System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan unveiled a hard-rock reworking of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” — featuring a searing guitar solo from Tom Morello — that will appear on his upcoming solo debut, These Grey Men, out February 28th.
“This song in particular is a really touching and moving song,” Dolmayan tells Rolling Stone about why he chose to cover the standout track from The Bends. “I love the morose, in-your-room-and-it’s-raining-outside, it’s cold, and your girlfriend dumped you feeling that this song always gave me.… But when I listened to it, I’d be like, ‘I kinda wish the drums came in earlier,’ or, ‘How would [John] Bonham approach this song if this was a [Led] Zeppelin song?’ Because I’m such a fan of the song, I wanted to do a version of it in homage.”
The cover arrives with a video about a down-and-out artist who still finds solace and fulfillment in his work. Dolmayan’s cover itself is a complete transformation of “Street Spirit,” making it a larger-than-life arena rocker that still retains the same pathos as the original. The track ends with the delirious buzz of Morello’s guitar; Dolmayan says of the collaboration, “I gave him an idea of the vibe I wanted and said, ‘Just be yourself and play throughout the song.’ The point isn’t to agonize over something, it’s to just be spontaneous and create something cool.”
Along with Morello, the “Street Spirit” cover features Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows on vocals, guitarist James Hazley, bassist Tom Copossela, and keyboardist Danny Shamoun. Dolmayan provided the drums and arranged the strings and sounds with the the help of Shamoun.
“When John told me he wanted to reimagine some of his favorite songs for an album I was very intrigued,” M. Shadows said in a statement. “I’ve always respected Radiohead but wasn’t familiar with their full catalog. When John sent ‘Street Spirit’ I instantly was blown away by the sounds. Since then, I have been on a huge Radiohead kick. Adding Tom Morello to our version was the icing on the cake. I feel this recording stays true to the original while adding John’s overall vision.”
The rest of These Grey Men boasts an interesting mix of covers and guests, including Dolmayan’s System of a Down bandmate Serj Tankian singing David Bowie’s “Starman” and Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” Other covers include Eminem’s “Rock Bottom,” Two Door Cinema Club’s “What You Know,” and a reworking of Madonna’s “Hung Up” — itself an interpolation of ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” — that Dolmayan’s mashed up with a bit of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio.”
“I don’t want to be someone that does just great covers,” Dolmayan says. “If I had any goal, it would be that the casual listener wouldn’t know it was necessarily a cover — that it’d be different enough to where they thought, ‘OK, there’s something original happening here.’ ”
These Grey Men Track List
1. “Road To Nowhere“ — Talking Heads
2. “Starman“ — David Bowie
3. “What You Know“ — Two Door Cinema Club
4. “Runaway“ — Del Shannon
5. “Street Spirit“ — Radiohead
6. “Hung Up“ — Madonna
7. “Beautiful Thieves“ — AFI
8. “Rock Bottom“ — Eminem