The in-demand Portland sideman decides it’s time for a reappraisal of Macca’s greatest
BY TIM HINELY
You might not know Dave Depper by name but he has
collaborated with many of the Northwest’s finest
bands (The Decemberists, Blue Giant, Mirah, Loch Lomond, Norfolk
& Western, etc.) so plenty of musicians in that northwest town certainly
know his name. It seemed that Depper got to a point where while he
didn’t mind playing sideman, he really wanted to do his own material and more
importantly, a record. He didn’t have an album’s worth of original songs,
however, so he did what anyone else would do: he re-recorded Paul McCartney’s
classic 1971 Ram record.
Oh yes he did: The Ram
Project, now out via the Jackpot label (www.jackpotrecords.com).
Per the press sheet, “using a couple of guitars, a keyboard,
a Rickenbacker bass, a borrowed drum kit, one microphone and a laptop,” Depper
pieced it together in a month recording at home (something he had never done
before). Oh yes he did. Other than some vocals by Joan
Hiller, it is all Depper. Some people will moan that it is not an original idea
and while it is a note for note copy it is still uniquely Depper. In place
of woodwinds and strings you have squealy keyboards and Depper’s Brit accent is
certainly charming. The opener “Too Many People” is rich in melody while “3
Legs” adds a bit more grit than Macca managed and though it’s missing the noisy
segue, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” swoops and shifts just like the kooky
original. “Dear Boy” sounds nearly perfect (like maybe what Elliott Smith might
have done with it). And what else would you expect on the front cover but a
cartoon drawing of Depper holding the horns of a… cat!
Sir Paul, you’ve been served, the ball is now in your court.
BLURT: I guess the
obvious question, why this record?
DAVE DEPPER: Well, I’d already made up my mind to
cover an entire album, note for note. The goal was twofold: a
personal challenge that would test my abilities as an instrumentalist and
vocalist, and also a crash course in recording a record at home, which was
something I’d never done before.
reason, “Ram” occurred to me pretty much from the beginning. It’s such a weird,
varied record – it’s not like being able to recreate one song would necessarily
mean the rest would automatically fall into place. For instance, “Too Many
People” features a very technically challenging guitar solo, “Dear Boy” has a
vocal arrangement that would make the Beach Boys’ heads spin, and “Monkberry
Moon Delight” involved shredding my vocal cords to pieces. I knew that it would
be something of a triathlon of a recording project.
Also, I feel
like McCartney’s solo work gets some critical short shrift, and while you could
never call anything by an ex-Beatle truly “obscure,” part of me wanted to
celebrate this great, bonkers little record that most people I know have never heard.
Was there a certain
point when this record came to you? Like light bulb going off? Had you thought
of covering other records (“Hmmm… maybe I could do Slanted and Enchanted or…?”)?
There are reports of me wandering around on New Years’
Eve 2009/2010, drunkenly declaring that I was going to re-record “Ram,” though
I honestly have no memory of this. And no, I never considered doing another
one. “Ram” was the first record I thought of, for sure.
When you told
friends/music collaborators what your idea was, what was their reaction?
Most people were overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been a
sideman in lots of bands in Portland for several years, and people have
been bugging me to do something of my own for a while. I don’t if this is
exactly what they had in mind, but I think it all worked out okay. Funnily
enough, the only words of discouragement I got were from my friend Colin Meloy,
who simply said “don’t do it.” He was totally joking, but ever since I hit #1
on the Billboard charts, I like to rub it in his face. Oh, wait…
It sounds pretty note
for note; was that the idea?
Oh yeah, for sure. The goal was to recreate the record
as exactly as possible. Any deviation from that was a personal failure.
Were the any
instruments you wish you had access to that you didn’t?
Well, obviously, I wish that I knew how to play
strings and woodwinds so that I could have recreated the orchestral parts on a
few songs without synthesizers. Also, I only had one microphone input, so I had
to record each drum one at a time, by itself. That was extremely
time-consuming. I’ve since upgraded the studio!
After it was released
were there any imperfections that you were like, “Darn, if I had
You know, it was such a labor of love that I kind of
enjoy the little quirks here and there. I can hear myself growing as a
performer, and so I don’t really mind the little bits where things didn’t
quite work out. However, I do have one major regret: I was too lazy to recreate
the noisy segue between “Uncle Albert” and “Smile Away.” That will haunt me for
the rest of my days!
How has the overall
reaction been so far? Any reviews trash it?
I’ve been quite surprised – the reaction has been
almost uniformly positive. [Ed. note:
Please count us here at the BLURT penthouse among those thumbs-up, Mr. Depper.]
I mean, I’m under no illusions that what I did was great art, or anything like
that. It is, at heart, a novelty record. Once done with great love and respect,
but it’s just covers, man! So, I’ve been quite bemused to find that there’s
actually people buying and listening to it.
only truly negative review that I’ve seen was from a blog devoted to cover
songs, called CoverMeSongs. However, the review was really well done, they made
a very good point, and I totally agreed with it. It basically said, “This is
just Ram done by a guy that can’t
play or sing as well as Paul McCartney. Why would I want to listen to this
instead of the original?” That is a question I can’t answer! Here’s the review:
from Jackpot Records, has some connections – think Sir Paul will ever hear it?
Man, I hope so. I kind of a have a multi-pronged attack
going on, trying to get this record to him. If anybody out there has a
connection to the man, please let him know about this!