by Luke Baumgarten and Anthony Stassi

We connect with each other over shared interests. It's how friendships are made and how relationships are sustained. Likewise, we connect with bands based on their closeness to things we like -- whether it's another band, a given genre, or something more esoteric, like an aesthetic of experimentation.

Cover songs, then, though they carry some (dubious, to our minds) stigma, are a really good way to figure out if you fit a given band's aesthetic. The major chord theatrics of "You Are My Sunshine," along with the dewy lyrics of the first three lines of each verse, inevitably turn sour as what seems like a syrupy love song becomes a paranoid accusation and a veiled threat. That kind of intra-verse irony is a staple of the best country music. We'd suspected local songstress Karli Fairbanks of a country-western soft spot for a while now, but couldn't prove it until she hinted she might be working up a cover for that song.

It works the other way too, of course. We're positive that local sales of Pedro the Lion albums spiked when Pat O'Neill covered them at the Big Dip a couple weeks ago.

There's some peril, though, to picking covers. They're an implicit endorsement. Thus, a singer/songwriter covering some of Death Cab for Cutie's early work -- which honestly wasn't that hot -- could be singled out as either a snob or a poseur, while someone choosing a cut off their latest, Plans, might be decried as a bandwagon-jumper. Picking a track from their brilliant 2004 album Transatlanticism -- as Wayne Patrick seems to be considering for his set Thursday at Caterina-- suggests an almost British sense of propriety.

Thursday's Caterina cover night, then, offers a good opportunity for artist analysis. We talked to four of the artists on the bill for Rock/Caterina's night of covers (we had difficulty contacting Danny Lopez and Greg Beumer, who will also play). Their tendencies and outlook on covering another artist's songs suggests things about their own original work, even if they don't see it that way.


"I'm kind of a purist, so I dig the really simple stuff," Patrick explains. That's not to say that his choices for covers are always the easiest. "Lately, I've been messing around with Stevie Ray Vaughn's version of 'Little Wing.' That's really challenging." His adventurous approach to covering songs also extends to his ability to tweak songs if need be. This allows him to cultivate an otherwise unlikely roster including Death Cab's "A Lack of Color" and Nat King Cole's "Chestnuts." Patrick's notion of covers revolves around his understanding that they are for the audience, not the artist. By reading the audience's reaction, he can tell what works and what doesn't.


What are you covering?

I don't know yet -- I have a really long list I'm trying to choose from. I'm going to do a Hem song, "Leave Me Here." I might do a Vigilantes of Love cover. I'm thinking about doing "You Are My Sunshine." I'm keeping it on the folksy side.

What do these songs mean to you?
They're just basically the songs I've been listening to nonstop. They don't necessarily have any deep meaning for me.

So then what do they say about you as an artist?
I've kind of realized that in choosing [these] songs, I lean toward folk music, whereas six months ago, I would have picked more indie stuff.


Nate Lopez's first band was more or less a cover band. Since then, his goals have ascended above and beyond the limitations of parroting other artists. "I grew tired of doing that pretty quickly." Instead of serving an imitation-oriented agenda, Lopez (of Zavala Lopez) has been focusing on song writing of his own. Cover songs for him are more like a fun rarity to be intermittently thrown into a catalogue of his own. Their purpose is not to associate him with his folk antecedents but rather to pay homage to his influences and have fun at shows. His recent choices, mostly consisting of folk artists from the '60s and '70s, do reflect him as a musician though. "I've been doing a lot of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, stuff like that."


What are you covering?
I haven't decided on the third one, but I'm doing an Ian Fays song, and I'm also doing a song off the Dumbo movie, "Baby of Mine." The Ian Fays song is called ... "It's OK to Use the F-Word in a Breakup Song," or something like that.

What do these songs mean to you?
I just picked songs that ... I dunno. There was no real reason. I just like them.

So then what do they say about you as an artist?
How do I not bullshit this? ... I dunno. I'm sorry. I'll think about it and get back to you. [Alas, he never did.]

A Night of Covers, featuring Karli Fairbanks, Greg Beumer, Wayne Patrick, Adam David, Nate Lopez and Table Top Joe, at Caterina Winery on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 7 pm. Tickets: $3. Call 328-5069.

GWAR, Nekrogoblikon, Crobot @ Knitting Factory

Tue., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.