Mel Washington misses playing in a rock n roll band. That’s evident when you talk to him.
Washington spent years touring and writing with All Get Out before splitting out on his own a couple of years ago. If that was some sort of life test then it appears he’s passing with flying colors. When I spoke to Washington he was just leaving the studio in Nashville where he was recording audio for some live videos for Caroline Glaser. In the unsure rocky landscape of the modern music industry Mel Washington is finding his way by embracing a sense of community and a collective approach to the creative process. He spends his time co-writing with other songwriters, recording artists such as Derek Minor, who recorded one of his songs last year and has new album due out in 2015, and working on his own music. He’s also the vice president of A&R at Regenerate Music Company. A company whose values align with Washington’s — to bring life to the world through the medium of music.
Before Washington moved to Nashville three months ago after commuting back-and-forth since May 2013 he crashed with Matt Hoopes, lead guitarist of Relient K. While the Nashville music scene is viewed as hyper-competitive from the outside, on the inside it’s something different. For this project Washington wanted to bring together musicians with sounds of their own who had never worked together to create something unique and moving. He set out to bring back the chemistry and confidence gained by playing with musicians in a band for years, this time with other musicians who had similar experiences as him.
“This was kind of an experiment in getting four dudes together who had never worked together,” says Washington. “So we got James Freshwater of Lovedrug, Matt Hoopes of Relient K, and Arun Bali of Saves the Day and we just wanted to make a cool rock n roll song.”
Washington and company chose the David Bazan song “Deny Myself”, a track that premiered as a b-side on the first 7 inch in Bazan’s new monthly release of new songs on vinyl. Bazan’s version is stark instrumentally with introspective and incredibly heavy lyrics. Like many of Bazan’s songs, the track challenge’s religion and life, simultaneously asking questions and making statements. Washington, Hoopes, Freshwater, and Bali looked to create something different with the song.
“We just wanted to make a cool rock n roll song” said Washington. “I heard the original on Bazan monthly and the lyrics are just incredibly heavy. His version was dark and reflective and I wanted to make something loud and sassy. I made a basic arrangement of it and brought everyone in to do their parts.”
Gathering the all-star cast was easier than you’d imagine. In fact it was as simple as sending a few texts. For a younger Mel Washington playing with Hoopes, Freshwater, and Bali would have been a dream, but today it’s a reality. The group brought each of their personal influences to the table and recreated the song all together, even slightly changing the lyrics to ask even more questions. Washington said “Musically it’s a complete polar opposite interpretation. We were kind of intentional though of thinking about… in the guitar parts and the drum parts, we wanted there to be a good mixture of influence. So the choice of chords in the guitar parts and even the drum beats are somewhat reminiscent of Control era Pedro the Lion. But at the same time we didn’t want it to sound like we were making a Pedro the Lion record. We tried to update it by letting the influence of our own bands show through as well.”
The collaboration worked. There are moments in the song where it sounds like Lovedrug, there are moments when it sounds like Saves the Day, there are moments when it sounds like Relient K and there are moments when it sounds like All Get Out. Those moments are what make the song more than just a cover, but a genuine reinterpretation of the song, letting their own influences shine through at the same time as paying homage to one of their favorite songwriters.
Having people interpret Bazan lyrics is nothing new, it’s something that’s helped him build his career. He’s always invited fans to ask questions during his live performances, but now that he’s focusing on living room shows the conversation has become more intimate and inviting. Washington took this track as the ultimate challenge, to recreate a song that spoke to him in the proper way. You can feel it in Washington’s vocal delivery throughout the song. His soulful voice still searching as he sings the words that David Bazan penned, but the words that Mel Washington feels inside.
The group did their due diligence, and I think Bazan would approve. Washington spoke with Bazan when he saw him recently and said he’s excited about the project. “I told him about the idea when he was in town and he was super excited about the idea and we’re super excited about it too. We’re just ready to put it out and let people hear it and not only enjoy the tune, but enjoy the emotion that we put behind it too.”