Are we a Cover Band?

One of my band mates in Federator N*1 recently asked me “are we a cover band?”, which I thought was a very interesting question. That immediatly spun me into tons more questions. To whit:

What is a cover band? Were the big bands of the 1930s-60s cover bands? Would they ever describe themselves as such? Does simply playing repetoire that was originally written by other people qualify a band as a cover band? Do artists who play songs written for them qualify as cover bands?

After a while, I reframed the question as something that I wanted to answer (old politician’s trick), which was “What kind of band are we?”

To which, I had the answer!

We are a dance band. That’s our primary goal. We are a political band. That’s our secondary goal. And we are a band where the priority on internal experience is one of brotherhood and enjoyment (which one may argue is tied to the second part – enjoying one’s activities certainly can be seen as a political act*).

As a dance band, our goal is to get people on the dance floor, keep them there, and engage them with love, light, joy, and awesome music. If that music is written by a band member – fantastic. If the music is written by someone else, great. If we’re playing a tune in a similar vein as someone else – great. If we bring our own spin to the tune – that’s to be expected.  So we play a variety of tunes to make that happen. Some tunes have hooks or whole sections that are familiar to people and known to get them moving. Other tunes have rhythms and melodies that we’re pretty sure will get people moving.

The second part of my thoughts had to do with remix culture. In a world in which new things are often not new – but rather new creations based on old material. Mixed with other old material. Mixed with new ideas. So DJs now get to do some really innovate stuff putting disparate ideas together into one coherent whole. Why can’t bands do the same? And if they do, are they a cover band? I have no interest in putting together a band that does only “faithful” interpretations of other songs. I have lots of interest in creating our own versions of awesome songs written by people outside of the band. Shoot, if we could afrobeat Drake of Kelly Clarkson, I’d be totally stoked. And what happens if we did a modern afrobeat cover of an Adele song? What does that mean? We’re covering a young white british woman’s faithful interpretation of a style created in the 1970s by black american artists, and our cover is done in a style created in the 1970’s by black african artists…

This bandmate, he had other questions too, which are very interesting:

if it is a cover band, what are purpose are we serving for whom?
for me a cover band is best suited for fun local gigs ideally a weekly gig would be the best or a money gig ie function gigs.
the incentive for the musicians in a cover gig has to be clear.
i don’t feel tremendously concerned about following and building an audience.
i feel a little bit more interested in the the vibe of the band itself.
the hang is really fun.
the song choices are interesting.

I’ll be coming back to these questions in other posts, and in other thoughts. For the moment though, I’m happy I could answer 1 question – “What kind of band are we?”

*I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t work with people I didn’t enjoy as people. That holds true in the music/art side of things as it does in the business world. Is that a political decision? A political act?

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