Power pop tribute album
New York-based musician sings cover songs
By David Chiu
Spike Priggen may not be a recognizable name to most casual music listeners, and thats fine with him. Yeah, nobody knows who I am, deadpans the 41-year-old singer, songwriter who has been part of the alternative rock scene for over 25 years. Im totally obscure. Most of the music I like is really obscure so I can take some solace in that.
Obscure also best describes the NewYork-based musicians choice of cover songs that make up his second solo album Stars after Stars After Stars. It consists of tracks originally recorded by the Ramones, Big Star, Alice Cooper, and the Zombies, as well as songs by the Jacobites and Hot Bodies, two local bands from Priggens hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. Making the covers album started out as an excuse to experiment and test new production techniques. I did it for fun early on to begin with, he says. It kind of grew into a record that I wanted to release.
Rather than recreating the songs in their original letter-perfect form, Priggen applied his distinct power pop melodic touch to them; one might have thought the catchy songs were truly his own tunes. Ive been doing them for so long that I can almost forget that I didnt write them, he says. I just had it in my head from the way I remember them. I didnt want to have them be just like the originals.
The songs transported him back to the 70s and early 80s during which his musical tastes developed. One song he felt proud of interpreting on the record is When You Looked At Me by singer/songwriter Jennifer Jackson. I think we added a pretty arrangement on that one, like what Harry Nilsson did on the Badfinger song Without You. Priggen even goes as far to cover A Slow Soul by the British pop group Scritti Politti. Its more of a soul ballad before they used drum machines, he says. Its as far away from their later [80s synth pop] stuff.
Priggen employed several talented local musicians for Stars after Stars After Stars; the biggest highlight according to him was having Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos play on several tracks. He has been friends with Carlos for over 25 years since meeting him backstage at a Cheap Trick concert. It was almost like having Ringo Starr and [Led Zeppelins] John Boham playing drums on my record, he says proudly. I couldnt think of anything that comes close to that.
Cheap Trick were one of the bands that fostered Priggens love for power pop as a kid in New Haven; one of his other influences were legendary cult band Big Star, whose Nightime is on Priggens record. I loved Big Star since when I was 12 or 13, he says. Ive always been a big fan of theirs, back when it was literally me and two other guys in New Haven knew who Big Star were.
Spike (nee Michael) Priggen had been playing music since 1978 as a member of various bands in New Haven. He was a part of the citys underground punk and New Wave scene (whose graduates included musician/producer Jon Brion, and Mark Mulcahy and Ray Neal of the rock band Miracle Legion). Priggen later moved to New York to study photography at the School of Visual Arts; he also formed a band called Blue Period, which later evolved into the Hello Strangers during the 80s. He was involved with other ensembles including the Boston-based Dumptruck; he later launched an independent label #1 Records and produced various projects. I figured out over the last couple of weeks that a band I was in, in 1980, called TV Neats is on three different power pop compilations, he says, indicative of his long musical resume.
After years of playing and recording with other people, Priggen finally released The Very Thing You Treasure (2001)his first album under his own nameto acclaimed reviews. Recording and releasing that album proved to be a challenge when Priggen was involved in a car accident that sidelined him for several months, and suffered a vocal ailment. I couldnt sing for like a year, he remembers, between recording the music and the singingit sort of made that record take a long time to get done.
Priggen is already busy working on a new album of his own original compositions. He doesnt plan to go out on an extensive tour, although he will play a few local shows. Right now, he hopes that people will like and enjoy Stars after Stars After Stars. I like to play and sing, Priggen says simply. Thats about it really. Its like a big vanity project. Im not making these records because somebodys paying me. Im making them because Im taking money out of my own pocket and doing it.