From left: Mitchell Cardoza, Michael Cangemi (sideways), Colin Mohr, John Cattini
Photo by Claire Roche
At 10pm on a Thursday in Valencia, Spain, I buy myself a Pepsi at Bocalinda, a restaurant in the building I live in and that half of the rock reggae band Bron Don has agreed to meet me at. As I sit down and set my change on the high top table, Bron Don bassist Michael “Wolfgang” Cangemi picks up my coins and starts placing them into a circle formation, trying to balance each on its side. The recording of the conversation I took to ensure proper quotations is peppered with the clinks of euros tipping over.
We’ve sat down to discuss cover songs and, in true Bron Don fashion, a myriad of other topics come up—many of which had to be omitted from this article since this is a school-run blog. (Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for the uncensored version. Just kidding. Maybe.)
I ask my first question: “What is your favorite cover song to play as a band? You can answer individually.” With that in mind, Mitchell Cardoza—lead singer and guitarist—dramatically leans over to Mike, covering his mouth from my view and whispering to Mike about what their answer should be. “No, you’re convening? Okay,” I say. I once again remind them they can have different answers just as they come out of their huddle, pleased looks on their faces. “Do you both agree on one?” They answer confidentially, half a second after each other, “’Fire’ by Jimi Hendrix.”
The first time they played “Fire” was during the Valencian holiday of Fallas, which celebrates Saint Joseph by setting fire to giant, elaborate sculptures all throughout the city. They had wanted to add the cover to their set for a while, and decided a festival of fire was the perfect time to do so. Mitch remembers the show vividly. “At the end of the song, like, the peak of the song, I [accidently] kicked my chord out of my pedal, so it just made a ‘zzzzzzzzz’ sound and I was like ‘What the fuck?’ but it was kind of in the key, so it was all good.”
The coins Mike was placing all crash down as someone knocks into the table. Mitch and I start cracking up as Mike throws his hands up in the air, defeated, before he beings to laugh as well. They have a contagious energy about them, so I quickly try to bring focus back to the interview before any of us can get too distracted. “So, ‘Fire’ is your favorite?” Of course, their minds have changed now. Mike is a fan of their cover of Bob Marley’s “Zimbabwe”, as well as Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” which Mike says is the first cover they learned as band.
You guys just released a cover on your Facebook and SoundCloud, right?
*Author’s note: The cover is a mash-up of “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley & the Wailers, and “Welcome to Jamrock” by Damian Marley. Bron Don titled their live cover of the mash-up “Get Up Jamrock”.
Mike: Yes, we did.
Mitch: [It was of] “Zimbabwe”. No!
Mike: “Zimbabwe” and “Get Up, Stand Up”.
Mitch: No, nope. It was “Get Up, Stand Up” and—
Mike: “Welcome to Jamrock”.
Mitch: That’s by Damian Marley. Bob’s little son. *Laughs*
Mike: Or the rap medley. The rap medley is always cool. Yeah, I kind of like the rap medley one.
What’s it a medley of?
Mitch: So, since I was a little baby boy I’ve made this rap medley of all the best—all my favorite—like, rally songs.
Mike: 90’s rap songs.
Mitch: 90’s rap. Like, Biggie, Tupac, “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg, and I just put it all on I-vi-ii-V.
*Author’s note: I-vi-ii-V is a chord progression commonly used in jazz music.
Mike: Look at that! Cardoza is learning chords!
Mitch: Little jazzy, a little doo-wop, and then I just go off.
Mike: It’s literally just verse after verse and then chorus. He just hits you with the classics.
What’s a cover song you love done by another artist?
Mike: “Mama, You Been on my Mind”. Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Bob Dylan song.
Mitch: “Higher Ground” by the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. Well, by Stevie Wonder [originally].
What cover song has garnered the most positive response from a live audience?
Mitch: “Waiting in Vain”.
Mike: Any Bob Marley song, but yeah, “Waiting in Vain”—
Mitch: Mostly “Waiting in Vain”.
Mitch: We’re so tight with [“Zimbabwe”]. We’ve been playing it for like a year and a half. We’ve played it ever since we were a band pretty much.
Mike: We played it at our first show, I think.
Any plans to add new covers to your live set?
Mitch: “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix.
Mike: Covers are cool. We’re always kind of looking for new shit to spice up the set.
Mitch: The hardest thing about covers is that we like songs that not everybody likes.
When you choose cover songs to play, do you keep that in mind? Do you try to introduce your audience to new music or are you looking for a song that will get everyone singing along?
Mitch: We kinda play covers just to like—sometimes, just [for ourselves]. Not in like, a self-centered way! We just like playing songs. Like “Fire”, I wouldn’t expect all the girls to like “Fire”, but they do because we’re passionate about it.
Do you think the somewhat heightened value of cover songs in the Internet age is a good thing or a bad thing? What do you think about artists like Justin Bieber and Karmin getting discovered through YouTube?
Mike: Well, in the case of Justin Bieber, that sucks.
Mitch: He’s hated more than Kim Jong Un.
Mike: Just because you can do a good cover of a song doesn’t mean you’re a good musician.
Mitch: Yeah, because they get a [record] deal and then they can’t write their own songs. So, personally, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s easier, I think, to get discovered on YouTube doing only cover songs. This happens all the time: I’ll look up some song, and it’s like five cover songs and then it’s the song. And there are people who just chill on YouTube all day just watching those things, I guess. Somebody has to watch ‘em. It’s good to get exposure by posting songs people already know. If it’s a killing cover they’re like “Oh, I’ll check out their original stuff.” But they usually don’t have any original stuff.
Mike: It’s usually like, “Oh, check out all my other twelve covers of Taylor Swift.”
I’m out of questions, so the conversation drifts to television. Mitch is a fan of 1990’s cartoons, while Mike opts for more recent hits, such as Game of Thrones and The Americans. However, they both agree that SpongeBob is the holy grail of TV. They also agree that the 2001 film Shrek was nothing short of masterpiece. Seeing this as my opportunity to organically guide the interview away from topics such as the inappropriateness of the late 90’s children’s cartoon Johnny Bravo and back to music, I ask what their favorite song from the Shrek soundtrack is. Mitch gasps excitedly at the question, while Mike immediately responds with “Hallelujah”.
Mitch: I never liked Hallelujah in the movie. I like it now.
*Author’s note: John Cale’s version was used in the film, while Rufus Wainwright’s cover was used on the official soundtrack.
Mike: Jeff Buckley’s [cover] is the best—even better than the original. Anyway, I don’t know my favorite song from Shrek. There’s so many. “My Beloved Monster”…I like that song because it’s a happy part of the movie.
Mitch: What are you talking about, dude? “I’m a Believer”. That’s my favorite song.
Mitch: And “Accidentally in Love”.
*Author’s note: “Accidentally in Love” was in Shrek 2.
Mike: In context with the movie, [“I’m a Believer”] is probably my favorite song. But if I listened to all the songs separately, it’d be “Hallelujah”.
Anything else you want to say about cover songs to wrap up the interview?
Mike: I like cover songs that are original.
Mitch: Me too. [I like] covers that can express your originality. I don’t like it when you just play it note for note. Like, vibe for vibe.
Mike: Or literally transcribe every part and not play it as your own.
Mitch: That ain’t no fun.
Mike: The whole fun part of doing cover songs is taking a song you really like and making it your own.
Mitch: Unless you’re playing a Bob Marley song, ‘cause then it’s just fun to play.
Mike: But we kind of make it our own, because we aren’t Jamaican.
Any final words to the readers?
Mike: We’re just decent dudes.
Mitch: Yeah, decent dudes.