In summer 2019, as the world watched the unfolding media blitz around the arrest and death of financier and convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein, Liz Franczak, Brace Belden, and their producer friend—who uses the pseudonym Yung Chomsky—came together and launched the podcast TrueAnon.
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With the mission statement of being “the only non-pedophile podcast focused on uncovering the truth of the Epstein conspiracy,” the bi-weekly show has since sprawled into wide-ranging project tackling everything from the JFK assassination to the death of Elliott Smith, the “Troubled Teen Industry,” Elon Musk’s businesses, American intelligence operations and much more, all through a lens of class analysis. Approaching each topic with an impressive level of tact, the show has been quite successful in framing these subjects in an easy-to-understand—yet wildly impactful—light… and it’s been quite successful financially too. As of the writing of this article, it’s the seventh most popular podcast on the Patreon platform, bringing in over $80k a month.
But beyond its stellar coverage, something that sets TrueAnon apart from other podcasts—especially in the political realm—is the quality of its production. Under the helm of Yung Chomsky, each episode features high-quality audio, seamless editing, tasteful sound-bytes, and sound effects, and perhaps most importantly, original music written and recorded by Yung Chomsky himself. Employing a variety of compositional styles—with the tether line for them all being well-crafted, electronic arrangements—the music gives TrueAnon a distinctive aesthetic palette, in effect augmenting the presentation of the show as a whole.
To that end, Yung Chomsky views himself as someone who is using music to help make the world a better place… but maybe not in the way you’d expect. As he explained on a recent Zoom call with American Songwriter, the political power of music lies less in its content and more in its ability to help package and spread other ideas. Something as simple as the audio quality or the segue music for a podcast might not seem so consequential, but when you think about how impactful those elements can be on a listener’s experience—and then consider how important that listener experience is as to whether someone is willing to subscribe to an independent media publication or not—you can begin to see how there’s a direct line of influence.
Additionally, Yung Chomsky opened up to American Songwriter on his background, the disillusionment he felt pursuing a career as a traditional songwriter, the relief he’s reached now that he’s found a rewarding outlet, and more. Articulate, yet refreshingly aware of his circumstance as an artist, he was able to offer some universal insight into the struggles faced by millions of musicians in an era where music-making seems to be less viable than ever before, both in terms of income and spurring meaningful change in the world. Read the interview below:
American Songwriter: What’s your background in music?
Yung Chomsky: I took up guitar in earnest when I was in high school, around 16. At the time, I remember thinking that I was late to the game, that I knew all these kids who had been playing since they were 11 or 12 and could already play solos and stuff. But, I was just learning. I got into pop-punk—blink-182 and The Offspring were both pretty big for me—and then, I got into Weezer, which was huge. I was really motivated by wanting to get better, so I practiced a lot, took some lessons, and spent a lot of time woodshedding. By the time I finished high school, I was pretty good.
I had a lot of different interests in terms of careers when I was young, but I ended up going to college studying English initially. At that point, I was like “I don’t really care that much about being a virtuosic guitar player, but I want to write songs.” I thought that was really cool. I guess I discovered indie rock when I was a freshman in college. I got really into The Shins, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Death Cab For Cutie, Mountain Goats, and all that early 2000s stuff (I started college in 2003).
So, I started writing songs and ended up doing a double-major in creative writing and music composition, which was fun for me. I felt like it was this great merger of my two disciplines, that it would help me be the best songwriter. The first album I recorded and put out in earnest was my senior project. I got really into lush, orchestrated, indie-pop vibes, kinda inspired by the classic baroque pop of the ‘60s—The Zombies, The Beatles, The Beach Boys. I was writing songs, singing and playing guitar on them, and then finding music students to play on them. I made the album and even planned a little tour for the band I was playing with at the time. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to release this album and, like, it’s probably gonna really blow up and sell a lot of copies and I’ll tour and that’ll be that—I’ll be a successful musician.” But… I think there are still boxes of those albums in my mom’s basement. So, it didn’t happen.
I ended up being a guitar teacher for a while, then did a whole bunch of jobs that were not rewarding in any way. The whole time, I kept thinking “I’m a musician, I’m a musician.” I put out more records, but it eventually got to this point where… I mean, it was very depressing. I used to get really angsty about it, about not having an audience or making any money. I had no sense of success as a musician. I made one last record in that sort of mode and did a big show at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly for it. Shows then were fun, but a lot of work and stress because of writing out the parts and rehearsing and logistically trying to make sure everyone could hear each other and it would all work. What’s funny is: TrueAnon has two sold-out dates at Johnny Brenda’s this month. Back in those days, it was like a coup just for me to get booked there, and I never thought I would sell it out.
AS: You mentioned that you stepped away from that “mode” of music-making. What was that like? What did you transition into?
YC: I decided to find another way, which is what led me to electronic music. I wasn’t a huge listener of electronic music before that, but I just thought that I needed to be able to do these lush arrangements and complicated musical ideas on my own. So, I did synth-pop stuff for a while where it was similar songs, but with synths instead of acoustic instruments. Then, I had a not-great experience with a producer in Philly, which led me to decide that I wanted to learn how to record and mix my stuff on my own. So, I put my mind to it and started doing that.
But all of that still kinda came down to the same point where I would put out tracks and every time I would be like, “This is the one that’s going to really break through and tap into the zeitgeist—this is gonna blow up.” I had a list of music writers who I would send them to, like “You wrote about this other band that’s similar—you’re gonna love this!” But very rarely did anything happen. So, it was still very frustrating. Then, just over two years ago in the summer of 2019, we started TrueAnon.
AS: What led to the birth of the “Yung Chomsky” moniker?
YC: I had known Brace [Belden] for a few years when we started talking about doing TrueAnon. I had actually already been doing this “Yung Chomsky” thing on the side as a way to release electronic music, so I knew right away that I wanted to use “Yung Chomsky” as my name on the podcast.
We didn’t really know if the podcast was going to be successful or not or how long it was gonna last, but I was scheming that at least it would be a bit of a promotional avenue for my music, you know? So, right off the bat, I was like, “I’m going to use my music for the podcast—that’ll be a fixture of it.” That was right off the bat.
AS: TrueAnon’s theme song is a cool, electronic remix of the Twin Peaks theme—what’s the story behind that?
YC: Brace originally had the idea to do something kinda like the X Files theme, since one of the original ideas was to give the podcast the subtitle “The EP Files” [after Jeffery Epstein]. So, I started messing around with stuff like that while we were all in my apartment. I pulled up my sequencer and just happened to have the Twin Peaks theme—Julee Cruise’s “Falling”—loaded up. I didn’t know Liz [Franczak] before we started making the podcast, but I played that and we looked right at each other and both felt like it resonated. I recorded a really quick and dirty version of it, then updated it with a polished, full-length version four or five episodes in. So, that became the theme song. I’m still really proud of it.
AS: What was it like once TrueAnon started taking off and you were able to support yourself on that alone? Did that spur any creative shifts?
YC: For about the first year of the podcast, I had another full-time job. I was just using tracks I had already made, taking little bits of things I had from over the years and using them for segues—but that was back before we even knew how long the show was going to run. Eventually, I obviously ran out of music. At that point, we were nearing the one-year mark, so I ended up quitting the other, full-time job. That’s when I challenged myself to record new music for every episode, which seemed really daunting at first (but not having the other job definitely helped).
What I found was that one of my struggles as an artist was never being as prolific as I wanted. I would labor and labor and labor over a piece, but I would never finish it—it would just end up in a folder on some drive somewhere. I would work on something for so long, then decide that I hate it and didn’t want to do anything with it anymore. So, making new music for each episode has been great.
I guess the final step in the evolution of my style was when enough people started messaging me saying “Hey, I want to hear the full track! Where can I get this?” I’d always say “Oh, I’m glad you like it, thanks, but there’s no full track. All you got is what’s in the podcast.” In my mind, they weren’t really meant to be listened to on their own, they only existed in the context of the podcast. But I changed my mind about that, or I was at least convinced by the demand for it. So, around ten months ago, I started to upload all the songs to SoundCloud as the episodes are released. That’s been so much fun to do and see. I’ve never had a 10-month stretch of my life where I was able to make and share so much music.
On a more personal level: beforehand, it was a major source of bad feelings in my life that I wasn’t getting any traction with my music. That’s really common—it’s a cliche, the frustrated artist—but that was me for so long. I didn’t have a financial reward, but more importantly, I didn’t even have an audience of people listening. I was always searching for an audience, hoping to have some kind of dialogue in some way. But, you’re kinda just slaving away in your solitary apartment, putting stuff out into the world hoping people listen to it, you know? So, that’s one of the beautiful things about the internet—it’s really enabled this whole process to work. Sometimes it’s oversold, but our podcast is one of the few examples of the internet promise really coming true, where you can be your own publisher and don’t need to go through a gatekeeper.
If I had been born 20 or 30 years earlier, I could never do the same thing: record music in my house and put it on the internet. My only hope would’ve been to get signed to a record label and go that traditional route (which I used to want to do before I came to the realization that it was never going to happen). But now, there are other ways to do it. Now, I can conceive of myself as a professional musician, which is kinda wild.
AS: Let’s dive into your process itself—what’s your general approach, if any, to bringing TrueAnon to life?
YC: So far as my side of things goes, there are kinda four aspects of production.
The first is handling the actual recording. We’ve been doing pretty much everything remotely for over a year now, which adds some complications. The technical aspect can be challenging—especially when working with people who aren’t very technical and might require them to do some technical things on their end. That can be stressful, you know? I can’t set up and position a microphone in front of someone or adjust their EQ if I’m not there. The good thing is that there are a lot of technical solutions that cater to this need now. That might seem a little trivial, but having good quality audio makes a difference. I knew that having the best quality we could get was definitely important to me right off the bat. Podcasting has a very low bar to entry, which is one of the great things about it, but it also means that a lot of people aren’t very experienced with audio.
The next aspect is editing the podcast. This is not super interesting, but it is really important. Ideally, editing is invisible. You edit out silences from long pauses, or when people speak over each other—I’m always so annoyed when I listen to podcasts that don’t do that. If there are three people talking at once, you can’t understand any of it anymore. I like to clean everything up. It’s not really a creative process, but it’s important.
Then, the next aspect is throwing a bit of… hmm, I don’t know what to call them… little audio jokes or gags or stingers, right? Just little editing winks. In my mind, the joke is that the producer is a bit of a character who doesn’t get a mic on the show, so he inserts himself by doing these things. If Brace says something about Liz and I can’t respond because I’m not mic’d, I’ll throw in a buzzer sound or something. That’s my way of being in the podcast. Sometimes it’s a musical reference, sometimes it’s a film score thing, whatever. So, that’s fun for me.
The final aspect is the most fun part: recording the music. Mostly, the music serves as segues between sections, but every so often there’ll be a particularly impactful speech that somebody gives, and I’ll heighten that by putting some music behind it. I’m into ambient music, so I’ll use that to enhance whatever atmosphere we have at that moment, which is a challenge in its own right. It’s fun, but you can’t be, like, “Look at me!” about it—it has to not draw attention to itself or draw focus away from the dialogue since that’s the main event for the podcast. But for most of the music—like the original stuff for the segues—it’s cool because I have total freedom.
AS: Yeah, tell us more about the music-making side of the process. Especially with a podcast that can sometimes delve into heavy subject matter, is there a particular way you like to approach your composing, thematically?
YC: Well, speaking about that freedom again—that’s the way we’ve always operated. At the very beginning when we were first starting, I would text Liz and Brace with every idea, like, “Do you think this would be funny?” or “Would it be cool if I added this?” They were always just like, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” Eventually, I didn’t need to keep checking with them. We all kinda control our own domains, which is a really good working process.
So, I wouldn’t say that I try to make the music relevant or resonant to exactly whatever the subject matter is, because sometimes I’m writing it before the podcast is even recorded. But I do know what the subject is going to be like, so obviously, I won’t make a lighthearted track if we’re talking about something pretty dark or serious (which we often are). In general, I kinda just do whatever I want. Some of the tenor and tone of things is informed by what we’re talking about, but beyond that, it can be as simple as whatever the first thing that comes to my mind is when I put my hands on the keys. Then, my mind will race from there. That’s probably what happens most of all. Sometimes I’ll have stretches in one particular style, like everything inspired by Spaghetti Westerns or maybe classical-sounding, contrapuntal stuff. That’s always fun.
AS: Part of what makes your story so fascinating is that you were able to make a career for yourself largely due to your skills and talents as a musician, yet you’re not a traditional recording artist.
YC: I consider myself incredibly lucky to be in the position I’m in. I really, really hit the jackpot with this. So, I always try to be mindful of that—or at least acknowledge that it’s hard to be a musician. I spent years and years trying to do it. I made records, I went on tours that were incredibly bleak and depressing. So, there are people who have been doing it for longer, but I’ve done my time in the trenches. Through all of that, I came to a point where I had to become self-reliant musically, which comes with some trade-offs. It’s very solidarity, sometimes lonely. There’s a real pleasure and joy to making music with other people, but that’s not something I really do anymore.
I think I always wanted to be in a band, like, find the “John” to my “Paul,” so to speak. But TrueAnon has been one of the greatest things for me—it’s the first time I’ve been involved in a true collaboration—I trust Liz and Brace to be good at what they do and they trust me. We have faith in each other in the way I used to imagine it would be like to be in one of those great, magical bands, like The Beatles, where you’re really more than the sum of your parts.
So, I really kinda just fell into this, but I was prepared. Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to make the music, I knew I wanted to have a sound and an aesthetic both as big aspects. And then, to broaden the conversation even, I think aesthetics are incredibly important to political movements as a kind of accessory that can heighten the impacts.
AS: Tell us more about that—especially insofar as your music can really augment the podcast, which itself carries political weight, there is quite an element of activism involved. How do you approach that?
YC: Yeah, it’s like what I was saying earlier with the way ambient music can augment an impactful speech. Aesthetics can’t replace politics… that’s, like, some popular conception of fascism. But it’s important to have good aesthetics. There’s this cliche too that the Left has shitty aesthetics. There are probably some important structural reasons for that—the Left doesn’t have as much capital, so it’s always kinda DIY, often with volunteer labor. It ends up with this unpolished look and sound. It doesn’t have to be that way, but then it almost becomes this thing where, in order to seem authentic on the Left, people feel like looking too polished or too good is a compromise of their politics. They think that it won’t reach people and that there’s some validity to the unpolished look. But, I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.
I think having powerful aesthetics is important because they can resonate with people, which is really important. Across history, a lot of successful Left movements, organizations, and revolutions had great art and propaganda that really spoke to people. They had a look, feel or sound that was something distinctive, something its own. I believe in that and take it very seriously.
And, I mean, it’s funny—the idea that music can change the world sounds very quaint now, looking back on that failed, naive notion from the ‘60s. Like, the hippies thought that if people just had the right culture, we could change the world. That’s been repudiated by history, I guess. So, I have no illusions about my music changing the world or anything, but I do want it to serve a purpose. With political aesthetics, when you take the right ideas—radical, important ideas—it’s essential to put them into the right package to really resonate with people. Politics is communication, right? You can be right, but being right doesn’t count for much if you don’t convince people. So, I think art and aesthetics have a really important role to play.
Yung Chomsky is the producer for the podcast TrueAnon—listen to the free, publicly-available episodes of the podcast HERE and check out Yung Chomsky’s music and rig rundown below:
Yung Chomsky Rig Rundown:
Sequential Circuits Prophet 6 module
Behringer Model D
MPC Live II
Arturia Keylab 61 controller
Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK mixer
Yamaha HS80M monitors
Novation Bass Station II [Not pictured, out for repairs]