Over the course of the 2016 election cycle, the press has eagerly reported on the many pop songs candidates take to the trail. Journalists sometimes criticize the candidates’ seemingly tone-deaf choices: “Tiny Dancer” for Trump....really? In other instances, the pundits of pop culture debate the legality and ethics of candidates using the songs of artists who fervently protest their usage in campaign contexts. Has Donald “Trumped” Queen once again? While such instances make exciting fodder for journalists and talk show hosts, unaltered pop songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “We are the Champions” comprise only a small part of the 2016 musical mosaic. A quick search in our Trail Trax database shows that while candidates predominantly choose well known pop songs for their live appearances, a robust DIY culture of campaign song writing exists on the internet and other unofficial spaces outside of the arena proper. Whether it be a parody of a Top-40 hit, such as “All About That Bern,” which takes Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” as its musical cue, or a newly composed song, such as Scott Isbell’s sentimental “Trumpified,” platforms such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify offer a veritable smorgasbord of campaign-inspired gems. When political discourse is poured into song, a nuanced and thoughtful critique of policy, platform, and the status quo sometimes emerges beyond the layers of laughter. Indeed, these songs tell us something about our candidates, but perhaps they tell us just as much about ourselves and how we come to engage with electoral process through popular culture in its infinite manifestations.
But what motivates the citizenry to engage with presidential politics through song composition? For this Inside Trax, we introduce to you Kraig Moss, a singer-songwriter who is somewhat unique in that not only has he shared his Trump-inspired music online, but he has also traveled to forty-two Trump rallies, guitar in hand, to spread his message through music.
Mr. Moss was interviewed on July 22, 2016.
*The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Trax on the Trail or Georgia College.
Dana Gorzelany-Mostak: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Kraig Moss: Well, my name is Kraig Moss, and you know it’s spelled with a K…[I mistakenly referred to the gentleman as “Craig” with a “C” in our initial correspondence.]
DGM: Yes, now I do (laugh). Thank you for speaking with us today.
KM: How far do you want me to go back? You know, I was born in New York, January 13, 1959. In 1990 I found myself in California as a single parent. My son was born April 7, 1989; his name was Rob J.R. Moss. I had gone out there just to make sure he knew what a father was. The state of California turned my son over to me at a very early age. He was only a year and a half old. His mother wasn’t doing such a good job, apparently. I didn’t want that [custody arrangement] to happen, I just simply wanted to be there. My hours for the work I was doing were pretty intense, so I changed my work, changed my hours, and became a single parent. I raised him out there, and in 1999, my dad came down with cancer, and I felt the need to be with him during his last days on earth, so I went back to New York and have been there ever since. My son and I lived together, and I remarried in New York. That was for five years, then the marriage didn’t work out, so we split up. My son died January 6, 2014, from a heroin overdose.
DGM: I’m so sorry…
KM: So for two years, from January 2014 to December 2015, I really hadn’t been doing much of anything. The construction company that I was running stopped taking jobs, and I started just selling equipment. I lost the drive to do just about anything, and I lost the ability to express emotion over death. I could get emotional, but not over death; people would die all around me - my friend’s kids. I just found it very difficult to express that emotion over death.
I went to a garage sale and I met a guy by the name of Julian Raven - he’s an artist, and he painted a portrait, 8 feet tall, 15 feet long. [The vinyl reproduction of the painting, shown here, is titled “Unafraid and Unashamed.”] It was a portrait of Donald Trump’s face, and an eagle reaching down, grasping an American flag fallen to the ground. It was a very intense portrait.[i] He was taking it to Iowa to show it at different venues, and he asked me to come along. I originally was supposed to go out there with him just the one time to play music, but when I flew out there, and I played music and went to a rally, I realized I had found a purpose for myself, to talk to the kids who were standing in line. At the time, Donald Trump was only selling 2500-3000-seat venues: gymnasiums, cafeterias, that kind of thing. I talked to the kids about heroin and how addictive it is. And when I saw kids nudging their friends or kicking their friend with their foot, I realized that “Hey you know what, I’m on the right trail here.” I have found something that I can do to feel good about. Supporting my candidate is all about my son, because of Donald Trump’s stance on wanting to protect our borders, to slow the flow of heroin down to a trickle coming in this country.
And as I was out there playing regular songs for those kids, I started making up songs; I made up “The Trump Train,” seeing all those people standing in line. I called it the “Trump Train.” And I started calling the people there “Trumpsters.” That phrase caught right on, and then the news media started using “Trumpsters!”
Kraig Moss sings "Trump Train"
My first rally was in Urbandale, Iowa [January 15, 2016]. So in Urbandale, Iowa, here I am talking to Donald Trump during a question and answer period. First, I told him my son died a couple years ago because of heroin, and I asked him what he would do to combat the ongoing epidemic of heroin in this country. And he came from behind that podium to the front of that stage, and he said, “First, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure your son was a good boy, and I’m sure you’re a good father.” Then, he looked around the crowd, and he said “This is a good father right here.” And he said “We’re gonna protect our borders and do the very best we can on all our borders to slow down the transfer of heroin and other drugs into this country; and we also need to make rehabilitation facilities more available for the kids who find themselves in this situation.” He was very much aware of the situation, and I was very pleased to hear that. It was very nice of him to show that compassionate side of himself.[ii]
From that point on, I just kept going around playing music. I went to North and South Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. I also got down to New Mexico and California, and a rally in Montana. And when I was in Montana, I had a sign [that read] “will play for food or gas.” People would come up and ask for my story and toss me a few bucks. I haven’t been home in five months; I’ve got people that have been picking up my mail. I was able to go to the RNC for the last four days, and it was just a great experience. I communicated with Black Lives Matter advocates, Muslim protesters, and it just proved that… you know there was an article that said, “We were promised a riot, but we got a block party.”
KM: Let me tell you something: I saw an excerpt where the biker for Trump with no shirt on was doing a square dance with one of the Black Lives Matter advocates. It kind of gets you. What we kept telling people was that it’s not one rule, one law, or even one president - we have to make a difference ourselves. We have to learn to reach out and create love and peace with each other. Life is too short on this earth to be running around butchering each other in this country.
DGM: I read your page on ReverbNation. You identify as being a Christian gospel singer, but I definitely hear a bit of country, a little rock ‘n’ roll...who are your musical influences?
KM: Well, in ’69, I was ten years old and listened to music, but I think the groups I started to...I listened to Three Dog Night a lot. In the early 70s, I listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Duane Allman. At the same time, I’m listening to B.B. King. So as far as my influences, there you go: the Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels, a lot of blues, Eric Clapton. They were my greatest influences—Elvis Presley, the oldies, the combination of blues and country, and then that southern rock coming into the mix. I listened to The Eagles before Joe Walsh; he kind of turned that whole band around...good songwriters like Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, a complete array... I saw B.B. King at the Rockefeller Center. I used to go to the cool jazz festival, and see performers doing good, solid blues. So, that’s my influence there, then I kind of created my own style. I guess I don’t really like playing out in clubs. I enjoy playing Christian music, because that’s my way of really reaching out to the Lord.
DGM: Labels can be confining, but do you see yourself as some sort of activist or just a patriot and a fan of Donald Trump? How do you see yourself?
KM: I have always been a patriot. I have always loved my country, but I have never voted. I was one of those people who thought, “What can my vote do?” But then with Donald Trump, my son passing, and this whole place, New York, it’s saturated with heroin. It’s on every street corner. How is it getting in here across the border? And then, I hear Donald Trump talking about wanting to protect our border. That’s what kind of got me interested in politics. This is my first year I’m voting. Once I registered, I started trying to become a part of the local election process. I realized my vote does matter; there was the one local election where fifty to seventy-five votes was the difference. Seventy-five votes? It would take one person in a neighborhood to get seventy-five people to come and vote.
DGM: You said that you have been to forty two Trump rallies and counting. Are there other people doing something similar to what you’re doing?
KM: Not that I know of and definitely not to the extent [that] I am. The repeat people that I recognize are the vendors. They have been to fifty or sixty rallies and very few of them like Donald Trump. A lot of them can’t stand him, but he’s just such a moneymaker. They’re taking out [“Make America Great Again”] T-shirts and hats and getting $20 a piece for them and making $4000 a day.
DGM: I went to the convention in Charlotte in 2012, and I saw the same kind of thing! Just the number of vendors selling all these things...the whole process has been commercialized and commodified in such an unfathomable way...
KM: I would love to be able to sell some of my CDs more so than I have, but you know—this is not what I am about, this is what I do, this is what I did at the RNC. I sell some CDs, but I give away more than I sell. In Akron, Ohio I gave out 150 CDs! That’s $2,250 dollars! I give them away with the hopes that people will remember my message. Inside of the CD is a photograph of my son Rob and my message. I’m an individual who agrees with most of what Donald Trump says, but not all. I am asking folks to vote for him, because he can make the changes that we need to stop drug abuse. I am not there to be a vendor. I have not found anybody that is as passionate as to give up everything. I mean, I am selling pieces of equipment to keep myself out here on the road because I just believe in Mr. Trump so much and so strongly. And if my efforts stop one person from starting on heroin, it’s worthwhile. And so, it’s already been worthwhile to me, because I know that I have touched the hearts of many people. I’ve run across probably at least a half a dozen people who have lost a child or relative to heroin within the past two or five months.
DGM: Campaign music such as yours sort of has a shelf life. People hear and sing the songs during campaign season, but then, usually after that time, you don’t really hear people singing them or talking about them anymore. You have a lot of great songs—“Cherished Memories” is absolutely beautiful. I also like “We All Say.” Some of them are more Trump-specific than others, but all of them do have that theme. Do you worry that after the election is over it won’t be something people are so much interested in anymore? And considering how successful you’ve been on the road, does that make you think about what other kinds of music you will record once the election is over?
KM: I absolutely know that there’s a time limit on the popularity of this music. If I had my way, I would be in Nashville playing these songs and contacting radio stations to try and get them to air the songs. But I know the shelf life of this music. If you listen to my Christian music, I borrowed a lot of the melodies from my Christian albums.
DGM: So what you’re saying is that some of these songs are your Christian songs that you’ve rewritten with Trump-specific texts?
KM: Yes, all the music has been revamped with, you know, more drums or more guitar; I’ve kind of picked them up a bit so that they’re more upbeat. I couldn’t possibly have jumped in a studio and created all the music from scratch in the short amount of time that I had before I was going out on the road. It was my music that I had copyrighted previously. “Trump Train,” “Build a Wall,” and “Cherished Memories” were all written from scratch, but for the others, I used music from previously recorded songs from my Christian album and went through and rewrote the words to all the songs so that they reflected my stand behind Donald Trump. [In other words, some of Moss’s Trump songs are parodies of his earlier Christian songs.]
DGM: How do you develop your song lyrics? Do you sit down with paper and pencil, or think them up while on the road? I don’t mean to pull the veil away from your creative process, but I’m curious about how you go about creating certain texts for your new songs, if you want to share…
KM: Mostly I’ll come up with an idea and I’ll write the idea down on a piece of paper and then it might sit like that for a while. Then, I begin working on music. I get a couple of compositions together as far as melodies and whatnot.
There’s one song called “Lonely” on my Christian album. I woke up at three in the morning. This is when my son was still alive. I had to get up and write it down, and “Lonely” was written in about twenty minutes because at three in the morning it had just all come to me. The whole message of the song was “Lord, why am I so lonely? My mom and dad have passed away, my best friend gave up on life today.” And then, my son woke up and gave me a bunch of trouble because he had to get up at 6:30am in the morning and work with me and he said, “Really Pop, you’re gonna get up at three in the morning and play guitar and sing?” And I just said, “The Lord put these words and this music in my head and I had to write them down.” And he looked over my shoulder and started reading the lyrics and said, “‘My mom and dad have passed away.’ Well, I know Grandma and Grandpa have died, but ‘my best friend gave up on life today?’ Who is your best friend that gave up on life?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’m just writing this stuff down that came up in my mind.” That was August, and then in January, he was dead.
I can write songs about any subject, but in order to write words that mean something, I have to feel passionate about the subject. I’m passionate about writing songs and I’m passionate about Donald Trump, and that’s why I put a lot of faith in him in my songs, just like I do in real life. And I certainly hope he can be president to follow through with all he talks about. And I mentioned before, it’s gonna take the people…. And, you know, I just, we have to learn how to live amongst one another. We have to get things straightened out just so we’re not so angry. We’re so angry all the time. It’s unpleasant sometimes.
DGM: It is unpleasant. So much of what you see in the media is all about what goes on in official spaces. It is really great to talk to you, because for someone who is not attending these rallies, you never get a sense of what is going on outside. And that is where a different kind of creativity and artistry and passion comes out, and you really have all three, so it is terrific to talk to you.
Edited and abridged by Cannon McClain and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak, with additional assistance from Teddi Strassburger
[i] For more on Julian Raven’s painting and his appearances on the trail, see http://www.unafraid-and-unashamed.com.
[ii] The Washington Post interviewed Moss during the Iowa leg of his Trump tour. See “Why This Grieving Father Is Singing for Trump,” Washington Post (video), January 28, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/why-this-grieving-father-is-singing-for-trump/2016/01/28/2cd6da4e-c5ea-11e5-b933-31c93021392a_video.html.
[iii] Dan Zak, “We Were Promised a Riot. In Cleveland, We Got a Block Party Instead,” Washington Post, July 21, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/07/21/we-were-promised-a-riot-in-cleveland-we-got-a-block-party-instead/.