365 Days of the Unoriginal, Day 21: *bleep*ing piano players *grumble*

I really like Fiona Apple. She’s an interesting musician, and there’s something overwhelmingly sensual about her best material that I find irresistible. She is sometimes just crazy good.

She is also freakin’ impossible to cover tidily and well. It’s usually smarter just to take the original as a suggestion and make it over. One of my favorite covers of anyone, ever, actually, is Bettye LaVette’s version of Apple’s “Sleep to Dream,” a song I adore in its own right. LaVette’s band brings the funk to the arrangement of a very raw, attitude-heavy song, and this lets her own it just as well as Apple herself did (if in a much different mode). Of course, I admire LaVette’s work in general a) because she is awesome as a performer and b) because she’s made it her business to be a thoughtful interpreter of songs. As I sit here, mucking about with other people’s stuff and trying to make something musical happen, I find myself often wishing I had some of her skill.

Aaaaaaanyway, now that I’ve gotten all Debbie Downer on myself, I should say something about today’s cover offering: Fiona Apple’s ultra-sexy “Slow Like Honey.” It’s a delicious demi-jazzy piano groove, nice and slow and sultry, and I am here to tell you that fucking piano players and their fucking complicated chords are a fucking pain in the ass to cover on a non-piano instrument, I mean seriously, what the hell is a G11 for the love of all that’s holy it was not exactly easy to find a way to do it. I tried figuring out a violin/viola/bass arrangement, I tried to make it happen on the 6-string for some acoustic action, I even dinked around with a version that was only bass and drum fill, and it all just…flopped. Badly.

Then I remembered that I own an electric guitar — an electric tenor guitar, in fact — and got an idea. So I chopped down the chords a bit (a must when you’ve only got four strings to work with), cut a few out completely, edited a few changes that I just couldn’t make work, and changed it from a slow, hot piano groove to a slightly faster echoing wobbly guitar thing. I cut the percussion altogether, and added a simplified bass line to fill it all out a bit. It’s too fast, I think (I cut more than a minute off the thing!), and there are some random noises I just didn’t have time to fix (player error), but if it’s a failure, I think it’s at least an interesting failure.

I ran the bass and the guitar both directly into the Mackie, and used a simulated amp and pedals in Garage Band to get the guitar sound I wanted. The vocal, as usual, was done using a condenser mic run through the Mackie to the computer. If I’d been better at keeping my fingers pickin’ on the metronome’s pace, I probably would’ve thrown percussion in there from GB’s loop collection, but nothing I tried sounded good, so I let that idea go.

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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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