Ah, the cover band. Stigmatized and lionized, snickered at and titty-flashed in musicians' circles, they're second-class citizens, but ironically, they're often the most financially stable of the bunch. Like the sad clown, the cover band exists in some shaky existential space between delight and despair. For those crouched in the muddy trenches of that scene, it can be an ordeal to simply stay sane.
Yacht Rock Revue is a group comprised of guys who never expected to find themselves there. Three of the band's members Nicholas Niespodziani, Peter Olsen and Mark Cobb spent over a decade toiling in relative obscurity in the indie-pop group Y O U, only to see a one-off goof at a nightclub forever change their musical careers.
Awhile back, Y O U had a weekly residency at the 10 High in Virginia-Highland. One night, they decided to shake things up. "We thought a good joke would be to do a '70s AM Gold night with the songs from our drummer's dentist office mix," explains Niespodziani. And wouldn't you know it: "It was really popular. Then we did it again. Now, it's a joke that won't go away."
That joke has proven lucrative for the members of Yacht Rock Revue. In recent years, the phrase "yacht rock" has entered the mainstream thanks largely to a group of popular YouTube videos that told fictionalized origin tales about soft rock hits of the 1970s and '80s (think Michael McDonald, Toto, and Kenny Loggins). For one reason or another, this anachronistic, ultra-smooth music became all the rage once more.
For YRR, it meant well-paying shows, and plenty of them. The band has grown from nightclubs to festivals, to corporate Vegas gigs and beyond. On July 4, they will perform as part of Turner Field's summer concert series. Olsen and Niespodziani describe their audience as equal parts kitsch-seeking college kids and nostalgic baby boomers looking to recapture their beer-swilling glory days. And in a troubled world climate, it's easy to get behind yacht rock's carefree approach. Says Niespodziani, "There aren't [any] lyrics about politics or being depressed. It's about having a good time."
For band members, however, it's often a struggle to maintain emotional involvement in something so devoid, by definition, of originality. "I'm probably the most self-loathing about it," says Niespodziani, who describes YRR as "depressingly successful." Basically, no musician starts out thinking he'll make it big as an imitator. "I see my friends who are in successful [original] bands, and I get jealous."
Olsen marvels ambivalently at YRR's popularity. "There are grown men who come to see us play, and you'd think they were at a Tom Petty concert … acting like little girls, they're so excited. I have trouble relating to that personally, but I feel flattered that they like our cover band so much."
But lest anyone accuse Yacht Rock Revue of taking for granted the party-loving masses who pay to see their soft-rock spectacle, it is always that: a spectacle. "Something we've always prided ourselves on, whether it's Y O U or [YRR], is being very thorough," says Niespodziani. "We're not going to do the exact same thing twice. We're going to keep it fresh." These dudes are showmen, and they have an affinity for music, period.
Future plans are vague. Both Niespodziani and Olsen are adamant that Yacht Rock Revue will not be the end-all. But they'll sail the skiff until it crashes ashore. It's hard finding time for creative pursuits when the cover band is so in demand; Y O U was forced to disband late last year. "[We're] working on different projects, but it's kind of like getting a divorce; you need to clear your head before you start dating again," explains Niespodziani.
Olsen's hope is that YRR will yield other options. "If that means our drummer gets to go off and tour with another band, or we get to write songs for commercials or whatever, I hope we can parlay [our] success into careers that are sustainable in the long term." For now, it's smooth seas ahead.