Bria on “Cuntry Covers Vol. 2” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, February 26th, 2024  

Bria on “Cuntry Covers Vol. 2”

Taking the “O” Out of Country

Apr 26, 2023 Photography by Justin Aranha Web Exclusive
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Bria Salmena and her collaborator, Duncan Hay Jennings, are not country musicians. But you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you saw them playing in Orville Peck’s band, decked out in cowboy hats and sequins, and also since Bria’s solo outing (and its new followup) consists of six country covers, filtered through Bria’s brassy voice and post-punk context.

“Though our work with Orville,” Salmena says, “we’ve played country, or country-adjacent, music. Duncan and I have also played that type of music for a long time and it existed within us before we worked with Orville. We have a deep appreciation for that genre.”

But Salmena and Jenkins have played all sorts of music, like in their post-punk band FRIGS. “I think in the country and Americana genre, it’s really static, because I feel like if you really want to be a serious musician within that subculture, you have to subscribe to it. Duncan and I don’t subscribe to it,” Salmena says. “But I think what people forget is that there are all sorts of forms of expression and you can express yourself in whatever friggin genre you want and it’s honestly okay. So for us, when we started working on these songs, we recognized that we’re not country musicians. But we’re covering these heavy hitters.”

There is both a deep respect for and winking irreverence toward the subjects and sounds of the songs covered on Cuntry Covers Vol. 2. The title is at once blunt and suggestive. On one level, it subverts the typical idea of women in country music, and on another, it’s simply funny. “With the title of the EP, I wanted to try and express that: that we’re obviously taking this seriously because we enjoy it, and we’re not trying to take the piss, but at the same time, it’s okay to take the piss a little bit,” Salmena says.

She continues, “Cuntry Covers is a project and I felt like it was our way of continuing that work of subverting the genre in our work with Orville Peck. It fundamentally filters back into how we want to exist in the world, or how we interact with something that is old and gatekeepy, and how we want to assist in breaking open certain barriers.

“So yeah, sure, inserting the word ‘cunt’ could have a lot of feminist connotations. But I think it was more about being like, ‘I’m going to take the O out [of country], and it’s going to be funny, and it means something for this project, and that’s okay, because I’m not shitting on years of history and legends.’ Like, ‘It’s okay. It’s also just about reclaiming language in that way.’ I love the word ‘cunt.’”

The song that points most fervently toward this idea is the cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind).” The original is jaunty and melodic, Lynn’s familiar twang making the song’s dark storyline twinkle. But Salmena and Jennings’ arrangement peels back the country glitter to reveal the disturbing reality of marital rape. The arrangement leans more toward their work in FRIGS, reharmonizing the original with unsettling chords and noise. Salmena sings with a sardonic menace.

“I experienced her music for the first time from a young and angsty place, and that jauntiness was actually what first attracted me to a lot of country music: the way that you can be playing these major chords in a seemingly upbeat song, but the lyrics are so heavy or dark,” Salmena says. “I really wanted to cover that song in the way that I felt it the first time.”

Physical space was vital to the production of Cuntry Covers. “Space is a huge factor in Cuntry Covers as a concept—where we’re situated greatly influences which songs we pick and how we cover them. For Volume 2, we were stuck in lockdown again in a shared apartment in Toronto in the middle of winter, which was the polar opposite of Volume 1,” Salmena says.

There is a caged feeling to the EP as a whole, in a way that evokes dancing alone in a dark living room. Even the wide-open space of the “I Dream a Highway” cover offers a kind of claustrophobic dreamscape: it’s Gillian Welch via David Lynch.

“What we realized about the project as a whole is that it’s about how we interacted with the songs: through our history with them, the spaces we live in, what we’re going through. It’s also a challenge for musicians, how can you express yourself through someone else’s music, but make it your own expression? Like, you can listen to a song and feel the way you feel about it. So how am I going to filter it through me? We were open to the challenge.”

While Bria’s solo debut is filtered through others’ music, these songs and her interpretation of them hint at who she is as an individual artist. Her original music, when it comes, will undoubtedly maintain her clever subversion of genre and showmanship. Sequins or not, Bria shines.

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