David Swider grips the sleek edge of a black vinyl with the tips of his fingers, tilting it into the light to reveal a delicate etching, “Resist Fear. Assist Love.” He lowers the disc onto the turntable and drops the needle as the record begins to spin.
“It started out as a concert benefit, either here at the record store or somewhere in town, but I thought, ‘That’s just one day,'” Swider, The End of All Music owner, explained.
Swider and a loyal customer, Georgia-based “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, decided shortly after the election they wanted to do something to give back. Acheson suggested a benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I try not to politicize the record store too much, but some things just need to be done,” Swider said. “It’s not all because Donald Trump was elected. We should be doing this kind of stuff anyways as a record store.”
So he began to reach out to a network of artists who have been friends to the record shop since it opened in March 2012.
“I pitched to the artists as a single with an A and B side. Then it kind of snowballed from there.”
The result is a 12-inch EP in a limited 1,000 copies — with the first 500 made of colored vinyl — slated for a May 5 release. The album artwork is from Maude Schuyler Clay’s 2015 photography book “Mississippi History,” and the record itself is etched with an image by Indiana artist Nathaniel Russell.
Tyler, who has performed at benefit concerts in the past for organizations he advocates, wanted to help support the SPLC because it is a non-profit based in his native South.
“In music, or any creative field right now, everything is so content-oriented that you get asked to do things for free all the time, but this is actually one of those things where this is a really good cause,” he said.
Swider contacted the beneficiary of this year’s project, the Southern Poverty Law Center, around Christmas and received an enthusiastic response.
“They kind of gave me their blessing and explained that they had to be very hands-off with it, but it looks to be an amazing project,” he said.
According to Lecia Brooks, the outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the benefit album is just one of many fundraisers responsible for a recent spike in charitable giving to the non-profit that she described in a word: “unprecedented.”
Brooks said benefit concerts of all genres, from rock to Broadway American standards, are popping up across the nation in support of groups such as the SPLC, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups.
“We appreciate what the artists are doing in particular,” Brooks said. “I think that the threat to funding of the arts is really real, and I think that they want to make sure that that doesn’t happen, and we appreciate their confidence in the SPLC to make sure of that.”
Funds raised for the SPLC will go to expanding the organization’s staff and providing resources for citizens to combat hate-based crime.
“We’ve begun by launching a program that invites pro bono lawyers from across the nation to deal with increased deportation cases,” Brooks said. “We know that if folks don’t have representation, they’re more likely to be deported immediately, so we’re making sure that the legal system works the way it’s intended to work by ensuring everyone gets fair representation.”
The SPLC is also working with non-profit ProPublica in tracking data concerning hate-based incidents and hopes to hire more people to process the data. Brooks said the report showed a spike in incidents in K-12 classrooms and that the center is hoping to combat that on the front lines.
“We’re hiring more instructors in our ‘teaching tolerance’ program, which supplies free anti-bias curriculum to teachers,” she said. “We have thousands of teachers that are subscribers to our program that are hungry for more resources for their kids that are in crisis.”
Brooks notes that one of the positive effects of the current presidential administration is that people are now becoming more engaged in the American dialogue of democracy.
“From packing town hall meetings to writing letters or postcards to their elected officials, that’s great, and we want people to continue to provide the checks and balances that will make sure our democracy remains just that,” Brooks said.
For The End of All Music, the benefit record is a way of continuing important conversations and encouraging new ones.