The latest release from Mattie Safer’s “lonelyhearts disco” project is a cover of Anita Baker’s 1986 love song
For a music fan, the experience of listening to a cover is different from the act of embarking on a sonic adventure in totally new territory — of soaking up a set of notes and lyrics one has just discovered via radio, stage or Spotify for the very first time. With a cover, the listener isn’t coming in fresh. They know, on some level, what they’re in for.
Now, that’s not to say that a musician should approach any project with the (impossible) goal of pleasing their audience, but from a reception perspective, it does put the cover-er in an interesting spot.
On the exposure front, a listener’s familiarity with and fondness for a song might work in favor of the artist; I grew up with my dad blasting Carly Simon on Saturday mornings, so I’m always down to give a “You’re So Vain” a shot. But the music-creator/music-consumer relationship is also complicated by the existing experiences and emotions the listener has tied to the original, all of which naturally establish an expectation and set a standard. We each form our own relationships with certain artists and associations with their albums. Songs are the soundtracks to our stories; music is so often wrapped up in our memories.
Thus is the natural nature of the cover: the bar has already been set; the original elephant will always be in the room; and as a musician, you’re basically in bed doing the same moves as your girlfriend’s ex (you’re just using your own instrument). As fans, we know we shouldn’t compare apples and oranges… but, well, it’s kind of human nature for a Tropicana lover to question the quality of an apple’s orange juice.
This is why it’s best for an artist to approach a cover with personal style and strive to make their own mark on the work. To not be afraid to reimagine “Rhiannon” in reggae or to cover “Sweet Caroline” with a personal polka twist. As I’ve written before, at its best, a cover is not about impersonation but interpretation; not replication but reinvention. If you love something, why not get a little weird with it?
That brings me to today’s premiere, which is—you guessed it!—a cover. And one done well. With their take on “Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year),” Mattie Safer (under his newest project, lovetempo) and his friend and collaborator Prince Terrence (also: Rare Form) have taken care to transform Anita Baker’s 1986 R&B classic and make it their own. The result is a sexy, slower, disco-style (significantly less eighties-feeling) spin on the original love song that would surely have the artist grooving in her grave if she wasn’t still very much alive.
(We can at least hope she’s got Google Alerts in place, because I do have a feeling she’d be quite flattered.) (Though how artists interpret covers of their own work is a whollllle ‘nother conversation.)
“Same Ole Love (365 Days)” appeared on Anita Baker’s 1986 album Rapture, so one has to wonder if Mattie’s history as a member of The Rapture, a band that played a prominent role in NYC’s Meet Me in the Bathroom era, might have somehow contributed to his decision to cover the song. Whether it was an active choice, unconscious association or by sheer coincidence.
When I texted Mattie asking him why he opted to take on this track, his initial response was “for the fuck of it” (which, for the record, is the only reason one really needs to do anything—especially art). And while I was totally content to to roll with that explanation, he soon followed up, elaborating over email with a little more info on what actually inspired this particular endeavor.
“I love Anita Baker. When I was a kid I thought her voice was so cool and unique (still do), and whenever ‘Sweet Love’ would come on the radio I would close my eyes and sing along. Earlier this year, I was messing around in the studio and accidentally found myself playing the chords for ‘Same Ole Love’ but with a different groove. I haven’t done a lot of cover songs in my career because I think to make them interesting you have to find a new way into the song, and here I had accidentally stumbled into one, so I just started working it out. I knew that Terrence had a similar love for Anita and more broadly this era of music, and he has such an amazing falsetto that I thought would be a perfect fit. So I reached out and he said yes! He’s a long-time friend but I don’t see him in-person as often as I’d like, so it was a real pleasure to work on this one together.”
Prince Terrence also chimed in, sharing his own personal connection to the song.
“I grew up listening to this song as my mom would play it around the house singing along. It grew on me and followed me into adulthood and I developed a new appreciation for the song and its message. It was nice to be able to reinterpret it in my own way.”
Which is, I would say, the ultimate way for an artist to show appreciation and properly pay homage.
In sum, these are two talented artists who are also two good apples. And I’d gladly drink another glass of their orange juice.
Don’t miss lovetempo’s next gig, opening for Alanna Royale at The Sultan Room on November 9. Grab your tickets here.
Feature image (provided by the artist): Paris Genesis