More than a dozen Memphis musicians are featured in filmmaker Craig Brewer's MTV series $5 Cover. Some of these — Lucero, Harlan T. Bobo, Amy LaVere — are still in the early stages of work on their next albums. But others — Brad Postlethwaite's Snowglobe, Cody Dickinson's Hill Country Revue, Jack Yarber's Tearjerkers, and LaVere drummer Paul Taylor — released new music roughly in conjunction with the series. >>>
Of these four, Postlethwaite is the most prominent in the series. A longtime local musician both as a solo artist and as co-frontman for the Memphis indie-rock institution Snowglobe, Postlethwaite was an early figure in Brewer's $5 Cover cosmology. The series features local musicians playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves and Postlethwaite was originally targeted to play someone trying to launch a record label, a reference to his founding of the local indie-rock label Makeshift Music.
But, by the time Brewer was ready to launch his long-gestating project, Postlethwaite was juggling his music career with a very different endeavor — medical school. Currently a third-year med student at UT Memphis, Postlethwaite plays a musician/med-student in $5 Cover , with the addition of a fictional job as an assistant at at a struggling local recording studio, where his character sets up microphones for LaVere and Lucero lays down an acoustic guitar riff on a recording by rapper Al Kapone and his teen son Young AJ.
"When I was working on the show I realized I'm always in here when some sort of drama breaks loose and I'm always standing around not doing anything, just minding my own business. I kind of like that," Postlethwaite says.
But even though Postlethwaite only has a heavy acting load in one episode — in which the studio's landlord collapses and Postlethwaite's character has to intervene — "playing himself" wasn't always easy for the non-actor.
"Sometimes I really felt like, hey, I'm kind of doing okay right now. I really am pulling this off. But then other times I'm thinking, 'God, I'm surprised [Brewer] doesn't just ask me to leave right now,'" Postlethwaite says.
"There was one scene where I was talking to AJ in the background, and Craig said, 'You guys just talk about something. It's not going to be the focus of the scene, so just have a conversation.' And we start filming and he's like 'Cut! Cut! Maybe that's a little bit too boring. Kick it up a little bit.'"
Though Postlethwaite's band, Snowglobe, won't have its next full-length album out until this fall, the band is trying to capitalize on its $5 Cover appearance with a May-release EP, No Need to Light a Night Light on a Night Like Tonight . The seven-song disc features four solo or partial Postlethwaite-written songs, including the two the band performs on the show, the intimate "Nothing I Can Do" and the orchestral "Ms. June," a new version of a song that first appeared on the band's second album, Doing the Distance.
Postlethwaite says the band is hopeful about the impact of $5 Cover, but also guarded.
"So many things have come our way that never materialized, that we just got in the habit of assuming it wasn't going to happen," Postlethwaite says. For that reason, it's hard to know what to expect with this current release.
"It's really difficult to plan for it," Postlethwaite says. "Because it could be one of those things where we aren't prepared for the amount of records we're going to sell, and that would be bad. Or we could be overprepared and be disappointed — just have tons of records sitting around."
The new Snowglobe EP has coincided with Share It, the second full-length album from the band's Makeshift labelmate Taylor, who is perhaps most visible these days as LaVere's drummer, but is a hyper-talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right. That talent is captured in a $5 Cover episode where LaVere looks on, smitten, as Taylor creates a song from scratch using an assortment of drums, keyboards, and handmade instruments.
Where Postlethwaite and Taylor are full-fledged characters in the show, Jack "Oblivian" Yarber just performs, delivering a blistering version of his song "Ain't Got No Money" alongside his band the Tearjerkers in an episode shot at downtown bar Earnestine & Hazel's. Yarber released his fourth Tearjerkers album, The Disco Outlaw , last month on the local Goner label. A partial collaboration with guitarist/songwriter John Paul Keith, The Disco Outlaw is a vibrant mix of '50s-style rock, dirty R&B, and hard-edged country.
Finding middle ground between actor and performer in $5 Cover is Cody Dickinson, perhaps best known as the drummer for the North Mississippi Allstars. Dickinson has a steamy scene in the series involving actress Claire Grant and Dickinson's patented electric washboard, the boldest moments of which were too hot for MTV and will be showcased on an eventual DVD release. With his guitar hotshot brother Luther on the road with the Black Crowes, Cody and Allstars' bassist Chris Chew have started a new band, Hill Country Revue, which released its debut album, Make a Move , in May. With Beale stalwart Kirk Smithhart featured on guitar and Daniel Robert Coburn taking lead vocals, the band has a rougher, more Southern rock sound than the Allstars, and could well be a side item that evolves into the younger Dickinson's musical main course. M