Bria Re-energizes The Past on Vol. 2
Bria Salmena is a very busy person. As a touring member of Orville Peck’s band as well as a member of Toronto’s post punk band The Frigs and her own solo project Bria, Salmena seems to be always doing a million things. The Ontario based singer/songwriter and producer released her first solo EP, Cuntry Covers, Vol. 1 in 2021 and it showcased her deft ability at taking on some of the Country Music genres most beloved songs and making them her own. Herself and bandmate and co-producer Duncan Hay Jennings took off to rural Ontario and recorded the reverb drenched affair in an amazingly quiet and bucolic setting in between lockdowns and touring.
The duo are now back with Cuntry Covers, Vol. 2, out worldwide on February 24th via Sub Pop Records, and the release is a flip side to how they recorded the first offering. Done in the winter in their apartment in Toronto, the new EP is a darker take on some classics that don’t necessarily fall completely under the umbrella of what most would refer to as “Country Music” but skirt the edges of the genre and ultimately leave the listener with a very satisfying subversion of the classics the duo have chosen to interpret. While the original EP took on songs from the likes of Lucinda Williams, The Walker Brothers and Waylon Jennings, the new EP showcases Bria’s thoughtful responses to such artists as Gillian Welch, Paula Cole, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Robert Lester Folsom, Glenn Campbell by way of Nick Cave and the late, great Loretta Lynn. The result is, at times, caustic, uplifting, crazily danceable and completely endearing. When we reach Bria at her home in Toronto she lays out the decision to take on this endeavour, her hectic schedule and what she hopes to achieve as an artist working within a somewhat broken music industry.
“We were on a tour opening up for the band Wolf Alice,” Bria explains when discussing how the EP’s covers were chosen. “We somehow stumbled upon a Women In Song Spotify playlist and we were just having so much fun listening to it. The one song that kept popping up was “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” by Paula Cole and this became the one song that we just knew we had to find a way to crack and add to the record.” The cover in question is a sax filled, energetic dance romp take on the original and it kicks the record off perfectly in terms of setting you up for what the shape of the interpretations of these iconic songs will be. “Along the way, myself and Duncan set up a shared folder and would just add songs that in some way spoke to us personally or that we just had a fondness for. There was no real intention behind the ones we picked other than that really.” Huddled in the apartment where the two lived during a cold Toronto winter, the duo began working through the direction they wanted each of these songs to take. “There were a couple that we tried in a few different ways that we just weren’t happy with and instead of trying and trying to figure them out, we went with the ones that were immediately grabbing our attention. The Paula Cole cover was one that we worked a ton on because that was one we just both really wanted to include but the others were ones that came about more naturally. I really wanted to include Mary Margaret O’Hara because she’s just such an inspiration to me and when we decided to take on the Loretta Lynn song, it was before she passed, and it is such an iconic song in terms of how subversive it was at the time when it came out.”
Bria’s version of Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” is probably the most immediately hitting take on the EP. The original, released in 1967, explores marital rape and was one that Bria wanted to include because of Lynn’s unapologetic approach to its highly charged subject matter. With such pieces of art that have been around for a long time, the initial impact of them tend to get watered down over the years and through multiple listens but Bria’s interpretation of this song makes the subject matter hit all that much harder once again. “These things do tend to get overlooked if you don’t know the context of what the artist was trying to get across,” Bria says about the song. The tracks’s driving beat and percussive outbursts as well as Salmena’s pitch perfect take on Lynn’s vocals create a claustrophobic intensity that doesn’t let up throughout the song’s running time and it all forms a perfect distillation of the messages Lynn intended while updating the song to possibly perk up the ears of a new audience. “As I am mainly, and consider myself to be mainly a vocalist, what I really wanted to do with these songs was showcase, not a copy of what the original singers did with them but my interpretation of how they sound to me while keeping their original intentions intact,” Salmena says about her approach to the recording process.
Now that the EP is finished and almost out in the world, Bria and her band are planning only a handful of shows before she returns to working on new material. “I still have friends that message me daily with songs that they say we should cover for the next version,” she says and when asked if there will be a follow up, Bria laughs and says, “Hell no! This was just supposed to be an experiment, something that we wanted to work on during lockdowns and between touring schedules but we want to focus now on my own original material. I have a breadth of songs starting from December 2020 that we’ve been working on and that is the thing that gets me more excited than just recording more covers.” When asked if the process of working on these two EPs has had any influence on her own songwriting, Bria stops for a moment, wryly smiles and says, “No. To be honest, the covers have had no real bearing on how we are approaching these new songs,” she stops for a moment, laughs to herself and continues, “I guess we are just really good at dissociating when it comes to stuff like this.”
Judging on the care and effort Salmena and her crew put into the production and execution of these two EPs it is absolutely exciting to know that we will soon hear some new, original material from this project and if these original songs are anywhere close to what Bria has done on record so far, it’s going to be so worth any wait involved.
Order Cuntry Covers Vol. 2 by Bria HERE
Looking for something new to listen to?
Sign up to our all-new newsletter for top-notch reviews, news, videos and playlists.