Duo enjoyed playing up darkness of the songs in tribute to the Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, out on Nov. 26.
Published on Tue Nov 26 2013
No one is more surprised to have recorded a tribute to an obscure Everly Brothers album than one of its chief participants: multiple Grammy Award winner Norah Jones.
Foreverly, released Nov. 26 in Canada, pairs Jones with the project’s instigator, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, in a song-by-song recreation of the legendary duo’s 1958 album of traditional and folk ballads entitled Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.
The album is a curious footnote in the Everly discography, because it was recorded and released during the heyday of brothers Phil and Don’s string of influential hits — “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “This Little Girl of Mine” and “Problems” — and is about as dark and as anti-commercial as they come.
For Jones, who had just completed her Little Broken Hearts tour and was looking to catch up on some rest and relaxation, the call from Armstrong came out of the blue.
“I was just off tour, so I was really tired,” she said Monday from California in an exclusive Canadian interview. “You know, a whole album is different than just committing to doing a song with somebody. So he kind of talked me into it, because I love the Everly Brothers, I love this kind of music and I love close harmonies.
“I was a little bit tired and not really ready to jump into a whole thing, but these are the kind of songs I love singing and they just kind of sing themselves, you know?”
For Green Day’s Armstrong, discovering Songs Our Daddy Taught Us and its country and folk feel inspired him to pay tribute with the twist of casting a female lead as his harmony partner.
“I just fell in love with the record,” he said Monday from Los Angeles in a separate phone interview. “The first time I heard it, I didn’t even know that they had made this record in the middle of a string of pop hits that they had in the ’50s, and I love that stuff, so . . .
“And I loved the harmonies and started getting into the stories and how dark they are, and the old traditional songs that they were singing were. I love digging deep as far as music history as where rock ’n’ roll and folk and the blues and stuff, and then when I heard the song ‘Oh So Many Years,’ I thought, man, it would be cool to do the whole album with a girl.”
But he didn’t know which girl he’d sing with until his wife suggested Jones.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Armstrong says. “I didn’t know if we were a good fit or not, but we spent five days in the studio and it came out cool, and then we came back for four more.
“And I think with her perspective, a song like ‘Barbara Allen’ occurs when I’m singing the song taking a solo bit, and Norah comes in and then it transforms into Barbara Allen’s actual perspective.”
Billing themselves on Foreverly as Billie Joe + Norah, both artists say they were really attracted to the dark nature of the subject matter of songs like “Roving Gambler,” “Lightning Express” and “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail,” numbers that have been previously brought to life by such noted country and bluegrass icons as the Monroe Brothers, Gene Autry and the Bailes Brothers.
“These are real story songs and the lyrics are pretty heavy,” says Jones, 34. “It’s all about life back in the day: a lot of death . . . a lot of family time, like, a lot of death . . . and when we got into the song, it was, ‘Wow, some of these are so dark!’
“We had a lot of fun in the studio. The vibe was really silly and we were goofin’ off, all of us, but the songs are really heavy and we’d think, ‘God, can you imagine? This is a real story.’ It was fun to bring the darkness out of the songs and play that up even more than the original.”
For Armstrong, the darker, the better.
“That’s my favourite part,” he says. “They’re just old songs about mourning and loss and lost love and kids dying of consumption. I think the music is very much about poor people and working class people, and the one way people can unite and grieve on is something in song.
“That’s the one thing traditionally in America that we’ve had, because God knows we can’t have health care,” he laughs. “At least we’ve got songs.”
At the moment, there are no plans to tour; Jones is busy recording an album with one of her side projects, Puss ’N Boots, and Armstrong is relaxing and prepping for a Green Day tour of Australia.
But considering that this record came as a surprise to their record company — Armstrong admits he didn’t tell his label Reprise about it until it was done — the same spontaneity may hit the duo when they have a bit of free time in 2014.
“Yeah, it’d be fun,” Armstrong says. “But we probably won’t tell anybody until we’re actually doing it.”