The New Standards on covering Robyn and John Munson's mustache

The New Standards on covering Robyn and John Munson's mustache
Photo courtesy of the artist

It's getting to be that time of year again. We can tell, because the New Standards' holiday shows are upon us, and this year, the jazz trio -- Chan Poling, Steve Roehm and John Munson -- has decided to gift us with a double offering: three shows, plus a CD release.

Sunday Morning Coming Down is the band's fourth studio album, and it features reinterpretations of songs from across genres. On the record, the New Standards have taken songs like Beck's "The Golden Age," Harry Nilsson's "One," and even a re-gendered version of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" (on the album as "Call Your Boyfriend") to new levels. The songs are recast, taken apart and reassembled, and given a whole new life under the New Standards' treatment. It's a playful and surprising collection, but not without its somber moments; the band's version of Lucinda Williams' "Essence" sounds as lonely as it is moving.

Ahead of the trio's sixth annual set of holiday shows at the Fitzgerald this weekend, Gimme Noise caught up with Chan Poling to discuss the making of the album, how their newest music video came about, and what's going on with John Munson's mustache.

GN: Tell me a little bit about Sunday Morning Coming Down. How long have you guys been working on this album?

CP: I can't remember when the last album came out, but we worked on the latest one pretty much straight through for about three years. We started recording in one studio and moved to another one, recorded in our home space, and then we went into the Terrarium and recorded there, and it was a long process. We always thought that this [album] was going to be a little bit different, and we were going to fold in some of the bigger players that we used for our holiday show.... And that had to be tempered a little bit. The mood of the album got sort of somber... We had done a huge arrangement of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," which just didn't fit. In the end, it became a happy medium of trio stuff with some larger instrumentation.

GN: This is the fourth studio album for you guys. What's different about this one for you all?

CP: We went through a lot of personal stuff the last couple years, and that definitely is reflected in it. We always thought we gotta put more upbeat, nutty, funny stuff on here, some faster, flashier things... An album is a listening experience, a mood that lasts for an hour, and we still believe in [making] that.

GN: Tell me about your decision to cover the songs you did.

CP: The way we decide to do the songs we do -- because the pool is so deep, it's basically every single song ever written in the world, and that's kind of the fun thing about the New Standards, we have our other bands and we do our own thing, and then we can kind of play. We dig into other people's songs. The selection is really kind of intuitive -- it's just hearing a song while you're shopping at Target or in your car and going, "Oh, I love that song, I forgot about that song." Whereas in the case of Robyn, my son, he sent me that song ["Call Your Girlfriend"], and I went, "I actually love this." Her video of that song fascinates me for some reason, I don't know why... Every song has to mean something. The main reason we did the Johnny Cash song ["Sunday Morning Come Down"] was because it was a nice mix of humor. He has all these forlorn images, and then at the end he says he just wishes he was stoned, and that made me laugh... it's a nice mix of humor and pathos, that kind of touches me.

GN: Let's talk about the music video for "Call Your Boyfriend." First of all, I love your interpretation of the song -- it's so fun to hear Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" from a New Standards POV. How did you guys decide how to do the video?

CP: Usually the way we do a song is, if we like the song, we'll just sit down and play it, the three of us. In the case of a big rock song like "London Calling" or "Call Your Girlfriend," where the music is driven by other things, we see if we can play it and still have fun. With Robyn, ["Call Your Girlfriend" is] a sweet song, lyrically, and kind of sad, and she's also kind of crazy, and we wanted to bring that out. We looked at the recording and it's kind of sparse, and John made a joke that we were like a band at a high school play, and we went, "Wouldn't it be great if we were a band at a high school play?"

GN: Who were the dancers in the video?

CP: Joe Chvala, he's a choreographer in town, and Joanne Spencer, they gathered dancers they worked with. He has a troupe called the Flying Foot Forum and it came together so fast, it was just stunning. We asked Wyatt McDill to direct it, we said, "We have this idea." We had one coffee meeting, and they said, "Okay, let's put it together...." When I showed up, there must have been 30 people there, and there was catering, people rehearsing, it was incredible.

GN: What can we expect at the holiday shows? Will they all follow the same format, or are you doing something different every night? Are there any fun things you want to tell us about?

CP: We're definitely doing something a little different in the first act. It's kind of a little tableau play involving projections that we're going to project on a thirty-foot scrim behind us. It's a Christmas story inspired by John's mustache. So that's happening. The second act is going to be a little different, we have a special guest coming in from New York, and a lot of people from the Cities, some of the usual suspects and some new faces. Every year I say we're gonna simplify, and every year it gets more overblown and crazy. We just can't figure out how to simplify, I guess.

The New Standards Holiday Show and CD Release is taking place at the Fitzgerald Theater. They have three shows: Friday, December 7th at 8 p.m.; Saturday, December 8th at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, December 9th at 2 p.m. Tickets for Friday and Saturday are $35, tickets for Sunday are $22. All Ages. 

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