Keith Hoerig and Eryn DeSomer of White Rose Motor Oil love their covers.
The cowpunk/garage country musicians looked to ’60s and ’70s pop and country to populate their latest release, Pop Country, a collection of cover songs the band often plays during longer sets.
“We aren’t going to play a lot of cover songs on a 45-minute set,” drummer Hoerig says. “But if you come and see us for a two-and-a-half-hour set, then these songs will make an appearance."
“Sometimes we throw in newer stuff,” singer and guitarist DeSomer says of the band's live sets. “For this we were really like, ‘Let’s just try and set the standard,' because it started to feel like we were pulling covers from all over the place, and it felt too scattered.”
The album has fourteen tracks from artists ranging from the Statler Brothers to the Beach Boys, as well as four public-domain clips from ’60s television and movies. Many of the songs have been extensively covered by artists over the past several decades, but DeSomer’s untamed contralto vocals and the band’s stripped-down instrumentals impart a fresh spin on the otherwise well-trod tunes.
DeSomer adds that some of the songs, like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” date to Hoerig and DeSomer's time in Denver rock outfits like the Jekylls and the Hollyfelds.
“‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’ is one of my favorite songs of my childhood,” DeSomer says. “That says a lot, because it’s a song about murdering a cheating partner. I always wanted to cover it. I grew up with the ’90s version, but I like the ’70s version, too.”
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was originally recorded by Vicki Lawrence, but DeSomer first came upon the ’90s version by Reba McEntire and a live performance of the song she used to own on VHS. DeSomer says the performance is worth finding, because it’s so outrageously staged.
DeSomer admits to being “such a ’90s baby.” No worries, because growing up in that decade explains liking music from the ’70s. At least one song, “Flowers on the Wall,” by the Statler Brothers, was famous in the 1960s but is also well known from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Quentin Tarantino was a pioneer of the existing-in-the-’90s-but-looking-back-to-the-’60s-and-’70s approach to pop-culture homage.
“Some of these are kind of embarrassing, like ‘In My Room’ and 'Angel of the Morning,’” DeSomer says. “I used to own the soundtrack from Friends, the TV show, and there were cover versions of those songs. ... It made me look up the originals.”
Hoerig adds that some of the songs, like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” are famous for being performed by a certain artist — Nancy Sinatra, in this case — but they have their own notoriety in less famous musical genres. Ska-punk progenitors Operation Ivy, for example, covered the song.
“Sometimes the second or third person performing it is our initial exposure to it,” Hoerig notes. “‘Angel of the Morning’ — for sure, Juice Newton’s version is what I was most familiar with. Then I worked backwards and found the original.”
The White Rose Motor Oil record delves into more obscure fare like “Where Evil Grows,” by Canadian psychedelic-pop group Poppy Family. Hoerig first heard the song on a podcast. “I started listening to it kind of obsessively,” he says. “We ended up covering it.”
DeSomer appreciates the ridiculous over-the-top production of the ’60s and ’70s, when bands might have an orchestra with them in the studio. Of course, White Rose Motor Oil is a two-piece band with just vocals, guitar and drums, so she and Hoerig had to reimagine the songs somewhat to keep with their bare-bones garage country/cowpunk approach to music.
“I like taking this ridiculous string section and lots of smoothed-out things and taking it and doing what we do,” she says. “That is why these songs were so fun. They generally had a lot of really complicated production when they first came out, and we can’t do that.”