Making a cover song your own is never an easy task, but it’s an endeavor that becomes exponentially more daunting when the song in question is the original band’s signature number and a generational anthem. Despite such an ambitious and uphill battle, Toledo heavy-soul avant-gardists ROVR deftly manage to wrangle and reinterpret the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Unhinged, distorted, and with a quickened and jittery tempo, it’s a foundationally destructive reworking, like the duo pulled the pin on a hand grenade and lobbed it into the template.
Opening with Matt Klein’s frenetic drumming before being joined by a spaced-out bass riff from Dean Tartaglia, it’s immediately clear this iteration is forging its own dark path. If the original version had a pervasive feeling of barely bridled paranoia, this one finds the reins being let loose, the narrator’s psyche fracturing and spilling across the maelstrom. The arrival of Tartaglia’s eerie and deranged vocals cements the impression. While the White Stripe’s original was tempered with an undercurrent of dread, ROVR‘s freakout version goes full bore in its cacophony.
Formerly Silent Lions, the two-piece band/three-piece musical team (when factoring in producer Zach Shipps) rechristened themselves as ROVR for a studio project in early 2017. They began playing live in 2018, maintaining the gritty and groovy nocturnal aesthetic cultivated under their former moniker, as evidenced in “Seven Nation Army” and their debut EP, Futuremetal.
Klein took some time to speak with PopMatters on the origins of ROVR’s cover.
“Seven Nation Army” is a pretty iconic song. What prompted you to cover it?
It was definitely the challenge. Covering the best known song by another two-piece rock band could ask for all kinds of comparisons. So we wanted to face that head on and have fun with it. Our version came together quickly during one rehearsal so we knew right away we had something that could work in a live set and should record while it felt fresh.
Your rendition is a pretty drastic reworking, which I personally prefer as opposed to covers that largely just replicate the original. When covering a song, how do you decide whether to go with a straight-forward approach or a fundamental retooling?
A cover song can easily get people’s attention, and just as easily lose it. Our goal was to take what’s exciting about where our sound is at right now and hang that on top of a familiar riff and melody. We’ve also covered PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” starting in our days as Silent Lions in a pretty straightforward way and have recently been playing Björk’s “Hyperballad” in a really dramatic slow building style that’s often a center to our current live sets.
When Dean started playing the “Seven Nation Army” opening bassline at a new tempo and groove it felt like the song re-wrote itself from there. And I immediately knew it needed to start with drums instead of bass like the original, and what kind of killer drum sound we could get for it with our producer Zach Shipps.
The White Stripes’ song has become a sports anthem since it was released and the chorus rhythm of ours plays on that, as well as the huge riff and drum breakdown during the bridge. I remember laughing when that bridge happened during rehearsal because it was so natural and so much fun to play and as big or bigger than any other ‘stadium rock moments’ in our own songs. I’ve noticed there’s almost a checklist of ROVR musical and production elements present in this track you can trace back to other songs of ours recorded this year.
Is the song going to be on a forthcoming EP or LP?
We’ve got plans to collect all the songs we recorded in the last year into an album and this should be there. It fits in right alongside everything else.