The familiar raspy voice picks up and we exchange pleasantries on a warm Saturday as a storm rolls in on her New York apartment. Then the tables are quickly turned.
She asks me when was the last time we talked and I tell her, “we spoke about 12 years ago when you released your album ‘Smoke in the Shadows’ (2004) and you were living in Spain because you didn’t want to live in a country with George W. Bush as President.”
“Oh fuck, can you imagine how I feel now with this dictator in office…and I emphasize dick. Trump, well I should say Drumph, or Chief Cheeto or Commander in Combover, because it suits him better, is a fucking con artist who conned his way into office. But you know what’s funny about it? It shows how fucked up, how sexist, how xenophobic, how fucking racist America is. No President has done anything to change anything. Not even Obama. He lied like everyone else. He had good intentions and he tried, but he couldn’t get anything fucking done because they (GOP) always blocked his plans. People say he was the first black President, but he wasn’t. I want to see a god damn real black man as President. Someone who will go in like a thug and scare the shit out of these old white bastards because you know that’s their biggest fear, that and powerful women. Get a powerful black woman as President and holy shit, those politicians would lose their fucking minds. They are all a bunch of rich, white babies. We all pretended like everything was fucking ok for years, but it wasn’t. People would be insane to think all this racism and sexism and hatred just happened because that fucking idiot (Trump) was elected, and that is what he is…a fucking idiot.
“And you know what? I think it’s funny. Other countries know who America is, acting like the most powerful country, like we got our shit together. Fuck, we haven’t progressed in 50 years and we still think we are the cock of the walk. We just tried to look good for the media and other countries. America is still and always will be a war mongering country led by a bunch of racist bullies. Now, you want to talk about my new album?”
And so it begins…
In her illustrious independent career, nomad Lydia Lunch has a list of accomplishments so grand, it’s hard to name them all. Known primarily as the Queen of the new wave underground music scene of New York in the 1980s, Lunch has gone on to release solo albums, work with bands, collaborate with other musicians, became an actress, author, and self-empowerment speaker.
With her vehemently anti-commercial, do-it-yourself pride, the controversial artist returns with something new she hasn’t done in her career — a full covers album. Lunch teamed up with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Cypress Grove for the 11-song album ‘Under the Covers’ (Rustblade/MVD). The duo collaborated in the past including a pair of releases in 2014 – ‘A Fistful of Desert Blues’ and ‘Twin Horses.’
“We have always worked well together, Cypress was just the perfect fit for what I was looking to do with these songs.”
In a music industry where cover versions are as common as original material, it’s a safe bet there has never been a covers album as haunting or as diverse as what Lunch and Grove have here. ‘Under the Covers’ is a perplexing collection of tracks ranging from mainstream hits to obscure deep cuts and modern-day troubadours.
“These are a collection of songs that were hits, overplayed crap. The type of music that when you hear it, you just want to fucking puke. So, I thought why not cover the songs I fucking hate and own them. Have Lydia make these songs their bitch. I mean come on…we cover fucking Bon Jovi and Steely Dan. Could you think of anything that is more contradictory than what I am about? Or, as I like to say “cuntradictory.” I can’t believe I am saying that. Steely fucking Dan. Could you think of a worse band? God, I fucking hate them.”
One track, Lunch isn’t so hateful about is the album opener. A story of love, death, abortion, and suicide the perfect combination for Lunch to feed on. The track is a take on the 1967 Bobbie Gentry hit “Ode to Billie Joe.” The once Southern Gothic classic track is turned into traumatic backwoods blues jam with Mick Cozens’ harmonica summoning the ghost of Billie Joe.
“The story of this song and of Bobbie Gentry is just so weird,” Lunch said. “I picked this song because, I grew up listening to country music because of my Dad and I hated it, except for Johnny Cash because he was a bad ass. I didn’t want to cover George Jones’ whiny break up songs that my Dad listened to, so I remember “Ode to Billie Joe.” And the funny thing about this song is, it’s as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. I mean, those lyrics, that story. You don’t know what or who they were throwing over the Tallahatchie Bridge. The lyrics were so mysterious and that is what drew me in. Then they are sitting around eating dinner and it’s just spooky. You don’t know who is fucking who or who killed who or what. It was so vague and I love that.”
The duo takes on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ 1977 hit single “Breakdown” from their self-titled debut album. Grove’s layered guitar is a work of beauty and Lunch’s vocals are the most straightforward on the record and she still has the same piss and vinegar she had 40 years ago. Lunch has never shied away from sexuality and she still can turn up the heat with the best of them with the Elvis Costello slow burner “I Want You.”
“Petty is mysterious to me. I like some of his songs, mostly the hits, because truth be told, I don’t own any of his albums. But here’s this guy, who had a pretty hard upbringing from what I understand and he is able to write some of the most amazing pop songs using the least amount of words. His songs are visceral, but they are so emotional and intimate. I can’t decode that method of achieving. His songs are an extreme work of art.”
Lunch continued, “for the Costello song, it’s a fucking stalker song. Come on. He should have just called it “Stalker Song.” It makes you think of a guy taking no for an answer then showing up to the girls front door with a fucking butcher knife in his hand ready to plunge it into her chest. But it’s poppy, so people eat it up. Not me. I don’t have the patience for pop music, I’d rather punch people in the face with my music and say ‘here it is motherfucker.’”
Lunch slows the tempo turning Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “A Thousand Miles of Bad Road” into spoken word poetry backed by Grove’s guitar. In a shocking choice, the duo pick Jon Bon Jovi’s hit single “Blaze of Glory” from the major motion picture “Young Guns II.” Again, the musicianship of Grove on his slide guitar and Cozens on his harmonica are aces. Lunch takes Bon Jovi’s lyrics and turns them into a dirty cowboy poem.
“I am a fucking truck driver named Lou son, not a cowboy. I’ve been known to kick up a shit storm once and a while. I might fuck like a cowboy, but we aren’t going to go there.”
Lunch starts singing, “I never drew first, but I drew first blood.” I mean come on, that’s a pretty good lyric, but is he talking about being a cowboy or is he talking about fucking a virgin here. I guess Bon Jovi does have to prove his manhood somehow. I am probably taller than him, so someone has to own this song and make it real. Might as well be me. Maybe he will hear it and play my version instead of his shitty version then I can get rich and move next door to him in New Jersey. We could be neighbors, someone has to own that bitch.”
The album pays tribute to Gregg Allman on the Allman Brothers cover “Midnight Rider.” Although Lunch’s vocals are far from smooth, Suzie Stapleton’s backing vocals are a beautiful addition. She also contributes vocals to “Breakdown,” “Red, White And Pink Slip Blues,” and “Low.”
“Let me say the Gregg Allman solo version of “Midnight Rider” is better than the Allman Brothers’ version, so I’d like to think we are covering his version here. But yeah, Suzie is a great balance to this song and all the fucking songs she sings on. We needed some more of that vaginal power on this record and I knew Suzie was the perfect girl to bring that. Also, it seems like every time we cover someone else’s music they seem to die, so I hope I didn’t put some sort of curse on anyone else on this album.”
“Low” is just a ’90s drug song, let’s be honest here ok. It’s Cracker’s only top 40 hit and it’s about drugs. At least that’s the way I see it. No one realizes that because it’s another catchy pop song people loved. Plus, I cover a lot of decades on this album, so it was a good song to represent the ’90s.
“But, Steely fucking Dan. Here we go,” Lunch continued. “ This band is just horrible, have I made that clear? Someone had to make this song cool and I felt it was up to me. I played this song to my friends and they thought it was an original until they got to the chorus and recognized that part. That made me feel good. I like the song now that we added some balls to it and made it good. Someone had to do it and we all know Steely Dan doesn’t have the balls to do it, I mean Jesus fucking Christ.”
Even Lunch herself isn’t off limits as an artist, in a bold move covers her own song “Won’t Leave You Alone.” The song was co-written with Lunch and Big Sexy Noise band mate James Johnston. The song is a duet with Grove and features a lonely acoustic guitar and Cozens’ harmonica.
“Well holy shit. I’ve done 350 songs in my career and this song has never been officially released. So that is how that made the record. I’ve been around a long fucking time you know. I’ve written a lot of songs in 40 years, I am surprised I am even still alive, let along making records.”
Not only is Lunch alive and kicking, she is making prolific records even with the minimalist of tools. With only four people credited on ‘Under the Covers,’ the album is so rich and full that it takes several spins to fully grasp the excellent musicianship and singing. Lunch and Grove have been known as long-time collaborators on other people’s albums, but here, they own these cover songs making them sound like nobody else could.
“I will let you in on a little secret. We made the majority of this album on Pro Tools using one microphone. I used a different mic at Cypress’ house, but for the most part it was me and a mic with Cyress and a guitar at home.
“And I want this note to be made. I kept the sex all the same. I don’t change the gender in any of the song lyrics like most female singers do when singing someone else’s songs. So, who I am talking about here? Is it the man or the woman’s point of view, I hope that keeps people guessing or see a different side to the song if they read into it. But if they take anything away from this fucking record, we wanted to make these songs feel like you want to listen to them while taking a road trip. We wanted it to make you feel because most of these songs are poppy bullshit and we wanted to breathe new life into them. I wanted it to be vivid I want it to grab you so you think of these songs in a different light I want to own these fucking songs so that people think of Lydia Lunch. Is that too much to fucking ask?