ONE: RACHEL NAGY HAS ONE HELL OF A TELEPHONE MANNER.
Rachel Nagy: So what the fuck’s happening, Roger?
PopMatters: Not much. Nada. Rien. Nothing.You?
TWO: RACHEL NAGY HAS RECENTLY MOVED TO SAN DIEGO.
RN: Welllllll ... it’s a beautiful day here in California, and my man and I have just been working on our boat where we live and making some plans for the week. Just generally getting our shit together.
I moved out here ... probably the last year I’ve been going back and forth spending a month at a time because I met a guy out here and we got pretty serious and just in the last few months I finally committed and brought heavy objects and all my clothes. That’s the big thing. That’s when you know you’re serious. When you start bringing the heavy shit.
I live on a houseboat. It’s beautiful. It’s pretty much utopia. Our marina is pretty much right across from Seaworld so we get fireworks every night at ten o’clock. It’s amazing. Every night at ten o’clock I get fireworks right outside my door. You really can’t beat that. That’s our life. We have a boat, a motorcycle, fireworks, three-day sex. It’s a pretty good deal
And then I get to go run around and play musician. So I really can’t complain. Well, I could. But I won’t.
PM: Good for you. Take life on the chin.
THREE: RACHEL NAGY HAS A VOICE LIKE WHISKEY OVER HONEY (AND SHE USES IT TO GREAT EFFECT IN GOD’S OWN COVER BAND, THE DETROIT COBRAS).
RN: Why thank you. That’s very kind of you.
We are a cover band. We definitely do covers for a reason, and it’s not so we can start off here with covers and then grow up into our own sound and material. It’s that this is what we love to do, this is what we want to do. These are the songs and the music we love and that we want to play.
I don’t particularly think that I’m such a fucking genius that I’m going to be able to tell the world something they don’t already know, that hasn’t been said a million times already. So much modern music is just a copy of a copy of a copy. It’s all got too much now. People don’t even know where their shit is coming from; they don’t even know they’re copying shit. I just like to go back and acknowledge that it’s already been done, and done much better, and have fun with that. We’re not thinking that we’re improving on it or anything else, we’re just saying that you can’t go see these people any more, but hey! We’re a cheap imitation ... well, not so much an imitation ... we’re a cheap thrill ... but at least you get a little bit of the thrill as opposed to not getting to hear this stuff at all.
FOUR: RACHEL NAGY IS A PUNK ROCK CHICK WITH A HEART OF GOLD (AND SHE SINCERELY, HONESTLY, GENUINELY WANTS TO GET YOU LAID).
RN: Fuck, yeah. We play dance music. Party music. We play old-fashioned Friday-night-go-out-and-find-a-pretty-girl- and-dance-with-her-because-it-WILL-get-you-LAID music. Go-home-exhausted-sweaty-stained-and-drunk- saying-man-what-a-great-night-let’s-do-it-all-again-next-week music.
We try to give you a night to make you feel the week you worked to get your paycheck was worth it.
PM: You’re playing here two days before my birthday. Perhaps I should come see if I can get lucky.
RN: You should. Definitely. It’s a date.
FIVE: RACHEL NAGY SPENT SOME OF HER FORMATIVE YEARS IN AUSTRALIA (WHICH IS WHY SHE LOVES THE SAINTS).
RN: My Dad worked for Fords, and when I was about to start kindergarten, he was transferred to right outside Melbourne, to Geelong. We were there for about a year, so I went to kindergarten there. And then a couple of years later we went back. So ... the end of primary school and the beginning of junior high ... I was in Australia. I spent some formative years there that I’m very grateful for.
And actually, we just toured back there. It was the first time I’d been back since I was a kid and it was really cool. It was like coming home. Pretty nice way to return too ... like kind of triumphant ... a bunch of sold out shows, people stopping you on the street, and shit. A really sweet way to come back to a place.
SIX: RACHEL NAGY DID NOT KILL JOHN PEEL.
RN: Our record label in England told us it was John Peel’s birthday and said that all the bands were making him birthday cards and things, so can we please do something? Make him a birthday card? Blah blah blah.
So we said, “Well, OK, but how come we do all these things for him and he supposedly loves us but we never get to see him? We don’t believe he exists.”
So we made him this really silly card. It was like: “Yay, this is the Cobras, and why do Jack and Meg get to come to your house for dinner, but we don’t? Are you real? Do you even exist? Or are you like Santa Claus?” And his last show? He started the show with us and then he read the letter on the air and then he died. So ... oops.
John Peel definitely did a lot for us and was very, very flattering. We never heard anything but good stuff from that guy. He was amazing. Talk about a loss. There’s not many people die nowadays and you go, “Oh wow, there’s a hole in the world now.” But he left a gaping hole. The guy was just fucking unbelievable. There’s never going to be anyone like him ever again. He turned me onto a whole lot of stuff. At junior high and the beginning of high school, at two in the morning in Detroit, I’d go out on to our back porch to sleep, and I’d turn on my radio and pick up this late-night Canadian station and they would always play Peel Sessions that would turn me on to a lot of stuff I would never have heard otherwise. I certainly owe a debt to the guy. I feel sorry for the generations coming up that won’t have him.
SEVEN: RACHEL NAGY THINKS THE DETROIT COBRAS ARE A LIVE BAND WHO OCCASIONALLY MAKE RECORDS (OR A STUDIO BAND WHO OCCASIONALLY PLAY LIVE).
RN: Yeah, I’m kinda schizophrenic on that, actually. When we do live shows, and it’s great, and it’s all working really well, and my voice is strong, and we’re having a good time, and the songs are coming together, well, then I’m all like: “Yeah, we’re a live band, yeah!” And I’ll listen to our studio recordings and I’ll cringe: “My voice is so much better than that live. I sound like I’m fucking twelve! Yeah, we’re definitely a live band!”
But then maybe we’ll do some bad shows and then I’ll be all: “Man, we could do this so much better in the studio”.
I’m always flipping back and forth.
But, yeah, live shows are always fun. It varies, of course. You can have a bum show where either the crowd’s just boring, or we’re all out of tune, or whatever, you know? Or they can be fucking amazing where you just come off screaming: “Omigod! That was so much fun.” But then the studio’s nice because there’s a lot of things you can’t do live like the really cool background vocal and harmonies and stuff. You can be a lot more ... well, I don’t want to say “manipulative” because we really don’t manipulate, we don’t do ProTools or any of that shit. But you can take your time and fuck with dynamics and feel more. Whereas at our live shows, we just speed up. It’s true. All our songs become so much faster live. We have an ongoing debate about that among the band, but when you play a live show the energy is different and it calls for it. The live energy just demands more of an attack and a higher tempo. Maybe you just can’t hit that soul groove and that kind of mellow thing when you’re trying to get a feeling going with a crowd of people. Days later, you’ll hear a recording and it’s like: “Omigod! We’re a speed metal band!” but at the time it feels right. And people respond to that
It’s nice to go into the studio and relax and definitely get exactly what your vision is. A live show is more about getting a feeling across and getting everybody to have a good time.
PM: Maybe you should make a live album? Like Doctor Feelgood?
EIGHT: RACHEL NAGY HAS NEVER HEARD OF DOCTOR FEELGOOD (AND SHE HAS A REFRESHINGLY UNRECONSTRUCTED VIEW OF SEXUAL STEREOTYPES).
PM: Doctor Feelgood. In a strange way, they’re the band you remind me of most. Possibly because they covered two of the songs you cover: “Stupidity” and “Ninety Nine And A Half”.
RN: Are you serious? No shit? What a fucking trip. No fucking way.
PM: Yes. Way. And their landmark album, their live album, was actually called Stupidity.
RN: I’m going have to look them up. Were they a white band?
PM: Very white. Three big white guys in tight suits, and one skinny white guy guitarist on amphetamines. At that awkward moment just before punk rock, Doctor Feelgood was probably the tightest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. They played rhythm ‘n’ blues back when it didn’t mean R Kelly. A Bo Diddley rhythm to a white boy beat.
RN: Cool. I can tell they must’ve been good just based on the songs they played. Was it like that crazy northern soul where everybody gets up and sweats on Friday night and just has a riot, has a ball?
PM: Not really. Not northern soul. But they certainly used to sweat. None more sweaty, in fact.
RN: I thought the name sounded familiar when you said it, but I think it was just that song…
PM: Oh yeah, someone awful like Motley Crüe or Poison did a song called “Doctor Feelgood”. You wouldn’t want to confuse the two.
RN: You know what? That’s the joy of being a girl. We can just enjoy stuff, without having to document it, categorize it, talk it to death. That’s a job for boys. The girls get to listen to it, dance to it, fuck to it. And you boys have to keep all the records. You have to think about it, we just get to shake our booties to it. Ha! Ha!
PM: That’s all right. I quite like the boy thing.
RN: Yeah. I quite like boys’ things too.
NINE: RACHEL NAGY KNOWS ALL THE CLASSIEST SITES ON THE WEB (AND ONE OF THEM INSPIRED THE FIRST EVER DETROIT COBRAS ORIGINAL).
RN: It’s called “Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat)”, and it’s definitely in the tradition of the old blues double entendres. It was such fun to do. Mary (Restrepo), Greg (Cartwright) and I wrote that together. And while we were writing it, we were in hysterics. It was even nastier than the finished version. We were being absurd and obscene. We were just fucking around, really, and then suddenly it started coming together.
There’s this web site where people just go and eat a hot dog. And that’s all this fucking web site is. Just people eating hot dogs. And pictures and videos of people eating hotdogs. So that was the idea for the song, and we just started being goofy and being really disgusting. “I can eat one, or I could eat three / It takes a lot of dogs to satisfy a girl like me”.
PM: Funny thing is, when I was listening to the CD in my car, I didn’t realize it wasn’t a cover.
RN: That’s really the highest praise we could have, when people find out it’s an original and they’re surprised because they thought it was just another cover. That’s really the opposite of what usually happens to bands.
We set the bar really high with the material that we do, so then to write a song and put it up against this stuff; it’s a hard thing to do. It has to make sense, it has to fit in.
You won’t be seeing any records of all Cobra originals, because that’s NOT the point. But it’s fun to know that we can. That we have the ability to write a song and have fun with it when we want. That’s cool.
We don’t usually get so racy. Just by the nature of the beast. And yes, it’s rude and funny, but it’s not that blatant, which is also nice. Nowadays there’s so much music that’s like: “Give me pussy, bitch, suck my dick”. I mean, Jesus Christ! Leave something to the imagination. Please.
You know, I really hate music like that. Music that’s so dirty and disgusting it’s basically gynecology set to music.
And then there’s all these bands who think they’re really, really deep. It’s like all right, eighth grader, go back to your poetry class and leave me alone.
Fuck. I’m babbling, sorry. Fuck.
PM: Don’t worry. I’m enjoying it.
RN: That’s the main thing.
TEN: THE DETROIT COBRAS’ COVER OF OTIS REDDING’S “SHOUT BAMA LAMA” IS ONE OF THE VERY BEST RECORDINGS OF ALL TIME. EVER. EVER (AND IT INSPIRED ONE OF THE WORLD’S WORST TRIBUTE BANDS).
PM: Yes, really. It’s perfect. It’s in my all time top ten, no question.
RN: Well thanks. You know, we could play to a church full of nuns and they’d go nuts for that song. We’ve had people basically riot over that song. I remember the first time people started a mosh pit at a Detroit Cobras show, and I was just like: “What the fuck are these people doing?” These guys were up on stage and stage-diving, and one guy he jumped into the crowd with his glasses on, and his glasses broke and smashed into his face and we had to drag him in the back, and pick out like pieces of glass and shit from his face and eyes and stuff, and it was like what the fuck is going on? You never expect to see a mosh pit at a Cobras show. That song is cool, man. Even if we’ve played a shitty show and we’re not on top of our game, that song is usually our savior. We usually play it last. It’s kind of a good way to wrap a show up and end on a high note even if we fucked up otherwise.
It’s crazy too. One day I was on the computer doing something for the band. I was looking up lyrics or something, and someone had told me there was this page where people had written the lyrics to all the Cobra songs. Which is a trip because we get a lot of them wrong ourselves. So it’s like that rumor game where you whisper in people’s ears in a circle and by the end of it you can’t even tell what the original sentence was? These people had posted all these crazy, crazy lyrics of what they thought we were saying.
And there’s some crazy weird-ass shit in that song to start with.
So anyway this thing came up with—I think—just “Bamalama” and it was this band in England who were basically like a cover band of us. And their whole premise was based around that one song. And they’re terrible. They’re absolutely god-awful but it was just such a trip for us to cover this amazing song, and then have these other people cover what they think is us. It just keeps getting bastardized. To think that we could inspire a group of people to form a band because of one our songs? It just blew my mind.
PM: I’ve been trying to find this totally unlikely cover of “Shout Bama Lama”. I know it exists, but I can’t a find a version anywhere.
RN: What’s that? Who by?
RN: No fucking shit? I’ve never heard of that. Man, you’re giving me all kinds of stuff I gotta go look up. This is a trip. I gotta go fucking find that. I had no idea.
PM: Yeah. It was in the early ‘70s at the height of their ridiculousness and pomp. I think it was like an encore medley. “Shout Bama Lama” and some other songs. But I listen to your version and somehow I can’t picture Freddie Mercury doing that at all in his little tights and leotard.
RN: [Laughs heartily] Well, if you ever find a copy, you gotta send it to me. Deal?
THE PLUS ONE: RACHEL NAGY DOES THE CHA-CHA-CHA
PM: So, obviously. “Cha Cha Twist” has been quite successful for you, getting you onto a Diet Coke ad and all, but the thing I’m hoping you can help me with, is the ending to “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand”...
PM: ... where the song just ends on a “cha-cha-cha”?
PM: Well, where does that come from? That device? I’ve heard it in several different places but I don’t know where it came from originally.
RN: That’s something I just threw in. I don’t think it’s on the version we copied. You mean some other singers have done that too?
PM: Definitely. It’s on a song by the Saints; I think it’s their cover of “Lipstick on Your Collar”. And it’s on the Dictators’ cover of “California Sun” too. Which I think came first.
RN: Fuck. That’s kinda crazy. I guess it’s just in the collective consciousness of the music spirit.
You know, they say that if you put a hundred monkeys on one island and teach them how to do something, and you put another hundred monkeys on another island, that the second bunch of monkeys will learn to do the same thing, too. Without anyone showing them how. That somehow they have a collective consciousness where they all learn the same things.
OK. I’m getting really fucking weird now. I swear to God, I don’t even smoke pot or anything. I don’t know where this shit is coming from. I think the sun is baking my brain today.
But anyway, I love the Saints. They’re one of my all time favorite bands. Their “River Deep Mountain High” may actually rival Ike And Tina for me. It’s just so amazing. The perfect mix of punk and soul. It’s like the two worlds colliding and working in the best way imaginable.
PM: Much like “Shout Bama Lama”.
RN: You’re so sweet.
// Notes from the Road
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