By KAREN BLISS — For JAM! Music
In many ways, Damhnait Doyle‘s new covers album is a riskier release than writing originals and putting them out there for all to judge. “Lights Down Low” takes precious songs such as The Tragically Hip’s “Bobcageon” and Cheap Tricks’ “I Want You To Want Me” and dares to mess with them.
“I know,” laughs Doyle, who had that exact conversation with her producer, Danny Michel, before embarking on the project.
“I love ‘Bobcaygeon’ and I think that Gord [Downie, The Tragically Hip’s singer] is an incredible poet. His lyrics have so many levels and there is so much depth to them that they deserve an opportunity to live on in different incarnations,” says Doyle, who reworked the song into a lazy, lounge-y tale.
“Our fear was the hardcore Hip fans going, ‘What in the hell have you done?’ [laughs], but the best emails that I received on Facebook and MySpace are the ones going, ‘I’m the biggest Tragically Hip fan and I couldn’t believe you did ‘Bobcaygeon’ and then I listened to it and I liked it,’ and then by the third listen, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I love this!'”
Of her quirky music-box-based arrangement and pained vocal of “I Want You To Want Me,” the Newfoundland native says, “That song I loved in high school. I remember just dancing around listening to that song, but when Danny and I got into making this record, I just thought about the vulnerability in that lyric. That’s just a sad, vulnerable song, and what he’s actually saying is so raw and it gets overpowered by the production in the original, so we just wanted to slow it down and strip it back to the lyric and the melody, and then Danny came up with this incredible music box thing.”
The key to Doyle and Michel’s success with the10 songs on “Lights Down Low” — including Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and Roxy Music’s “More Than This” — is they do not sound like something you’d hear in a karaoke bar, at a Holiday Inn, or by an Idol contestant, and it takes a certain understanding of a song and a comfort with your own style to pull that off.
“We had a list of songs — I’d say half of the choices were mine and half of the choices were Danny’s — in terms of the initial suggestions,” says Doyle, who recorded it in Toronto where she lives. “There were some that we had to convince the other person to try, but once we decided to try a song, they all worked, every one.”
“Lights Down Low” is a low-key release. Distributed by Newfoundland’s Landwash Distribution because the bulk of the sales her manager, Sheri Jones, feels will be where Doyle is from, and using Toronto’s Adrian Strong at DMD Promo to work the ABBA cover, “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight),” to radio, Doyle doesn’t have any grand plans to sell the album.
She performed a handful of the covers during the East Coast Music Awards earlier this year, and her booking agents, Richard Mills and Tom Kemp at S. L. Feldman & Associates, are looking at setting up some shows, but nothing is confirmed yet.
“Sheri’s more the person to talk to about how to sell this,” says Doyle. “The state of the industry right now, everything has completely changed. For me, it seems like everything is on the Internet, but I just made the album. I don’t really know what the best game plan is to sell anything. I just wanted to make something that was purely for fun, and something that I loved, and get a game plan after it was done.”
With the enormous career boost such artists as Jose Gonzalez received when his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” was selected as the soundtrack to a Sony Bravia commercial and was spread virally around the world, Jones isn’t ruling out the possibility of something unexpected happening with any one of these covers.
“The thing is, you do everything you can with every record you put out, but the difference between this one and most is while we have a physical distributor, the emphasis for us with this record is on the Internet,” says Jones. “It was an affordable record to make, so it’s a bit of an experiment for us. We’re putting it everywhere we can online. We have a couple of online marketing people working with us and we’ll see if that really is a viable way to sell a record right now.
“A great song is a great song,” she adds. “So no matter how you interpret it, it’s still a great song and it’s a bonus what this is. Half of the people who hear it will feel an affinity for it because those songs were songs that they experienced as hits and other people will discover the songs. They will never have heard them. So we’ll see how many of those people we can connect with online.”
Doyle, who has been plenty busy writing for other artists the past six years, placing songs with Canadian Idol winners and finalists Brian Melo, Eva Avila, Rex Goudie and television show Instant Star’s Alexz Johnson, as well as working with her own group Shaye with Kim Stockwood, is finally getting back to writing for herself.
“I’m playing this solo record, and a couple of songs have made me really inspired,” she says. “I know I have a record inside of me of songs that I’ve written just by myself. I’m just focusing right now, and not writing so much for other people but just secluding myself and writing songs for myself for the first time in six years.
“When Kim and I do another record in the next couple of years,” Doyle adds, “I think that will be really be East Coast inspired. We’ll probably take a Stan Rogers song and a Ron Hynes song and maybe we’ll write a couple.”
As for The Hip song, the only Canadian cover on “Lights Down Low,” has she heard from the band regarding her version?
“I don’t think they’ve heard it,” she says. “It’s my intention to send it to them or to send it to Patrick [Sambrook], their manager, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. I told [drummer] Johnny Fay that I was going to do it. I said, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to hear it.’ They’re all nice guys. I’m sure even if they don’t like it. I think that they’ll pretend that they do, and that’s good enough for me [laughs].”