Though my cover of Blue, originally by Angie Hart (co-written by Joss Whedon and featured in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Conversations with Dead People"), is the first release off of Stolen Songs it was actually the last recorded and something of an afterthought...
"Whoever chooses the music for Joss Whedon's projects does an excellent job." --Me (about a year ago)
That's how this whole thing started: an album evolved from a comment to a friend regarding a collection of songs I'd heard on Joss Whedon projects.
I've never actually been one to play covers. I just haven't. But my ipod contains playlists such as Buffy Songs and Dollhouse Tunes and for some reason I just felt compelled to record a cover of THC's song "Need to Destroy." It turned out well, so I just kept going with some other songs from the Whedon universe. And when they turned out well, I branched out to other songs that I like and that turned into this album.
Where the afterthought part comes in is that I basically recorded covers of songs that I had collected on my ipod. But Blue wasn't on my ipod (as far as I know, Angie Hart's version was never put on itunes), so it got skipped. At a point when I thought that I had already finished the album I happened to re-watch the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Conversations With Dead People" and remembered that, yeah, I loved that song and couldn't believe that I had neglected it.
So I recorded it (quickly) and was so happy with the result that I decided to lead with that one.
It's available on iTunes, Amazon mp3, Googleplay and all those sorts of online places.
Red Rain, originally by Peter Gabriel, is one of my all-time favorite songs. Which is why I actually hesitated to record a cover... I was afraid to screw it up.
I was so concerned that I spent a few weeks putting down different tracks and takes and feeling that it was all terribly inadequate. Until finally, in frustration I said screw it, I'm starting all over again. Two guitar takes and one vocal take later I had this version which I immediately liked.
So I guess that the secret formula is: fight with it for a few weeks; throw it away; within an hour have a new version that you're thrilled with.
This is the point at which we begin to cheat a bit. Allow me to explain:
Several years ago I was the lead singer for the LA-based band Casual Rebels. While recording this album of covers I got it into my head that since I was doing covers, I would like to do a cover of a Casual Rebels song. This song. I realize that it's cheating to call a recording of a song I co-wrote a "cover," but I did it anyway... and then I did it again a few more times on this album.
There are a few reasons that I wanted to record Lonely... Firstly, it was the first song that I had been involved with that I objectively loved. If I'd had nothing to do with this song but heard it on the radio, I would have fallen in love with it. I think that most writers will tell you that this sort of thing rarely happens... you're too close to your creations to look at them that way. I can listen to Peter Gabriel singing Red Rain and really feel it, but I can rarely do that with a song I've written. But Lonely... hit that kind of chord.
Secondly, I like that it's not about what it seems to be about... you have to look closer to see the truth of the song. On first listen, it seems to be a "lost love" sort of a song. But that's not it at all. Not even remotely.
Lonely... is a song about addiction. Addiction is something that a person goes through alone--even if there are others around, the experience is solitary. And eventually, every addict, if they cannot recover from their addiction, drives everyone away: friends, loved ones, everyone. The loneliness referred to in this song is the loneliness of addiction. And I like that this is not entirely obvious.
So for years my friend and sometimes songwriting partner Jamie has razzed me that I seem completely unable to sing a happy song. He had many song ideas with a nice little bounce to them, but I would always scoot by them until I arrived at a more angsty-sounding tune. I thought that while I was recording these covers, I would pick a happy, bouncy tune--say something by Ingrid Michaelson--and prove Jamie wrong.
The result is neither happy nor bouncy.
Once again Jamie is right.
Long before Sara Bareilles shouted out that she wasn't going to write a love song, I shouted that statement in this Casual Rebels song. It's not exactly subtle. It's a song about the fact that there are a lot of things to write songs about other than "some shallow love song goo-goo."
This song, written by George Sarah and Sarah Folkman, is what started this whole adventure.
As I mentioned, I've always felt that whoever chooses the music for Joss Whedon's productions does an excellent job. A couple of my most favorite Whedonverse songs were in a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer which featured a sexy singer who was tempting Oz... then it turned out that she was a werewolf. I loved the songs and I also enjoyed the fact that once you found out her identity you thought, well yeah, those were exactly the type of songs that a sexy werewolf would sing. But it wasn't so "on the nose" that it tipped you off before the reveal.
I loved that.
I re-recorded Day Out of Time because it seems to be many people's favorite Casual Rebels song.... or maybe I just fool myself into thinking that because it's my favorite Casual Rebels song. I don't know.
I've recorded it pretty much exactly as we did way back when. I think that at the time, it was the starkness and nakedness of the song that jumped out at listeners, especially since, on the album The Righteous Act it followed a very noisy song. In the years since, many singer/songwriters have taken that naked approach, but that original Casual Rebels recording of Day Out of Time seemed to jar people... in a good way. And I see no need to change that starkness now.
Here's another one that's Whedon-related, and one which I instantly liked when I heard it on an episode of Dollhouse. It wasn't until later that I found out that it was written and performed by two of the show's writers (Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon), which makes sense that the song fit the episode so well. I thought that was neat.
And it wasn't until even later than that I realized who Maurissa Tancharoen was... if you've seen Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, one of my favorite parts was the song of Captain Hammer's groupies, and when the little Asian groupie gives this big, goofy smile and a shrug because she's so in love with Captain Hammer I laughed my butt off--I just found that expression hilarious. And I find out that the singer and co-writer of this drop-dead serious song that I like so much was that goofy Captain Hammer groupie.
Though now that I think about it, what does that have to do with anything? I don't know. Ignore me.
I will mention though that I did several versions of this song and was close to putting it in the reject pile until I hit on this version.
Another Casual Rebels tune and another that is lyrically straightforward. And every word of it is true.
My favorite band of all time is The Smiths, and though I know how to play some Smiths tunes you will not find any on this album for the simple reason that there are about a million Smiths covers out there (literally every song they recorded has multiple covers for sale on itunes) so I didn't feel that I had anything to add there.
I almost skipped The Cure for the same reason, but I felt that I did have something to contribute to the world of Cure covers with this song. I felt that stripping away all of the goth and big production from Fascination Street and playing it as essentially an acoustic number really brings the lyrics to the forefront. And when you really listen to those lyrics, you realize how disturbing they are. And to me there's just something striking--an eerie, uncomfortable sort of striking, but still striking--about that.
The simple reason for the inclusion of this Pink Floyd classic is that my girlfriend is a Pink Floyd fan.
But I find this particular recording the most interesting of the album. I intentionally toyed with the sound of the acoustic guitar by messing with the recorded speed. When recording the guitar, I played that part at a pretty fast tempo and then slowed the playback down, which gives the acoustic an eerie dragging sort of sound. I had planned to make this version huge. I was envisioning 3 different guitar parts and keyboards and samples and effects, but that dragging acoustic had such a hypnotic feel to it that I stopped right there. I recorded the vocals in one take and there it was.