INTERVIEW: D.A. Stern

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Hi D.A, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’m personally doing well but the world is much different than it was the last time we chatted.  Trying to stay positive, educate myself, hoping to affect positive change given the state of the country and world.  But I’ve also been working on plans to break some Guinness Book records and it’s tough to do some of what I have in mind while wearing a mask. 

Out of all the songs out there, why did you choose to cover Weird Al’s “Since You’ve Been Gone”?

I had been wanting to cover “Weird Al” for a long time to show my appreciation.  He’s obviously known for his parodies, but his originals are just as eligible candidates for being covered as anybody else’s.  “Since You’ve Been Gone” and the other “Weird Al” song I covered, “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” (with Photo Ops on vocals), have always been two of my favorites of his originals and I thought I could approach them from different perspectives.  The whole thing is way less ironic than one would probably think.  I mean, I’ve seen “Weird Al” live… he’s one of the few people I got starstruck meeting.

What was the approach you went after with this track?

The original’s brevity really reinforces the set-up and punchline of the lyric so I wanted to honor that.  It’s also an a cappella so I felt like I had to find a way to arrange the track while retaining some of its breathing room and make sure the joke comes through.  When someone listens to “Weird Al” the lyrics are the hook and they’re what people listen for first… I guess I tried to to be mindful of that.

Did it feel weird or way too meta for you to cover a song of a man known for doing covers?

I think if I felt it was too anything you probably wouldn’t have heard it!  But, like I said, this whole thing comes from a very genuine place, so I tried to approach it with the same deference I would with any other cover.  If anything was meta it’s that I was in my Al costume for the full duration of recording the song and the editing alone took a few days.  My dog didn’t recognize me at first but after a while it was all he knew.

How was the recording and writing process?

Well, obviously I didn’t write it but I recorded the whole thing at my studio, Big Mazel, in Los Angeles.  Except for saxophone—which was played by my good friend Greg Marino—and vocals, I made the entire arrangement over a few days.  It started with the drum groove, which I played with spatulas in homage to Yankovic’s “Spatula City”, and then just grew.  I’m down in the dungeon alone so my process is pretty much to throw as many things at the wall until something sticks.

How much of the original did you intend to rescue on your version?

The original is a barbershop quartet style-parody so it’s not like there were many elements that even could have survived… but, naturally, I kept all the lyrics!

What was it like to work with Chris Tomson and how did that relationship develop?

How much did he get to influence the song?

One of my best friends from college is country singer Nick County.  He and Chris grew up together so I met him years ago through that connection and now we’re practically neighbors in Los Angeles.  I’ve been working with a lot of guest vocalists and whenever I have a track I always try to match it with the voice of someone I’m friends with.  I’ve been a fan of Chris’s voice and music ever since the Dams of the West record came out and thought it would be a good fit.  It was an honor that he was gracious enough to agree to go along with it and it was his idea to project UHF on every wall of the studio and set up a TV in the bathroom.  That’s the kind of insight you can only get from being in a band as successful as Vampire Weekend and it paid off.

What role does LA play in your music?

I don’t know if the environment I’m in comes through in the sound at all but I know that I get a lot of ideas when I’m stuck in traffic.  So, I guess it plays a big part in the process.

Does the release of this cover mean we can expect a new original material soon – how’s that coming along?

Mmxxtape, which has both originals and covers, comes out September 25th and features a bunch of other guest vocalists: Fat Tony, Colleen Green, the aforementioned Photo Ops, Ben Hozie from BODEGA, Alex Winston, Party Nails.  I’m also working on another full-length.

What else is happening next in D.A. Stern’s world?

Outside of those releases, really just the Guinness Book stuff.  My neighbor is an astrophysicist and we’ve been spending a lot of time in his garage, at a safe distance of course, tinkering away on a working wheel-less hoverboard prototype.  I can’t tell you too much about it.

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