Iron Maiden is one of those bands everyone has heard of, but most people can't name 3 songs. Which is equal parts impressive and intriguing. Did we just see the album covers the Warehouse (Where? The Warehouse) or the mustachioed rockers with the t-shirts at school? The kid that only listens to music parents don't like. Your Nine Inches of Nails, The Panteras, Seventura, etc. Probably had the "jans" and "r" on his Jansport backpack marked out so it just said "po t".
Anyway, this song intrigued me because I never listened to the lyrics until recently. Now when I'm not taking requests for cover songs I'm usually recording my own material. I'm working on writing and recording a little E.P. of songs that deal with historical events/people. And whadya know? This song deals with historical events!
The song is from the perspective of a British soldier in the Crimean War. Writer/Maiden bassist Steve Harris draws on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Change of the Light Brigade". This is the poem that gives us the phrase "Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do or die" (though it's featured in the poem as "theirs not to reason why/theirs but to do and die"). Which, for years, I thought was something my dad made up.
But this gets me back to my original point about Iron Maiden scaring parents. Why? What an incredible opportunity to get kids interested in literature and history. Maybe it's a little too Mr. Holland's Opus to incorporate Iron Maiden in to the classroom, but seems like a missed opportunity to me.
For the actual cover my first thought was Beach Boys "Don't Worry Baby". I thought the chorus for The Trooper was too big and melodious to pass. But I ran in to trouble with the verses so I ditched that idea. Then I went for a Kinks "Sunny Afternoon" approach. Which was fun, but has since veered off that path. The guitar parts come off sounding a little Baja. Which isn't bad, but I can't think of any Kinks tunes with Baja guitar. In fact, the other night I realized the riff at the end is basically "Besame Mucho".
I previewed the song for my brother on Friday. He was the person that made the actual suggestion, by the way. And no, this challenge isn't going to be all about nepotism. Anywho, he politely pointed out that the line is not "You'll fire your musket but I'll run right through". It's "You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through". It's one word, but it's changes the line significantly. Instead of being a bad ass response to someone shooting at you it becomes more of a playground taunt during a red-hot game of Red Rover. I would have re-recorded that line, but I'd screw up the mic setting and it would sound different than the other lines. Sigh.
I called in for backup from my friend Michael. He's super talented and wicked friendly so I reached out for help on a drum pattern. After some solid advice and feedback, he agreed to add a little mellotron, strings, and space noises. Which was particularly helpful because there's a breakdown about 3/4 through the song that had me stumped. And the lame drum pattern is my fault. I didn't have time to incorporate his suggestion, so don't blame him for it.
Technically speaking, it's my most meticulous mix. Which means I spent an hour or two on it. Michael another friend Bryn spend more time mixing than tracking ( I think), which is why their songs end up sounding so good. One time I got an email from Bryn saying that his plans for the day were limited to "mixing a song". The day?!?!?! Holy crap. But it pays off when you listen to his stuff. The fact is that I really have no idea how to do it that well. I'm learning, but this is the best you're going to get. I was more careful when tracking to stay away from ANY clipping. Sometimes I'll get in the red for just one or two hits and let it slide. But I stayed away from that this time. Then for the actual mix I really brought everything down. The vocals are at about -3 db and I think they're the loudest track. It's panned pretty tight. I used to keep things pretty open but I'm trying to learn how to tow the line of being crowded and being tight. After I bounced it out of Garageband I normalized it... some-odd percent... to make up for how quiet it was. Which may or may not have been a mistake. I'm sure the experienced people will chime in on that issue. Which reminds me... please do chime in.
Whether you love this or hate it. Or if you're in between. Let me know. I'm hoping for some crazy suggestions and I plan on doing some strange arrangements. We're bound to not agree with the direction I take. I don't take it personally and I'll probably be laughing at the really harsh stuff. I imagine this is a cover most Iron Maiden fans will not be pleased with. Which wasn't my goal, just some unfortunate collateral damage. But it's no big deal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So open up and share the cover challenge with your friends, family, lunch bunch, nerd herd, mailman, gunnery sergeant, the Progressive lady, whoever.
Without further ado, here is the Eric VanAusdal cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper":
The Trooper by Eric VanAusdal
For comparison, here's the original: