The last time singer/songwriter CAMERON DEZEN HAMMON made a solo record, it was 2005. It’s been a while. To ease back into recording after 10 years of playing church music, she has recorded an album of cover versions of songs by male artists, enlisting the help of JIMMY CARDOZA (electric guitar), JJ COLE (electric guitar), AIMEE NORRIS (cello), MATT HAMMON (acoustic guitar) and JAY SNIDER (programming, percussion, bass guitar, keyboards, coffee). On Words Don’t Bleed, Cameron inter- prets songs by DON HENLEY (yes, that one), ROBERT PALMER, Simple Minds, The Cure and New Order, with a version of HALL & OATES’ “Maneater” that she has something to say about.
How did this end up being a covers record?
It was sort of a throwaway idea. I originally thought I was making a jazz record. I did a lot of jazz in college and was obsessed with Nina Simone – I followed her all over the world and saw her play a bunch of times – and made a recording in college that was jazzy. I had just finished my Master’s in creative writing and I was like, “I need to make music.” I needed a project. I just kind of needed to rotate the crops a little bit. And then I started talking to my brother, and he sent me a text message with like 30 songs from the ’80s, and I was like, “No – you know, it’s just too obvious. An ’80s covers record?” But then he sent me an arrangement that he did for “Addicted to Love,” which is on the record, and I was like, “This is amazing.” And it just gave me this idea – if I’m gonna do covers, it’s not gonna be jazz covers. It’s gonna be pop covers, but they’re gonna have really specific parameters. It’s gonna be songs done by men, first, and songs that came out – originally I thought ’80s and ’90s, but as the process went forward, the focus became very nar- row: They’re ’80s pop covers. And it was really a crazy experience because I didn’t know what song we were doing until we were doing it, and the arrangements – I literally did the arrangements like minutes before we recorded the scratch vocal and we recorded the key parts, like the piano parts. Like, I don’t even know how these songs go to be honest with you. I’m learning that right now because we’re playing them live, and I’m like, “Jesus! What is that chord?” You know, it was like, very much like sort of a wild science experiment.
What was the most exciting song to unpack, to realize how its parts work? What was the most illuminating as far as somebody else’s songwriting?
Well, I will tell you the hardest one of all of these was “Maneater,” by Hall & Oates. For many reasons, one being that those lyrics, man. It’s really hard to take it seriously when you take it out of the, “Oh-oh, here she comes,” when you take it out of that finger snapping, the lyrics on their own are like… “A she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar” is one line! Actually I performed it live while we recorded, and I was like, “I can’t sing this line.” So, instead of it being about a predatory woman, it becomes about the pain of being the preda- tor. It’s a very mournful lament, the way that it ended up, and I think that was the most exciting experience for me, because I was really nervous that it was gonna suck. I mean, of course, I’m nervous that everything’s going to suck, until it’s done, and then I’m like, “Oh, my god, this is awesome.” I was just like, “I don’t know if this is going to work.” And also, it was the last one that we recorded, and I was really sick, so it was just a struggle. I went back and forth, taking out one of the chords because I felt like it… it was going in the kind of vibey, mournful direction, and then you’ve got these… a major chord in there, that’s in the original, that just makes it sound just far too happy. We were changing the chords, the chord structure, literally again up until the second that we just said, “This is finished.”