This blog is part 4 in an ongoing series and is the official transcript for the Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour podcast on Spotify. Listen to the episode now or go ahead and read on for the transcript below.
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Welcome back to the Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour; it’s me, Death Bus and I’m super excited today because today I get to show you my cover of “Company Calls”
This is going to be a really bold statement and if you’re a hardcore Death Cab fan there’s almost no way you’re going to agree but, I think my version of “Company Calls” is better than the original.
I know, I know, how could that possibly be true?
But it is. You’ll see.
It’s pretty rare for me to think that a band’s cover is better than an original recording. There are few expectations to this – like Death Cab’s cover of The Smith’s “This Charming Man”.
The original isn’t bad, but if you ask me Ben sings that song way better than Morrissey. Comparatively, I saw a video a couple weeks back where Alicia Keys tackled the same song and it did just absolutely nothing for me. And Alicia Keys is an incredible artist in her own right but to me that cover didn’t make any sense and I really couldn’t get into it.
You can be a really great singer and do a great cover of what’s widely accepted to be a great song and still have it fall flat.
I think it’s because you can tell when an artist is actually interested in performing a cover and if the song really speaks to them as an individual, versus someone who was just tasked with completing a cover for whatever reason.
And maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t do carbon copy covers – I’m worried you’ll be able to tell if I’m a little burnt out from forcing myself to learn it exactly as it was written.
While almost all of them start with the same chord foundation and I do tend to pull the melody from the lyrics so that the change isn’t too jarring, I really don’t get a whole lot of joy out of sitting down and rehearsing someone else’s song to make it as perfect as their original recording – and I have a hard time understanding how anyone does. But that seems to be the normal way of going about a cover for most artists.
On the one hand I totally understand wanting to stay true to the original arrangement because, obviously you really dig that song and the way it was put together, but on the other hand, who cares if you can nail that guitar solo or play that bass rhythm with the same nuance as someone else?
I guess if you’re a classically trained musician it’s something that’s more ingrained – like learning something by Bach or Mozart to a tee for a recital.
I was largely self-taught and I was never really graded on my ability to perform a piece of music so I just don’t care to do it that way.
Plus, the way I see it is, if I wanted to hear the way Death Cab For Cutie performs “Company Calls,” … I’ll just put the record on.
All of this is to say, you might be surprised how this one turned out if it’s your first time hearing it.
When I was listening through this album again one day, I knew I wanted to pump up the energy and the distortion on this one. I cranked it all out in a couple hours one afternoon. This is how it turned out.
See, it’s better right?
I love the inflection on the “so tired” vocal line in the chorus in the original recording of this song, but I wanted to pull the aggression out of the words and give it a bit more emphasis. What you end up with is my weird little half-snarl-half-growl thing that sounds like I’ve been up all night chain-smoking Belmonts.
But I quit smoking like 10 years ago.
Here’s a bit of that lead vocal line solo’d so you can hear what I mean.
[Solo’d vocal only available on the podcast!]
I end up layering about 5 of those by the end of the song, which honestly might’ve been a little over kill but it’s a lot of fun to do. There’s a video on my Instagram page from the tracking of this song if you wanna see it, I’ll link to it on the blog.
I remember hearing a story about a singer whose producer really loved the rasp that came with them smoking a few packs of cigarettes before recording so they had them do just that to get the right take.
They’re not the only artist to do it – many do and it’s for that same reason, to emphasize the rasp because they think it makes the song they’re singing sound better.
But man, what a stupid reason to keep smoking darts.
It’s kind of funny to me now because a big part, if not the biggest reason why I also quit smoking weed, was to preserve whatever’s left of my throat. I know tons of vocalists smoke weed and they’re not fussed about it doing any damage to the quality of their voice, but both weed and cigarettes really alter the tone of your voice – in my experience anyway.
If I want to give myself more of a rasp, I have two ways about it.
The first is to record a vocal first thing in the morning before any talking or warming up. I tried this out last summer with a couple Bob Dylan songs and I really liked the way they turned out.
The other way is to do what I do in Company Calls. Again, I’m largely self-taught so I really have to be careful especially when I’m doing any sort of shouting or screaming on my recordings, but after a couple takes of that chorus, my voice sounds like I’m a couple packs of Marlboro’s deep – without having to add a bunch of gunk to my lungs.
So I recommend trying out those techniques instead of keeping up your smoking habit, if that’s something you find yourself thinking about sometimes.
Anyway, this episode was supposed to be about how companies don’t provide a liveable wage to their employees and I was going to dig deep into how Amazon is one of the worst companies in the world right now for this, so let’s talk a little about that.
The only reason I’m bringing this up in this episode is because some of the lyrics in Company Calls vaguely remind me of this fact – other lyrics remind me of coke-fueled benders but I’m not sure we have time to go down that road.
Really I could take this episode any direction right now, but let’s stick with the Amazon thing.
Amazon’s a company based in Death Cab’s home base of Seattle but as you know their global reach is astronomical at this point – literally, because they got into the space thing recently in one of the world’s most blatant flippant displays of arrogance and gluttony but breaking that pathetic showboating down probably merits its own episode entirely.
At the time of writing this, Amazon head hauncho Jeff Bezos net worth is a reported 162 billion dollars – the company is allegedly valued at a trillion dollars.
I use words like allegedly here because money is man-made and a lot of this is meaningless – like inflation or gas prices.
Those figures should make your eyes pop out of your head though because they’re an unfathomably large sum, far greater than any single person should ever be able to hold to their name or business.
Meanwhile, the company continues to pay most of its employees minimum wage, but I almost can’t even complain about that when stories hit the headlines about other companies like Hyundai using child labour in their car manufcaturing plants – that happened in Alabama and the story just broke a couple weeks ago, if you care to look it up I’ll link to it in the blog.
Anyway – I remember at the top of the pandemic, Bezos bought himself some positive press by briefly upping that wage – here it’s about $15/hour, to a lofty $17/hour.
What a great guy, seemed to be the general consensus of the media who sit in his back pocket, while forgetting that those employees were still heading into work every single day into poorly ventilated warehouses at the peak of arguably the worst global pandemic our world has ever seen which was spread via an airborne virus.
And even if there wasn’t a global pandemic occurring at the same time, a survivable wage here in Toronto, Ontario today is actually $22 an hour – I don’t know what it is yet in Seattle but I can tell you that rental units go for about the same here, if not a little higher over there, so it should be comparable.
A survivable wage means ensuring a roof over your head and some food – not saving for retirement or an emergency fund, not investing, not buying the occasional frappuccino at Starbucks happy hour on your designated 30 minute break from the windowless warehouse or keeping your monthly Netflix subscription afloat which you’ve chosen over an otherwise completely unaffordable $150/month Cable plan.
God forbid you get sick or already have some sort of pre-existing health condition that requires you to pay insane premiums for medications to get yourself out the door in the morning because that’s not covered under that wage bracket either.
That low of an income also means you’re more likely to find yourself grinding out for overtime hours instead of spending time with your family or friends, developing a hobby, going for a walk or a run to help you stay in shape and feeling healthy, and you’re for sure not heading out on any vacations any time soon – who has the time or the money for that anymore?
Companies like Amazon know this and they relish in it – it helps keep their own costs low at the expense of their employees health and well-being, but they try to make it seem like they give a damn by putting up posters in the halls reminding you to try Yoga or Meditation.
I heard a startling stat recently about people in Seattle these days that said 30% of the homeless population in the city all have full time jobs, but those full-time jobs don’t pay them well enough to have a stable roof over their heads.
That’s the survivable wage I’m talking about. I bet you at least a few of those people work for Amazon just a couple miles out from its trillion-dollar Headquarters – Amazon occupies 20% of the downtown core of Seattle.
To better contextualize Jeff Bezos individual wealth for a second and why it’s so abhorrent, let’s talk about some other figures.
Right now, every year about 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and 1/5th of the world’s countries are at risk of famine. It’s estimated that 40 billion dollars a year over 10 years would solve world hunger.
That means today in the moment I’m writing this, Jeff himself could contribute something like 3 and a half years of famine relief throughout the entire world and still have something insane like 30 billion dollars left over for his yachts and spaceship trips.
Today in America, nearly 12 million children are living in poverty. That’s 1 in 6 children who are not getting their basic needs met in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It’s estimated that it would cost a cool 20 billion dollars to end homelessness in the United States today – so assuming Jeff doesn’t care about making sure people in the world are eating enough to work at Amazon, he could use a tiny fraction of his wealth and solve homelessness in his home country instead.
But he doesn’t.
Now, you might be thinking, “It’s not Jeff Bezos job to solve famine or homelessness – and what he does for a living DOES help with these things. He supplies jobs which in turn help all those people in poverty you’re talking about and helps boosts economies far outside his own reach in Seattle. He supplied goods and services for a remarkably low price so that poor people can still buy stuff they need – and they can get it right to their door the next day! He is a super genius for taking the already existing and thriving businesses of bookstores and eBay and just making them larger because he had more money and resources than anyone else at the time to do it.”
Except that the reality of Amazon’s business model is that they hurt more than they help and some of the ways they do this are one’s you probably wouldn’t even expect or imagine possible because they’re just not talked about enough and he’s got a pretty great team of publicists that he definitely pays more than $15 an hour.
For example, for every 1 new job that Amazon brings to a community, they take away 2 existing jobs.
They’ve quickly become the leader in online data storage. 70% of the world’s internet travels through Amazon’s centers in Northern Virginia. This should concern you because the more reliant we become on the internet for… literally everything we do, the more reliant we now are on trusting that Jeff Bezos, that guy that doesn’t want to do anything about famine or homelessness, has our best interests in mind.
And it’s not even like he’s just ignorant and ignoring these issues – he actually actively works to fight new laws and taxes that would correct these problems – he even took over the Washington Post so, he’s controlling the media narrative surrounding all these issues, too.
He’s a real life super villain and he has the reptilian bald head to show for it.
There’s a lot more I could get into here about why Amazon is problematic. Like the aggressive way they take over existing markets by shoveling a ton of money into something that may or may not ever actually become profitable in order to gain a monopoly on that market.
They’re like the game Risk but for marketplaces and every single day they take over another army and enter a new territory – hardware, pharmaceuticals, privacy data, clothing, media including books, movies, music.
At the rate they’re progressing, soon they won’t be able to be stopped.
None of this information is new if you spend a few minutes on google – well, until Jeff commandeers the listings on that, too, so why am I using this podcast to repeat it all to you?
When I was trying to figure out how to package my Death Cab For Cutie covers I knew I wanted to do more than just say, “hey, listen to these songs by this band I really like.”
I’ve always felt like performing and showcasing music should be about more than just the art of it; You create art because you have something you want to say, so I spent a lot of time over the last year thinking about what I wanted to say with this project.
I have plans to release all these covers when the project is closer to it’s actual completion as physical copies because despite the popularity of digital music releases and streaming, I still think there is more value in a physical pressing of any piece of art. And of course I’d love for some of those proceeds to go towards helping organizations who are actually working to combat issues like famine, homelessness, drug addiction and more.
But I also know that many of you like me don’t have a lot of disposable income.
On a personal level, I actually had to have a conversation with my manager at work the other week explaining that all of us were getting paid entirely too low both for the type of technical work we do and given the liveable wage crisis here in Toronto. Nothing has come of it yet but, I’m pushing for that change because it’s insane to me that at 32 years old I’m making less money than ever before and management makes jokes about us underlings all picking up side gigs running Uber Eats to make ends meet because despite working 40+ hours a week, I can’t afford to live in the city I work in.
But the question still remains what can we as a collective community do to combat some of these issues, and how can we do it without spending any more money because… that’s not helping.
So I have a request to make and you don’t have to accept it or put it into action but I would like for you to consider it if you’re someone who shops with Amazon, has a Prime account, streams music on Amazon Music or buys books for your Amazon Paper White Kindle.
I want you to stop doing it.
I want you to stop feeding the machine that is actively working against your needs and interests.
I want you to cancel your Prime membership, and your Amazon Music membership – there are tons of alternatives.
The only thing that matters to people like Jeff Bezos and the capitalist society that is running our governments and communities into the ground is money.
The more you give them, the easier it is for them to draft up business plans to enter new markets and the stronger they become.
You might think you’re saving a ton of money by shopping on Amazon because they’re literally breaking labour laws the world over in order to get you those savings all while overworking and underpaying their own staff. They’re the reason your local book store is closed Sunday through Tuesday and stopped doing book signings. They’re the reason your favourite mom and pop record store closed down last week. They’re one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis that is getting more and more out of hand by the minute.
There are a lot of organizations out there that are constantly asking things of you. Asking you to donate your time, your money, your emotional well being to sit through their commercials about inhumane conditions in [enter whatever country here].
I’m asking you just to stop shopping with Amazon before they take control over literally every marketplace we have because that doesn’t just become a monopoly – it becomes a dictatorship.
If you’re interested in learning a bit more about all of this, I’m going to link to a short documentary that’s free to watch on CBC Gem called The World According to Amazon, it’s only about 44 minutes.
That’s it for me today – next time I’ll jump into my cover of “Tiny Vessels” and I’ll try to keep Jeff out of the conversation. Here’s Death Cab For Cutie’s original recording of “Company Calls”: