Bill Wolff: Hello, welcome back to Protest Anthems, the podcast about all things music, social justice, and protest. In this episode, we will hear from Lauren, who will be analyzing AJR’s “Burn the House Down,” and its role not only as a theme song for a movie, but as a political anthem, specifically for younger generations, as they fight against the abuse of power from those in the highest of positions. This podcast will highlight the elements of the song that makes it the empowering anthem it has become, as well as the historical events and political tensions of the time that led to the creation of the song.

Clip from March for Our Lives Promotional Video:

*instrumental music of Burn the House Down*

Student speaker: Welcome to the Revolution.


*trumpets of Burn the House Down*

Lauren: 2017. A year of political tensions hitting new levels. It was a year of the country being divided as we experienced Trump’s first year as President.

Donald Trump: Together we will make America Great Again.

Lauren: We saw abuse of power and control being demonstrated on all levels, with Trump’s intolerance towards undocumented citizens and refugee families.

PBS News Clip:

Donald Trump: Illegal immigrants with criminal records, already deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens

Lauren: With the rise of the Me Too Movement and sexual abuse being abused at the highest of positions and insitutions of power.

NBC News Clip:

Donald Trump: Great talent, a great brilliant man, Brett Kavanaugh

CBS News Clip:

Survivors: “It happened to Me too, Me too, It happened to me too.”

Lauren: And the increasing problem of mass shootings and the continuation of a gun violence epidemic in this country. 

NBC News Clip:

The school shooting in South Florida

NBC News Clip:

Overnight the quiet town of Southerland Springs Texas trying to come to grips with the nation’s latest horrific mass shooting

NBC News Clip:

*gun shots* 

In a matter of seconds a country music festival turned tragic

Lauren: Witnessing all that was going on, AJR came out with their song, “Burn the House Down,” as a political response to the civil unrest and abuse of power happening in our country.

Chorus of Burn the House Down:

AJR: Way up way up we go, been up and down that road, 

way up way up oh no, we gon’ burn the whole house down. 

Watch me stand in the line, you’re only serving lies, 

you’ve got something to hide, we gon’ burn the whole house down.

Lauren: AJR is an American Indie Pop band trio made up of three brothers, Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, the name of their band coming from each of their first initials. The band started by writing, producing, and mixing their own music in their living room in their apartment in New York City. Here are their thoughts on Burn the House Down and their political responsibility as a band:

Excerpt from AJR’s interview with the Zach Sang Show:

Ryan Met:It’s an AJR version of a political song. We’re never gonna be the guys who are leader of the resistance, so we wrote our version of that, which is kind of just observing what’s going on in the world with our generation, with stuff like Me Too and gun control and all these issues where there’s kind of an exciting energy going on in our generation where people actually have power” 

Lauren:  “Burn the House Down,” quickly became a political anthem for younger generations, even becoming the anthem for the March for our Lives movement, a student- led social movement on gun control legislation

ABC news clip excerpt:

“They are calling this the largest youth-led protest since the vietnam war era, but these young activists are taking a stand in a country that is deeply divided over guns.”

Excerpts from students at the march:

“I shouldn’t go to school and expect to be shot. 

“The legislators obviously aren’t doing anything.”

“I want to be able to come to school and not be afraid.”

“We have been fighting. We’ve been fighting since columbine, since sandy hook, since pols”

Lauren: AJR on the power that younger generations hold:

Excerpt from AJR’s interview with the Zach Sang Show:

Ryan Met: “You can see with the March for Our Lives, so many people are like 17 year olds could never organize something like this. Yea they can, and they did, ya know, and I think there is a real power to our youth generation and we are taught subliminally, that we don’t have that power, to leave it to the adults, but we are reaching this interesting point where we are realizing how much power we actually do have in the world thanks to Twitter.”

Clip from Burn the House Down:

Should I hang my head low, should I bite my tongue? 

Or should I march with every stranger from Twitter to get shit done? 

Used to hang my head low, Now I hear it loud, 

Every stranger from Twitter is gonna burn this house down.

Clip from March for our Lives Video:

Interviewer: “It’s one thing to talk about it, its another thing to actually make it happen. What are you going to do?”

Student: March 24th in every single city, we are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives

*Beat drop of Burn the House Down*

“We gon’ burn the whole house down. 

We burnin’ it down. We burnin’ it down. 

We gon’ burn the whole house down.”

Lauren: Along with becoming the official anthem for the March for Our Lives movement in 2018, being played in the movement’s promotional videos, Burn the House Down was also written as the theme song for the documentary Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken, a sequel to the first Super Size Me that looks at how the fast food industry has rebranded themselves to be healthier than they actually are.  When talking about writing the uptempo anthem, AJR said “If enough underdogs band together, real change can happen, and we wanted to help inspire that change in ‘Burn the House Down’.” The message and inspiration of the song is so easily able to work for both two totally separate ideas because of how general the lyrics are, they leave enough room for interpretation to make the song a response to the political climate or to make it a theme song for a movie about fast food. But the common theme that creates that feeling of empowerment and confidence that inspires underdogs and people not traditionally in positions of power is the music of the song and the performance of it, specifically through the unique and strong sound of the trumpets, played by JJ Kirkpatrick. In one of their concert performances, AJR introduces the song to their audience by going through the different elements that created it.

Clip from Concert Performance 11/05:

Ryan Met: Alright we started with a kick drum, like this, *kick drum* Can you make that a little dirtier, just a little grittier? *kick drum again*.

So once we had the skeleton of the beat, we wanted to find a baseline and we wanted something that was kind of epic and badass, something like this: *base starts to play*

There was one more step. We wanted to find an unique instrument to really make the song stand out. We tried a couple, it sounded like this: * first instrument plays* But that wasn’t quite right so we tried a cello: *cello plays* but cello was too soft, we wanted something harsher: *trumpet plays and intros into the song*

Lauren: When explaining to the audience the sound they were going for: something gritty, bad ass, epic, something that stood out, they were explaining the intentional decisions they made with the music that ended up creating an anthem: that made Burn the House Down more than a song to be played in the credits of a movie, but also one that inspires the confidence and power that people need to create change and to take the power back from those who are abusing it. AJR creates the same energetic and high energy that you get through the music of the song in their performances of it as well.

Excerpt from an interview with the Zach Sang show

Jack Met: Essentially what we think about is let’s make a show that no one has seen before, so we say let’s try to make something crazy enough and different enough that they can close Netflix and can go there, put down their phones, and just watch, we do a song and then what’s the next thing they don’t expect.

Lauren: AJR creates this high energy performance environment by keeping consistent specific elements of their live performances. In each different performance of the song, there is a consistent use of red lights, a color that is associated with power, passion, and anger. Every performance is overwhelmed with the tension of the lead up to the beat drop, the sound of the trumpets, flashing lights, all as AJR is constantly moving and jumping around the stage the whole time. It is clear AJR is creating an intense and hype atmosphere to get the audience just as energized as they are on stage. Now whether that’s to empower them to “burn the house down” in urban dictionary terms of throwing a bitchin party, or to “burn the house down” in terms of dismantling the current power systems and reestablishing them is for each audience member to decide. But to some degree, the “chaos” and loss of order in each performance represents that idea of some loss of control: the loss of control of our traditional power structures and the transfer of it to the everyday person and the younger generations. But regardless of what message and meaning each listener takes from it, Burn the House Down leaves them all with some sort of confidence and a sense of power and energy that inspires them to do something, whether that’s fight for a change in gun legislation or just do something that is out of their comfort zone.


Clip from Live Performance from “One Spectacular Night”:

AJR – Burn The House Down (Live From One Spectacular Night) – YouTube

Ryan Met: So we noticed recently that people are sort of scared to get outside their comfort zone, and honestly, that’s why we made this show, we wanted to do something outrageous actually frightening to show ourselves we actually should be outside our comfort zone, that it’s a good thing, and so i guess in life, ya know you can either be afraid in your comfort zone and just dip one toe out or you can jump off the ledge and hopefully you land somewhere. 

*beat drops*

Way up way up we go

Been up and down that road

Way up way up, oh no

We gon’ burn the whole house down

Watch me stand in the line 

You’re only serving lies 

You’ve got something to hide

We gon’ burn the whole house down

We gon’ burn the whole house down