From Texas Public Radio:
Live music has become one of the greatest cultural casualties of COVID-19. But as venues are shuttered and tours canceled, a group of 18 musicians in San Antonio are trying to keep up their creative chops while helping their community.
On Monday, the group released the “SA Covers For A Cause” compilation album. Some of the musicians are newcomers to the local music community, and some have been well-established for years.
The band Booty Feet came onto the scene in 2016. It broke up last summer but released two EPs during its short life.
Musician Victoria Acuña — also known as Vicky Burp — was an early fan. She covered “Church Candy” on the new album. She first heard a song from someone who was “more than a friend.”
“And so it kind of became a little special to me in that way,” she said. “Unfortunately, the meaning doesn’t really hold anymore, but the history behind it is attached to me.”
For Acuña, the song is a nostalgic throwback to a failed relationship. For the San Antonio community, it’s a nostalgic throwback to a since-disbanded group.
Acuña’s cover completely remade the song, stripping it down to its skeleton. She dropped the drums and electric guitar in favor of an acoustic guitar and violin. And where Booty Feet previously vamped under reverb-heavy vocals, she now draws on her classical training as a violinist to create an entirely different texture.
When TPR showed the then-unreleased cover to Noah Escamilla, songwriter and guitarist for Booty Feet, his eyes filled with tears.
“That’s beautiful. That’s so freaking cool,” he said. “I think it’s a better rendition of what I did — what we did. It kind of fits more of the sentiment of the song, more of what I was feeling when I was writing it.”
This cover is on a new album of old songs. Eighteen San Antonio musicians covered other local artists. The release is available for purchase on the popular DIY distribution platform, Bandcamp, and all proceeds go to the San Antonio Food Bank.
The project is the brainchild of Matthew San Martín — another member of the San Antonio music community. First and foremost, he said he wants to help feed San Antonio, which suffers from some of the highest levels of food insecurity and economic inequality in the country.
“Texas is a very food-insecure state,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do with this album is to help the people in our hometown — in our community — through the power of music.”
The project also kept him busy. He just graduated from St. Edward’s University.
“I can’t stress enough how, like any sort of job prospect or idea that I wanted to work on prior to the pandemic was just totally gone,” he said.
But now, he’s getting a masters degree in journalism innovation from Syracuse University, which houses one of the top communication programs in the country.
For the 18 musicians who contributed, the album also serves as a virtual reunion, of sorts. The San Antonio DIY music experience is often fleeting. Many artists don’t record all of their music and can only be heard in person.
Aaron Arguello is a songwriter with Jejune Stars, which covered Slomobile on the album.
“It’s been a difficult adjustment. The last time I’ve gone this long without playing live shows was when I was about 13 years old,” he said. “And I guess I really almost took them for granted, in a certain sense. So since then, I’ve been just kind of reevaluating not only what music means to me, but how to go about it in the middle of a pandemic, when I can’t see any of my bandmates — trying to figure out how to do things like record in a socially distanced way.”
As social interaction has become more virtual than physical, many of the songs on this record shifted towards a digital interpretation.
Arguello leaned into synths and drum machines for his cover of Slomobile’s “Kenny,” which originally featured distorted electric guitars and a driving drum set.
One of the strongest exceptions to that trend was Papergirl’s cover of “Good Days” by Boog. The nearly doubled tempo, acoustic instruments, reversed guitar and dry, double-tracked vocals nicely reimagined a well-written song. Where Boog’s space-y drums previously waded through reverb-heavy vocals, Papergirl’s busy percussion strolls at a steady clip under his depressed, conversational tones and dynamic reversed guitar licks. And the lyrics are perfect for quarantine.
Baldemar Esquivel — who goes by his first name when recording — took the electronic path. He turned around a synth-infused cover of “Sunset Smile” by Flower Jesus Quartet. He first saw the band in 2014, and the concert sticks in his memory.
“I was like, ‘Wow, there’s local people making cool music,’” he said. “I was just like, ‘Wow, it seems like we got a really cool thing going on here in San Antonio.’”
Esquivel lives in San Antonio, but a lot of local musicians spend a chunk of the year away from the city. Like Acuña, who goes to school in Boulder, Colorado. The pandemic canceled hundreds of shows slated to happen during the spring and summer.
“I hate it. I guess that’s the best way to put it. I really, really hate the situation,” she said. “I have just been doing music and performance ever since I was a little kid, from little piano recitals, orchestra concerts to house shows that I put together with my friends. That is so central to who I am and the community that I’m a part of.”
And Noah Escamilla — the songwriter from Booty Feet — had taken a break from performing during the months before the pandemic. But he still attended events and hung out with the community — which he now sorely misses.
“That’s also compounded with a really deep sort of regret that I have for taking so much time off of music before the pandemic because once the pandemic hit, it’s not like I can go back,” he said.
But the album allowed him to channel some creative energy. While one of his old songs was covered by Acuña, he added a cover of his own — his take on a “Kite,” by a long-beloved San Antonio band, Buttercup.
“The allegory is about, you know, grief is a kind of kite that pulls you with the wind, and you have to allow yourself to feel it before it kind of crashes down and falls back,” he said.
Escamilla’s harsher vocals and heavier instrumentation conveys that grief more overtly than the original song.
“I think it’s relevant to the times that we’re going to right now. I mean we’re experiencing as a culture — as a community — an unprecedented level of loss — loss of our friends, our loved ones, due to a global pandemic,” he said. “And the scale of that loss is, it’s hard to grapple with. I think everybody’s kind of come to terms with it — with the difficulty of just wrestling with what the world has become,” Escamilla said.
Love, grief and nostalgia permeate this album of reimagined songs. And when live shows resume sometime in the future, this record will serve as a reminder of a time when San Antonio’s music scene fell silent.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.