There’s nothing more excruciating than hearing a cover that butchers an original song you’ve always really liked. But then, there’s something so delightful about a well-done cover that feels true to a new artist in a different time or tone. A great cover keeps the original thread going — the song moves. Inspired by their take on the cover song, we hit up some of our favorite LA-based indie artists — Emily Wells, The Submarines, Anya Marina, and Inara George — for a little under the covers pillow talk.
“I think if you’re going to do a cover, and ask people to listen to it, you’ve got to bring something new to the party,” says Wells. “I love covers that show you something new about the song. I think it allows the song as its own entity to come to the foreground.” Should any works be off limits? “Everything is fair game. I don’t think there should be any rules on art, even if you end up offending people.” Exactly what we’d expect a violinist who has covered Biggie Smalls to say.
Download: Emily Wells, “Juicy” (Notorious B.I.G. cover)
Several artists covered “Little Boxes” for Season 2 of Weeds including Elvis Costello and The Decembrists. “I think Malvina Reynolds’ version, the original, is the best,” says The Submarines’ John Dragonetti. Has he ever been surprised to find out a song that he thought was an original, was in fact a cover? “I had that experience with one of my favorites, ‘Armagideon Time’ by The Clash,” he reveals. “I first heard this in high school and had no idea it was a cover. The original version was by Willie Williams and he actually wrote the song using the instrumental track by C. Dodd & Sound Dimension. A tricky double cover!”
Stream: The Submarines, “Little Boxes” (Malvina Reynolds cover)
When Anya Marina decide to cover TI’s “Whatever You Like,” she surprised listeners and kept the lyrics from the male perspective. We’ll let her explain why: “I think what drove my decision was twofold: for one, I knew it would be purely selfish fun to sing lines like ‘Big boy rides/ big boy ice/ let me put this big boy in your life’ and ‘late night sex/ so wet, so tight.’ Also, as a bit of a cultural anthropologist, I wanted people to really listen to what T.I. was saying and experience it in a new way rather than just the obvious one which is: he’s a baller who has it all (money, jets, fame, a great libido) and he’s telling this little shorty girl that he’s got his eye on her, and isn’t she lucky! What does this say about our culture? What does it say about men? What does it say about love and sex? When you put art in a different context (for instance when you hear a soft-voiced woman singing a hip hop song) it’s like putting a prism in the sun. Suddenly you see and hear all sorts of new possible meanings…”
Stream: Anya Marina, “Whatever You Like” (T.I. cover)
Singer-songwriter Inara George, who is one half of the Bird and the Bee, agrees that her take on Joe Jackson’s “Fools In Love” is more somber than the original: “I would say yes… more forlorn at least.” While we surprised to hear that her favorite cover song of all time is Tom Jones’ take on Prince’s “Kiss,” we were even more shocked when she delivered this news: “The Bird and The Bee will be putting out a Hall and Oates cover record soon.” Rad.
Stream: Inara George, “Fools In Love” (Joe Jackson cover)