Bron Don talks Cartoons, Chords, and Cover Songs

Bron Don From left: Mitchell Cardoza, Michael Cangemi (sideways), Colin Mohr, John Cattini

Bron Don
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”.
Mitch: Si.
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”.
Mike: “Zimbabwe”.
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.
Mike: Yeah.
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.

Music Industry today…and tomorrow. Part 1. The view of a growing band´s manager.

In what will be a series of interviews, I will try and get the views of different key players within the industry (mainly in Spain) on where the industry stands now, where it is headed, and how recession has affected their operations.

Today: Part 1. The view of a growing band´s manager. The Dirt Tracks.

The Dirt Tracks

David Giménez and Lorena Von Koschitzky are managers of the The Dirt Tracks, a growing band from Valencia, Spain that is quickly getting both national and international recognition.

Inspired by the ambition of the British indie scene, Coma, Masid, Karl, Miquel, and Rafa, present themselves as The Dirt Tracks. They recorded their first single “Never Been to Mars” in June 2011, edited by David himself and mastered at the iconic studios of Abbey Road by Alex Wharton; a single that was presented as part of an UK tour and that lead to very positive reviews due to the elaborate of their work and exciting live performances.

During the first semester of 2012, the band combined its Spanish shows with a tour in Germany, playing 8 gigs around the country and obtaining again a great response from fans and press. On May 15, 2012 they release their second EP The Madding Crowd and have the chance to later present this new album at the Arenal Sound Festival, sharing lineup with such established bands as Two Door Cinema Club, Kaiser Chiefs and Digitalism among others; and with a second UK tour, where it was evident that fans were already begging for a return.

Their bright future now lays on the recording of their first full LP that will be presented in summer of 2013 in the UK and several international music festivals, with the possibility of disembarking on the other side of the ocean in a not so distant future.

And now to the interview…

The Music Industry is becoming a digital world, where the presence of physical elements is on a continuing downfall, and where music is now available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. How has this affected your band management? What are you doing to embrace this digital era?

David and Lorena: Embracing is a way of putting it… in reality we were already born in this new era and what we try to do is to take advantage of its opportunities, the disadvantages are already known enough. That´s why we have different work streams, from a band promotion standpoint:

  •  Social Media: nowadays it is key. The closer we get to our fans, the more chances we will have to create a loyal fan base. Our first year we relied heavily on Facebook, as it works pretty well in Europe, but looking into the future, we really want to push Twitter. Obviously not forgetting about FB and trying to expand its presence to other countries.
  • Live Shows: they are really what is going to support us as a band. We already have over 50 gigs on our shoulders in a little over a year: 4 tours (3 internationally) and 1 major festival. Our live show is very powerful and, additionally, we try to engage the public with different innovations in order to create a more interactive environment to turn the show into an experience more that just a concert per se.
  • Blogs: they are gaining more and more importance and we are trying to work them out. They involve extra effort, because there are many that come and go, while others manage to consolidate themselves, which leads to a need of having to constantly check the web, but it´s worth it. We have had very good blog reviews and that helps us build reputation and grow.
  • Press: if you work hard, but you don´t tell, no one is going to know. Therefore, additionally to the blogs, general-interest periodicals are constantly updated of our endeavors. It´s another push to build reputation
  • Digital Platforms: obviously we need to be in all of them – iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Nokia, Amazon, etc.

How has the decrease in record sales affected your revenue generating capacity? How are you making up for it?

D&L: Live shows is our main form of revenue, that´s why we don´t stop touring.

And what do you think of this new digital tendency?

D&L: For us it is really an opportunity, because not being tied to a major label gives us the chance to make room for ourselves in an easier way. We have very useful tools in order to be able to reach a lot of people, something that years ago only the “big bands” had.  Distribution channels are the same for them as for us, which means we are in the same “stores” as them. Having an audience is something that requires a lot of work and professionalism. What we have to do now is innovate and try to take advantage of these new opportunities that are in front of us.

As an emerging band, you then see this new tendency more as an opportunity than as a threat. What market opportunities would you identify?

D&L: It is an opportunity for sure. We have been able to reach places and countries that we didn´t think possible. They are listening to us in the U.S. and on the other side of the planet simultaneously, one “click” at a time, something that would have not been possible for us before. This way, we can plan possible tours in a more efficient way, as we can identify the market from the comfort of our homes. As we said before, the money is now in live performances, and with the tools we now have in the market, even though an evident oligopoly still exists, the line that existed between major label bands and us independent bands is getting thinner and thinner. Platforms like Spotify pay (not much, but they pay nonetheless) the artist directly and we believe that with time, solutions will arise so that no musical talent goes wasted.

Where do you see the industry then in future years?

D&L: He who would have the answer would have sure success (laughs). We hope to still be there, be bigger and have the capacity of filling larger venues (soccer fields?); that our music is still being heard and appreciated; and being able to live of this with ease. What is certain is that whomever doesn´t know how to adapt quickly will die.

And on top of everything, we are in the midst of a terrible recession. Have you noticed as a band? What have you done to adapt?

D&L: It is possible that we have experienced a reduction in the attendance to shows. It is something we have noticed and that is being commented in the whole industry in general, so it is something that we already expect. However, it is something widespread, and to us it has had a moderate effect and our objective is still to grow nonetheless. We can´t stop and wait and see if things get better. If Spain starts not being a viable option, we will have to look abroad; it´s the advantage of considering ourselves an “international band”. Experience however has allowed us to also reduce costs notably, we are managing to obtain better deals with venues, and we keep making efforts to get people into them.

Well, thank you both for your time, it was great to be able to get your take on the industry. I wish you all the luck.

D&L: Thank you.

Interview originally posted at Naked Playground