I was fourteen years-old when the shot went off.
I was just on my way back in from lunch hour at school and settling back into the next class. As history will tell you from the perspective of anyone who’s lived through an event of such colossal magnitude that rocks the entire world…you remember everything. I remember that the class wasn’t mine; we were about to share a room with a different grade for a random project…we didn’t even have official seats in the classroom, and the students in my class were still finding seats on the floor, awaiting the instruction to come. And then it happened.
At first you’d have no idea what it even was…but you could see it was something big. Whispers started quickly and swept like a wave over top of us all as the news made its way closer to where I was sitting. Me…the kid that basically did everything he could to alter his brown hair to blonde…the kid who already had a goatee rocking fully by the time I was in middle-school…the kid who looked the part much more than he ever actually played the role. When that wave reached me and someone told me that Kurt had shot himself, it felt like being stabbed in the heart; if you were a fan at the time of, it’s like hearing that news brought the inevitable conclusion to a ride we’d all been on for a very long time, and sadly, it felt like we always knew it was coming. Someday. But oh God…don’t let it really be today…that’s all you can think at the time. Nirvana was my LIFE…not just a piece of it at the time; they were my entire damn life.
Having the mat ripped out from underneath you like that is unbearable on your way into your teenage years. There was one other kid in that same class that was just as much of a fan as I was…a kid named Joel…he actually DID play the part; he could play Nirvana songs on guitar & he’d do that at lunch all the time while we all hung out together. I watched the news hit him too that day…and rather than be sorrowful, he laughed with reckless Grunge attitude & said “Pfff. Whatever, I never liked him anyway.” Already irreparably upset, I got the fuck up and left school that very moment for the day…I figured if it was only going to take mere seconds for a lifelong fan to start mocking Kurt Cobain and the way he went out, that there was no way I was going to be able to handle the comments that were about to come my way. I packed up my shit, I cried all the way home, & I watched the news for the next five days straight.
Obviously, this isn’t the kind of tragedy that you live through every day…one that affects the entire world all at once…aside from wars, pandemics, and the occasional rare human-being that captures the hearts & minds of the entire globe getting wiped out within a second…the rest of what we live through – the hard bits – all remain burning underneath the surface, equally important, but less of a commodity.
What you don’t realize at the time & never could, is how it’ll affect you years & years afterwards. It was hard enough to listen to the originals…nevermind the day that I knew would eventually come, where covers of Nirvana songs would become commonplace in our world…an idea that completely horrified me. For the longest time it felt like there would never be a way for me to accept a variation of the originals…but to be fair, I was also so locked into Grunge that I didn’t value OTHER music like I do today.
Those first steps out on stage for the brave soldiers that chose to cover Nirvana’s music in those first couple years would have been lucky to escape the night with their skin still on their bones. To say that many of us were vocal in our opposition from the audience in front of them would be an understatement…no matter who it was, how big or how small, how unknown or how legendary – the world at-large went through a long recovery process where no music at all, became actually better than some. I would have rather sat in a silent tomb or school library than heard a Nirvana cover in between 1994 to the time I graduated in 1998. I didn’t give up the look…in fact, two years after he passed, I still had a car actually pull over while I was walking home, with two dudes that got out from both sides just to LOOK and see if it was him. They were as disappointed as much as I was daily about the fact that I wasn’t him apparently – one said to the other, “Damn…it’s not him,” and then turned to me to say, “you’re not him” – and I had to agree. No matter how much I wanted to be, I wasn’t. They got back into their car, threw up a set of devil horns out the side of each window in a full-salute of respect, and drove off forever.
Apologies to Love Ghost…I’ve gone and hijacked this commentary with all kinds of personal stuff; like I was saying…you don’t realize just how much this kind of stuff affects you at the time, or will forever. Every time I hear Nirvana now, even to this day, it still brings about a kind of PTSD unlike I’ve ever known in any other capacity or have felt towards any other subject, person, place, or thing I can think of.
The point in telling any of you out there reading this, is really to say that, when it comes to this ONE particular band…mannnnnnnnnnnn…you better be ready to BRING IT if you’re gonna attempt a cover. There have been a couple over time that eventually broke through and impressed me enough to listen – and they usually came from strange places. I remember the first time I saw a band cover a Nirvana song live…in fact, up til that point, as much as a super-fan as I was, I was still under-age for just about every venue on the map back home…it was the first time I had seen ANY Nirvana song played live by a real band, not just Joel noodling on his guitar at some old high-school lunch hangout session. It was an opening band with something to prove…they barely had a hit on the radio at that point, and I hated the song they had out there to begin with…to say that I expected Three Days Grace of all bands to go out there and crush it that night would be a complete lie. Yet there they were. They lit up the Commodore Ballroom stage in Vancouver with a cover of “School” that was so scorching hot and spot-on for the energy that it was just undeniably awesome, and genuinely jaw-dropping. I still don’t listen to Three Days Grace and I can’t imagine that will ever change any time soon – but I’d never refuse a chance to see’em play live after that show, that I can tell ya, 100%. Because it wasn’t about really going out there to be a carbon-copy of what we already knew and had heard from Nirvana…it was much more about paying the music a proper tribute; they did it in their own style, their own way, and it fuckin’ ROCKED.
In knowing Love Ghost and the angst-laden signature style of their own that they’ve built throughout the years, I gotta say…I felt immediately confident that this was one of those ‘right bands’ to be handling such precious cargo. Though I’ll admit…not having any clue of what was actually being sent our way here, all I had was a link to go by…and when I clicked it, was exactly the moment that good ol’ PTSD kicked straight back in out of nowhere…and as quick as I had clicked it, I clicked pause to stop it from playing. And then I just sat there. I sat there and stared at the screen/challenge ahead of me right there in writing. Love Ghost – “Heart Shaped Box.” God I fucking love this song. Am I even ready for this?
Read it again Jer. It says LOVE GHOST. Calm the fuck down and know that this crew always crushes it.
I’m highly satisfied and stoked on what they’ve come up with. It’s kinda hard to explain until you see & hear it for yourself, but they’ve taken an exceptionally rad approach to this massively monstrous hit-song and done some really badass things with it. Just as important as what they’ve done, is what they’ve chosen to keep intact, and what they’ve chosen to add in on their own; as with all covers, there are parts you can’t fuck with & elements of a song that keep its original timeless appeal still present. If you end up tarnishing those special attributes…say like something like A Perfect Circle’s astonishingly terrible cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” – then everything can all fall to shit pretty damn quick if you’re not careful. To me, having that main guitar hook come out as gnarly & rad & silky & deadly as it does on Love Ghost’s cover of “Heart Shaped Box” was essential to this cover’s success…and they chose wisely by keeping it in there, along with the savage grip of that punch when you switch from it in the verses to the energy in the chorus. That’s the real essential stuff when it comes to this particular cut – & they nailed it all solid; the rest as far as I’m concerned, is welcome to change without nearly as much judgment being passed.
When it comes to the overall execution…the best way I can put it, is that there was a much easier route that Love Ghost could have taken – and I’m glad they didn’t. Thinking back to the rawer-sound this band had in their beginning with songs like “Girl Pusher” and its amped-up aggression in Finnegan’s vocals – I mean…if you’ve got ears on your head, you know he could have probably just gone into the booth and laid down a whole bunch of similarly tortured wails and goodnight Irene, game over, job well done. You’re gonna get endless comparisons no matter what you do…in my opinion, even as close as a singer like Bell would likely get to the sound of an original Cobain, they were collectively wise as a band to take this idea and give it their own decisive twists – especially when it came to the vocals. The melody is 100% intact…and arguably, that’s gonna be the main element of what 99% of the people out there hear – so another strong move there too – but listen to the smart changes they’ve made to the verse & chorus. The verses are as subtle, slick, and stylistically badass as you’d hope they’d come out…the changes occur mainly in the sound & tone with the effects used & all that…it works really well; it’s not such a dramatic shift that it throws us as listeners at all, and you’re not gonna hear me complaining about those choices whatsoever. That being said, I’m not complaining about ANY of this when it comes right down to it – I thought they put an extremely rad spin on the chorus and attacked it almost like you’d imagine some sort of bizarre Grunge/Gothic/Alternative version of Queen would have played this song. If that seems like a stretch of your imagination, I get it, I get it…like I was tellin’ ya from the start here, you kind of really have to see & hear this version of “Heart Shaped Box” to fully get it…words ain’t gonna cut it. When you’re looking at the video…keep that Queen reference in your mind…I’m tellin’ ya they’ve even left you visual clues right there onscreen that would cue you into how they’ve approached this song by incorporating multiple influences & styles, to give it a hybrid sound that’s refreshed & authentically new.
In particular…I wanna shout-out keyboard player Corey Batchler this time around…because the efforts being made from that department contribute enormously to why I’d give this cover my full approval. You’ve got players that can hear what a song does and they can map that out no problem for themselves when ripping through a cover – and then you’ve got players like Batchler that can hear the melody that exists between what we know about a song, and where it can go. Think of it this way – in writing, we simply refer to something like this as being able to ‘read between the lines’ – as if we’ve somehow written some genius into our work without actually saying anything at all…some other level or dimension that gives everything we’ve said a complete new level of meaning. For musicians, the same can be true – and what we really mean is that there are some players out there that can simply hear things in a song that others cannot. They find unique avenues into a song, they play with the melody, the space, the timing…and everything seems to fit like it’s been there all along. I believe that Corey Batchler is indeed such a player – and I think everything you’d need to prove all I’m saying correct is right there on display in this cover of “Heart Shaped Box” in the ‘what’ he chooses to play, and ‘when.’ Spectacular stuff from Batchler…and even while it’s a more subtle aspect of what’s happening in the meat & intensity of the overall song…it’s these tiny changes that appeal to me the most as a lifetime fan of Nirvana, and as a guy that simply wants ANY band to bring something of their own to a cover tune. Bonus points for the gnarly & gritty guitar-solo combo from Daniel Alcala & Bell in tandem on this cover tune as well; and as reliable as ever, Samson & Ryan hold the fort down tight with their lockstep rhythm section always keeping it real.
Credit where credit is due folks – Love Ghost did all the right things to impress us all with the way they’ve re-created “Heart Shaped Box” – they took chances, they kept what we love intact, and they ended up with a really valid & enjoyable cover that warrants its existence. Shout-out to Dan Bell as well, who directed the video this time around – I think this ended up being one of their strongest & most captivating vids to-date so far; I love the entire look to the visuals & how fluidly everything flows onscreen. Especially when they’re all hitting those harmonies of the chorus together and the faces are changing right in front of you…it’s a brilliantly executed idea that makes a savage impact onscreen as you watch & listen. Favorite moment? Probably heading right into the two-minute mark as the keys sparkle in the background and bring a whole other dimension of the melody in “Heart Shaped Box” to the surface…but like I’ve been saying…I’m not complaining about anything else I see or hear here today either – Love Ghost has put the work in once again, and achieved results they should be seriously proud of. Paying tribute by covering a song has never been about being a simple carbon-copy…it’s always been about showing the writing the respect it deserved, and having the cojones to give it your own stamp without damaging what made us fall in love with the original to begin with – it’s a very, very fine line to walk – but it’s one that Love Ghost has successfully navigated to a solid victory, without question.
“Heart Shaped Box” is out & available now – get yourself some of this here new single/cover-song, and find out more about Love Ghost from the official pages below!
Official Website: https://loveghost.com
Apple Music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/345566313
Be the next artist or band to have your latest song or video featured on our page at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!