Interview: Jason Dunn of ‘Boston Does Boston’ on the latest round of his cover compilation series

Muy Cansado

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he critics say the Boston music scene is an incestuous clique of back-door dealings and insidious plots to ignore outsiders, a giant circle-jerk of insular support where the bands are all in bed with one another, penetrating the anus of self-interest with the greasy fist of insincerity.

As Hunter S. Thompson might say, there’s even a negative side.

But nestled deep within that pit of internet shit slinging and musical xenophobia is some in-real-life support for one another, and that support shines through on the latest round of Jason Dunn’s Boston Does Boston compilation cover series, which celebrates Volumes 3 and 4 tonight (and again next Friday) at T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge.


The idea behind Boston Does Boston is simple: a homegrown band or project takes on another local band’s song and records it under Dunn’s guidance. The results are released compilation style with proceeds going to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. It’s like our city’s Halloween shows exploded all over itself but ignored anything outside the I-495 belt. Like usual.

You’ve got Lifestyle covering the Daily Pravda, the Rationales covering Mary Lou Lord, Spirit Kid covering Count Zero, and on and on.

We caught up with Dunn, the ringleader behind the madness that’s now featured several dozen bands, to get the scoop on exactly what is going on here.


Michael Marotta: So how did you come up with the idea for Boston Does Boston?

Jason Dunn: Ages ago I got to cover a great Guppyboy song called “North Hyde Park” on a compilation called Burlington Does Burlington, four-track style, harmonizing all over myself. I was still a teenager, so it was probably the first time anyone had heard me sing lead, and the thrill of being part of it was awesome.

In February 2013 I broke my ankle, and while I was laid up I realized that I knew enough bands here that I could just reach out and make a similar comp, but it would be huge in comparison — recording technology and the quality of music in our city right now, plus our collective reach… it just seemed like a slam dunk if I could get people to do it. That was Volumes 1 & 2, and even though show attendance was crushed by the big Nor’easter last December, everyone loved it, so I decided to give it another shot. So, so much reward for the effort.


Were any of the bands apprehensive? Did some need convincing?

Yeah… there are a few this time around who didn’t really have time, or were reticent, but I wasn’t going to let them slide off the project. I wound up recording about six bands in my studio, lending my own playing or singing if they needed it, since the whole thing is just a big love-fest anyway. I’ve known Mary Lou Lord since I was 15, and she wound up emailing me her vocal parts on her Hey Now, Morris Fader cover and I added guitar and my vocals over here.

With Ruby Rose Fox, she wasn’t sure if she could do it but there was no f-ing way I was losing that voice on this record, so I brought her over to my studio, we decided on a Portishead-style approach and I played all the instruments. I think it sounds awesome. And I’ll get to tell people the story when she’s famous.


How did you determine which band covers which?

I asked each participant to pick their top three choices out of the other participants, and then I tried like hell to make the spreadsheet work, but warned everyone that if they didn’t get back to me in time I’d just assign them someone. The inherent scatterbrained and/or lazy nature of artists works out well for something like this — I tied up the loose ends by just making the slackers cover each other, usually pushing them as far as I could outside their comfort zone.

Was there an effort to clash genres, or finding “fits” versus non-“fits”?


Oh, definitely. To me, the whole point (beyond tying all these artists together forever and filling food bowls at the ARL) is to get a truly different take on a great song. So when I’m matching up people’s picks, I’ll generally shoot for the one that’s least like them — last time it was Black Thai (RIP) covering Freezepop, this time it’s Muy Cansado covering DAve Crespo’s After Party — and both were an absolute joy to hear in the end.

At what point did you think “Oh shit I have something cool here!”?

When I tried to make any kind of sense of the Daily Pravda’s cover of Future Carnivores. I mean, WTF, guys. That shit is a head trip.


Why did you decide to make the Animal Rescue League the beneficiary?

I’m alternately good and awful at relating to humans. My best friend in my life was my cat of 15.5 years, Siva, and he and I had a perfect, non-verbal friendship that was tight as hell. I think about the damage humans can do with words, and my respect for animals just increases. Hell, I’m even trying to go pescetarian. Animals feel raw feelings and do what they’re meant to do, unless we fuck with them. So the thought of an abandoned, abused or generally helpless cat or dog will probably forever hit me harder than any tale of humans being terrible to each other.

It was a natural choice for me, and it’s really hard to find someone who would argue with the idea of giving to an animal shelter AND getting a ton of awesome music for it. And if you find that person, they’re probably a giant dick.

Will there be a Vols. 5 and 6?

I’d like to think there will be a Volume 5… I love the double CD idea because it opens up the floodgates so very wide when it comes to choices, but the fact of the matter is that unless you’re offering something tangible in return, it’s pretty hard to manage twenty-ish bands onto a CD comp, let alone the live shows. There’s certainly no shortage of great bands in this town, and like I mention in the Vol. 3 & 4 liner notes, at least 30 must-hear bands pop up every year in Boston. It could go on forever.

Performing tonight at T.T. The Bear’s Place: Cask Mouse, the Rationales, Muy Cansado, the Fatal Flaw, Dave Crespo’s After Party, and the Daily Pravda. On tap for October 24: Reverse, Count Zero, Dead Cats Dead Rats, Vary Lumar, Future Carnivores and Joe Turner &The Seven Levels. Tickets are available here.


Bos Does Bos

Boston Does Boston