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Flint’s Mercy Beach Just Reinvented Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ [VIDEO]

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Flint’s Mercy Beach gives Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ a completely new sound with their original arrangement of the beloved grunge anthem.

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is the song that launched a thousand ships of grunge rockers into the mainstream. It is often referred to with terms like “the most influential song of the decade,” “the best song of the 90s,” and  “the anthem of a generation.” It is not so highly regarded just because it is a great song, but because it marked a sea change in not only rock music, but the face of popular music at large.

Any song as monumental as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (there aren’t many) becomes part of the very fabric of music and the way it is learned. Kids learn to play it on their instruments, and its fingerprints often reside on what they create going forward, even if in the most minuscule of ways. That effect, paired with the relative ease with which one can learn to play most Nirvana songs, also results in droves of bands covering the song with varying degrees of success. The point is that If you’ve seen more than a handful of local bands perform live, you’ve probably heard a satisfactory, yet forgettable rendition of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ This is not one of those situations.

Mercy Beach has long been a favorite of ours on the local scene and in general. We’ve even honored them as the top local band in years past, which is and was a well-deserved accolade. Their latest release is not an original song, but what they accomplish here is something much more difficult. They’ve taken a song that is so well known that every note of it is burned into our subconscious, thrown out most of the instrumentation we identify with it, and replaced it with something completely new and original… but somehow still made it feel right.

Their cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is captivating and runs a completely different spectrum of emotions than the original. I’ve never thought of it as a love song, but Mercy Beach has made it feel like one. Honestly, it is hard, maybe impossible, to hear the original the same way after listening to their version. That, in and of itself, is an incredible accomplishment.

The new arrangement was composed by Mercy Beach member and multi-instrumentalist Randy Dunckley. He recorded a demo of his arrangement with Kurt Cobain’s vocals in the summer of 2016 and shipped it off to singer Mike Roland. Floored with results, Roland began preparing to record the track at Fire Hyena Studios with frequent collaborator and producer Chris Lewis. It may sound like a minor process, but recording almost never is, as Roland describes below:

After several live performances to help dial it in, we booked time to get it laid to track at the studio. Initial recording took probably 6 to 8 hours to get the piano, cellos, French horns and guitar tracks down. Then another hour or so for the vocal layers. Then came the grueling part of mixing the song to get it exactly how we felt it should sound. Many people may not be familiar with how much a 2 dB bump for the vocals, panning the horns a bit to the left and right, cutting the bass frequency from the piano to clear up mud can make or break the listenability of their favorite songs. An additional 20 hours went into the mixing and mastering with 5 different iterations being proofed before we had found precisely the right representation.

The end result of Roland, Dunckley, and Lewis’ hard work is what you hear on the track — a powerful and moving performance that breathes new life into an incredible song you’ve heard thousands of times before, but never like this.

The band put a lot of work, and resources into this recording, as did Moonlight Studios, the team behind the music video. If you enjoyed it, and would like to support the artists behind the project, you can do so by sharing their video on social media (see Facebook version of video below), or by purchasing mp3 of the track on Bandcamp, or both, really. Great local rock bands like Mercy Beach can only continue if you support them. You can keep up with all the latest Mercy Beach happenings via Facebook, and at mercybeach.com.

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