I’m excited to release my first collection of cover songs, ever, 9 Covers, which I’m offering for free download for a limited time exclusively on Bandcamp (read why at my blog post here). Once your’e on Bandcamp, all you need to do is enter your email address to get on my email list. Don’t worry, if you’re already on there, you won’t get multiple emails.
The collection consists of, yes, nine covers, plus one bonus track — “Remember,” my first original recording since the release of my LP Lost Angeles in August 2018.
Here are the tracks I recorded my own versions of on this LP:
Cheap Trick — “Downed”
Gin Blossoms — “Hey Jealousy”
The Beatles — “I Saw Her Standing There”
Donnie & Joe Emerson — “Don’t Fight”
Big Head Todd & the Monsters — “Damaged One”
Gin Blossoms — “Found Out About You”
Echosmith — “Cool Kids”
Tom Petty — “Woman in Love (It's Not Me)”
Nirvana — “About a Girl”
Richard Turgeon — “Remember” (original song)
Think of this post as the liner notes for this LP—it has the story behind each song in one place, plus an embedded player so you can listen to or download each as you go.
How 9 Covers began
I started this project in earnest with the release of my version of Nirvana's "About a Girl" back in October 2018. Before these past several months, I'd never put a lot of focus into covering songs by other musicians. Working on my own version of that song made me realize how much I'd learned by really digging into the songwriting, arrangement, performance, and even mix by another artist.
After releasing two original records in two years, I also needed a break from composing my own work. Working on a collection of covers became, ironically, a new way for me to flex my creativity and knowledge as it related to my music and process. Mostly it was just really fun.
It’s an understatement to say that each of these songs was a labor of love. Since I record, perform nearly all the parts, mix and master my own recordings (the average production time take about 3-5 weeks each), it requires that I listen to the original and my own version dozens, if not hundreds of times before I call the recording final. You really have to love a song to do this. Being musically OCD doesn't hurt, either.
I consider this resulting collection, 9 Covers, to be some of my finest work. I'm not sure how I feel about that, since my original songs are of course my babies. But the fact is that every artist grows and gets better as they develop their craft. It's been especially gratifying for me to learn bass, drums, and guitar parts of these songs, while putting my own spin on the performances and the production.
I also consider 9 Covers to be “Part 3” in a collection of LP releases I'm informally calling my "California Trilogy.” Living on the West Coast these past 13 years has been a huge source of inspiration for this music, and even the selections themselves. Many of these artists have lived on the West Coast (Nirvana, Emerson Brothers, Tom Petty, Echosmith), and I've come to realize the profound and sun-baked influence living in California and the West Coast in general has had on my art—life experiences and one's music being intertwined.
The last thing I want to say is thank you for listening to indie artists like me. I work nights and weeknights and whenever I can "in between the spaces" (job, family, doing the dishes, etc.) to make music for you to enjoy and leave as my legacy to my family, friends, and music community.
Mostly, thank you to each of these artists for creating such beautiful, timeless work in the form of the music. They don’t need the promotion, but if you haven’t heard them already, please go listen to their versions, too. I consider the pop song to be one of our most important, enduring art forms, and to do it well requires unwavering time, dedication, practice, and craft. I'm a lifelong fan of the artists that created these songs, and I truly believe that, like me, every musician starts out as fan.
Thank you for being a fellow fan.
And now, on to the unique story behind each of the 9 Covers…
Cheap Trick - “Downed”
I hope you enjoy my take of what I think is one of this seminal power pop band’s best songs. It’s dark, edgy and sing-along pop all at once. Most importantly, it rocks.
I read somewhere that this song was inspired by a suicide note from Rick Nielsen to a lover (or girlfriend or wife, not sure which). Glad he didn’t go through with it.
Turns out that CT recorded multiple versions of this song, and it’s been covered by other bands as well, including a stellar version by Guided by Voices. My favorite CT version, though, is the one on Budokan II.
Before I record any song, whether it’s a cover or one of my own, I like to try to conceptualize a vision for the overall sound in advance. With this one, I knew I wanted it to sound not flat and sanitized like CT’s version on In Color, but also not “raw” and underproduced like Steve Albini’s unreleased version. So I went for a more polished, pop rock sound without losing that analog, ‘70s arena rock warmth. It came out exactly the way I wanted it to, and I hope you’re getting that same vibe.
One other thing to note is that I actually worked on the music for this one way in advance of recording vocals, since I had to wait out a bad cold at the time. I rarely do this. I more often record vocals pretty early or somewhere in the middle of the process. I think taking this “music first” approach helped me really polish the sound and production before completing the track by adding the vocals last. Enjoy!
Gin Blossoms - “Hey Jealousy”
Remember the Gin Blossoms? I recently became something of a superfan, after largely ignoring them in their early ‘90s heyday. I got so into New Miserable Experience—arguably their masterpiece—that I recorded my own versions of not one, but two of their songs from that record.
This song and "Found Out About You” (my other GB cover) were written by the band's co-founder and guitar player, Doug Hopkins, who suffered from depression and sadly took his own life after being kicked out of the band for alcohol issues—just as this song and "Hey Jealousy" were hitting the top of the charts.
For more about Doug's life and the Gin Blossoms—one of the most underrated bands of the '90s—read my in-depth blog post here.
The Beatles - “I Saw Her Standing There”
I've always loved the Beatles early stuff, from when they were just a young, scrappy live band letting 'er rip. Enjoy my version of one of my favorite rockers by the masters.
Donnie & Joe Emerson - “Don’t Fight”
This is a cover of a song written by Donnie Emerson, a wonderful musician from Spokane, WA.
Donnie and his brother Joe were teenage farmers growing up in Fruitland, WA. Their father, Don Sr., knew his kids were serious about music, so he took out loans on his land to build them a $100,000 studio called the practice place. This is where they recorded their first LP, "Dreamin' Wild," which they put out themselves on vinyl in 1977.
Nothing happened with the record until 2012, when a record collector and blogger found a copy in a Spokane antique shop and wrote about it. The LP was reissued by Light in the Attic (LITA) records in 2012. The record and especially the song "Baby" went on to garner a lot of attention in the press, including the New York Times, Pitchfork, NPR, and the Guardian, to name a few. Several of their songs have since been featured in major movies, including "Celeste and Jesse Forever."
"Don't Fight" is the lead track on the Emerson Brothers' 2nd LP, ""Still Dreamin' Wild: The Lost Recordings 1979-81," released by LITA in 2014. It's full of energy and passion, and shows off Donnie's musical talent as the writer, producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist featured on the track.
Once I’d completed work on my version of “Don’t Fight,” a reporter friend shared it with the brothers. They both reached out to me separately to tell me they liked it (as did Donnie’s wife, who’s also a musician), along with my blog post about their story. This is probably one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me because I am such a huge fan of their work. I was touched, humbled, and beyond thrilled. I’m still hoping to see them play live someday, and maybe, if I’m very lucky, even have a jam with them!
I truly love the Emerson Brothers' music, and this song is one of my favorites. I hope you like this take on an underground classic. Special thanks to my friend Tom Bruce for turning me on to their music.
You can read more about the Emerson's story at my in-depth blog post here.
Big Head Todd & the Monsters - “Damaged One”
I saw Big Head Todd and the Monsters play for the first time on 9/13/18 in Santa Rosa, CA, with the Gin Blossoms. I was actually there for the GBs, and knew nothing about BHTM, as they're known. They blew me away with their musicianship, energy, professionalism, and positivity. They had to be the "headliners" that night since Robin from the GBs was sick... but BHTM won me over, anyway, and probably everyone else who stayed to see them.
They played "Damaged One" early in the set and it just struck me like a bolt of lightning. It's a song that's as timeless, powerful, and passionate as rock 'n' roll itself—the best of pop, country, and rock mixed into one. It gave me chills. I remember turning to my wife and just saying, "This is a great song." I knew I had to cover it.
Now, I know my version will not top BTHM's, and for me, that's never the point. It's to dig into the original, revel in it, and just interpret in my own way. It's my homage to this incredible group of musicians and the incredible night they gave us. I've heard the song, and my own mix of it, probably dozens—maybe a few hundred—times by now, and it still grabs me. There's something joyful and spiritual about it, even though it's about a relationship gone wrong, like most great rock songs.
I hope you like my cover as much as I enjoyed working on it. And please, do yourself a favor and check out BTHM's version. You won't be sorry.
Gin Blossoms - “Found Out About You”
New Miserable Experience is classic from back to back, but this is hands-down my favorite GB tune ever.
My version stays pretty close to the original, but you’ll notice a few new things going on with the guitars and break especially. The solo was definitely infused with a Fleetwood Mac / Lindsey Buckingham kinda vibe I was just feeling during the recording and mixing process. I’m not sure I will ever record a snare drum that sounds as good as I got it in this session, either.
A bit of trivia—I recorded that distorted guitar during the choruses with an MXR Distortion + pedal, which I purchased after reading Bob Mould’s autobiography, since it was one of his favorite pedals. So hopefully you hear some of Bob coming through in this one. And these parts were the only parts recorded with a live amp on this track—the rest is all Line 6 Pod Farm.
Echosmith - “Cool Kids”
The only reason I even know about this song is because Echosmith followed me on Twitter several months ago (They've since unfollowed me, though… Why, guys?) Despite their apparently immense popularity, I had never heard of them (I don't get out much). Anyway, I checked out a few of their top songs on iTunes and fell in love with this pop gem. I love the songwriting, the production, Sydney’s angelic voice. Everything about it is perfect.
My intention in recording a cover version is never to attempt to simply duplicate or mimic the original. For this one, like all others, I had to find my own way of doing it. I chose to take this in an ‘80s pop direction, influenced mostly by my favorite band of all time, the Police, but also with a bit of The Outfield, Men at Work, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, and a dash of the Fixx. Basically any band that favored big, chorus-y guitars, sweet drums, and copious amounts of delay and reverb—which will never sound dated to me, for better or for worse.
Anyway, I hope you like my cover as much as I love the original.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - “Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)”
I’ve always been a big Tom Petty fan. He was cool, he was consistent, he was a king of rock for decades. Most importantly, he was a master of his craft as a songwriter. I hope you enjoy my cover of “Woman in Love,” a lesser-known but powerful Petty classic, co-written by his longtime collaborator and guitarist, Mike Campbell.
Thanks to my good friend and jam buddy Eric from the Union Trade for turning me on to this gem.
Nirvana - “About a Girl”
Not sure what prompted me to cover this, but this is the one that started it all. I love Nirvana and this song. I just wanted to do a tribute and put my own spin on it. I loved working on it and hope you like where I took it.
The story goes that Kurt wrote this one pretty quickly after listening to Meet the Beatles! repeatedly. It’s also allegedly about his patron-lover during his salad days, who held down a job and paid the rent while Kurt worked on the songs that would become Bleach.
Kurt was initially reluctant to put this one on Bleach because it was jangle-pop and not grunge, but it was clearly the right move and helped set the stage for Nevermind’s signature blend of pop, punk, and metal (i.e. grunge). It remains my favorite song from that record.
Me - “Remember”
This was my first original single the recent release of my LP, Lost Angeles. It's inspired by the kind of “heartland rock” I grew up with and still love, like Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, the Replacements, and the Gin Blossoms, to name a few. Basically, just some good ol’-fashioned, foot-stompin’ rock ’n’ roll.
So there you have it, my digital liner notes for 9 Covers. I hope reading the stories behind each song served as a nice complement to listening to the record.
Feel free to let me know what you think of the post and the album in the comments section here, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rock!