Why record a covers album?
That's the first thing most people ask us when they hear about "Copycat Killers."
Actually, it was never meant to be an album per se. It's just that we were so happy with the last album, "Easy Listening," not to mention the response to it. We dug the whole album. We dug the way the songs came out. And we enjoyed playing them live -- so much so that when we'd make set lists for shows, the songs from "easy listening" would end up dominating.
I've always thought of records like that as traps. You get so attached that you want to recapture it again and again. Not just in music. Wars are fought between nations, parties and empires that want to return to some glorious era. In most cases, they collapse under the weight of the past.
The last thing I'd want this band to do is come crumbling down like an empire, you know. Or make a record that sounds like the last one. I see this band as starting in 2000, with the release of "Nightlife." Since then, Frank and Mark have been constants, along with myself. We've had a revolving door of people come and go that, at times, turned CV action into a chaotic mess, not to mention created all sorts of weird scenarios and dizzying headaches. There is an upside to a mess, though: The band always evolved -- or devolved (I admit it) -- into any number of directions.
That's one of the reasons "Easy Listening" is different from "Nightlife" -- and why I like them both for different reasons. The former is engaged, direct. The latter is disembodied, detached. They aren't the same.
We entered into "Copycat Killers" with about as stable a line-up I can imagine working with. Eduard, our bass player, smokes like a guy savoring his sixth nervous breakdown. He's as stable a player as they come, though. You can tell he got his start playing tango in bordellos in Argentina; even hookers couldn't take his focus away from the groove (or his cigarettes).
The downside of stability is it's, well, stability - it can quickly lead to predictability. My worry was that we'd go in to record another disc and always have "Easy Listening" playing in the back our heads. And we'd end up with another disc that sounded, or at least felt like, "Even Easier Listening." In other words, sentimentally would lead us into a trap.
Hence "Copycat Killers." Going into it, the idea was to record a bunch of songs we weren't attached to in any way. It would give us the opportunity to experiment on other people's guinea pigs and then apply those experiments to our next album.
So, no, the disc isn't a reflection of our favorite songs. Instead, the songs are songs we like and thought we could do something with. For instance, every time I hear New Order's "Temptation," I always find myself singing along -- but not to parts already there. I come up with my own parts and sing along. The song just has that ghost-like soul to it that you feel in your head, even if it isn't actually there. (At least it works with me.) It is open-ended.
The original "Urban Guerilla" - another song we cover -- doesn't even sound like a Hawkwind song. It's as if the band wanted to record a non-Hawkwind song. They could have just as well recorded it like we did -- as a Motown song. Regardless, doing our version gave us a chance to apply some Motown ideas to, basically, a punk rock tune played by a prog-rock band.
"The Dice Man" was originally recorded by the Fall, a post-punk band known for NOT having rhythm. Aside from wanting to try some different recording ideas, we wanted to emphasize the rhythm that runs throughout the song, even the original. It's just a matter of emphasis. Bo Diddley or rambling wreck, take your pick.
By the time we got deep into "Copycat Killers," we were more intrigued by the multiple voices or lives inherent in songs. Most have 3-4 going on; it's just a matter of which you choose emphasize. Or happen to notice. Or just stumble onto.
This is what, I think, is what a perfect song should be about. It offers any number of possibilities that anyone can pursue. And yet it retains the personality of the originator. In other words, it's universal and idiosyncratic.
For instance, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus is definitely idiosyncratic. Universal it isn't. Joy Division songs, on the other hand, are idiosyncratic and universal -- because the conventions are there (the varying degrees of which to be determined by the interpreter).
The same is true of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," which, despite the disco culture and context it comes out of, is a free-flowing meditation full of universal structures and yet open-ended possibilities. If some German band would've recorded it in 1975, it'd be called a "Kraut-rock" classic.
Then again, if fascists had recorded the Troggs' "I Want You" it would be derided as a death march, not a c'mon. Hopefully, ours is somewhere in between.
If only some party-hearty pot-smoking troupe had recorded the not-so-guilty pleasure "Get the Party Started," you wouldn't even be thinking of its original performer: pop plaything Pink. (Do not mistake "pop plaything" as a bad thing, though. Pink's pop playthingisms make her infinitely more liberating than, say, "emo" - the ultimate in musical suffocation, not to mention puritanical lameness.) "Get the Party Started" is open-ended enough with its structure that it invites playfulness. Sometimes when we play it live, Tim even drops his fuzz guitar and does an interpretive dance. That's not to say that "playful" was the operative here; we just partied a lot, it was late and the song came to us in a stupor or dream - take your pick.
Oh well, it's late and I haven't slept much the last few weeks … and I have two cats clawing at me, waiting to be fed, again. So I'll have to cut this off.
Anyway, we're happy with how "Copycat Killers" came out -- and how it'll impact our next album. That one will feature our new guitarist Tim, who came in at the end of the making of this disc. He bring all sorts of new blood for the vampire to feed on, not to mention enough musical chaos to keep everyone in stitches.
Either way, thanks for reading and listening. We hope you dig "Copycat Killers." We also hope you conclude that while they did kill some things in these songs, they also enabled 1000 other kinds of flowers to bloom in their wake. Even if the flowers are actually weeds.