During the past year, the virtual jam — wherein a group of artists each claim their own corner of a 16:9 YouTube screen to rock out in isolation, together — has become as ubiquitous as Zoom conference calls, online schooling, and any other pandemic-era activity. Pearl Jam did it for Covid relief. The Rolling Stones did it for Global Citizen. Metallica did it very quietly. But few virtual jams have been as relentlessly creative and consistently surprising — not to mention flat-out awesome — as the ones featured in metal-themed talk show Two Minutes to Late Night’s long-running Bedroom Covers series.
Want to see Primus bass master Les Claypool, Tool drummer Danny Carey, Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher, and Coheed and Cambria vocalist Claudio Sanchez, all avowed Rush fanatics, take on the beloved Canadian power trio’s 1975 classic, “Anthem”? Or Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss lead a motley crew of artists through a metal-ized medley of Nineties Eurodance hits like Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party!” and Haddaway’s “What Is Love”? How about septuagenarian E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg slamming the skins on a furious cover of the Misfits’ hardcore punk rager “Earth A.D.,” alongside members of My Chemical Romance, Hatebreed, and Dillinger Escape Plan? Two Minutes to Late Night’s YouTube channel is the one and only place where these twisted musical fever dreams regularly become reality.
As for the corpse-painted, suit-and-tie–wearing dude rocking out on guitar in his Brooklyn shoebox of an apartment in one corner of most of the clips? That’s Two Minutes to Late Night host Jordan Olds, a.k.a. “Gwarsenio Hall,” who’s also the co-creator, along with Drew Kaufman, of the whole endeavor.
“We didn’t invent the cover song, or even the isolated performance,” Olds acknowledges to Rolling Stone. “But the way we do our covers and performances, I don’t think anybody else could do it quite the same.”
To be sure, Two Minutes to Late Night, which, true to its Iron Maiden–referencing name, first launched as a sort of mock headbanger-friendly version of Late Night With Conan O’Brien (“the most irreverent and the silliest of all the late night shows,” Olds says), is unlike anything else in the digital universe. Taping on the stage at Brooklyn heavy-music haven Saint Vitus Bar during the venue’s off hours, Olds and Kaufman, with the former hosting and the latter heading up cameras and production, released one eight-episode season that combined well-worn late-night tropes (Olds interviewing guests from behind a desk; a house band comprised of proggy power trio Mutoid Man) with some good, old metal-style irreverence. The pilot episode alone featured a short in which Dillinger Escape Plan shredder Ben Weinman auditioned for the guitar slot in a female R&B act; a Name That Tune–esque game titled Squeal of Fortune; and on-the-scene reporting from outside Glenn Danzig’s house (“I’ve been standing here for six hours and I haven’t seen Danzig once — he may be on tour; he may be using the back door… we’ll never know”).
Season One of Two Minutes to Late Night wrapped in 2019, and not too long after — pre-pandemic, mind you — Olds and Kaufman came up with the idea of producing branded virtual jams. “The best part of the show to me was always the finale, where the guests would perform a cover song with us,” Olds says. “And so we finished the first season, but to be honest, it was hard to get a lot of guests in that format, because, for example, Chelsea Wolfe had wanted to be on the show for years, but to make that happen, it was like, ‘Well, are you free on this Tuesday and from 7 to 11 and in New York and not playing your own show?’ ” Doing virtual jams, he continues, “was a way to make some of these covers happen without having to figure out all the scheduling.”
The first Bedroom Cover, which filmed in January 2020 but premiered two months later, as schools and workplaces around the country were starting to go remote, saw Olds joined by members of Mutoid Man, Khemmis, and Thou for a thrashy version of “Dare to Be Stupid,” from the patron saint of music parodists, “Weird Al” Yankovic. “We thought it would be really funny for the first one out of the gate to be a really aggressive cover of a Weird Al song, given that he is, of course, one of our biggest inspirations,” Olds says.
From there, things only got weirder: a sludge-metal version of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years”; a stoner-goth take on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” with Dillinger Escape Plan, Mutoid Man, and, on vocals (finally!) Chelsea Wolfe; and a ripping run-through of AC/DC’s “Riff Raff” with members of Clutch, Cave In, and Converge superimposed on plenty of ridiculous Australian imagery (an Outback Steakhouse; koala bears; Crocodile Dundee).
The Bedroom Covers initially served two purposes: to provide an outlet for Olds and Kaufman to continue producing new original content even as the world went into lockdown, and also to offer a bit of financial assistance to artists who, virtually overnight, watched their income dissipate as gigs were canceled and entire tours scrapped. “We still had our Patreon going, which was helping to fund regular Two Minutes content,” Olds says. “But then we started seeing our friends in bands and crews posting about how sad and distressed they were — they were coming off the road and they weren’t sure what they were going to do for money, and in some cases they had upcoming medical surgeries that they weren’t sure how they were going to pay for because they don’t have regular health insurance. Their entire way of life had been taken away. So we immediately shifted the Patreon from funding the Two Minutes to Late Night show to funding the Bedroom Covers, and we split the money from each video between the musicians and the audio mixers and everyone involved.”
As for how each Bedroom Cover actually happens? According to Olds, he handles “about 95 percent” of the work on the music side. “Usually I’ll have an idea for a song and how to change it — like, either take a yacht-rock song and turn it into metal, or just put a new spin on an actual metal song — and then I’ll create an arrangement with all the instruments.” From there, Olds sends each participating musician a demo, as well as a play-through video illustrating how to perform his or her particular part. “And then we just kind of rebuild the song,” he says.
How long does this process take? “The demo itself, at minimum, takes probably six hours to do the audio, and we’ve done, I think, 38 covers at this point,” Olds says, then laughs. “I’m not that good at math, but we’re at least looking at 38 times six right there.”
Kaufman, meanwhile, serves as the de facto Bedroom Covers director. “He has such a weird visual style and a very specific sense of humor that I feel like no one else can really do that,” Olds says. “He’s a visual wizard.”
Or, as Kaufman himself puts it, a “visual problem solver.” “We get all this footage from all these different people, and I find a way to make it work and make it look cohesive,” he says. “Basically, making things that were shot on cellphones look better than they are.”
Despite having produced upwards of three-dozen Bedroom Covers at this point, Olds and Kaufman acknowledge that the process still operates in a state of barely controlled chaos. “There’s always an issue with someone’s audio or video, or there have been times when we have to swap out musicians last minute … it’s always something,” Olds says. “Drew and I will usually finish and export each cover at, like, three in the morning before the 9:30 premiere, and that’s because we probably just got someone’s footage in at 2 a.m.”
“It’s one of those things where, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I don’t think it would have been possible to pull this off, because each one takes a crazy amount of time,” Kaufman adds. “Which I guess doesn’t really matter now, because nothing matters and time is an illusion …”
While Olds and Kaufman are (somewhat) in control throughout the process, Olds freely admits that frequent Bedroom Covers participant Stephen Brodsky — Mutoid Man’s guitarist-vocalist, who has a long history working with revered underground acts such as Cave In — plays an essential role in assembling the all-star talent. “A lot of our guests have come to us purely because of the fact that Stephen is involved,” he says. “Everyone in this world just has an endless amount of respect for him.”
For his part, Brodsky sees the process as “sort of a group effort of conceptualizing who’s going to be best for which songs. And that could be people we know, or it could be a wish-list scenario.” In both cases, but especially the latter, he acknowledges that the pandemic made things easier, given that everyone was moored at home. “I guess if there has to be a silver lining to the insanity of 2020, that could be one,” Brodsky says. “Because we were able to create some real ‘dream-team’ lineups.”
One member of this dream team? Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher, who has appeared in several Bedroom Covers, including a brooding version of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” “Bill brought so much texture and cool guitar harmonies to that one, and he really made it pop,” Olds says. Which is impressive, given that Kelliher admits that he knew absolutely nothing about the song going in. “Honestly, I’d never heard it in my life,” he tells Rolling Stone. “But I was like, ‘OK, I’ll figure it out.’ And Jordan had all kinds of weird tunings and stuff like that in his arrangement, so I had to bother him a few times and be like, ‘How do you play this part? How do you play that part?’ But we got that first one down, and then we decided to do a second one.”
That “second one,” was an idea Kelliher had to cover a Rush song, and bring in super-fans Les Claypool and Danny Carey, to boot. Recalls Olds, “Even if I wasn’t a huge Rush fan, I remember thinking that if I say no to this, the FBI will take me out. They’ve seen this text, they’ve seen Bill message me, I cannot not let this happen.”
Regarding the all-star “Anthem,” which eventually bloomed to include the unmistakably Geddy Lee–esque vocals of Claudio Sanchez, Kelliher explains, “You can’t bar-band a Rush song, you know? You have to get guys who can play. And when I first heard the finished version and saw the video, I was just like, ‘Holy shit, man, this is fucking killer! I love it.’ ”
But perhaps the most impressive Bedroom Cover to date is the explosive version of the Misfits’ “Earth A.D.” with Hatebreed singer Jamey Jasta, My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero, Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ben Weinman, and Max Weinberg himself on drums. In a way, it’s also the video that perhaps best captures the Two Minutes to Late Night ethos: There’s a bizarre cast of characters; a tip of the hat to the show’s musical spirit animal — and occasional comedic punching bag — Glenn Danzig (“he’s simultaneously genius, cool, and fucking hilarious,” Olds points out); and, well, Max. “Jordan and I are huge Max Weinberg fans,” Kaufman says. “Not only was he the backbone of the band on Conan’s show, but the jokes that he was involved in were always my favorite part, because he would come on camera and just say the most absurd things. So we always wanted to do something with Max.”
They eventually got to him through a metal connection — Max’s son, Jay Weinberg, who currently plays drums in Slipknot.
“Jay had seen what we were doing on Two Minutes and wanted to get involved,” Olds says. “So we pitched the idea of him doing a Springsteen cover, and he picked ‘Candy’s Room,’ which, he told us, the first time he ever sat in for his dad at a Springsteen show, that was the first song they did. So we built this really cool version of ‘Candy’s Room’ and he did it as a tribute to his dad and I was really moved by all the emotion behind it. His father watched it and dug it, too — so much so that Jay pitched me the idea: ‘I think I can get my dad to do a Misfits song. Are you guys down?’ It’s like, ‘Are we down?!’ I almost threw my phone out the window! I was freaking out.”
What makes “Earth A.D.” — and really, every Bedroom Cover — work so well, Kaufman points out, is that it achieves that perfect balance of familiarity and surprise. “Anybody can do a cover song, but it’s all about how you reinterpret it in your own way that makes it special,” he says. “Because obviously the closer you can get to the original cover, it certainly shows technical proficiency, but the further you can get from it as a reinterpretation, the more entertaining it is.”
Adds Olds, “On certain other quarantine videos, you might see, like, a bunch of thrash guys getting together to play a metal song, and it all kind of makes sense. That’s still cool, but on ours, I think the real special thing is the weird combination of musicians we get, and the fact that they’re often playing a song you wouldn’t ever expect them to be playing. Like, Alexis Krauss and [guitarist] Nili Brosh and the drummer from Black Dahlia Murder shredding through a Nineties EDM medley? That’s really weird. That’s super weird.”
At the same time, Kelliher stresses about Olds and Kaufman, “They’re not mocking the bands that they choose to cover. Everyone’s a true fan of this stuff. It’s all done really well and it stays classy, even with the tongue-in-cheek approach that they bring to it.”
More recently, the pair launched a new, and also somewhat super-weird show, Splitsville, a livestream series that, each episode, brings together two bands to cover a song from the other’s catalog. The hook this time is that the acts don’t know which song of theirs has been covered until the actual livestream premieres. The debut episode, featuring Cave In and Every Time I Die, “was so cool,” Olds says, “because you could see each band freak out as they watched the other one perform and realized what song they were doing.”
As for where Bedroom Covers goes from here, Olds and Kaufman say that even as the music world begins to come out of hibernation and tour dates are once again being booked, the series will continue on. In fact, Kaufman reports, “we have a few that are basically 75 to 99 percent done, and we’re just waiting for these last little parts. So there’s definitely more coming. I can’t jinx it and say which ones are coming, because, you know, then they won’t. But there are more — I guarantee it.”
“The covers are always going to be a part of us, because they were a part of the original Two Minutes to Late Night show,” Olds adds. “So they’re definitely not going anywhere. We’re going to keep doing covers until we’ve covered every song we’ve wanted to cover!”