Some of columnist Aimsel Ponti’s ’80s concert and music souvenirs. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The local indie, modern rock band Hiss & Chambers has just released a four-song EP of glorious covers in my true musical love language: ’80s alternative. The lineup has evolved since first forming in 2006, and for this current project, you’ll hear Shawn Saindon (vocals and guitar), Jason Hjort (guitars, keys and programming) and Ian Riley on bass.

The tracks are Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up” from the 1989 album “Deep,” “Ceremony” (featuring guest vocalist Emilia Dahlin) by New Order from the 1981 album “Movement,” “The Forest” by The Cure from the 1980 album “Seventeen Seconds,” and “Under the Milky Way” by The Church from the 1988 album “Starfish.”

Cover art for “Under the Milky Way” by Hiss & Chambers. Image courtesy of the artist

All four of these covers are the stuff that ’80s alternative music dreams are made of and “Under the Milky Way” is perhaps the most iconic as it still gets airplay and was memorably heard in the 2001 cult film “Donnie Darko.” Also, it’s a gorgeous, sweeping song with the refrain “Wish I knew what you were looking for/Might have known what you wound find” against a sea of guitars, drums and bagpipe-sounding keys. A gem among gems in the world of ’80s alternative.

Hiss & Chambers just released a video for “Under the Milky Way” and it’s making its world debut right here:

Hiss & Chambers’ versions of the four tracks pay proper homage to the originals while also adding their own flavor and freshness. Saindon’s voice has an edgy depth that lends itself particularly well to Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up.”  And although I wasn’t in his home studio when he was laying them down, I have a strong suspicion a wide smile spread across Saindon’s face many times as he tackled some of the songs that were part of his coming-of-age.

Hiss & Chambers is loosely calling the  EP “The Pandemic Singles.” Saindon and Hjort recorded the songs during the summer and fall in Gorham. Saindon said the project was born out of messages he and Hjort exchanged online. “We started talking about cover songs and our love of ’80s modern rock songs, so I challenged him to produce a few instrumental cover tracks at his home studio that I could work with on the vocals front and see where it goes.” Saindon was thrilled when Hjort delivered his interpretations of the songs. “I was so inspired. We decided to concentrate on a few songs and record them. Later, I brought in an acoustic guitar and played my version of ‘Under the Milky Way,’ and that really nailed it for us,” recalled Saindon. “We just had to do these songs. A fun Hiss side project.”

I couldn’t resist asking Saindon to tell me what bands from that era he’d want to see live, if time machines existed. Both of his answers cemented the fact that he’s clearly my brother from another mother.

“For one, seeing U2 at Live Aid would be amazing. That moment changed everything for them and me, an incredibly powerful moment in rock history.” I remember watching that performance live on TV, and it remains one of the most jaw-dropping 20 minutes of live music I’ve ever seen, particularly U2’s nine-minute version of “Bad.” During the song, Bono riffed on “Ruby Tuesday” and “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” He also climbed down from the stage and had security pull a fan out of the crowd so they could hug and dance. The entire performance still gives me chills and Saindon completely agrees. “I was in fifth grade that summer, and we got cable just to watch Live Aid. I watched it live, and U2 blew me out if the water. I knew I wanted to be in a band when I saw that,” said Saindon.

Saindon also would have loved to have seen The Smiths as they’re one of his all-time favorite bands – and, no surprise, my absolute favorite ’80s alternative act. I am fortunate to have seen them twice and even jumped on stage, but that’s a story for another day.

Saindon has seen all the acts Hiss & Chambers cover except for New Order. My one exception is Peter Murphy. Saindon also shared that he and his wife were married to was an acoustic version of “Ceremony” sung by Emilia Dahlin at the top of Bradbury Mountain. “So you can imagine how poetically awesome it was to have her vocals on our version of the song.”

Hiss & Chambers released “Under the Milky Way” and “A Forest” earlier this month. “Ceremony” is out this week, and “Cuts You Up” next week.

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