“Covers of Covers” – Inside Under the Radar’s First Album | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 5th, 2022  

“Covers of Covers” – Inside Under the Radar’s First Album

Track-by-Track: Each Artist on Their Contribution to the Album

Mar 04, 2022 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
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When hatching plans to celebrate Under the Radar’s 20th anniversary I knew I wanted to go beyond just producing a special 20th anniversary issue. Despite two decades of writing about albums, one thing we’d never done is actually put one out ourselves. Thus I came upon the idea for Covers of Covers. The concept was so perfect and simple that I’m surprised we hadn’t thought of it before. We approached some of our favorite musicians and asked them to cover any song by any artist who had been on the front or back cover of our print issue over the years, including artists that had appeared in group cover shots. I sent each musician a list of the cover artists to choose from.

To pull all this off we have partnered with Joe Spadaro and his Connecticut-based record label American Laundromat. As well as releasing albums by Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly, American Laundromat have a long history of producing amazing covers albums, including their tributes to Elliott Smith, The Cure, Neil Young, The Smiths, and the music of Wes Anderson films. They even put together a track-by-track tribute to the soundtrack to Alex Cox’s cult classic 1984 movie Repo Man. Without Joe’s help, Covers of Covers would still just be an idea in my head. He has the know-how to get an album mastered and manufactured, not to mention how to handle all the legal stuff. My Co-Publisher/wife Wendy Lynch Redfern then photographed and designed the album cover, which features a tower of all our print issues.

It was fascinating to see which musicians agreed to take part and which artists and songs they wanted to cover. Cassandra Jenkins was the first to say yes. We were also elated that Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle readily agreed to take part, considering Grandaddy were on the cover of our very first issue. We tried to have a wide variety of artists covered, but there was some doubling up, with two covers each of songs by HAIM and Metric. Each artist recorded the songs themselves and there was much excitement when each track was turned in.

We asked all the artists involved to provide a quote on why they took part in the project, why they picked each song, and how they approached their covers. Below are all the quotes in the order of the album’s tracklist.

Covers of Covers is available today on CD and digitally, with cassette tape and vinyl releases in the works too. Visit www.alr-music.com for more details. We are also donating $1.00 from every physical album sold and every full album download purchased to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund (www.sweetrelief.org), which “provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.”

1. Grandaddy: “Blindness” (Metric)

“Apparently my band Grandaddy was on the cover of issue # 1 of Under the Radar and continued a cozy relationship with the mag so it seemed a no brainer to be involved with this Covers of Covers project. I thought it was a good idea in general too.

“I’m a big Metric fan. One time I drove from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, Utah (nine-hour drive) to see them play live. I don’t even like going to shows. That says a lot. I chose to cover the song ‘Blindness’ as it has been one of my favorite songs of theirs since I first heard it in 2009. I recorded and mixed it all in my garage and enjoyed treading that line of trying to emulate some of the original sounds and ‘feels’ but also make it mine for a bit and have a little fun with it.” – Jason Lytle of Grandaddy

2. Piroshka: “The Crystal Lake” (Grandaddy)

Piroshka is fronted by former Lush singer Miki Berenyi (vocals/guitar) and also includes former Moose guitarist KJ “Moose” McKillop, Modern English bassist Mick Conroy, and former Elastica drummer Justin Welch.

“When Mark sent me a heavily passive aggressive email reminding me of the many times Under the Radar has plugged Lush and Piroshka, I had to admit he had a point and resigned myself to complying with his demand to provide a track for the magazine’s 20th anniversary.

“Scanning the unimaginably long list of possibilities, I clocked with rising panic the number of bands I have never heard of, musing how very old and out of touch I have become.

“As luck would have it, I’d seen The Horrors supporting Suede when I took my daughter along to the Hammersmith Apollo, but despite finding at least three tracks that would have made terrific source material for a cover, Mick beat me to the vote and his suggestion of Grandaddy’s ‘Crystal Lake’ won the day.

“Justin had just moved to a new studio space in St Leonard’s and did a masterful job of recording the drums. Moose noodled his usual 20+ tracks of guitar effects and I unbelievably managed to record my vocals myself with a minimum of howling bum notes. Our favorite studio bod Iggy B was thankfully free and available, so we enjoyed a convivial day in the studio adding bass and yet more guitar while drinking endless cups of tea.

“Having mixed the track, we are all in celebratory mode and, as I write, I am on my second espresso martini—and it’s not even 6 p.m.! So cheers for the opportunity. It went unexpectedly smoothly and we had so much fun we may even include ‘Crystal Lake’ in our set when we head off on tour next month.

“Lots of love, Miki” – Miki Berenyi of Piroshka

3. Peter Bjorn and John: “Songs of Love” (The Divine Comedy)

“We made it to the studio (for the first time in one-and-a-half years in the same room all together) still not sure what to do exactly from the long list of potential artists to cover. We tried a song by Devendra Banhart (we booked his first ever Swedish show, so there’s a connection), we also dipped our toes into some Super Furry Animals and Feist material. Nothing really seemed to click. Elliott Smith we had covered before at our third show or something but he was already taken… Ah well… Suddenly I realized that Divine Comedy/Neil Hannon wrote the theme tune for the Irish-British sitcom-classic Father Ted, a perennial favorite of mine. This madcap mid-’90s series about three bonkers Catholic priests on a remote fictitious island called Craggy Island, hit me hard when it ran on late night TV in Sweden sometime early noughties. Apparently it’s been banned in the States and voted second best British comedy after Fawlty Towers by some poll in 2019. Either way it might be an acquired taste but it’s my taste. On a tour of (you guessed it) Ireland I got the DVD box-set and pained the rest of the band with it on the bus TV (though the British crew got it). Long story but I thought we might as well have a go at it. Bingo! A few jammed out slightly psychedelic PBJ-angled takes with some added vibraphone and tape-echo and there you have it! We then thought…well the song DOES have a lyric, looked it up and sang it. Cause why not? A good set of words too…nothing whatsoever to do with Mrs. Doyle or ecumenical matters. It’s called ‘Songs of Love.’ Thanks Neil for writing it and thanks Under the Radar for the opportunity!” – Peter Morén of Peter Bjorn and John

4. Cults: “Bourgeois” (Phoenix)

“We’re very happy to be included in celebrating Under the Radar magazine as we’ve been big fans for over a decade now. I’m looking back, UTR might have been our first time our music was ever printed about in a magazine, which was an amazing and bizarre out of body moment.

“When we saw the list of bands that had been on the covers over the years our first thought was, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of great bands.’ Our second thought was, ‘Let’s do that Phoenix song.’

“We’ve had ‘Bourgeois’ on our tour playlist for two album cycles now, meaning we’ve heard it in clubs hundreds of times. It always stands out amongst all the other tunes with its extended intro, mellow verses, and bright and punchy instrumentation. We also love its lyrics as a critique of social structures that the French do better than anyone.

“We tried a few different ways of approaching the cover before we gave up and just dove in, playing the song as we would if it was a Cults song. We hope you enjoy!” – Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of Cults

5. Nation of Language: “Stars and Sons” (Broken Social Scene)

“It was tough choosing who to cover from the list—so many of these bands have been really important to us through the years. Once we settled on Broken Social Scene and this song, we realized that, loving ‘Stars and Sons’ so much, if we didn’t transform it in a fundamental way we would end up just copying it straight up. Not wanting to do that, we decided to change the rhythm to turn it into a shuffle (think ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears, ‘Reelin’ in the Years’ by Steely Dan, ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder). Once we made that change it was easier to get loose with the structure and have fun with it. We worked with Nick Millhiser (of Holy Ghost!), who also produced half of our album A Way Forward. We have a song on the record called ‘Former Self’ that’s also a shuffle but in a much more reserved way, so we wanted to go all-out here and turn it into a weirdo dance song.” – Ian Devaney of Nation of Language

6. Kevin Drew: “The Loose Ends Will Make Knots” (Stars)

“This is my favorite Stars song from my favorite Stars album.” – Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene

7. Hatchie: “FUBT” (HAIM)

Under the Radar have been such supporters of my music from the get-go so I had zero hesitation when asked to contribute to this project. ‘FUBT’ was a song on the latest HAIM album that immediately stuck out to me as something special. I wanted to try something different for Hatchie, altering the energy by adding more intense instrumentation to match the lyrics and make it my own.” – Harriette Pilbeam of Hatchie

8. Sondre Lerche: “Townie” (Mitski)

“I always get a kick out of picking apart a song I like, learning it and maybe recording a version. It’s rarely a waste of time, from a songwriter-perspective. You always learn something new. So I was happy to contribute to this cool Covers of Covers idea, plus I dig UTR, and it’s also the 20th anniversary of my career! I first heard ‘Townie’ at a gym in Williamsburg. I love running, but I hate going to the gym. So whenever they’d be playing a song I liked, that would go a long way. It didn’t happen often, but when I heard this I had to find out what it was. It was Mitski, who I hadn’t heard of at the time. This album was pretty new, and I just thought the world of this song, ‘Townie,’ especially. The melody is tremendous, it just cut through my bones at that gym. The gym is not my habitat, I feel alien there, like the teenage-narrator of the song. I have since stopped going, now I just run. When I was a teen I really just wanted to grow up and be an adult, I didn’t appreciate being a teenager at all. I like it much more now, so I can somehow relate more to the song now, I feel. It depicts such classic scenes that evoke a nostalgic darkness. I felt ready to go there, finally. So I spent a day with my bass player and the producer of this track, Chris Holm, and we just enjoyed the words and music to this song, over and over. It’s so pretty, and I just wanted to really PLAY and SING it without much of an agenda. It’s a great song, let it play!” – Sondre Lerche

9. C Duncan: “Acrobat” (Angel Olsen)

“I was delighted to be asked by Under the Radar to take part in this as they have been a huge supporter of my music for a number of years. I was sent a list of artists I could cover and Angel Olsen instantly jumped out to me. Her music fascinates me and I have always been drawn to the enigmatic aura of her song ‘Acrobat.’ I didn’t want to change the mood of the song too much in my version, but was keen to see how it would sound with an array of choral parts and harmonies.” – C Duncan

10. Cassandra Jenkins: “It’s You” (Animal Collective)

“I was introduced to Vashti Bunyan’s music when some Baltimore friends started playing with her in the early 2000s around the time ‘It’s You’ was released. I love Animal Collective’s music and was reminded of their beautiful EP with Bunyan when a friend put it on a driving mix for me recently. I listened to it on repeat for miles and when asked to pick a song for this compilation I was hoping AC had been featured on a cover so I’d have an excuse to record this song.

“Covers are a great way for me to experiment with sounds, palettes, and people I want to work with, without the weight of my songs being at the helm. Rebecca El-Saleh (harpist) and I did some email recording over quarantine and this was the first time we got to play in a room together with my friend Zubin Hensler (who engineered the session). I had been listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield at the time and loved some of the harp in his recordings, and I felt like harp was one of the few acoustic instruments that could capture something similar to the original recording. Michael Coleman added some piano, and I used field recordings from the house where I’ve been living for a good part of this year, because the bugs made their way into all of my vocal tracks anyway, so I just embraced them.

“I’m psyched to benefit a good cause because it’s organizations like Sweet Relief that helped me finish my album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, after COVID first hit the U.S. Grant money gave me the extra push I needed to finish my record, and I’m so grateful I was able to put that out this year. Artists need as much support as we can give right now, and we need good art more than ever.” – Cassandra Jenkins

11. NZCA LINES: “Debra” (Beck)

“Beck’s Midnite Vultures was one of my favorite albums as a teenager, with ‘Debra’ probably my favorite track from it at the time, so it was really fun to be able to cover it for Under the Radar. It contrasts heavily with the rest of the album, sounding basically like a live band playing as opposed to the detailed production and sequencing of tracks like ‘Sexx Laws’ or ‘Hollywood Freaks.’ Also, for a long time I didn’t think it was Beck singing—the whole song is in this crazy high falsetto a million miles away from anything else I’ve heard him do. I love the imagery in the song lyrics, about a comedically pathetic lothario offering to take a girl for ‘a real good meal,’ or to ‘step inside [his] Hyundai.’ There’s a ton of references I didn’t understand at the time, that I do now since visiting (and now living) in the U.S.: JC Penney, Glendale, Zankou Chicken. Also, fun fact: the whole song kinda rips off the intro to ‘Win’ by David Bowie from the record Young Americans. For my version, I wanted to pare down the band/horn section of the original to an electric piano, drum machine, and a couple of synths. However, because I’ve heard the original a thousand times, I wanted to stick as close as possible to the original arrangement and all its melodic flourishes. Oh, and it’s in a completely different key—I can’t sing anywhere near that high.” – Michael Lovett of NZCA LINES

12. Oceanator: “The Biggest Lie” (Elliott Smith)

“I chose to do an Elliott Smith song for this cover because I have a very strong memory of reading that last interview with Elliott and there’s always a lingering Elliott—Under the Radar connection in the back of my mind. So it seemed fitting for this comp that that’s the artist I would choose. And I picked this song ‘The Biggest Lie’ because it’s also particularly relevant to that time in my life. They’re just really linked for me.

“In recording the cover I was sort of approaching it like, ‘What would this sound like if it was performed live with a full band,’ kind of the way he did with Christian Brothers and some of the other acoustic songs from time to time. And then we went from there. I recorded it in the basement with my brother Mike Okusami, who played the bass and Rhodes on it. I did the drums and the guitars. We had a lot of fun bringing it to life.” – Elise Okusami of Oceanator

13. Black Belt Eagle Scout: “Calculation Theme” (Metric)

Under the Radar has always been supportive of me as an artist and so I was really excited to be able to take part in this compilation they are putting together for their 20th Anniversary.

“Metric is one of my favorite artists and I grew up listening to their music with ‘Calculation Theme’ being one of my favorite songs. I’m working on new music and me and my producer, Takiaya Reed from Divide and Dissolve, have been really bonding over Metric during this process and so when the opportunity came to cover a song potentially by Metric, the timing felt right. With the original track being keys/synth, I wanted to offer a take on it through the kind of fingerpicking guitar playing that I do and also some of the dynamic cymbal swells and reverb vocals that are very much within my own sound. I also wanted to do a take on the song that would be reflective of how my live band plays with adding drums and bass layers to the mix. The original is my favorite and so I’m honored to be able to share a cover of how I would play it that’s beyond me singing along loudly to my car stereo.” – Katherine Paul of Black Belt Eagle Scout

14. Strand of Oaks: “’81” (Joanna Newsom)

“I believe that Joanna Newsom is one of the most important artists of my generation. Somehow encapsulating the mystical undercurrents of what I like to call the Neverending Story generation. Rooted in both the fantastical and deeply real life, I believe ‘’81’ is one of Joanna Newsom crowning achievements.” – Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks

15. Ora the Molecule: “The Fox in the Snow” (Belle and Sebastian)

“I love the idea of participating and adding nuances in the life of a song—so I thought Under the Radar’s idea of artists doing cover songs of each other was a good one. To be honest, there’s something a bit terrifying about pursuing that as well. If you already love the song, there’s a big chance that you might just ruin it in trying to make a different version. I started off by picking a song I wanted to learn on piano. I’ve always been a huge Belle and Sebastian fan, and ‘Fox in the Snow’ is my very favorite song of theirs. I started off by just learning the song and playing it for myself. But, as my stomach insinuated, the moment I tried recording it, I was disappointed in it compared to the original. I therefore decided I had to go away from the piano and detach myself from their original instrumentation. I started the new production in the middle of the night in the bathroom, not wanting to wake anyone up, and recorded the new more bass-y version there with a bit of a different melody. It truly can not compare at all to the original, but it was a fun experiment!” – Nora Schjelderup of Ora the Molecule

16. Girl Ray: “Another Try” (HAIM)

“When Under the Radar approached us to take part in this compilation, we loved the sound of the project. Looking through the list of artists who had featured on their covers we found it really difficult to choose as it was crammed with so many bands and people who influenced us hugely. HAIM jumped out at us because we’re massive fans of all their records (particularly their last album), and they are an all-female trio like us so it seemed fitting! We decided on ‘Another Try’ because it’s one of our favorite songs from their last album, and thought it would sound cool with programmed drums as opposed to live drums. We recorded the cover in my living room one day, layering it up bit by bit and playing around with loads of different sounds.” – Poppy Hankin of Girl Ray

17. James Yorkston: “Smoke Signals” (Phoebe Bridgers)

“When I was sent the list of artists to choose from, there were so many names I didn’t know, and rather than pick an act I did know, I used this as an opportunity to explore. I selected three names at random, then watched a track of each on YouTube. The first act I chose was amazing, but upon closer inspection of their lyric, it didn’t really work for me when played acoustically. The Phoebe Bridgers song was next to try, and the lyric seemed great, plenty of story to tell. I recorded it by close mic’ing my hand, edging against the soundboard as I lightly strummed the guitar. I played and sang it all together, I feel the rhythm of a song always sounds more natural playing it that way. It’s a very delicate song, and I think I got the ‘less is more’ balance just right. Thanks for asking, it was fun to do.” – James Yorkston

18. EMA: “Trailer Trash” (Modest Mouse)

“This song reminds me of a person I used to be in love with. We were teenage robo-buddies. We drove around on gravel roads, pulling over at abandoned barns and country cemeteries. We weren’t physical, except once when I started crying, gave them a kiss and then ran out of the car. Very dramatic. People used to say we were going to end up married and living like the ‘trailer trash’ couple in this song. It didn’t happen…” – Erika M. Anderson of EMA

19. Alex Lahey: “New York” (St. Vincent)

“I got approached about taking part in this compilation just as the sixth Melbourne lockdown set in. I was feeling pretty bummed and lost with an abundance of time at my disposal. Needless to say, I was so grateful to be asked by Under the Radar to ‘pick any song by any one of these artists—all of whom you fucking love—and cover it however you like.’ Fuck yeah, let’s go!

“I decided to run with St Vincent’s iconic anthem ‘New York,’ one of my favorite songs from Annie Clark’s illustriously creative and brave catalogue. It’s one of those songs that is so strong in its rawest form that it can be dressed up however you want. As I started recording my take on ‘New York,’ the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was approaching. I wanted to give New York a little light during this somber time of reflection, so I decided to make it sound like summer.

“As I was in the depths of lockdown once again, I couldn’t jam this tune out with anyone. That would be literally illegal. So I had to do it alone. I locked myself away in my little room in Brunswick (currently referred to as ‘Lil Bastard Studios’ but that may change…) and plugged away for a few days. Guitars, drum programming, editing, a bit of singing, got my mate Leigh to remotely track some drums, then I mixed the sucker; and you know what? The time evaporated and I forgot I was in lockdown (cue single tear of happiness).

“So thanks Under the Radar for not only all the love and support you’ve given me over the years, but also for giving me something to wake up and look forward to during yet another lockdown in Melbourne. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.” – Alex Lahey

20. Water From Your Eyes: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (R.E.M.)

“Rachel chose this song because they love it and wanted to sing really fast. This is not Nate’s favorite song but he likes it more now (he had fun making the track). They would love if R.E.M. would listen and pass along their thoughts.” – Nate Amos and Rachel Brown of Water From Your Eyes

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.alr-music.com/collections/out-now/products/utr-covers-of-covers

www.americanlaundromatrecords.bandcamp.com/album/covers-of-covers

www.amazon.com/Covers-Various-Artists/dp/B09P1S4JZM

www.sweetrelief.org

(Note: Hatchie’s track is only available on CD and via full album downloads, it’s not included in the streaming version.)

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