When The Claudettes released High Times in the Dark in early 2020, just as the world was going into lockdown, the band’s Johnny Iguana intimated that there would be a single release down the road. A few songs didn’t quite fit the LP’s mission but were still noteworthy. The first of those, “Different Drugs (Song For Bill Hicks)”, arrived in October 2020. The second, “Kept Them in the Dark”, is releasing on 26 March on all digital streaming platforms.
Keyboardist/songwriter Iguana was inspired to pen the tune after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was passed. “Every time I hear that song, it still summons the image of Paul Ryan banging his gavel and smiling as he sentenced people to poverty”, Iguana says. “That’s really what the song is about, about people who smile, even when they know there are victims to what they’re perpetrating. There’s some grim imagery; it’s pretty pissed off and we play it that way.”
Iguana is also reminded of the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland, Ohio, in which Castro kept three girls he’d abducted alive in his basement for roughly a decade. “He must have had some neighbor or family member who wasn’t allowed over there anymore,” says Iguana. “Somebody must have known that something was up but didn’t talk.”
He further points to a speech he heard author Toni Morrison gave in which she stated that in order to succeed in the world, you have to kill someone. “What she meant is that there’s this myth of unlimited resources. The more wealth you accumulate means there’s less for other people. That’s not true to the idea that we’re all supposed to be helping each other. That’s always stuck with me.”
Musically, “Kept Them in the Dark” feels akin to a James Bond theme, its time signatures shifting between a somewhat sinister 7/8 and a more familiar, if no less impactful 4/4. “It’s kind of off-kilter”, says Iguana. He adds that producer Ted Hutt was instrumental in accentuating the tune’s drama and menace. “Ted had this idea of adding these thundering floor tom flourishes,” the keyboardist says. “We found the right places to do it where we recorded, the places with highest ceilings. We found this spot in the entryway and set up there and added them. They give the song this kind of Western/James Bond feel that’s firmly in the ‘60s or ‘70s.”
For the video, Iguana turned to his cinephile son, Roman, who has become deeply interested in video editing. “He’ll spend an entire day working on something that’s four seconds long, it’s very involved” says Iguana. “When I look at it, it’s almost like a math genius at a chalkboard filling up all the space with one equation.”
Iguana’s brief to his son for making the video was straightforward: “I told him what the song was about and asked him to listen to it, get the emotion of it. The images didn’t have to follow anything literal. I told him to let the intention and emotion of the song drive whatever he created.”
What is perhaps most haunting about “Kept Them in the Dark” is the restraint with which vocalist Berit Ulseth delivers the emotionally-charged lyrics while the band whips up a musical storm beneath. Just as the events that inspired the song were about a menace lurking just beneath the surface, so, too, is the performance about what lies beneath, the unexpected and dark consequences of harmful human actions, their clang and clatter echoing on and on.