Track: Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg – ‘Watch What Happens’: a good old-fashioned swap and cover two-tracker is out now

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, with Nathan Salsburg and Joan Shelley inset

WITH their long-awaited third joining together in song, Superwolves, the direct descendent of 2005’s Superwolf, out digitally just a couple of months back, you might think Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy could rest easy, take a breather; but not a bit of it, they’ve been up to so much.

For a start, Drag City are pleased as punch to announce, now that coronavirus-related pressing delays are starting to ease just a little, that Superwolves is finally getting a physical incarnation – on cassette, CD and vinyl, no less – on July 16th (place your order with the label, here, or with Rough Trade, here); and an Americana-lovin’ public are as satisfied as could be.

They’re also playing a few dates across Californ-I-A,; have designed a “I Am A Youth Inclined to Ramble” inspired bag by Brothers Marshall, held a little “Good to My Girls” one-on-one livestream performance giveaway, overseen a comi strip for “God Is Waiting” and even venturing into comestible yumminess with Pretty Cool Ice Cream – more on that below.  

And if all that wasn’t enough, well whaddya know, they’ve done something musical, too: they’e just released a two-track digital single in which the pair play off another couple of great alt-Americana songwriters, swapping a tune each way with Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg: “Watch What Happens” b/w “Stay On My Shore”, the A of which we’ve got embedded for you below.

Joan and Nathan slip inside the skin of the tune, adapting the original’s noirish air into thorny folk classicism; but my, Nathan’s a player, isn’t he? And Joan’ takes the lyric into a honeyed and atmospheric neo-bluegrass place in tandem with him.

On the flip, “Stay On My Shore,” Will and Matt unfurl one of Joan’s best-loved tunes. Will says: “There was a time when new songs got shared around, and when a new song was coming out it wasn’t strange for multiple recording artists to have a go at the song, and oftentimes a new composition would be recorded and released by multiple artists on multiple labels within its first year of public existence. All you have to do is listen to the first two episodes of the new season of Tyler Mahan Coe’s Cocaine And Rhinestones podcast to get a feel for this phenomenon. 

“So we’re harkening back to more collaborative and competitive times, when songwriters and singers and publishers and producers knew what each other was up to. 

“To be fair and fun, Sweeney and I got our hands really really dirty by thrusting them into the loam of Joanie’s “Stay On My Shore”, which Matt turned from a frank admission of vulnerable love into something somewhat … creepier. I’ve sung “Stay on My Shore” with Nathan and Joan many many times in the years since its recording six years ago, and I’m thrilled to sing on it every single time. 

“Each time I sing on it, I try to wring out of it some of the weird hard complexities of my own understanding and appreciation of romantic need; it’s chock-full of power and potential to be so dissected and revisited. Matt made it modal and dirgy, as scary as anything Siouxie Sioux or Baby Dee have ever intoned … maybe. 

“The past year-and-a-half has made many of us workers-in-song reach out over distance to reassure and inspire each other, and here we have joyfully volleyed our musical ideas forth and back, as friends and siblings in the cause.” 

In return, Joan and Nathan say: “Being asked to cover someone’s song is like being invited to rearrange someone’s room. Already admiring the Superwolves‘ furnishings and spatial sense, we found plenty of fun and satisfaction just messing with their stuff, rifling through their drawers, sitting in their chairs, jumping on their bed, and watching what happens.”

Oh yeah, the ice cream thing. As mentioned above, Matt and Will’s latest transposition of a song from Superwolves into the world sees them team up with Chicago’s Pretty Cool Ice Cream in celebration of “My Popsicle.”

The Superwolves flavor, which is Italian licorice ice cream dipped in Milo chocolate, will be Pretty Cool’s Community Pop in Chicago throughout June. Proceeds benefit Assata’s Daughters, a Black woman-led, young person-directed organization which empowers young Black people in Chicago by providing them with political education, leadership development, mentorship, and revolutionary services.

Now that’s pretty cool.

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg’s “Watch What Happens” b/w “Stay On My Shore” are out now on all digital streaming platforms.

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