“I’m not even sure this band would exist without covers,” says Aoife O’Donovan, who plays guitar in the trio I’m With Her. The folk-supergroup consists of O’Donovan plus Sarah Jarosz (banjo, mandolin) and Sara Watkins (fiddle). All three of them sing, like a modern — and perhaps softer — version of Trio, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt’s brief Eighties supergroup. Like their forbears, I’m With Her bonded over other people’s songs. One they all loved was “Hannah Hunt.”
The Vampire Weekend album was played nonstop on I’m With Her’s first U.K. tour, when they were still predominantly playing covers of artists that made more sense to their sound, people like John Hiatt, according to O’Donovan. Jarosz first mentioned wanting to learn the New York pop-rock band’s song. But they didn’t get around to it until they were required to play a cover for the Spotify Singles series, they said. Whether it’s a pop tune or a Bob Dylan song with 14 verses, memorizing a song that intrigues you can help de-mystify that person’s songwriting process, they said. More useful, it can help identify what about that song is so appealing to you so you can make similar patterns and arrangements appear in your own work.
This was the objective of I’m With Her’s rendition of “Hannah Hunt.” With acoustic instruments and its ethereal harmonies, the song sounds nothing like the original beyond the lyrics. “I don’t want to say it’s quieter,” says Watkins. “It’s just a different dynamic.”
The band said their introduction of “ooo’s” was inspired by a Dirty Projectors song. They also varied the sound by switching lead singers. Jarosz sings lead in the beginning with just a mandolin and fiddle accompanying her low tone. By the end, Watkins brings the double chorus up a whole octave from where Jarosz was singing that kind of subtly ups the ante of the song. “Thats my favorite moment,” O’Donovan said. “We’re singing as loud as we can. And we end quietly with that line opening the song – it’s the mandolin, followed by the fiddle, followed by the guitar.”