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Cover Me: Katy Goodman And Greta Morgan Reframe Punk Classics On 'Take It, It's Yours'

Friday, 26 August 2016 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Julia Brokaw

“Covers, in general, are divisive.”

Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan know precisely the sort of reaction that an album like ‘Take It, It’s Yours’, their sparkling new LP of punk covers, can provoke. Morgan has, in fact, already politely dismissed a number of internet-dwelling Replacements fans whose hackles were raised by the duo’s reframing of the Mats’ classic Bastards of Young. “If you like covers, then you’ll probably like our record,” Morgan says matter-of-factly. “But if you don’t like covers, there’s not much we can do.”

Such protestations, though, simply don’t make a dent in the record’s pristine pop veneer. In the hands of Goodman, formerly of Vivian Girls and currently leading La Sera, and Morgan, who releases solo records as Springtime Carnivore, Bastards of Young’s shabby charm is retrofitted with a wistful elegance and its lyric sheet’s gobby individualism is twisted into mournful new shapes.

‘Take It, It’s Yours’ performs similar surgery on songs from every point on the punk spectrum, with Blondie’s new wave staple Dreaming sharing space with the Jam’s mod-inflected In The City and Bad Brains’ pioneering hardcore anthem Pay To Cum. Goodman and Morgan pull each one apart in search of their melodic building blocks, often neglecting to reassemble them in anything resembling their original shape.

“The arrangements of the songs was definitely the hardest part,” Goodman says. “Figuring out which of those melodies to focus on and which parts of songs to leave behind. I’m really proud of the work we did in that area of the record. It wasn’t easy. It was challenging but really, really gratifying.”

The album began life with the two harmonising the Misfits’ Where Eagles Dare over an acoustic guitar in Morgan’s back garden, with that honeyed take rubbing up against its traditionally barked chorus - “I ain’t no Goddamn son of a bitch!” - and Glenn Danzig’s nauseating talk of diseased omelettes and germicide.

On ‘Take It, It’s Yours’, that juxtaposition gives the song a Lynchian air of unease, but elsewhere Goodman and Morgan lay bare new emotional beats in songs that get in and get out in their original incarnations. Their version of Buzzcocks’ timeless Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've), for example, trades its bratty kiss-off for a spare rendering that leaves no doubt as to the sorrow that runs through it.

“I think a lot of these songs are more emotionally expressive than originally conveyed,” Morgan says. “The emotion can be eclipsed by the tempo of the songs and the style of the arrangement. Those words are so sad and the lyric is so simple. It’s more simple than anything I would ever write. I am so impressed by people who can write something that’s so clear.

"By slowing it down we really were trying to show how truly heartbreaking it is. You can respond to falling in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with in a number of ways. There are phases in a break up. We just have a different phase of it. Ours is the heartbreak phase whereas the other song is the anger and aggression phase.”

Goodman and Morgan finish each other’s sentences. That’s not just an easy turn of phrase; after picking up the phone with a breezy “Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan on the line” they do it more than once during this interview. But, after deciding to flesh out their backyard cover into a full record, they were still surprised by how well they worked together in the studio.

Recorded at comp-ny in Glendale, north of their hometown Los Angeles, ‘Take It, It’s Yours’ is theirs from top to bottom. Goodman delivered the goods with a stream of songs that might fit their luminous pop template and an unwavering supply of harmony ideas, with Morgan sharing vocal duties and flitting between guitar, keys and drums.

“I think it’s the first record either Katie and I have made when we play everything on it,” Morgan says. “It’s the first record that’s a one stop shop. Our little factory. You always try to write or record a song like when you’re at the beach building a sandcastle and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out.

"I was so pleasantly surprised by this freshness that happened when we worked together. We’re so compatible. Katie can articulate an idea so clearly to me that I can put it into action, or vice versa. We have this shorthand when we’re working creatively. It was a very natural process with such good friends making a record that’s low stakes, no pressure.” As Morgan trails off,  Goodman crackles along the line: “Ditto.”

That level of understanding does not a cohesive record make, though. As enjoyable as the idea is, ensuring a batch of loosely-connected covers work as a single statement takes some doing. For Goodman and Morgan that process began with whittling 20-25 songs down to 10 (Ramones' Do You Wanna Dance, X’s The World's A Mess (It's In My Kiss), the Vibrators’ Whips and Furs and Blondie’s 11:59 all ended up on the outer), while keeping in mind a couple of atmospheric checkpoints at all times.

‘Take It, It’s Yours’ is designed as the soundtrack to a desert noir, one heavily indebted to the films of Quentin Tarantino, and also as a go-to record for the tipping point when the party stops and the analysis starts.

“As we were going through and choosing there were certain ones that didn’t match,” Morgan says. “We talked about the atmosphere of this world: a sort of southwest desert mystery. Then there’s also the feeling of being at the end of the night, the 1.30 in the morning clean up after the party when you’re still emotionally processing what happened; late night exhaustion but still craving more conversation. All the songs that we chose not to put on the record were ones that didn’t belong in either of those worlds. Atmospherically, they didn’t make sense.”

Beginning on October 7 in Pomona, La Sera and Springtime Carnivore will head out for a US tour. Goodman’s band put out ‘Music For Listening To Music To’ back in the spring, while Morgan has another new record, ‘Midnight Room’, hitting shelves on the same day that run gets underway.

Both bands share members while on the road, with Goodman and Morgan now hell-bent on working three or four of their ‘Take It, It’s Yours’ covers into each night’s setlist. “All of these songs are so close to my heart,” Goodman says. “The fact that I got to do this project and release it to the world is awesome. It does give me new history with them all. A longer story to tell later on.”

'Take It, It's Yours' is out now on Polyvinyl.

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