Song 22: Varsity Drag – “Let’s Electrify”

September 13, 2020
Song #22: Varsity Drag – “Let’s Electrify”

We headed toward the end of 2012 with the realization that, if you didn’t count all the years we were on hiatus, 2013 would mark the 20th anniversary of Dromedary Records. Initially, we sort of snickered at the idea – Dromedary isn’t quite a vanity label, in that we release music by other bands and actually try and document lesser-known music we think is worth hearing. But contrary to what that Hudson County reporter thought at the first Camelfest, we’re not Merge Records, either. Still, despite being as tiny as we were, we’ve seen lots of other tiny labels get an enthusiastic start, have some success in the short term, and then for various reasons, shut down. Doing anything for 20 years is sort of cool.

So we wanted to mark the anniversary, but also with the understanding of who we were.

The year we got started, 1993, was an outstanding year for indie/alt rock. Some of the greatest records of the era were released in 1993, including excellent records by Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Archers of Loaf, Spinanes, Versus, Superchunk, Seam, Sebadoh, Bettie Serveert, and a ton more. Just one classic album after another, all released in 1993. Perhaps beside 1979, 1993 is my favorite year for music.

As we started thinking of the best way to document 20 years of putting out records, I decided I wanted to focus on two things: the amazing friendships we’ve made along the way, and the excellent music that helped motivate us to start the company.

I love compilations. They’re a great way to discover a lot of bands with one purchase, and when they’re done properly, they document so much more than just the individual bands on them. And so we decided that it would be a cool idea to release a compilation album of music by our friends, but to ask them to cover songs that were initially released in 1993.

My favorite compilation is called Why Do You think They Call It Pop? It’s a double 10″ vinyl compilation released in 1994 by the excellent Pop Narcotic record label, and is an absolute work of art – from the beautiful jacket art to the bubblegum pink vinyl to the outstanding artist and track selection, everything about the record is perfect. I love it so much I have a sealed copy and a “play” copy, and when I find copies in the wild, I buy them just to give to friends.

When we put together the Make the Load Lighter compilation in 2010, I cast a wide net, reaching out to bands I didn’t know, figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. With our 20th anniversary compilation, though, I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to ask bands we were associated with. Our friends. That’s it.

I sent out about 30 emails, included a list of albums that came out in 1993, and wound up with 16 excellent covers – including a cover of a song that we released in 1994 (the Mommyheads’ “Sandman,” which originally appeared on the band’s 1993 demo tape).

For the cover, I wanted to pay homage not only to 1993, but also to 1979, another of my favorite years in music and one that defined a lot of my early musical discoveries. I also wanted to acknowledge the great Pop Narcotic compilation. We commissioned the artist Lauren Kelley to create a pinup-style illustration in the vein of Alberto Vargas’ cover art from the great 1979 Cars album Candy-O. Lauren’s illustration featured a woman lying in front of a hi-fi, with records scattered around her – including, in the foreground, a copy of Why Do You Think They Call It Pop? I loved it (even if the woman is getting her fingerprints on the record she’s holding).

Lauren Kelly’s design for our 20th anniversary compilation, with the “Why Do You think They Call It Pop” cover in the foreground. Under the model’s head is PJ Harvey’s “Rid Of Me,” the album that included “50 Ft. Queenie,” which was covered by Cinema Cinema on the comp.

Over the next couple of days, I want to point out a couple of the songs from that compilation that are very important to me.

Today’s song is “Let’s Electrify,” by Varsity Drag, and it has meaning to me for a few reasons. First, is the band itself – I mentioned in yesterday’s entry that Varsity Drag played at the very first Camelfest weekend, at Maxwell’s in 2011. I neglected to mention in that entry, two different things that made that special to me: first, nobody in Varsity Drag knew me when I asked them to play. Second, Varsity Drag was from Boston. I reached out to this guy I didn’t know, who was a founding member of one of my favorite bands of all time (the Lemonheads), and asked him if his band would drive four hours to New Jersey to play for free, and without hesitation, they said “yes.”

That’s about as cool as it could be.

At that show, we formally met Ben for the first time, but also Lisa Deily (who played bass) and Josh Pickering (who played drums). These people were fantastic. We wound up having a lovely time with them, and I decided to ask Ben if Varsity Drag would be interested in contributing a track. The way I remember the story, Ben asked Lisa what song she thought would be fun to cover, and she said “Let’s Electrify!”

What’s amazing about that is that in the time we were putting together the compilation, we met Richard Baluyut from Versus (who also plays in the band Flower, and as much as we love Versus, we looooove Flower), and became friends with him. Versus is one of the bands that appears on the Pop Narcotic compilation. So the Varsity Drag cover of “Let’s Electrify!” became a song originally recorded by a friend’s band (that happens to be legendary), covered by another friend’s band (that also happens to be legendary). It’s about as meta a song as we’ve ever released.

So here’s Varsity Drag’s cover of “Let’s Electrify,” from the compilation album we called From ’93 Til Infinity. What a privilege it was to put this out.

If you buy this song, the compilation, or any of the other track on it that I write about over the next couple of days, we will donate the proceeds to Vote Forward, a nonprofit organization working to boost voter turnout among unlikely voters who are traditionally underrepresented in the electorate. We’re also working on our own effort to contact some of these voters in the state of Ohio, in an effort to help turn that state blue in the upcoming election – we’ll tell you more about that soon.

~ by Al on September 13, 2020.

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