Two weeks after a marketing ploy for their new album went disastrously awry and led to a split with their label, Portland-based band The Domestics are speaking out in an effort to save their burgeoning careers and move past the controversy.
In an interview with Paste, frontman Michael Finn shared the band’s perspective and confirmed that The Domestics have parted ways with the Portland-based record label Tender Loving Empire (TLE), which has apologized to the band and placed the blame for the situation on one rogue employee.
“This isn’t about slinging mud at our former label Tender Loving Empire,” he said. “For the sake of our reputations we just need to set the record straight.”
On Aug. 16, 63 cassette tapes claiming to contain audio of the infamous conversations between Donald Trump and ex-FBI director James Comey were mysteriously mailed to media representatives. The packages also contained a link to a website that featured audio from The Domestics’ new album, Little Darkness, interspersed with audio of Trump and someone speaking in Russian. The website displayed a Russian flag, a closeup of a person’s eye (later discovered to be part of the album artwork for Little Darkness) and an email address that included the album title along with “xkeyescore,” an NSA tool that The Guardian calls the “widest-reaching system for developing intelligence from the internet.”
“We wanted to do whatever we could to get their name cleared and this seemed like a good first step,” a representative for the label said. “We have only ever wanted success for this band and that hasn’t changed.”
The packages, which were meant to drum up press for the band’s upcoming album, Little Darkness, were sent mostly to “right-wing media” in an attempt to troll them. But several other recipients were Jewish, and the return addresses on the envelopes traced back to extremist hate groups such as the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church.
Within 30 minutes of reporters and social media users linking the gaffe to The Domestics, the band’s publicity team ceased its representation. As a result, Finn says, “This left us with hardly any time to thoughtfully craft an authoritative and accurate statement before these stories went public.”
For its part, TLE commented on the situation in a Facebook post on Aug. 23, the day the split with The Domestics became public. “No one from the band nor the band’s management company knew about the decision by one of our employees to include return addresses for well known hate groups. We deeply regret that this happened and are handling the matter with our employee internally.”
As Finn detailed in an email to Paste, The Domestics’ manager facilitated the meeting with TLE’s owner and label manager to discuss the future of their contractual agreements. After terminating the contract, Finn and fellow primary songwriter Leo London were able to retain the masters to their catalogue, including their 2015 self-titled debut and Little Darkness, which had been set for a Sept. 1 release.
“The band asked for their albums back and because we wanted to do right by them, we did so, quickly and freely,” a representative from TLE told Paste. “We wanted to do whatever we could to get their name cleared and this seemed like a good first step. We have only ever wanted success for this band and that hasn’t changed.”
In fact, many local Portland musicians and industry folks have taken to social media to voice their support for The Domestics. Producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens), who helmed Little Darkness, posted the following to the Facebook page for his Portland-based studio, Flora Recording and Playback.
Artists including My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster and drummer Patrick Hallahan also tweeted words of encouragement for Finn.
Still, due to the backlash following the marketing campaign and the band’s current lack of record label, Finn tells Paste that the release of Little Darkness will be delayed until further notice. He elaborates, “We will be fulfilling all our preorders through 9/1 via our PledgeMusic campaign starting next week and will then be relaunching a preorder campaign via PledgeMusic with a later self-release date while we look to possible labels to come on board.”
The Domestics will also donate a percentage of the proceeds from their scheduled Sept. 19 record-release show to two organizations dedicated to fighting hatred—the Anti-Defamation League and the Women, Infant, and Children program in Multnomah County, Oregon. TLE has agreed to match that donation. “We wanted to choose one national and one local organization dedicated to civil liberties and helping people in need,” Finn said. “Multnomah County’s Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) program helped out one our member’s during his early childhood, and he personally requested it as our local charity.”
Both the official statements from TLE and The Domestics can be read in full below.