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On this week’s Talkhouse Podcast, we’ve got a musician at the start of her career talking with a songwriter whose 35-year-old song she recently covered—after just discovering it. It’s Dan Littleton and Helen Ballentine, aka. Skullcrusher.
Don’t let that name fool you. Skullcrusher’s music taps into elements of ambient electronic and traditional folk to create a mesmerizing stew: In other words, if it crushes your skull, it will do so gently. On her debut album under the name, last year’s Quiet the Room, Ballentine deftly explores some complicated emotions via gorgeous songs and words; the two artists she’s been most frequently compared to are Phoebe Bridgers and Grouper, and I think if you smush those together, it makes some sense.
The other half of today’s conversation is Dan Littleton, whose indie-folk outfit Ida made some incredible records in the ‘90s and the aughts. But the focus of this conversation is actually Littleton’s hardcore band from the 1980s, the Hated. The Hated was part of what emo scholars—does such a thing exist?—consider the genre’s first wave, which was led most notably by Rites of Spring. They were adjacent to the so-called “Revolution Summer” in 1985, though the Hated faded into history more quickly than some of their counterparts. But the scholars at the venerated Numero Group label recently launched a reissue series that takes a deep dive into the Hated’s discography, starting with a compilation called Best Piece of Shit Vol. 4. Now what does an ‘80s hardcore band have to do with an ambient folk artist currently bubbling? Well, the Numero folks had the brilliant idea of asking Skullcrusher to cover a Hated song, and once she heard “Words Come Back,” she was all in. Check out the original below; the cover is available on your favorite streaming service starting today.
In this conversation, Ballentine and Littleton—who are chatting for the first time—talk about how this unusual cover version actually makes complete sense, and how sometimes radically different sounds can actually come from very similar places. Dan describes the emotional teenage years that inspired the original, and Helen talks about how she layered the unusual sounds on her version. It’s an inspiring lovefest of sincerity and creativity, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Helen Ballentine and Dan Littleton for chatting. If you liked what you heard, please follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform, and check out all we’ve got to offer on Talkhouse.com. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!
(Feature photos courtesy of the artists, edited by Keenan Kush.)