Odds are, you’ve heard the original song and are sick of it, the hook haunting you from nightclubs. Or, you still have the track in your iPod that you’ll “try to repair and change some parts”. The last one, you don’t remember but its one of the songs you’ve inadvertently heard. 9 o’clock Nasty cover Justin Timberlake’s hit, Sexy Back. It’s every bit of fun you would expect from the group.
I fall in the first demographic by the way, I was sick of this song. I heard it in parties all the time, and would rather hear chalk against a chalkboard than this track. Don’t get me wrong, FutureSex/LoveSounds is Timberlake’s best work by far, but come on, everything has a saturation point. The choice of the song bugged me so much that I decided to ask the artists about it. Here is an excerpt of their justification:
At the beginning of lockdown, before we were a band, we got very drunk one night. We had our kit at the house (which is now our studio) and for some reason ended up stripping and just playing random songs until dawn. Where we live is in the middle of nowhere and apart from a few badgers we probably didn’t disturb anyone. The only song any of us could remember playing in that extended naked jamming session was Sexy Back.
We played it as a heavy metal song (the fact you can bend the song so far out of shape proves just how good it is). Ted told his girlfriend about it and months later, once the band was kicking out new songs every week, she reminded him. Ted began programming the drums and putting down a bass track intending it to be a joke and the rest of the band took it seriously and made it into the real deal.
We don’t agree on many things as a band, that is why we produce so many different kinds of song, and the process of taking an idea and subverting it is very much part of what we do. I doubt all three of us are as into Timberlake as Pete Brock who actually has a FutureSex tattoo on his thigh, but wherever you are on the music spectrum there is something powerfully well crafted and built on those songs.
I think anyone who has ever recorded music can listen to that album and admire the intricacy, the effortless way everything meshes together. Like Prince at his very best.
Well, Prince was at his very best even between albums, so a little disagreement there (refer to Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories). However, we’re discussing this track and why it smashes. First, make sure you’re hearing it like I am, for the first time in many years. Ignore the story of the original video, it’s beyond our mortal minds. 9 o’clock make it a fun, dark groove that rests on the drawling vocals, which have a natural distortion because of the delivery style. The guitar work complements that of the original, no frills to make sure it is a sure salute to the multi-talented virtuoso.
You know what? It made me like the song so much that I would love to watch him perform it live. As long as Janet Jackson is not anywhere near the dais, we should be ok.
But I digress. The beat hasn’t been altered, just some slight layering to make it a signature Nasty song. I did ask about the vocals though:
Ted has a way of doing vocals that make anything sound dark. He once sang “My Way” and it sounded like a suicide note. Pete’s vocals on most of our songs balances that and adds harmony (like on Unspool My Heart). That was always the plan this time, but Pete had been at the gym and was in a sort of pumped up rage when he arrived to record, so instead of adding light to the dark, he doubled down and took it into an even darker direction.
We do genuinely try to avoid getting too dark, but there is a deeply disturbing side to the original lyric that the original doesn’t really follow through on. It is a song about power, about kink, about consent and ambiguity. Hopefully we found a way to surface that without going all-in on a Sisters of Mercy remake!
Walked the line brilliantly, boys. 9 o’clock Nasty record with traditional analog tapes and a blade, and if you want to see the kind of work that is, watch Tom Petty record Wildflowers at Sound City. 34 takes to get to the clean one you hear. This means musicianship at the peak and no experiments with colorful flowers and stuff before recording. This is them talking about the recording itself:
We throw a lot away as we write and produce, partly because we are working with analogue tape and a razor blade, so there isn’t the same ability to layer track upon track in constructing a song as we would if we were working on a computer. The guitar is actually a sample on our drum machine that got stuck in a loop and we kept it in as it really does crackle.
We had a lot of samples and synth parts in the first versions but they had to go because they got in the way. Every song has a story to tell and anything that distracts from that has to go. It is like the presenter who has 10 PowerPoint slides full of facts compared with the one who just has a single photograph and a narrative.
They have a Christmas release as well, and if you haven’t heard their album Catch Nasty, there is really no point reading this. Not that there ever was, but its even more redundant now. They have a lot of other crazy stuff in the oven, and when I asked them about an RHCP cover album, they said:
We were actually riffing on FutureSexLoveSounds with that rather than RHCP. Watch out for a lot more raccoon-themed content. We have a cookery show called EatNasty that is probably RaccoonFoodSexSounds. The first installment will land next week. The concept is a single take, whole dish cooked start to end whilst one of our songs in playing, Punk Cookery. Ted was the cook for the first one and ended up having to prepare food with scissors as Sydd wouldn’t let him have any knives. Wisely.
And yes, I asked them. I asked them if Mr. Timberlake himself would do us a favor and feature in one of his covers. This is what Nasty said:
He really would have to ask nicely. We’ve had a lovely series of emails from his management company who we hassled quite a bit once we decided to have a proper go at Sexy Back. So we can say, officially, that we have been turned down by the man’s representatives.
We do sort of hope though that he’ll hear our version and think he needs to get Nasty with us. We would probably have him guest on one of our songs so we could give him something really dark and lyrical to perform
So the point is, the song is nostalgia fodder. It’s every bit good as the original, and if you haven’t heard it in 12 years like me, major rush of memories of whatever age you were then. 9 o’clock Nasty continue to surprise and we can’t wait to hear what else will be in store for us in the coming months.
Listen to Sexy Back here:
Or on this YouTube link:
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Self professed metalhead, moderately well read. If the music has soul, it's whole to me. The fact that my bio could have ended on a rhyme and doesn't should tell you a lot about my personality.