Almost exactly two years ago, in January of 2015, I came up with an ambitious idea.
I was, at the time, the Managing Editor for a site called Band Bombshell. The site had been founded by a Drake grad named Erika Owen along with a friend of hers, and I came on board after the site had been alive for about a year and a half. Erika did some pretty excellent things with the site before I joined her and, between the two of us, we managed to come up with some pretty cool ways to build an audience.
We did so with a modicum of local success; at its peak, Band Bombshell was pulling down right around 10,000 page views a month, all with little promotion and no money. The former wasn't too big of a deal; the latter turned out to be insurmountable. Erika was living in New York by then, and we were doing most of our collaborating via email and Skype conversations. We had a small stable of really solid talent behind us, in local writers and photographers who expressed various levels of interest in helping out. But with no money to actually pay anyone for their efforts, interest was constantly taking a back seat to paychecks. No matter how much passion you have for a project, there are always bills to pay and passion will almost always suffer as a result. Eventually, life closed on in Erika and myself, and Band Bombshell went dark for about a month after 80/35 in 2014. The traffic numbers cratered and never recovered.
It was in the period after falling off that cliff, however, that I came to Erika with what I still feel is the best idea I've ever come up with: gather together 10 local acts, give them all a single, well-known song, and have them cover it. The idea of 10 different points of view on the same song intrigued the hell out of me, and everyone I pitched the initial idea to was just as excited. Erika loved it, we got Nova Labs' resident genius Bryon Dudley on board to help with the production side, and we were off and running. Eventually, we wound up doing a second edition, with new acts and a different song.
The bands almost universally hated the songs they were given; seven acts would wind up not turning anything in at all. Both editions were plagued by recording delays due to scheduling conflicts, and ultimately traffic remained flat, so the songs themselves were almost completely ignored.
The actual songs were absolutely glorious.
The first 10 acts to sign on for the project, which we called "Completely Covered," were given Kanye West's "Gold Digger" to cover. It was a very deliberate choice of songs. Firstly, it was a song that was, as written, in none of the participating bands' wheelhouses. Everyone was going to be approaching the project from a similar level of discomfort. Also, since the song itself was about as bare as a collection of words can get while still being called a "song," it was going to be a real test of each act's songwriting and musical talent. Bands were encouraged to cut lyrics out, add new ones, move pieces around, strip the song out or build it up. Three acts wound up dropping out, one just two days before we were supposed to launch the project on the site. But the seven who came through, came up with covers that were wildly creative.
I haven't written anything here in four months. Traffic numbers here right now are as flat and dead as Band Bombshell's were in January 2015, when I sent out emails to 10 bands, giving them each 30 days to write a cover song. So ultimately, there is no guarantee that anyone will check out the songs THIS time around either. But I've always felt like these songs deserved more attention than they got, and figure now is as good a time as any to give them a dusting off. Not only because I'm personally proud of the idea itself, but because I genuinely feel like these covers do a good job of showcasing just how talented and creative the musicians in this town are. In the case of this first batch, 7 different acts from all over the musical spectrum were able to take a song they all despised, and spin that shit into gold. Pardon the pun.
We'll look back at them one at a time over the next week or so, starting today with the act that we used to unveil the project to the world the first time around: Ira Grace and the Bible Belt Prophets.
The duo of Marc Bailey and Sara Williams have long been one of my favorites. Bailey was the first musician I pitched the cover song idea to, and he jumped at it so fast, he wound up more or less asking Williams for forgiveness rather than permission.
Bailey did all of the songwriting on their cover, with Williams providing backing vocals on the final product. The result is a lovely, light hearted cover that more or less takes Kanye's song word for word, while still managing to sound almost nothing like the source material.
The strength of this particular duo has always been in their really beautiful harmonies, powered by Williams' voice and Bailey's lyrics. In their own songs, the pair tends to dance around one another vocally a little more than they do here, but the end result is a song that I would have loved to have heard live sometime. Enjoy.