Wolf Heffelfinger's new album bodyslams politics 

On his new album, Poison to the Artists, musician Wolf Heffelfinger melds the plot of the 1934 historical novel I, Claudius with the drama of the Trump administration. It's not a hard connection to make. Trump has already been branded by critics as a demagogue and a puppet surrounded by a cast of characters who seem to despise artists, scientists and journalists alike—though not enough to poison them (yet).

"Back then, if somebody in power didn't like you, they could wipe you out with the swipe of a pen," Heffelfinger says. "And our country seems to be going in the same direction, because we have politicians and leaders who act like supervillains and are not following policy."

Despite the blunt comparison, Poison to the Artists isn't heavy-handed. The title track explicitly references Claudius and his serial-killer grandmother, Livia, but the other songs merely hint at the power dynamics in politics, mostly in weird and funny ways. That's not unusual for Heffelfinger. His lyrics have always been nuanced and complex, obscure in a Frank Black kind of way and set to a poppy New Wave sound in the vein of Talking Heads.

Heffelfinger, who goes by Wolfsuka on the album, was a familiar presence on Missoula's music scene until about five years ago, but then he seemed to disappear.

"I was caught up thinking about how I'm never going to make money as a musician," he says. "So, I let go of it and stopped playing."

For a while, he focused on other projects, including making animated reviews of self-help books on his YouTube channel, which, he says, helped him handle his artistic crisis. And what he read for that project started him thinking about his music in terms of process—that even if no one else cared about it, he should just do it anyway.

click to enlarge Jeff Medley stars as Gianforte-turned-Joker in Wolf Heffelfinger’s new music video.
  • Jeff Medley stars as Gianforte-turned-Joker in Wolf Heffelfinger’s new music video.

"As an artist, I think you do have to accept failure as an option," he says. "And that idea freed me. A lot of artists come to that realization, but the earlier you can realize that the better."

His comeback is delightful, partly because he just released an entertaining music video for the album's second track, "Killer Whales." The video stars Jeff Medley as a sweaty, posturing Greg Gianforte character, and David Mills-Low plays the determined reporter. Of course the video includes a stylized body-slam sequence (how could it not?), but it takes some even twistier turns when Robin (of Batman fame) shows up to save the day and discovers Medley transitioning into the Joker. A second video, co-directed by comedian Rosie Seitz Ayers, will be released soon.

"That one will show the full transformation of Gianforte into the Joker and the Fox News reporters becoming the cronies," Heffelfinger says.

For him, the video's absurd humor and comic-book feel highlight the sense that all is not right in the world.

"This music is being fueled by anger that I have that doesn't have an outlet," Heffelfinger says. "I wanted this album to be about speaking your voice and voting, but it's also about that feeling of finding ourselves in the wrong multiverse—a terrifying one where no leaders are being held accountable for their actions."

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