Elizabeth Moen drops single ‘Red State Handshake’ to raise funds for abortion access groups

Elizabeth Moen shared her first “blatantly political” song in a video posted to Facebook in the weeks following the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. More than six months later, that demo has evolved into a fully realized single, incorporating the talents of two other Iowa artists.

Little Village caught back up with Moen ahead of the track’s March 5 Bandcamp Friday release, which serves as a fundraiser for reproductive rights groups Iowa Abortion Access Fund and Midwest Action Coalition.

Little Village: The last time we talked about this track was in August. How has the song evolved since then?

Elizabeth Moen: The lyrics and the structure haven’t changed.

In late October I moved to Chicago. My roommate is an amazing drummer and engineer. The studio that she works at sometimes has some open times and so I told her about this song.

More often than not when Kim Reynolds pops up on the news it’s never something good. She did something bonkers and Abby [Black] — her family’s also from Iowa — we were just kind of talking about our frustrations with how COVID has been dealt with over there and I was like, “Hey I have this song that I shared with Little Village in August. Why don’t we work on it? Properly record it?” She was like, “Hell yeah.”

I showed her the song and she drummed on it. She’s drummed in a lot of good indie rock bands and the song was a little more folky so the way she drummed on it just brought it this new definitely folk-rock vibe, which I really enjoyed. I played the most freakin’ simple bassline ever but technically it’s my first time playing bass on a song, so that’s fun! There’s some slide guitar I threw on there at the end. That’s my first time playing slide on a recorded track.

Abby engineered, mixed, mastered and produced it, so there’s some fun vocal effects on there that were completely her idea. We doubled the vocals and [added] this kind of ominous higher-pitched sort of creepy wailing harmony happening in the background that she kind of pushed me to do. I was kind of giving up on harmonies and she’s like, “No keep going, it’s cool!”

It was definitely just another quarantine learning experience. Hey, we can’t go play shows and stuff, why not practice these other things that we want to get good at, like the recording side of things?

How did the art for the single come to be?

Dana Telsrow has been sharing just really cool political caricatures and I really like his style and just how his style has developed over time since he started posting his visual art. I reached out to him about the song — “I think this would be a great fit for the visual aspect” — and we talked about it and he had a cool idea and we ran with it.

Cover art by Dana Telsrow

Does the song hit different on the other side of the election, the approval of COVID vaccines and states like Iowa and Texas removing COVID-19 regulations?

I wanted to release it pre-election or around election time but didn’t have the chance to and I really wanted the song to benefit somewhere. I waited until Bandcamp Friday when all of the money goes to the artist, so if you do a fundraiser, all of the money people donate to you can go directly to wherever you want to donate. And we want to donate to Midwest Action Coalition and Iowa Abortion Access Fund. That’s been another consistent thing [Reynolds has] been against for a long time, trying to take away women’s health rights in Iowa.

The song was really sparked by how [Reynolds] failed the state with this derecho stuff and COVID — really any chapter of the pandemic she seemed to not do a great job. … There are vaccines happening now, which is good, but even her roll-out plan for that, you know, there was a time when Iowa was 50th in the country for vaccine roll-out.

I try not to be an angry person or talk shit but I was so mad at [Gov. Reynolds], I was so frustrated. Maybe she’ll hear it, maybe she won’t — I doubt she’ll give a shit but who knows. That’s not really the point, the point is more for other Iowans to hear and have a song they can connect to with their frustrations. And not just Iowa, there are so many red states — and blue states too, blue states aren’t perfect — especially in the Midwest that kind of get taken advantage of, the voters in small towns. They get looked over and the only time someone cares about them is when they need their votes. They tell them what they want to hear and don’t actually do anything.

Elizabeth Moen performs “Red State Handshake” in a video shared on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. — video still

Has your anger evolved at all?

Whatever the feeling is, which I think is anger, has not gone away. The politicians that we’re frustrated at who aren’t doing what we need them to do, I don’t think the anger goes away until they actually do it.

I’m 27. Hopefully I’m not this angry when I’m 60, but who the hell knows.

Do you think this track is a one-off in the way it was produced, or is this a model for your next albums or future singles?

That’s a great question. Abby and I are working on a couple other singles for a Bandcamp Friday about doing songs in an empty venue, and we would donate the funds to local venues in Chicago and Iowa.

That grittier folk-rock country thing with her has been fun. My bigger album that I’ve been finishing up sounds much different than this, but that’s the beauty of making music right now. You can’t really play shows so all you’ve got is time to explore musical styles. I don’t know what’s going to stick but maybe it all will.

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