Near the beginning of the pandemic, the members of Denver psych-rock band Eldren were in the same position as other acts around the globe: They couldn’t tour, and they couldn’t rehearse or record together.
But they wanted to keep collaborating in some way, so singer/guitarist Nasir Malik proposed that the band challenge itself by creating an album solely of cover songs. That would eventually become Separation Sessions, which started streaming on digital platforms in April.
Not long after Bill Withers passed away, on March 30, 2020, Malik and singer, guitarist and keyboardist Tyler Imbrogno, who formed the band about a decade ago, started working on the Withers staple “Ain’t No Sunshine” with fellow members violinist Josh Lee, bassist Mason Shelmire and drummer Forrest Raup. They each recorded separate parts, sharing them on Google Drive, while Imbrogno mixed the songs in his Daymoon Studios.
The bandmembers also shot videos of themselves playing the parts, and Malik and Imbrogno edited them. They set some deadlines and challenged themselves to make two videos a week, ending up with fourteen covers all together. Some songs were faithful to the originals, particularly the Beatles' “A Day in the Life," Elliott Smith’s “Clementine,” Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and local act the Yawpers' "Burdens."
The band took liberties with a few cuts like “Hooked on a Feeling,” which had previously been recorded by Blue Swede and B.J. Thomas, and did it trap-rap style; Eldren took Led Zeppelin’s reggae song “D’yer Mak’er” and reworked it with an ’80s synth-pop feel.
Imbrogno says there were a lot of factors in choosing songs to cover. They chose some, including “Ain’t No Sunshine,” since it seemed important at the time, as well as the Postal Service’s “We Will Become Silhouettes," which also features Cassidy Bacon of the Whimsy of Things, Nic Hammerberg of SYCDVK, Miguel Avina of iZCALLi and Eric Estrada of Ramakhandra.
“The words and everything about it...seem like they were written about what everyone was experiencing, kind of stocking up for an apocalyptic scenario and being locked inside,” Imbrogno says.
On other cuts, they just wanted to have fun — like with Eddie Murphy’s 1985 hit “Party All the Time,” which Imbrogno says is probably the most lighthearted song of the bunch.
Imbrogno and Malik, who first met through mutual friends at a Film on the Rocks screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, share an affinity for Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Elliott Smith and Ween (a version of “Stay Forever” is on the new album).
“We appreciate a wide base of influences, for sure,” Imbrogno says. “I think just in general from the beginning, we wanted to listen to music and make music that affects us in many varied ways, because music can be fun, emotional, serious, sad — the entire spectrum. I think you could take that away from our original music — there’s fun, there’s serious, there’s sad. There's a full gamut of emotions to be had. And I think this was a way for us to express stuff, maybe even more than we had up to this point with original music.”
In addition to recording and making videos of covers, the guys in Eldren have also been working remotely on Past Love Retrogressions: The Wretched Audio, a new album of originals, which includes some songs that pre-date the pandemic. Imbrogno says the band's still unsure when new album drops.
Over the past year, the bandmembers have mastered the skill of recording parts themselves. While Eldren doesn’t have any touring plans in the near future, particularly since Malik recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue sound design and video production, the bandmates keep working on other material.
“I think both [Malik] and I have a lot of individual and solo things that we've been working on. Him moving and just being more remote has given us some time to work on that as well,” Imbrogno says, “because we've kind of done everything together for a while, while maybe sitting on some other things.”
For more information, visit Eldren online.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.