LAST TOWN CHORUS with the FILMS , YOUNG GALAXY and DON VAIL , at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (January 23). Free. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Since commercial radio has largely abdicated its role in breaking new artists, that responsibility is now being shouldered by the music supervisors of film soundtracks, television programs and video games.
So while even just a few years ago it would've been unusual for a little-known artist with no major-label affiliation to gain international renown by having a song used as incidental music in a nighttime soap, Megan Hickey's experience with having one of her Last Town Chorus recordings featured in an episode of Grey's Anatomy suggests that's changing.
It's interesting to note that the Brooklyn-based chanteuse's entrancingly downtempo rendition of David Bowie's mid-80s pop radio staple Modern Love hadn't even been released in the U.S. before Grey's Anatomy music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas (who also selects the music for The O.C.) used it to accompany a pivotal scene in the popular medical melodrama. Literally overnight, thousands of curious Grey's Anatomy fans were checking Hickey's Last Town Chorus website and MySpace page for more information about the mysterious voice behind the beguiling Bowie cover.
"Certain shows people like to watch and others they're cultish about, and people are obsessive about Grey's Anatomy," says Hickey, hanging out in Palm Beach, Florida, before hitting the road. "There are all these blogs where they discuss the music the show uses.
"I don't really watch the show, but I saw that episode and thought they did an impressive job of choreographing the screen action to fit the arc of the song almost as if the scene had been scored. It starts off accompanying a tender conversation, but when the solo part comes in, the guy in the scene starts having a heart attack, which I thought was great.
"A lot of people e-mailed me saying that they didn't even realize it was a Bowie song until halfway through. I kinda like that."
Hickey's melancholic reading of Modern Love is the only cover on Last Town Chorus's darkly engaging Wire Waltz (Hacktone) disc, yet it fits right in with her bluesy, lap-steel-backed originals that beautifully convey an afterhours vibe.
When you think about it, a bouncy Bowie synth-pop tune isn't an obvious choice for the somber and rootsy Wire Waltz, which is partly what makes Hickey's radical revision of the song so effective.
"I've integrated covers of 80s songs into my sets from the very beginning. I just love that era of pop music. For a while, I used to do Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?, but I'd also do tunes by Howard Jones, Wham! and Prince.
"When they had this David Bowie tribute show in New York a few years ago, I did Modern Love because it's such a beautiful song, which you can really hear once you strip away the 80s production sheen and get it down to its essential parts. After that tribute concert, I've played Modern Love at almost every show."
The other perplexing part about Last Town Chorus is Hickey's forthright use of lap steel, essentially employing it as a lead instrument in a decidedly non-country context. It might make more sense had she been raised in the southern states, but you have to wonder how someone from upscale Park Slope gets bitten by the twang bug. In case you haven't noticed, there aren't many women lap steel players around, even on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.
"The lap steel was very much a chance thing for me. I'd listened to enough mainstream country music growing up so the sound of the instrument wasn't alien to me, but I really didn't know what a lap steel guitar was until 2001, when I was getting a band together. I was expecting to be singing and playing bass, but this musician friend of mine brought along a lap steel he'd picked up in a pawn shop on the way to the rehearsal. Once I heard that sound, I knew I had to play it.
"When I see musicians play lap steel the way it's typically used adding tasteful fills with the occasional solo it seems like a completely different instrument from what I play. I'm always getting steel players coming up to me at shows and asking me about the different pedals I use and my tunings, but I think it's mostly just out of curiosity.
"I'm pretty sure no one's interested in copying my technique."
Preview of Last Town Chorus' Wire Waltz
Fore more clips, visit The Last Town Chorus site.