Written by Chad Taylor
Last week, we told you about our newest project: have 10 Iowa acts cover the same song, then show you the results one at a time. We also unveiled our choice of songs, and the guidelines we gave our 10 (ultimately attrition-ed down to seven) bands.
Kicking things off for us this week are Marc Bailey and Sara Williams, better known collectively as Ira Grace & The Bible Belt Prophets, an acoustic two-piece known as much for their quiet, thoughtful lyrics as for their gorgeous harmonies. In preparation for unveiling their cover, we sat down with the pair over the weekend to chat about the experience.
You guys seemed to have fun with this.
Sara: I think he had fun. (Pause) I mean, it was fun, and then it was frustrating, and then when we heard it? It was a LOT of fun.
Marc: When we first came at it, I think we intended to approach it as a straight cover. Just doing it verbatim. But then we thought "no, everyone's going to do that."
Sara: It was difficult.
Marc: Then I started adding stuff.
Sara: You built one version, then when we got together again, you'd built an entirely different version. I put this thing entirely in his court...and then the day we got together to record, he was like "So I made some changes." So I think that last week, you had fun with it.
Marc: I had this 24-hour flu bug a couple weeks ago. I was just standing in my kitchen, and the theme from Disney's Robin Hood popped into my head, and it was like "you know, that fits..."
I first approached Marc about this idea at a Christmas party, and he was really excited about it. Was it a hard sell to you, Sara?
Sara: Ha. Kind of. Typically Marc runs things by me. But this time he just texted me and was like, "I had a really good time with Chad Taylor at this Christmas party last night and he was telling me about this thing. There aren't really any details, but it sounds fun and I told him I'd be game." And I was like "what the fuck did he get us into?" Because he'll take any gig, anywhere.
Marc: Well, not just anything...
Sara: You played at a Fashion Bug in a mall. Twice.
Marc: OK, that's true.
Sara: So when he first came over and put the song in front of me, I was like "I don't even know this song." I only knew the Ray Charles hook.
Sara: I tell you what, usually our practices are kind of laid back and fun. But with this one, we were pretty frustrated.
Sara: Because you don't know where to start. We weren't building a song, we were trying to dissect someone else's song. To be honest, I was like "you know what? Do whatever, then I'll come in, you teach me the chord progression and I'll lay down my vocals." I trust him.
There's a bit in the third verse that you've added, that's probably my favorite bit in the whole thing. Where did it come from?
Marc: It was all about my syllables and spacing. I kept getting tripped up on this one part, it needed some air in there. And whatever Kanye had written wasn't working for me. So I was like "fuck it," and just crossed it off. Then I thought "well, I'll mock Kanye West."
Sara: For making this horrible song to begin with.
One of the things we intentionally did was not reveal the song before bands committed. Once you found out what it was, was there a moment of regret?
Marc: When I first got the email, I didn't even know the song. So I got on YouTube and looked it up. At first I was like "Wow, that's a lot of asses." Then I was like "That's a lot of N-words."
Sara: We're really white!
Marc: First thing I thought of was "what am I going to say instead of the N-word?"
Did you listen to the radio edit?
Sara: Is that the "broke broke?"
Marc: Yeah, and I was like "OK, we can use that."
When you finally started writing in earnest, what was your initial plan?
Marc: When Jamie Foxx comes in at the beginning, I was like "Oh, that's a Ray Charles sample." So then I thought about who'd covered that song. I knew Ray did it, the Beatles covered it, John Mayer covered it with the John Mayer Trio--which was an amazing cover--and I wanted to try and combine all of those. I had put it all into this kind of gospel setting...
Sara: Which I loved, by the way.
Marc:...and then I was like you know what? We can be more original than this.
Sara: The first thing, when we first started jamming on this was "what are we doing with the rapping? Are we sing-rapping? Are we talk-rapping? How do you do that much talking? It's not broken up to be sung well.
Marc: It's the opposite end of the spectrum for us. How do you go from a super-produced rap thing to two people on acoustic guitars? I think the closest thing you can compare it to is Dylan, when he was in his stream of consciousness phase, when he was just spouting shit left and right.
Sara: Yeah. Way more poetically than Kanye though.
Sara: Seriously. I had to have (Marc) explain so many things. I was just reading it on a piece of paper, and I was like "If I was an 8th grade English teacher and somebody handed this in, I would fail them."
Marc: I found out I translated it wrong though.
"Translated it wrong?"
I thought he was saying that they "go to Den", but I found out that it's "Go to din." Like, to dinner.
Sara: See, I thought it was like, he was going to The Den, and he had to pay her, I thought they were going to a strip club.
Marc: And the part about "Showbiz", I realized could just mean showbiz like Hollywood. I thought it was Showbiz Pizza.
Sara: Oh yeah! Because we're white and from the Midwest!