Truth is, I never even heard this song until about a year ago.
The producer of our first 2 albums, Craig Levy (Little Pioneer), had sent me some tracks as ideas for what to cover at our live shows. There were a bunch of good ones; "Dead Man Walking" was the last one and it definitely stood out to me. I'd later find out that the main riff to the song was donated to David Bowie by Led Zeppelin's own resident genius, Jimmy Page. It's a pretty simple riff and the song isn't super dynamic. But I loved the melody and the lyrics seemed to fit into the theme that was developing for our EP. Right then I decided that it would be the song we'd be covering for Maps.
I was never a huge fan of Bowie's. I always liked the hits, and loved the whole Ziggy Stardust thing, but for whatever reason he was never a favorite. However, a few years back I was listening to some of his songs and I suddenly realized how much I really loved the guy (same thing happened to me with Bjork and U2, but I digress).
I knew I didn't want to cover "Heroes" or "The Man Who Sold The World" or "Space Oddity" or "Changes." As great as those songs are, they've been covered to death. I realized "Dead Man Walking" was an odd and random choice, but that's kinda why I picked it. It comes from 1997's Earthling LP, which isn't exactly his biggest album. But "I'm Afraid of Americans" was pretty well known at the time and got a lot of airplay. "Dead Man Walking" definitely didn't; but in my opinion it's a better song. The studio version is completely electronic - but the one I first heard was an acoustic version that he played on Conan O'Brien. Stripped down, you could really hear the melody and the vulnerability in the song.
When you start to dig into the lyrics, it comes off (at least to me) as a song about feeling stagnant; not growing, not changing, and feeling irrelevant. At this point in his career, Bowie had been in the game for 30+ years. To me, it sounds like he was saying that his career relevance was ending. The musical landscape was changing rapidly around him, and he was just trying to keep up. So in essence, he's "dying." Whether the song is about Bowie or not, that's how I took it. Electronic music was becoming big at the time - and so it was even more interesting that he was sonically changing with the times but kinda admitting that it's over (perhaps because he wasn't leading the way anymore). And I think a lot of people can relate to this conceit, not just musicians. I think you get to a certain point in your life where you start to feel irrelevant, stagnant and lose that youthful "I'm gonna fucking rule the world" energy. The themes of not growing, not changing, but withering and fading felt very in line with the overall theme of our EP, which I discussed in the last blog (though our EP is more about the desire to change and grow).
Originally we intended to cover the acoustic version, but soon realized we wanted to make the song our own and reinterpret it. Our bassist Matt (who produced the EP) said "Let me take a stab at this" and the next time I showed up to his studio the song was fully formed as the stripped down, electro-rock song that you hear on the EP. I did a couple takes of vocals and voila! It was essentially done. I love what Matt did with the song and it's one of my favorite songs we've ever recorded. You can check it out here:
Thanks for listening!