Alt (in every sense of the world) country sensation Orville Peck may have just kicked off his Drive Me, Crazy Tour, but two of his bandmates have some additional news of their own. Multi-instrumentalists Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings, of Peck’s backing band and Canadian indie rockers FRIGS, will be dropping Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 EP (Yes, that is how it’s spelled.) this Friday, September 24th, their first release as Bria. The EP, which comes courtesy of Sub Pop, is a collection of six classic and/or underappreciated country numbers and will be available digitally this Friday and on CD/LP/cassette on December 10th.
I got a chance to chat with Salmena and Jennings this July from Colorado, the day before they played Orville Peck’s Rodeo at Red Rocks, a country music event at arguably the country’s most famous amphitheater, which featured Peck and his band alongside Yola, Charley Crockett, and John Waters, who hosted the event. “It’s nice to be playing shows with Orville again… To be in a club again last night was just so great,” says Bria, enthusiastic to return to the normalcy of a touring musician. However, the Bria project began when things were still feeling far less than normal for Salmena and Jennings.
The band began in the middle of the first quarantine at The Outside Inn, a hobby farm in Hockley Hills, Ontario. “Duncan was living at the Outside Inn with his girlfriend, and I went up there,” says Bria, with Duncan adding, “We would hang out and record some tracks whenever it felt comfortable to do so. It felt organic because of the environment. We weren’t on the clock in any way.” The idea for the covers record came about after the friends recorded a rendition of Mistress Mary’s “I Don’t Wanna Love Ya Now,” shortly after Bria had heard the song for the first time. The track inspired the bourgeoning band to explore longstanding country tracks that subvert the white, heterosexual, masculine traditions of the genre.
Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 also includes Karen Dalton’s “Green Rocky Road” (the EP’s first single), Waylon Jennings’ “Dreaming My Dreams With You” (the EP’s second, and most recent, single), John Cale’s “Buffalo Ballet,” Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labour,” and The Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” “I just think we had a lot of fun selecting songs that were maybe not what the general population would consider a country song, but that reflects a sentiment that is commonly communicated in country music,” says Jennings, while Salmena adds, “We tried out a lot of songs that aren’t on the EP.”
Bria’s cover of “Green Rocky Road” has already gotten a lot of critical praise. Clash said, “It’s an other-worldly take on the Karen Dalton standard…” and Ears to Feed proclaimed, “Salmena’s raspy tinged voice provides a depth of longing and fractured tenderness on her cover of Karen Dalton’s track.” “I’m just so stoked that people are having such a response to it. When you can make a song your own, I think that’s a sign that you’re doing something right,” Salmena tells me, before adding that Dalton is someone who she’s long admired and is honored to be able to have the privilege to interpret: “I’m a big Karen Dalton fan, I’ve always wanted to explore her music. She’s so unique in the country and folk world, you can’t really do a straight cover of her, so I think it’s important that we did our own style.”
Despite being their debut, Salmena tells me that the recording of Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 felt not only effortless, but very enjoyable: “It felt very easy. I don’t really feel like there’s a single song that you got stuck on a certain time. It felt really chill, honestly.” She also tells me that this covers EP is just the beginning for her and Jennings’ latest project: “We have lots coming. We will be releasing original material down the road. Cuntry Covers is a concept, Bria is the project.” And when I ask what’s next for Bria, she tells me that they’ve already got a lot in the works, including a live iteration of the band: “We’re doing a hometown show for Bria at the end of the year. We’re keeping very busy.”