Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
Washington, DC during the ’80s was kind of a big deal. Hardcore was blowing up, bands were making history, and the scene was growing into a community. Although many of the bands from that time were shortlived, a handful of their members stuck around to reform new groups, twisting hardcore into a new subgenre with multiple paths. There, often on the front-lines for several bands, was Ian MacKaye.
MacKaye’s name is impossible to ignore within music for two reasons: Minor Threat and Fugazi. After the prior broke up, he recruited ex-Dag Nasty drummer Colin Sears and bassist Joe Lally to form the latter. Inspired by The Stooges, they began practice in 1986 only to have Rites of Spring member Brendan Canty replace Sears after he returned to his earlier band. Fellow Rites of Spring bandmate Guy Picciotto began swinging by their practice sessions with hopes of joining. After a short while, they began inviting him to play. In no time, he was singing backup vocals and soon became a full-time member. A year later, they dropped their self-titled EP.
Fugazi employ an experimental post-hardcore sound that plays around with the usual style, nodding to everything from reggae to hip-hop. On their debut LP, 13 Songs, Fugazi combined their first two EPs to create what would become their most successful release, selling over 3 million copies world-wide. The album’s biggest single, “Waiting Room”, was a perfect example of their melding of genres. From their blunt vocals to the rush of cymbals in the chorus, Fugazi put out one of the most important singles of the late ’80s with seemingly little effort.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rubblebucket. The Brooklyn indie rock group bring an incredibly wide array of sounds into their music. Front and center comes Kalmia Traver’s dynamic vocals. She’s a bright, beaming, joyous bubble that floats above their sound, no matter how gritty or folk-based their song may get. Behind her are Alex Troth on trumpet, Adam Dotson on trombone, and Ian Hersey on guitar. The four work up a racket with invisible confetti and the volume of ten people.
The University of Vermont graduates both met during college when studying music and performing in the reggae group John Brown’s Body. In time, they began to work together to incorperate psych rock, upbeat dance, and bizarre arrangements into their work. By the time they dropped their debut album, Rose’s Dream, in 2008, they were pulling attention from mainstream outlets left and right.
Earlier this year, they uploaded a cover of “Waiting Room” to YouTube with a note from Troth. “There was a vibrant hardcore scene where i grew up in NJ in the late 90’s. Many of my friends were in bands (while I was off doing jazz), setting up DIY shows and shooting homemade movies,” he says. “Fugazi was king.” Right from the distorted opening and isolated bass riffs, it’s clear they feel a connection to the group. They take cues from St. Vincent’s style of guitar playing by letting creaks of off-kilter notes and staccato solos funnel through at various moments, turning Fugazi’s song into a weird, jazz-meets-grunge-dance song.
“Waiting Room” is one of those songs that’s so iconic, it’s hard to imagine it sounded any different. Rubblebucket are able to switch gears enough to give us a new take that’s still easy to relate to the original. Forget about the other covers by Red Hot Chili Peppers or TV On The Radio. For Rubblebucket, it’s not about being the most faithful. It’s about messing things up. Baritone saxophones sludges around near the end before another drumroll salute whips things back to the chorus. Rubblebucket are able to do the impossible: turn a Fugazi original into a creative, explosive, artsy mess that actually works well.