Hot off the heels of a full-album tribute to one of her longtime favorites, Nada Surf, Lindsay Murray has released a new single that is not a Nada Surf track. In fact, it might not be a cover of a track you’ve heard of before.
Released initially on the venerable Slash Records label, once the home of Los Lobos, Violent Femmes, and Faith No More, Failure put out the record Fantastic Planet in the mid 1990s. The sound of that album is still a benchmark today for producers and audio engineers. The track, “Stuck on You,” is Gretchen’s Wheel’s latest entry…but from the outside it would seem like an odd fit.
Never fear – after a single listen, it all makes perfect sense.
MusicTAP caught up with Lindsay Murray to discuss the recording, the process of choosing songs to cover, and the responsibilities an artist assumes when doing so.
People may be surprised by the choice of “Stuck on You” following your tribute collection of songs by Nada Surf. What brought you to the decision to cover this song by Failure?
My original plan for 2019 was to release the Nada Surf tribute early in the year and then put out some new original music toward the end of the year. I started to realize around July/August that was a little too ambitious a goal… I needed to spend more time writing, and I wasn’t going to be happy if I released a short EP just to meet a self-imposed deadline. But I was anxious to get back to recording even if my new material wasn’t ready yet. So one day I was listening to Failure’s album Fantastic Planet, which has made me feel inspired since I first heard the album in 1996, and I thought, wouldn’t it be a fun challenge to try one of these? I wasn’t too crazy about following up a covers album with another cover, but once I got the idea I just went full steam ahead until it was done. As for song choice, it was tough since I love them all…I first settled on “Blank” and then switched to “Stuck On You” after I found a video interview with Ken Andrews demonstrating how to play the song. The reassurance that I wasn’t going to get the chords wrong was all I needed to push me in that direction, ha ha.
How did you bring together Louie Lino and Peter McDade to record with you?
I knew of Louie because of my interest in Nada Surf, and if you know much about me, you know “interest” is a bit of an understatement. He’s worked with them for many years, recording and touring, and when the Let Go 15th anniversary tour came to Nashville I got to meet him. He was incredibly nice and kindly signed my Let Go LP, and then later when I did the tribute album he was really supportive of that. So I’d had in mind for a while that I’d like to work on something with him if I ever had the opportunity. Not only did he mix the song, he also played some keyboards, which made me very happy too!
My friend Keith Klingensmith highly recommended Peter McDade when I mentioned to him I needed a drummer for this song. I was aware that he’d played for a number of mutual friends but at the time didn’t realize he was also in Uncle Green / 3 Lb Thrill, plus he’d played on Paul Melançon’s brilliant album Camera Obscura, which in my mind is about as good as it gets. So I had no doubt he was going to be great, and of course I was totally thrilled with what he did, and working with him was a total pleasure.
Like all my recordings, it was a long-distance/asynchronous/file-sharing collaboration, so we were “together” only in a virtual sense, but such is the life of a home studio hermit!
The song is clever – equating a love relationship to a song that gets stuck in one’s head, and even though the individual wants to shake it off, they can’t. I think that was one of the most engaging things about the track when it came out in the mid ’90s, and very different from a lot of what was big at that time. What are your memories of the original that initially struck you?
I’m not sure what led me to the album back in the day… probably I read a good review, since that’s how I discovered most things back then. I never heard the song outside the context of the album, so I had no idea it was a single, whether there was any radio airplay or a video, etc. And Fantastic Planet is one of those albums that really needs to be listened to from beginning to end with all the segues, like watching a movie (appropriate, considering so many aspects of the album were inspired by a movie, La Planète Sauvage). So my earliest memory of it was just being blown away by the album as a whole… I’m sure it took me a long time to even pay attention to lyrics at all (typical for me!). Much later on I found out that drug addiction had been a problem in the band, and there were many references to that in the album’s lyrics. Whether or not that has anything to do with this particular song is up for debate, I guess!
Another thing that appealed to the band’s fans was their strong production, especially on Fantastic Planet, the album from which “Stuck on You” originally came. Clearly you weren’t intimidated by that, but did you set some goals on the production side you felt had to be hit in order to do it justice?
Oh, I absolutely was intimidated by that! I’ve always felt that their sound was a kind of benchmark for me, that if I could ever make something that sounded “like” Failure I would’ve finally cracked the code. It’s strange, one thing that makes Failure different among the bands I dearly love is that they’ve always felt distant and otherworldly to me, like I could admire them from afar but never get close. I’d tried and failed (ha ha) in the past to write slow tempo songs that still sounded massive, heavy, mysterious, eerie, cinematic…maybe it will always remain an unattainable goal, but in the meantime, hopefully this cover has some of those qualities!
When you choose to record a cover song, what drives your choices and decision making?
Most of the time it starts with being a huge fan of the original artist in general, rather than a desire to cover a particular song. Spending time living inside one of their songs is a good outlet for all that “fan energy” plus it’s great practice in the studio. I certainly gravitate towards songs that feel like something I might have written or wish I could write. Then there are the practical factors – can I manage to play all the parts and sing it, not necessarily exactly like the original but without diminishing the song in some way?
Is there a markedly different approach to doing a cover song than there is when it is your own composition? I’d imagine there’s an added pressure to make it worth your effort and to be complimentary to the original artist(s)…at the same time, these could be songs you’ve lived with a long time and might know instinctively.
That’s very true, and that pressure is pretty intense if there’s a chance the original artist might hear the cover (!). I covered “Walk Out” by Matthew Sweet a few years ago, which was one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar when I was 14…so even though I still had that same old “am I worthy“ fear, I kinda felt like it would be hard to find a more perfect fit. Regarding the difference between recording covers and my own music: with covers I don’t have to worry about the song itself, it already exists and my trust in it gives me some confidence. With my own music, I’m going to be terribly concerned about whether the song is any good, in addition to everything else, ha ha.
Where can listeners find “Stuck on You”?
It’s available as a free/name your price download on Bandcamp and all the usual steaming platforms. Right now I’m only planning on making it available digitally.
What’s coming up next for you – new original music? Another artist/band you’d like to tackle?
I’m going to keep plugging away at writing for a while, though I’d like to venture into recording a couple of the new songs pretty soon. If I spend too much time away from recording, I start developing an irrational fear that I’ll forget how to do it! I would really like to finish and release a full-length in 2020 if possible. There is an XTC tribute album on the way soon from Futureman Records, and I’ll have a track on it (the album is going to be amazing, keep an eye out). Another amazing album is coming soon from Chris Church, and I was thrilled and honored to get to sing some backing vocals. That’s probably all I can talk about for now!
To find out more about the entire Gretchen’s Wheel discography, visit: https://gretchenswheel.bandcamp.com/music
Special thanks to Lindsay Murray for speaking with MusicTAP on short notice.