Anti-Flag’s Underground Network: Choose Your Covers Wisely

Around Easter in my second year of high school, I bought a guitar. My two best friends already had their instruments: a bass and drums. So the guitar was the only instrument that we still needed; we were going to play punk rock after all.

We played for a while as My Mistake, but for most of our time performing we were Pillowcase (punk band names, it’s a different story). Two other friends joined and together we played for about five years (until well into my first year of university).

In all of that time, I can remember us playing only one cover live. That wasn’t the norm though. In Ypres there were quite a few bands and almost all of them played several covers.

Advantages of Covers

There are many advantages to playing covers. Here are a few:

Ease. Creating new songs is challenging. Very challenging. It’s a lot easier to use songs that other people have written. Chances are that – if they’re famous – the songs you choose will be of great quality and better than what you’ll ever write. (But don’t let that kill your dreams though.)

Practice. You learn a lot by playing covers. I learnt how to play guitar by printing guitar tabs of dozens and dozens of songs and trying all of them. I barely knew how chords and picking worked, but playing songs of others helped improve that quite fast. By myself I played Millencolin, MxPx, and Pennywise, and later even tried Thrice and AFI.

Familiarity. People in the audience will know the lyrics of songs (well, if you don’t pick obscure ones). And having people sing along with music that you’re playing is one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.

Why We Didn’t Play Them

If playing covers is so good, why did we barely play them as a band? Again I can think of several reasons:

Difficulty. At first, we sucked. Big time. Most songs we liked and would have wanted to play, were simply way too difficult for us. I remember us trying so many different covers, but we just didn’t pull them off. So then we rather played our own crap, than messing up other bands’ great songs.

Creativity. By the time we got good enough to play covers – and I’m talking a few years later now – we had developed a bit of our own style. It could hardly be called style, but it was our own thing and we enjoyed it. And so did our audience. Before we did our first cover live, we already had people singing along with music we wrote. It was great. We enjoyed the creative outlet of making music. Not playing someone else’s, but making it from scratch – through hard work and loads of rehearsals.

Style. Diving too often and too fast into covers can be a danger to your creativity. I’ve noticed several times that while playing other people’s songs I start copying their style. That’s not too bad if it doesn’t define your style too much. We had several friends who played in bands that covered so often, that it was difficult to hear their own style. They sounded like those bands they copied.

Choosing Anti-Flag’s Underground Network

The one and only cover song we played live was Anti-Flag‘s Underground Network, a song that came out not too long after we became a band. It was one of those songs that we all admired: great vocals (so awesome to sing along), amazing lyrics (we played punk, complaining about capitalism was part of it), and the most epic guitar riffs.

It was a song that awed us when it came out, but it was also one of those songs that was way too difficult for us. I think it had always been kind of on our agenda to try it one day, so when – after about three years of being a band – we could finally pull of the song, we just went for it.

It brought together a lot of our growth as a band. By that time we had our own style; how bad it may have been – it was our thing. One cover wasn’t going to change our style. Playing Underground Network showed that our style was strong enough to not be altered by a cover.

It also showed how hard we had worked as a band. When we played covers for the first time, it was horrible. Being able to pull of a song that we never thought of being able to play, was a great achievement – even if I now realise that Underground Network isn’t the most difficult song to play. We felt proud: we put so much time and energy into playing music and being able to cover Underground Network was our reward.

The first time we played the cover live was in Kortrijk. At the time this song was still very popular, so when we started playing it, the crowd went crazy. As I said, it’s great having people sing along with music that you’re playing.

So for nostalgia’s sake, give it a spin: