Unsurprising Fact: Some seriously weird shit has happened during our collective planetary quarantine (which itself sounds like an inextricable paradox), but few of those things are quite so weird as members of Napalm Death, Voivod, Municipal Waste, Child Bite, Yakuza and others joining forces to record their version of a 1987 freakazoid song by English rock band Cardiacs. In its original incarnation, “Tarred and Feathered” was hilarious and intricate and unhinged. Now, a cast of metal’s most eminent players have recorded a madcap update to the track as well as one of the most satisfyingly odd videos possible in this brave socially distanced world.
And let’s not gloss over the personnel that populates this three-minute live-action cartoon: Shawn Knight from Child Bite asked peers and friends to join him on this journey, and along the way he brought on board Dan “Chewy” Mongrain of Voivod, Dave Witte of half the bands you listen to, Shane Embury of Napalm Death, Bruce Lamont of Yakuza, Christian Doble of Faunn, Stian Carstensen of Farmers Market, the entity known as PowerDave… and Cardiacs’ actual bassist (and brother of Tim), Jim Smith. The result is fiery and confusing and brilliant.
Decibel got an early tip about the project, which is why we get to be the first to show you the video. You have to see it to believe it! We also caught up with a few of the guys to get the inside scoop on how the whole shebang fell into place. Here’s what they said.
How did you decide on “Tarred and Feathered”?
Shawn Knight: It’s my favorite song of theirs. Shane’s too; he told me later that it’s the ringtone on his phone. The original video is really amazing; everybody should go check it out immediately and then come back to watch our version! That video is what got me hooked on the band to begin with. The song itself is so compact and uniquely structured, we didn’t mess with the composition or parts. It’s a tribute to Tim Smith’s craft and legacy.
Dan “Chewy” Mongrain: I think it’s one of their most famous. They had a crazy video clip for it when it came out. It is representative of their music in general: highly energetic with twists and turns you don’t expect. It has what I call a “bipolar” quality to it, if I may. It’s pure genius, like everything they’ve written. It’s a whole world window. I knew the song for having listened to it so many times but I never played it or learned it. Also there are different versions and orchestrations, depending on the live bands they had over the years, so I decided to record different options, playing the rhythm and the melodies and harmonies. I think it was all used in the mix in the end, so that’s great! It’s always a challenge to learn a Cardiacs song; I’ve learned a lot from it.
How did everyone get involved?
Knight: The origin is simple; I wanted to do a song with Dan! I knew he was a big fan of the Cardiacs and I could imagine us pulling off our respective parts. I think I hit up Witte next; he suggested PowerDave for vibraphone and Shane for bass since he’s probably the biggest Cardiacs fan out there. Shane snagged Jim Smith from the Cardiacs for bass too, humbly demoting himself to 2nd bass. Everybody just hopped on board! The only cold call was to Stian Carstensen, this incredible accordion player from Norway. I thought he might be a long shot, but he said yes right away too! I was lucky to catch everybody on a good day I guess.
Mongrain: My good friend Shawn Knight from the amazing band Child Bite contacted me to be part of this tribute to Tim Smith (R.I.P.) and Cardiacs. Shawn is a man of integrity, I knew he would do it the right way; I just said yes right away, even before knowing who was in. I was stoked when I got the email confirming who was to be part of it. It is such an honor to pay tribute to one of my musical heroes and favorite bands with such a great gathering of artists! I know most of the guys playing on this personally – Shane, Shawn, PowerDave and Dave. We haven’t got the chance to play together, but toured together for many weeks/months on different tours. Plus I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to play with Stian and Bruce and the one and only Jim!!! I have deep respect for everyone involved to celebrate Tim’s and Cardiacs’ music.
Shane Embury (in not-so-rare sly form): A few months ago, Mr. Witte, of this band called Municipal Waste, rudely interrupted my morning snooze with an alarming text message, demanding I take part in a rather cheeky but necessary rendition of the song “Tarred and Feathered” by my favourite band Cardiacs. I am ashamed to say I wet myself (unfortunately) with excitement! After regaining composure, I rightfully insisted that Cardiacs bass player and seer Jim Smith be there to oversee my contribution and to keep me in line, should I have any ideas of my own, as was bound to happen! Fortunately, I passed the test. Jim corrected my shoddy mistakes and also added a much needed addition to our recording! We met up at a studio in Cambridge. I got to play his bass and wear his old school Cardiacs tie, so I had to sneak into the toilet for a weep of joy! Jim obviously played the song perfectly; I jumped in for the easy bits!
Jim Smith: Was well chuffed to be asked to take part by Shane and the lads and even better to hear and see the final result. Kinda got the vibe I reckon. I think we all did the boy proud, so massive thanks to all involved. I’ll have a tenner each way on the horse…
Did you all coordinate on how you would stage the video?
Knight: Everybody just did their own thing! I believe Shane mentioned early on that he was gonna track down a burgundy suit as a nod to that Cardiacs’ album cover, so a bunch of us ended up getting dolled up too. I think the two Daves were the first to shoot their bits. They used like eight cameras or something; lotsa angles! It was filmed at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in Richmond, [Virginia]. I’ve never been, but if they are buds with Witte then I’m sure it’s legit. [Regarding my part,] back in the fall, my wife and I moved into a little cottage up in Bellaire, Michigan, about four hours north of where we were living in Detroit. It’s one of those pandemic silver-linings; we would have never come up here if not for our day jobs becoming remote. We’re right on the lake, so I just dragged that little boat out onto the ice and voila!
Mongrain: Shawn had his idea for the final edit, but it was all done separately with not much direction, other than just trying to have a “Cardiacs ambience” so to speak. Plus, being in the lockdown and a curfew situation in a different part of the world surely narrowed the options. I chose to put on a tie (the only one I had) and a daisy pin (one of the symbols of Cardiacs) that someone gave me during a show in the U.K. when touring with Voivod. I very often wear a Cardiacs shirt onstage, and many Voivod fans know it and put their Cardiacs shirts at our shows. Then there is always this eye contact during the set, acknowledging the mutual love of Cardiacs. I had a few shirts still in good shape to display on our Voivod side stage banner/scrim, to kind of hide my ugly music room wall. That’s all I had to make it a bit better!
What else should everyone know about this song?
Mongrain: For some reason, when I talk about Cardiacs, I always seem to hear a dog barking in the distance…I don’t know why…so annoying…What is it with that %[email protected]?$% dog!… This band, with all the great musicians they had through the years, must be celebrated as often as possible. Tim’s music is so beautiful, rich, and so unique. It deserves to live on through our love and passion for it. This is real art: no compromise, authentic. It’s just what music is all about. Again, I’m so grateful and thankful to have had this opportunity to be part of this tribute and celebration. There is no word that can describe it.
Embury: It’s amazing how Cardiacs have been given this extra lease of attention lately with Dave Grohl, in particular, becoming a fan, confirming what I have known for decades: that Cardiacs were and still are untouchable in musical genius! I just wish Tim was here to see it, but our leader is everywhere, I am sure, and is smiling down at us now with his ever cheeky grin! Thanks to the boys involved for letting Jim and I be a part of it. 🌼
Knight: This is one of my favorite projects that I’ve ever been a part of; recording on a song with some of my musical heroes, paying tribute to an underground icon who passed away too soon. I like to think it would’ve made Tim smile.