If you visit the Holocaust memorial in Boston, you may notice a poem engraved into a black marble slab. It’s written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, Alec Hutson spent his early twenties in Northampton and Boston/Somerville. As a first generation American citizen growing up in liberal enclaves, the 2016 presidential election made Hutson realize how impressionable many Americans are, some of whom are his neighbors.
“The increasing trend of fear mongering—racism, islamophobia, homophobia—and scapegoating that comes mandated from the highest levels of office are astounding, but what it truly points out to me is that we live in a time where that kind of rhetoric really strikes a chord with most Americans (or maybe they just choose to ignore it, but what’s really the difference there?)” says Hutson. “In my own community I was floored by the number of immigrants who have chosen to live by ‘these policies aren’t hurting me, so why should I care?’”
As a reaction to growing national apathy, Hutson, a soul/folk-rock musician, wrote a song called “Bully.” He’s accompanied it with a music video, composed entirely of found footage, historical public domain videos, and news clips.
According to Hutson, the song is about wilful ignorance—a conscious decision to turn a blind eye to shared crises, much like Niemöller recalls in his poem. “The wolf referred to in the lyrics is the embodiment of fear, greed, and hatred that I feel is at the root of people’s actions,” Hutson says.
“Bully” is Hutson’s first protest song, a soulful blues tune recorded, produced, and mixed by Dephrase, featuring gospel-influenced vocals and growly saxophone. Although “Bully” is new territory for Hutson, the songwriting and collaborative process felt natural to him.
“When I approached Dan (Dephrase) to work on ‘Bully’ with me, I had some idea what I was getting into,” says Hutson. “But our collaboration took this piece to a completely different place than either of us were anticipating.”
The song also features rapper Fig, whom Hutson met after graduating from UMass Amherst. With a pedigree of music that centers on equality and injustice, and the familiarly of having recorded an EP together, Fig was Hutson’s first pick for the part—even though he lives in Los Angeles. In fact, Fig wasn’t the only one contributing to the track by email and phone. Hutson sent both of the guest artists—baritone saxophonist Greg Blair (an old bandmate of Hutson’s) and bassist James Clark (a current bandmate of his)—the backing track and a few prompts.
While the song was constructed in a piecemeal fashion, it feels unified—both instrumentally and in its ominous tone. As the chorus goes, “Brothers and sisters, throw up your arms / wolf’s out back so raise the alarm / We’re dropping like flies, so much to lose before daylight.”
Hutson’s band, the Alec Hutson Trio, will be recording their next full length album this summer. To read more Sound of Boston song premieres, click here.