things in common: they make legitimately excellent music;
their art, and often their views, aren’t as well-known as they should
be; and they are in authentic rebellion against the political and cultural establishment.
(Several, in fact, have been at it for some time, which says something about
the careless way this music has been treated in the mainstream press.)

Although
they differ musically, there’s some overlap of their signature issues. Common
themes, in interviews and often in song, include the need for individual
freedom and less government intrusion.

After
that, the paths diverge. Some champion gun ownership; some revere Old Glory.
Some criticize the sitting president; some look back on the great men of the
past. Some want to rally the Right; others want to reach out to the disaffected
on the Left. Some make their points with righteous anger, some with humor. Some
do so overtly, and some with subtlety. Their music may not suit every taste.
But all are true heirs to the great tradition of musical protest–and all are
worth knowing.

These musicians, to
quote a certain Defense Secretary who unwittingly gave one of these groups its
name, are the army we have–and it’s a bigger army than most people
think. In coming weeks, you’ll read more about these artists here on Liberty
Island. For now, we encourage you to check out and support the five acts we
recommend here. And feel free to let us know about other groups you think we
should feature. That’s what the comment thread is for!

1. The Army You Have: Taking
their name from a 2004 remark by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
this California-based alt-pop act is led by the husband-wife team of Shelli and
Gary Eaton. (The latter did time in the floating Nineties supergroup the
Continental Drifters). Their self-titled album is lighter in sound in spirit
than most of the other material on this list; it takes some feisty and funny
jabs at a certain 44th president, and the Army is one of
the only acts on this list that doesn’t depend on hard rock as their base,
opting for a more laid-back, tuneful Americana that recalls the aforementioned
Drifters on much of the album. Musically speaking, what’s even more interesting
is their smashing, spot-on cover of "Go!," a 1984
dance club classic by British alt-rockers Tones on Tail, and dedicated to the
late Andrew Breitbart. It’s the kind of move that reminds you of the good
musical taste and long musical history of this band, amply reflected on their
debut.

2.
Zeus:
Imagine if the guys in Pantera had grown up not in
freedom-loving Texas, but instead in Castro’s Cuba, where there are few gigs,
no money, and almost no way off the island to spread their power-metal gospel.
Don’t imagine–just listen to Zeus, frequently cited as Cuba’s most legendary
band. Actually, listening is a little tricky, given that music is monitored by
a state-run Agency of Rock, but you can get a taste by checking out this concert clip for the song "Violento Metrobus"–proof that Zeus’s sonic assault doesn’t have to take a backseat to any act here
on the mainland. For more than two decades they’ve taken their inspirations,
gleaned by hearing Metallica and Pantera via radio broadcast from Miami, and
turned them into music whose double-bass-drum-driven rage is the sound of an
authentic revolution, not just the usual teenage kicks. A 2012 Spin feature explained it well: "It’s no wonder that the country is
responsible for some of the angriest, most extreme metal on Earth." It’s also
the subject of Nicholas Brennan’s in-progress documentary Hard Rock Havanawatch a trailer here–which focuses
on Zeus, in particular. Providing an extra bit of musical credibility, the
Music Advisor for the doc is Cuban-born Dave Lombardo, a longtime member of
Slayer, and universally recognized as one of the greatest metal drummers
around.

3. Madison Rising: If you were going to create a
blueprint for a conservative rock band, what would it look like? You’d probably
want a classic rock sound, an amalgam of arena-sized influences, from the
Southern Seventies (Skynyrd) to the somewhat more modern (Metallica,
Soundgarden). You’d certainly want a charismatic frontman, preferably one who
also had some military service to go with his tattoos. You’d pick a name that
honored one of the founders–though maybe not a too-easy choice like
Washington–and connoted positivism. You’d tackle subjects near and dear to
the heart of the Heartland, honoring veterans and patriots, and reflecting a
healthy dose of "Don’t tread on me" attitude. And of course, you’d want a
single song that showcases just about all these attributes–like, say, a rocked-up cover of the Star Spangled Banner? Enter
Madison Rising, the band that checks all these boxes, in part
because it was created according to just such a blueprint. If that sounds a
little calculated, then listen to American Hero, the group’s second
album, and the first on which singer Dave Bray, a Navy veteran, steers the band
straight toward what sounds like conservative rock nirvana. That is, a
workmanlike, blue-collar sound that could offend no one but the fringiest of
lefties, and should be guaranteed to whip red state listeners of all ages into
a frenzy–maybe quite a few classic rock-loving blue-staters, too.

4. Jon Schaffer: The guitarist of the ultra-heavy Florida act Iced Earth also has a studio side
project, Sons of Liberty, that is a much more pointed vehicle for his
libertarian views. Schaffer’s vision, politically and artistically, is broader
than most: his b
ete
noire is the Federal Reserve, and he’s advocated Tea Partiers teaming up with
Occupy Wall Streeters in the battle against tyranny. And his musical career,
which spans nearly a quarter-century, has found him utilizing prog-rock chops,
song structure, and lyrical concepts (yes, Lovecraft fans, there’s a tune called "Cthulhu") to add both density and diversity to
the bludgeoning assault.

5. Billy Zoom: Any list of the All-Time Coolest Guitarists must have a place for Billy Zoom.
Best name, best haircut, best style. In the early Eighties, he was the musical
engine of X, the punkabilly Los Angelenos and critical darlings. And onstage,
like James Dean with a sparkly silver Gretsch, Zoom became truly iconic. These
days, he builds and repairs tube amps, when not gigging with the reformed X.
And he’s also an unapologetic conservative. "I lean towards conservative
values," he told interviewer Mark Prindle, "because
basically what I want is a government that provides national defense so that we
are free to do what we want within our borders, and that keeps criminals off
the streets so we’re free to do what we want in our homes, and that provides a
fire department to help fight a fire if my house is burning down. And basically
other than that I kinda want ’em to stay out of my life. I’m a big fan of
things like freedom and liberty, and I see those as being conservative values,
and I see liberals as wanting to have bigger government that sticks their nose
in everybody’s business and takes away our freedoms."

Few could have
predicted such sentiments, back in the days when X were starring with fellow
L.A. punks Black Flag, Fear, and The Germs in Penelope Spheeris’ landmark 1981 documentary, The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. (For that matter, who could have imagined X’s
equally iconic frontwoman Exene Cervenka

regularly calling out the president via Twitter?) Yet more than any other
band from their era (save, perhaps, the Ramones, whose guitarist, the late
Johnny Ramone, was also an outspoken conservative), X proves that the old idea
of punk obliterating the rulebook was utter nonsense. Zoom’s amphetamine riffs
made clear the raw rockabilly roots that underpinned most punk music; think of
their timeless twang as a sort of Burkean contract between the dead, the living
and the unborn.

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