A Place To Bury Strangers‘ exclusive Record Store Day release “Strange Moon,” is a tribute to Portland punk veterans Dead Moon on 12″ colored vinyl (for those vinyl fetishists out there). In conjunction with the record, the band released this statement:
“I first saw Dead Moon perform around 1992. Dead Moon was my friends favorite band and soon to become one of mine. It was the first of many shows he booked for them and I was lucky enough to get to know and play along side Fred, Toody and Andrew. They played before a band and proceeded to usurp the room with their straight up, stripped back, raw honesty and unbelievably great songs. Since joining A Place To Bury Strangers, we haven’t recorded a single cover, until now. I like that APTBS has never made carbon copy versions of covers and has always made each song their own. When Oliver came up with the idea to do Strange Moon, it sounded like such an exciting and interesting project. A Place To Bury Strangers doing Dead Moon? Hell yeah, lets do it!!”— Dion Lunadon, APTBS
On the first track, “Don’t Burn the Fires,” APTBS stay true to the song’s original form while adding a heavy dose of their signature face-melting noise and distortion to create a recording, I humbly think, Dead Moon would be proud of. Check out both versions back to back.
Which brings me to a larger, more general question that’s been coming up in conversation with my musician friends for the last several months: to cover or not to cover?
More and more I’ve been hearing band members say “I would never play a cover song,” a sentiment which I find surprising. There seems to be a pervading attitude among people I know that covers are cheesy sell-out crap for bands who aren’t original enough to write their own material. There is a great deal of disagreement even in my own band on this.
Look, I get that cover bands are for weddings and the kind of street festival that serves giant turkey legs, but that’s a far cry from a band who puts a well-placed cover in their set by a artist they love and take influence from. Especially if the band makes an effort to make that song their own. There is a long and distinguished tradition of this in rock music. Here’s a few, just off the top of my head:
- Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
- The Lemonheads – Mrs. Robinson (Simon & Garfunkle)
- The White Stripes – I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself (Dusty Springfield)
- Bjork – It’s Oh So Quiet (Betty Hutton)
- Patti Smith – Gloria (Van Morrison)
- Death Cab for Cutie – Earth Angel (The Penguins)
- Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (Traditional)
- The Flaming Lips – Dark Side of the Moon, in its entirety (Pink Floyd)
These aren’t party-band assholes, everyone on this list is a respectable artist. And these are only the artists who took the time to record and release their cover songs. Many of the people I’ve engaged in conversation about this topic are also against simply placing a cover in a set. I would argue that a well done cover can be useful for both huge and unknown bands alike. When an unknown band puts one solid cover in their set, it helps them engage the audience in a way that their originals can’t.
Your average small-show attendee is some drunken douche who’ll spend half his time looking at his phone and the other half trying to grope the girl in knee sox to his right. He doesn’t give a shit about your crappy band. But throw in your own loud noise version of Buddy Holly, and suddenly he’s paying attention.
And when a well known band like Atoms For Peace does a live cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” paying ticket holders practically pee themselves. Which you can watch for yourself:
So bravo APTBS, you paid tribute to a great band that shaped you and you did it in an original way. That’s exactly what a cover should be. And as for the larger debate on whether bands should consider cover songs, I take the same stance I take with tequila shots. 1 or 2 can add some excitement in an otherwise dull night, but too many and your shirt smells like vomit. What do you think?