What’s the point of a cover? Milwaukee Record co-founder and editor Tyler Maas admits that usually he’d say that’s a damn fine question, describing the majority of covers as "the most base, unnecessary thing to do" in the world of music.
He seems to have helped create an answer, however, in the form of Local Coverage, a night of Milwaukee bands covering their fellow Milwaukee bands, showing what they can do while also paying earnest tribute to one another. The event hits the Turner Hall Ballroom stage on Friday at 7 p.m.
"At this level, it’s a nod, paying homage or tipping your cap to one of your counterparts," Maas explained. "And maybe you guys will never organically be on the same stage, because one of you is in a hardcore band and one of you is in a pop band or you’re a rapper. But it’s a way to acknowledge that, even though we have no similarities, we still respect each other and see value in what you do – including in a way that maybe you didn’t."
That sense of unity was what drove Maas to put together the first Local Coverage show in 2015. At that time, according to Maas, there was discussion about a supposed rift between the local music scenes in Bay View and Riverwest. But instead of hosting some kind of stale meeting about the issue, he thought it’d be more productive – not to mention more entertaining – to put together a show of different local groups across all sorts of genres, intertwining and using one another’s music as a creative spring board.
Thus, Local Coverage was born, good local music in the name of a great local cause – not just bringing together Milwaukee’s talented music scene, but raising money for charity (in this year’s case, all the ticket proceeds will be split between Girls Rock Milwaukee and COA Youth & Family Centers).
For this, its third year, Maas has strung together yet another impressive web of performers and genres. For instance, during the draft for this upcoming show (like a fantasy football draft, but with real bands instead of fake teams) the Americana blues folk band Devil Met Contention selected rapper Vincent VanGREAT to cover – an unlikely collision of styles the group happily embraced since the beginning.
"When it was our turn, we had Vincent VanGREAT or Buffalo Gospel – and we really like Buffalo Gospel and respect them, but our guitarist is a big fan of hip-hop and funk," said Ehson Rad of Devil Met Contention, "so I asked him, ‘You think we can do this?’ and he said, ‘Let’s do it!’"
From there, the band dove into VanGREAT’s work, listening to the songs, deconstructing them and making them their own – an approach and experience that Rad has a particular affection for. After all, it was a song cover – Cat Power’s "Ramblin’ (Wo)man," based on Hank Williams’ "Ramblin’ Man" – that helped make him want to start a band in the first place, and the current process reminded him a lot of his days studying songwriting at UWM, breaking down classmates' songs and learning what makes them tick.
"The most interesting, complicated reforming was his song ‘Radical,’ because it’s the one we thought would be simplest," Rad said. "It’s almost like he just has a beat and a vocal – and the song is like a minute and 30 seconds long – but we wanted to present three fully formed recrafted songs, so we ended up doing the most work to that one. We had the beat; now we have bass and guitar and slide guitar and a maraca and me singing, and it’s almost three minutes long now. We tried to enhance it through the DMC filter."
While they apply their particular genre filter to VanGREAT’s songs, it’ll be psychedelic soul singer Abby Jeanne’s task to add her own to Devil Met Contention’s work (as well as sing backup for her own VanGREAT-reimagined tunes, by the rapper’s request).
"It helps to be challenged in musical situations," she noted. "It’s re-sparked something – even in the band. It’s just really inspirational, because you’re taking someone else’s music and then turning it into something different. I realized working on these songs that I almost like the versions we created so much that I want to take those versions and write my own songs. I was like, ‘These are the songs that I’ve been trying to write – and they’re not even my songs!’"
Abby Jeanne will perform three Devil Met Contention covers Friday night, "Thunder and Lightning" and two others she’s keeping a secret for the night of. But while she’s staying mum on their names, she did note that she wanted to pick three songs that sounded completely different from one another, even amongst other DMC songs.
"We definitely tip our hat to their songs at certain points, but other than our little acknowledgement, it’s totally different … You didn’t realize that covering someone else’s songs and trying to make them different would create so much creation. You’d think it would be, ‘Oh, we’re covering a song,’ but it’s actually the opposite."
"It’s just so fun and ridiculous – and I think that’s great," said Nick Perow of indie rockers Midwest Death Rattle, which selected the funk hip-hop group D’Amato and songs including "White Guilt Sexy" and "BPA Free" as their covers of choice. "We took it as a chance to step out from our normal roles. There’s a lot of vocal sharing and instrument sharing. We’re just playing with it. I hope everybody has as much fun as we’re having working on these songs."
Even though Perow couldn’t stop describing their experience listening, exploring and reformatting D’Amato’s tunes as fun and "madness," he also sees the serious potential for Milwaukee, and its brimming music world, in Local Coverage.
"It kind of unites the scene," he noted. "It opens up a lot of very interesting dialogues between different types of musicians and different communities. If there’s one thing missing from the local scene, it’s been a center – and this weirdly feels like a center. There’s so much possibility and opportunity for just goofiness."
There’s plenty to be excited about – even amongst the musicians themselves. Many of them noted that they’re intrigued to hear what aggressive indie rockers Midnight Reruns does with Marielle Allschwang’s soft, floating, singer-songwriter folk tunes – and then what she’ll do with Lorde Fredd33’s particular brand of rap. And then, of course, there’s the thrill over what will happen to their own songs and sounds – a mystery to almost all of them, including the guy who’s putting it all together.
"I really intend to not ask what they’re going to be doing, what songs," Maas said. "And even the songs that they pick, they’re not the ones that I would pick necessarily – and I leave with a new appreciation of that song as a whole. Because if this band saw value in what I see as a deeper-in-the-album sort of song, then maybe I should revisit it. And then I do and I find a new importance or significance in it."
And as thrilling as the on-stage performances are sure to be, the reactions off-stage are just as much of a treat for Maas.
"There are people who are laughing or they’re freaking out or they’re loving it or they’re brought to tears in some instances. It’s a strange, special thing you can only see once."
Values you wouldn’t likely expect from a cover.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.