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If someone were to give a word-association test for the term “music,” one might respond with “dancing.” Music and dance go hand in hand, whether it’s literally a song about shaking your groove thang or just a song that inspires you to move. Dance is as universal as music; both do not require great intellectual thought, but require our emotions to respond with joy or sadness. Dance is a physical representation of our emotional response to music.
Brooklyn-based Mark Lesseraux and his covers album Get Your Back Up Off the Wall is a sort-of-thesis on these very concepts of music and dance. While not every song will make you dance, each one will make you think about dancing. Using a combination of folk, rock, pop, and ambient sounds, Lesseraux creates a mostly non-dance dance album. We had a chance to talk with him recently about his selections.
The theme of the record is dancing, literal dancing and dance as a metaphor for self-expression. Half of the songs are about thwarted dancers (like “Dancing With Myself” and “Dancing In The Dark”) and the other half are about defiantly expressive types who are gonna dance no matter what (like “Cosmic Dancer” and “If I’m In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up”). In hindsight, I chose songs that had an iconic quality, mostly; songs that are strongly anchored, for better or worse, in people’s psyches as pop culture markers. Even with the lesser known songs that I recorded, like Pere Ubu’s “The Modern Dance” for instance, there’s a strong signifying theme.
Songs that were once nothing but fluffy ear candy are stripped down to consider what, exactly, made the original so danceable in the first place. Lesseraux’s cover of Madonna’s “Lucky Star” asks you not only to recall the dance-pop queen’s signature moves on her music video (one of her first for those of the MTV generation), but to pay attention to the lyrics you may have missed when you were watching her writhe on the floor back in the ‘80s.
Gen X’s “Dancing With Myself” gets a similar deconstructed treatment. Lesseraux says of his version: “I wanted to bring out the poignancy in the lyric which, for me, always conjured images of quiet desperation. The character is an outcast who has largely been rejected by the world. He transcends his loneliness by dancing in his room. The original version, which is very good, was delivered with a lot of swagger. My version shoots for a more melancholic, longing vibe.”
Lesseraux cites musicians, movies, authors and philosophers such as Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Brian Eno, Brazil, Blade Runner, Emerson and Nietzsche as influences in his work. It is this mish-mash of pop culture and intellect that comes through in his style as well as his resume. In addition to his solo career, Lesseraux fronts the indie rock band The Citizens as well as funk collective, Earthdriver.
There are several upbeat tracks on Get Your Back Up Off the Wall that highlight Lesseraux’s background in funk. After all, this is a dance album. In particular, T Rex’s “Buick Mackane” and The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” mix pop and funk with rock and roll to get the party going. Lesseraux says, “For ‘Bomb’ I created a kind of (Rolling) Stones-ish guitar pattern which I constructed the rest of the arrangement around. I also had the bass play the main keyboard line in the choruses which sort of refocused the feel a bit as well.” The result is bound to get a few booties shaking.
Take a listen below to three of Lesseraux’s favorite songs off of the album and click here to download the rest.
Get Your Back Up Off the Wall tracklist:
01. You Dropped A Bomb On Me (The Gap Band cover)
02. Cosmic Dancer/Chariot Choogle (T. Rex cover)
03. Dancing With Myself (Gen X cover)
04. If I’m in Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up (Betty Davis cover)
05. Get Down On It (Kool and the Gang cover)
06. Buick Mackane (T Rex cover)
07. Burning Airlines Give You So Much More (Brian Eno cover)
08. Lucky Star (Madonna cover)
09. The Modern Dance (Pere Ubu cover)
10. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
11. The Soul of My Suit (T Rex cover)