“I can’t imagine that anything will replace live music in any permanent way.”
Sometimes, collaborations seem like they are meant to be.
That’s one way to describe the partnership between Newport alternative rock legend Tanya Donelly and the Wellfleet folk family The Parkington Sisters, whose combined self-titled covers album drops via American Laundromat Records on Aug 14.
To ring in the release, they’re having two listening parties on the same day (due to the absence of live music opportunities during COVID-19). I spoke with Donelly ahead of those virtual sessions about how she linked with the sisters, what people can expect from the project, live music during the pandemic, and more.
How did you get together with The Parkington Sisters?
I’ve known them for a few years now. I met Nora [Parkington] first through Hot Stove Cool Music and then I became a fan of their band and their family. Joe Spadaro from American Laundromat Records asked me if I was interested in doing a dedicated covers album and they almost immediately came to mind. I really felt like they would bring their sound, their vibe, and their magic. I honestly wanted to make a Parkington Sisters album, which is a big reason why I wanted to play with them, to pull a bunch of songs together and make a cohesive project.
The track listing includes a wide range of songs between classic rock, new wave, pop, and singer-songwriter styles. There are renditions of “Automatic” by the Go-Go’s, Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum” that are included among others. Who spearheaded the selection process?
When I was talking about it with Joe early on, I didn’t know how I would even begin to come up with only a handful of songs that I love. There are so many bands, so many musicians, and so many songwriters that have really impacted me deeply. He kind of went off the cuff and let me deliberate over a couple of weeks on which songs would regularly come to mind. Eight of the nine songs on the album come from that inspiration, just paying attention to which songs come in regular rotation for me in my head and in my heart. “Kid” originally done by the Pretenders is actually from my recommendation from my friend Laura, who is a close friend of mine and Bill Janovitz’s wife, who is also a dear friend.
Musically, the album has this orchestral mix of baroque pop and folk with string instruments having a big presence. It’s a bit of a departure from the alternative rock style fans associate you with from being a part of Belly, Throwing Muses, and the Breeders.
I definitely wanted to do an album with The Parkington Sisters, which inspired the project, but I also didn’t want to do it as if it was directly ripping off the originals. I say that with no disrespect to how other musicians handle cover songs, but I didn’t want to take them to a place where it was just me and my guitar or just do pure stripped-down folk. I wanted to do something that was taking all nine songs into a different room, but a room where they could all live in together. It’s a weird analogy.
What can people expect from these listening parties, and what are your thoughts on virtual events?
We live in a purely hypothetical world, so any forecasting I have is based on feelings. I think there’s going to be some hybridized version of what we’re living now and what we lived in before. I’m very, very hopeful that the clubs will begin to open up again next year and things will revert to some modified form. In some ways, the fact that musicians, myself included, have been self-educating at home as far as recording and streaming goes will continue.
At the same time, I genuinely come from a place where I can’t imagine that anything will replace live music in any permanent way. I’m looking forward to when we can all safely gather in a room together again. To think this will extend into the far future is something that I can’t really emotionally handle right now.
I hear ya.
As far as everything else, I think things like a listening party through Newbury Comics’ social media outlets will continue. Those are really exciting, aside from the reason why they’re exciting now. I love what ONCE has been doing; the whole team there is just nailing it in such a cool way. They’ve taken this moment to as closely approximate what it means to be together as anyone is doing right now.
For this listening party, we’re not playing because we’re all apart and we don’t want to fake this and further complicate things by trying to get us all in the same place. We’ll be having a chat with JJ Gonson, who runs ONCE, about the album and how it all came about through the Virtual Venue channel. Then we’ll play each song in between talks; we’ve been brainstorming on what the visuals will be while the songs are playing, so that’s the main challenge there. I don’t know, what do you think? I feel like you’re accustomed to live music maybe more so than I am.
I’ve been covering [virtual events] in various capacities ever since the pandemic shut everything down. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it, and for a lot of independent acts who are beginning to tour and cut their teeth on the road, they figure that if a show falls through, because that always happens, instead of just not playing they can set up somewhere and do a livestream where people can donate to their PayPal or Venmo account. It’s all different strokes for different folks …
I think there will be, once things open up again, more streaming than there was before as everybody learns the platforms and the tools to do that. Ninety percent of musicians really love to tour, and we prefer to be in a room with people.
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Say somebody might even be fans of some of the musicians and bands you and The Parkington Sisters covered, but they’re not really familiar with your career. What would you recommend to be a proper introduction?
That’s a weird one because I guess I would say that all you’re hearing from me on this particular project, even though we all did the production and arrangements together, is my voice. I chose not to play guitar on this because I wanted it to be, again, a Parkington Sisters album. Unlike all of my other material, I’m “just singing,” even though it’s a phrase that annoys me because there’s no such thing as that. On the album, all you’ll be hearing from me is my voice and not my guitar. It’s completely different than anything that I’ve done before. Usually, you’re hearing two voices out of me with my singing and my guitar, but this time you’ll be hearing my actual voice.