Over the past several weeks, Payden Widner, the former guitarist for Avenhart, worked with a stable of Colorado musicians to record a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues.” The track features Andrea Pares, formerly of Avenhart, herself, on lead vocals, plus members of the Milk Blossoms, Wildermiss, and many, many more.
We caught up with Widner to ask him about the project – which has wowed the local scene since being released last week.
Note: the interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
The Colorado Sound: First of all, how are you doing during this unprecedented time?
Payden Widner: I’m doing well! Trying to take things day by day, and trying not to rush back into anything too fast. I worked in live events a lot, so I’ve been working with my employers on how to create more online content moving forward. I’ve taken a lot of time to focus on fun projects, much like this one, that I would have otherwise not have had time for.
What does “Helplessness Blues” mean to you?
It’s one of my favorites from Fleet Foxes, but I heard it on a random Spotify playlist around the end of March when the quarantine got serious, and it resonated loudly at that moment. With the pandemic basically stopping the entire world within a week, and the people in power’s wildly different reactions to such a crazy situation, the lyrics sort of took on a new meaning. It speaks of the power of community and being fed up with the individualistic and bureaucratic ruts of society, and yearning for a life where the “we” is more important than the “I.”
How did making the video add some hopefulness to our situation?
Well, my intent with the video was to just have fun, and perform a song with many of the people I admire and respect from the music community around me. I wanted to show that musicians can still play together, and what I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response from people that loved seeing musicians together like that. The need for music is stronger than ever.
“I feel lucky that these people trusted me enough to do this, and I feel insanely lucky to be part of such a talented community.”
How in the world did you put such a complex song together – one of the Fleet Foxes’ most complex for sure – from a distance?
It was an editing challenge for sure. As far as the arrangement goes, I based it more off a live version of the song. I made a scratch track of Andrea and myself playing, wrote out some sheet music of that arrangement, and then sent it out to all the people that were interested. They then sent back their audio and video (sometimes combined) and I compiled all the audio in Pro Tools, and all the video in Premiere Pro.
Is there a particular lyric from the song that stands out for you, and why?
I love the second and third verses, and the second chorus.
This touches on what I mentioned earlier and really rang true with the pandemic situation.
What’s the biggest takeaway you hope people get from watching musicians come together again in your video?
My biggest takeaway is that I feel so lucky. I feel lucky that these people trusted me enough to do this, and I feel insanely lucky to be part of such a talented community. It should be noted that I did not tell anybody what to do, or write out certain parts for certain instruments, everybody came up with their own part, and each person blew me away with their submissions.
Do you have any plans for more music in the future?
I want to continue trying to make music for people to enjoy. I have a love for content creation, and hope to find more fun ideas like this one to explore and hopefully help out other venues or studios if they want to start producing online content. One of my passion project bands, Avenhart, unfortunately, disbanded at the end of last year, so I also hope to find another outlet to write collaboratively in.