A good cover has to hit two criteria, which are, unfortunately, in directly contrast to each other. The cover song needs to be different enough from the original to justify the artist making a new version of an existing song. At the same time, a good cover has to be similar enough to the original song that it’s recognizable and maintains the integrity of that song.
It’s a challenge, but it’s a balance Mayday Parade vocalist Derek Sanders has struck successfully with his new solo EP of covers, My Rock and Roll Heart. Sanders decided to cover the songs acoustically to reflect the way he learned to play guitar, which is fitting for an EP filled with songs he listened to and influenced him as a teenager. And it’s a choice which effectively takes care of that first criteria.
The crunchy, distorted, rough, guitar sounds which characterize the original tracks are replaced with soft, clear, and pristine acoustic guitar picking, offering a fresh take the older pop punk and emo classics by creating light and airy versions of these songs. It’s also a good movie artistically, as stripping back the songs allows Sanders and the listeners to hone in on the melody.
And it’s the focus on melody which helps Sanders pull off that second requirement. He excels at soaring vocals which add power to melodies, so those original melodies are not only preserved but also amplified in these songs. This is probably best exemplified through his cover of Something Corporate’s “Punk Rock Princess,” in which he handles the brilliant melody delicately, emphasizing it as well as giving the chorus an added intensity.
Sanders’ talent lies in his ability to convey emotion so intensely through his voice, which is key for this EP. He takes advantage of that skill by matching the original level of emotion of the songs he covers. And since he’s using pared-back instrumentation, he ends up making up for the energy and emotion expressed through the original instrumentation with his voice.
He leans into the earnestness and desperation he’s known for evoking in his singing. It’s hard to pick the strongest performance on this EP; “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” showcases his versatility; “Punk Rock Princess” is the most compelling, while “August In Bethany” displays his vocal power.
Even the limited instrumentation is used to its full effect on this EP, showing how powerful stripped-back versions can be. The precise guitar picking combined with Sanders’ soaring vocals, along with the additions of strings and piano later in the track, make the opening cover of Goodbye Love’s “But Lauren” dramatic and moving.
The biggest musical change happens on “August In Bethany” by The Juliana Theory, where the piano replaces the guitar as the leading instrument in the song. Sanders uses silence and empty space well in the originally loud and sonically full “Punk Rock Princess.”
At times, Sanders’ covers add emotions that make them feel more like re-interpretations rather than just re-dos. His cover of Saves the Day’s “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” comes across as more vulnerable, regretful, and mournful than the original, which was darker, angrier, and more aggressive. His take on Jimmy Eat World’s “A Praise Chorus” is slower and sadder, bolstered by an equally emotional performance from Stages and Stereos’ Daniel Lancaster.
With My Rock and Roll Heart, Sanders goes above and beyond expectations. Not only does it hit all of the points of a solid cover EP—switching the songs up just enough and giving insight to the artist’s influences—it also introduces fans of Sanders and Mayday Parade to older bands and brings attention to little-known Goodbye Love.
Ironically, with this group of covers, it’s evident that Sanders has come into his own. It’s not just a collection of successfully and artistically reimagined versions of other artists’ songs; it’s a compelling, impressive, and beautifully intricate EP in its own right.