by: Thomas D. Mooney
Every day for the entire month, we’ll be asking (and publishing) 31 musicians the same question. This month, the question is: You’re playing a show in which you’re covering an album from beginning to end. What record do you choose to interpret?
Day 9 for the Month of May is Mike Sempert of Birds & Batteries.
For a complete list of other answers, find the main Month of May page here.
Birds & Batteries’ last album, Stray Light, was released in 2012. Sempert’s debut solo album Mid Dream was released this past Tuesday. Like Mike Sempert on Facebook here. Sempert will also be playing Bar PM on Thursday, June 12. Listen to “Finest Line” from Mid Dream below.
What is ultimately the reason you chose Ballad of Easy Rider?
Ballad of Easy Rider is just a great album, with a handful of very beautiful songs like “There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To,” “Oil In My Lamp” and “The Ballad of Easy Rider”. Roger McGuinn’s voice is a natural fit for my range, and it’s an album I’ve listened to a lot in the last decade. There’s probably individual songs in the world that I’d rather cover, like Roxy Music’s “More Than This” but as a complete album, that’s another story. As amazing as “Avalon” is, I’d be out of my element trying to emulate Bryan Ferry for an entire show. The Ballad of Easy Rider feels solid, like an old friend.
How many other albums did you think of before going with Easy Rider?
Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, Roy Orbison’s In Dreams, Gram Parson’s Grievous Angel.
What song do you think you’d be most intimidated by or have the most trouble covering?
“Jesus Is Just Alright” is a really cool song, but I’ve never sang about Jesus and I’m not religious so that might feel a bit insincere, but who knows. I love gospel music as well, it’s just a matter of being able to make a song my own. “Oil In My Lamp” is a traditional with religious imagery, but it’s actually pretty sexy and angsty and fun to sing.
In a way, this record is McGuinn reworking older songs. There’s some traditional, a Guthrie song, etc. Would you try and stay true to the record or really reinvent the record?
Well, it would be hard to be true to the record with out the virtuoso Clarence White and his B-bender moves. I might actually opt to play pedal steel on some songs to get those smooth bends. In general, I think we’d opt to psych it out a bit, with dirtier, spacier tones. I imagine we’d get some synths involved as well, maybe substituting synth arpeggios for the fingerpicking.
What kind of show do you think it’d be? Solo? Full band? What do you think you’d do?
I had my band in mind for this. They’d absolutely kill it.