On a hot Tuesday night in October, a huge line of eager music aficionados took over the block in front of Coda, hoping to squeeze into a unique (and sold out) show — Undercover, a collective of several well-known bands and musicians, was joining together to cover the classic album Velvet Underground and Nico in its entirety. The show was electric and the crowd decked out in its 1960s mod finest, channeling that delicious Factory vibe. A CD of the night is set to be released in January on Porto Franco Records, and in February Undercover will reunite to cover the Pixies' Doolittle. ("We like to hear old music played in new ways by interesting musicians" is the Undercover motto.) Undercover masterminds Charith Premawardhana, Lyz Luke, and Yosh Haraguchi talked about the project.
SFBG How did Undercover come together?
Charith Premawardhana After Jazz Mafia wrapped up their residency at Coda, there was a hole on Tuesday nights. They offered it to me, and I thought it'd be fun to see what happened. Then it gets to be a couple of weeks before the first event and I don't have anything lined up. So I called Adam Theis and Rupa, and they both agreed to do it. It ended up being this variety show with strings, and afterward Adam and I talked about the next one. We thought about this idea of doing a cover album and bringing together a bunch of different musicians.
Lyz Luke That same night I was up late. I saw Charith online, shot him a message, and he told me about his conversation with Adam. Of course I put in my two cents about my favorite album, "Velvet Underground and Nico." So we stayed up until five or six in the morning listening to the album and figuring out who'd be the best fit to perform each song. A few hours later, we met at the Revolution Cafe and started calling every musician we knew. Everyone was on board immediately.
Top: Liz Phair, Mark Matos, Stephan Jenkins. Center: Sarah Palmer with Edmund Welles. Bottom: Charith Premawardhana, Meklit Hadero, Sean Olmstead.
Top and Center photos by Bill Evans. Bottom photos by Heather Bernard
SFBG What about the guest stars who participated?
CP I've known Stephan Jenkins [of Third Eye Blind] for about four years. I was brought in to record for Vanessa Carleton when Stephan was producing her album. We recorded the strings over at Peter Getty's House. Then a few months ago, I played an event over there and left my phone behind. When I went back, there was a girl on the couch I didn't know. I told her about the Velvet Underground cover project and that we still had a couple of openings for singers. She immediately starts singing "All Tomorrow's Parties" and it sounded good. I didn't even know who she was, she'd just introduced herself as Liz. There we were watching the Giants game, drinking beers. When I finally asked her what her last name was and she said Phair, I was like "Oh shit, I used to have your album." She agreed to do the show, and when I saw Stephan later that day he wanted to be part of it too. He initially wanted to do "Heroin," but I had to tell him it was already taken.
SFBG What's up next?
LL The next album is the Pixies' Doolittle, another favorite of mine. And we're moving to Public Works, which is larger. We did really well at Coda, sold out two shows with very little promotion. But it was chaotic for the artists to do two shows with 11 set changes in such an intimate space, including a marimba being hauled back and forth!