An Under Cover Weekend | Dots Not Feathers (The Interview)

Photo by Bryan Sutter

Tonight marks the beginning of the fifth annual An Under Cover Weekend going down at The Firebird, and we couldn’t be more excited. One of our favorite Saint Louis bands, Dots Not Feathers, has opted to take on the man, the myth, the legend…Stevie Wonder. Jammin’ on the one! They also, God love ’em, opted to send one of their own our way so that we could ask them all about their AUCW experience thus far. We sat down with Stephen Baier to talk charity single blackmail, Will Smith, and of course, Songs in the Key of Life.

Okay, so this is Dots Not Feathers debut at AUCW, and you guys have chosen to cover STEVIE WONDER. That’s a bold statement! I mean, I’ve seen an episode or two of American Idol. I hear it’s a pretty daunting task to take on such iconic songs. What made you decide on Stevie for your first outing, and how have you guys approached the unique challenge?

Well, first off, we are honored and elated to be a part of AUCW. It’s been a goal of ours since the band started, and we are very excited to be a part of such a great show. We decided to do Stevie Wonder because we felt like it presented a challenge to us, not only as instrumentalists, but also as vocalists. That and the fact that we love Stevie’s music, of course. We approached it with the idea of upholding respect to Stevie’s original arrangements and compositional ideas. We all hold deep reverence for a man that talented and feel that if we are going to cover his music, we should do so in a way that honors that talent. It’s been a challenge but a labor of love, no doubt.

I think I have almost a decade on some of you guys, but I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder because my parents wouldn’t let us turn the dial from the oldies station. Did you guys have a similar experience? How did you become huge Stevie Wonder fans?

I was about fifteen when I came to discover Stevie Wonder (I’m now twenty-two). I used to be a pretty rampant night owl when I was in high school, so I would practice for most of the night while watching television. One night I was watching some show on the 100 greatest albums of all time, and they talked about Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. I remember being blown away, not only by the music but the story behind it. The fact that he was in a horrific car accident and lost his sense of smell yet he rose back from the accident to put out this gorgeous album of pure genius, and moreover, a double disc… I mean, it’s just downright amazing! I knew my dad had some old Stevie Wonder records in my room with our record player, so I was happy to find that one of them was Songs in the Key of Life. My life hasn’t been the same since.

Dots Not Feathers has become known for its gorgeous chamber-folk sound, but the fact of the matter is that you are all amazing vocalists who can probably sing anything. Are there any similarities between what you typically do as DNF and what’s required for Wonder’s R&B? 

Thanks! The really splendid part of this whole cover business for me has been finding ways to still be ourselves within these compositions. We aren’t changing the format or the chord progressions but how people choose to play a rhythm or ornament a vocal line has been very interesting. I think one quick similarity I find are the compositional ideas. Though I’m not great at hiding it, I love doing jazzier chord progressions in our music. I think it’s interesting when artists can be diverse in their chord knowledge and approach while still appealing to a certain genre idea. Stevie has so many jazz color tones in his chords, but he tends to make them seem as perfectly fit as a simple major chord. I mean, he made a harpist play a B13b9 chord on “If It’s Magic.” Genius.

So, you’ve already told me a) to expect a dance party and b) there’s gonna be a horn section. These two pieces of information make me salivate. Are there any other secrets about your set that you can divulge? 

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but there will also be an auxiliary percussionist working with us. Also, we are all gathering some sort of ’70s-based outfits to truly accentuate the vibe. We really dig ’70s era Stevie Wonder.

Here’s the official YOU BE THE JUDGE section. As the Wonder connoisseurs that I’m sure you’ve now all become, you must have strong opinions about the following: 

Best use of a Stevie sample: “I Wish” on Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” or “Do I Do” on Ja Rule’s “Livin’ It Up?”

Easy, Will Smith. If only because I get to hear Jonathan (our drummer) do the ENTIRE opening Will Smith rap verse at practice. I will thank Will Smith daily for his contribution to my bi-weekly happiness because of that.

I think I have to go with “We Are the World.” I mean, how many songs feature Cyndi Lauper, Al Jarreau, Kim Carnes, Kenny Rogers and my boy Lionel Richie? Plus, I made a music video for the song when I was in high school featuring one of my best friends, Derek Shoults, which I’m holding as blackmail for when he enters film school.

Elton John. Always Elton John. After perusing my dad’s old records when I was younger, I was became pretty obsessed with “Honky Chateau,” “Madman Across the Water,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Bernie Taupin is one of the greatest things to happen to lyrics ever.

Last question. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” is sorta my husband’s and my song. Will you play it? I promise I will make him slow dance with me.

Haha, I wish we could add it at this point to facilitate that moment, but who knows, maybe one day we’ll reprise our role with that song in mind.

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