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State’s ‘on hold’ music: Is Alaska open for business yet?


When the Walker Administration decided to change the music that callers hear when they’re put on phone hold, the State of Alaska waded into artistic territory that was bound to generate debate.  The repetitive elevator music is going to be deep-sixed; instead, Alaska musicians are going to be featured.

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The Grammy-award winning band Portugal. The Man. was the top-of-mind choice for the project, as Alaska’s most famous artistic export since Jewel Kilcher. The band willingly donated “Feel It Still,” one of its hit songs, and that made the news last week.

Four other songs are in the rotation for callers who dial a state phone number and are put on hold.

The Tlingit-based jazz number “Shaax Sáani” by the Native Jazz Quartet is not catchy, but also isn’t going to stick in your head all day.

“Flicker of Light” by Whiskey Class “captures the death and rebirth of the salmon life cycle, and its deep connection to southeast Alaska,” but it’s drunken wandering sound may encourage callers to simply hang up. It doesn’t have wide appeal.

Then we come to “Mother Carries” by Harm, a band out of Fairbanks. The band describes itself as “an Alaskan ensemble that defies the bounds of typical genre standards. Blending psych-folk and beatbox with classical themes the experimental chamber group defies your notions of musical normativity.”

“Mother Carries” and its discordant, trauma-driven message might just drive a distressed caller over the edge. Here are the complete lyrics to the song:

I will read a book
I will drink my coffee
I will take a walk
I will force a meal down
into my empty gut
I will learn to sew a patch
over the holes of my skin
I will listen to my silence

I will drink more water
I will learn to bake bread
I will brush my teeth
so that I can taste clean
I will only speak with intention
I will sleep for only a dream
I will try to love a stranger
I will save a dog from its dying howl

I will lock the hurt into itself
I will listen to my silence
I will only speak with intention
I will box a trauma as a joke and wrap it like a gift

I will give to my mother’s mother’s father and I won’t forget the ribbon.
Or the bow. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh.

Listen to the song here at Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

Among the “tags” the band has listed with the song is “witch hop”, which is a combination of a genre called witch house music, hiphop and rap. Witch house music, according to some music industry definitions, is an occult-themed dark electronic music microgenre. Other tags identifying the music are “experimental, hip hop, experimental, folk indie, psych folk, Fairbanks.”

Perhaps the Department of Administration didn’t consider what impact the song may have on a traumatized Alaskan calling the State in distress, perhaps trying to track down a birth certificate or a death certificate, or perhaps frustrated by the Office of Children’s Services or a probation officer.

For that matter, what will serious business callers from Outside think of Alaska if they are considering opening an enterprise here? Is this a state that is open for business or is it an unhealthy place to call home?

All five songs chosen for the Alaska on Hold project can be heard here.

The initiative was led by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, and the Department of Administration. KTOO provided technical work.


Changing out the hold music might be low on Mike Dunleavy’s priority list. There are no doubt bigger challenges facing the incoming governor.

The project, set to roll out in the next few weeks, will be in the wheelhouse of incoming Department of Administration Commissioner John Quick to ponder — whether music about abuse by one’s family members is what Alaska wants the world to hear when it calls in for, say, a ferry reservation or a question on a permit.

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Stupid. Portugal. The Man is an anti-gun band. What a stupid idea. Not even a good uplifting country song, Lee Greenwood his Alaska song? Coming from JKT, well all I needed to know.

  2. I’d rather hear, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” with sounds of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott screaming in the background.

    • Love it – Walker’s anti-Alaska agenda finally being put in the asylum where it belongs – he should be in a straitjacket in a padded cell.
      The State spent money on “art music” of this stupidity? I want my PFD.

  3. First graders singing “God Bless America”, for one.
    They could pick one of the classes from a hat! (and make it a big deal)

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