Three Detroit artists beautifully preserve the romantic soul of a fallen New York love story.
Emma Guzman, Christian Ohly and Quasi-Bullfight’s Malcolm McNitt breathe new indie folk-pop life into Leonard Cohen’s 1974 one-that-got-away classic, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” as part of an Old Main Records-exclusive collaboration released via social media. It’s akin to Laura Marling collaborating with Pinegrove.
Together, the trio’s nostalgic, heartfelt and upbeat rendition features dreamy, swift acoustic strums, pulsating bass, effervescent handclaps, jingling tambourine, glistening horns and whistling theremin as Guzman soulfully sings, “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/You were famous, your heart was a legend/You told me again you preferred handsome men/But for me you would make an exception.”
“Old Main Records grouped the three of us together, and we went through a list of songs until we agreed upon ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2.’ I was the one to throw it out there, as I had recently started covering it, and it’s an amazing tune,” Guzman said.
“I’ve enjoyed Cohen’s music since I was younger, and his songwriting has such a rich, dark charm to it. His emotions reach below the surface, and that’s what inspires me most about his writing,” Guzman said.
Back in the spring, Guzman, Ohly and McNitt each responded to an Old Main Records call for a special quarantine-inspired artist collaboration. The plan included stimulating local artist creativity and partnership amid a new, unfamiliar socially distanced world absent of live music.
After the artists responded, Old Main Records, a Wayne State University student-run record label and organization, realized these three were a magical force. In a sense, it was a dream collaboration for a trio of emerging, complementary singer-songwriters.
“We felt we could do something to help artists meet and collaborate at the same time. We had recording engineers and graphic artists as well as our own platform to help promote these artists. We first gathered the artists to meet all together on Zoom,” said Chris Simpson, Old Main Records president and a Wayne State University student.
“Once the artists got to know each other and their music, they had to meet online to come up with a song to record. The artists picked the track based on their own recommendations of pitching each other ideas. It was a very organic process.”
That organic process started with Guzman, Ohly and McNitt each using their own recording systems to contribute individual parts. Next, McNitt and Guzman listened to Ohly’s guitar track to keep the timing right with their own tracks.
Then, Ohly suggested making their rendition up-tempo while McNitt added extra tracks to increase the musicality of their soaring “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” rendition. Finally, David Jackowicz and Evan Betts brought all the elements together and mixed the track.
“I hope people will enjoy this fresh take on a classic tune, and that musicians can be inspired by how we worked together remotely. I’m definitely open to working with them again in the future, and writing an original with them would be a lot of fun,” said Guzman, who also dropped a new folky, atmospheric single, “Irene,” Friday via TIDAL.
To accompany “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” Old Main Records released a vibrant, animated summery video by Tyler Sykes. With an uplifting sense of escapism, the video features an airy outline of the Chelsea Hotel bouncing along to the music in an open, grassy field somewhere in the Midwest.
In fact, the video feels like a vivid dream sequence as the warm winds drift listeners from one passing fluffy cumulus cloud to the next. The sun also gleefully plays hide and seek overhead as time breezes into the distance.
“My goal was to make the voices of the artists into something visual. I essentially had to close my eyes and listen to the song. Whatever I saw listening to the song was put into the video. I took a lot of inspiration from Christian Ohly’s Instagram. It has a very airy, open, natural look to it, and I thought it matched the song very well,” Sykes said.
“Chelsea Hotel No. 2” is the first of many collaborations to come for Old Main Records, which launched last fall to help local, regional and national artists record, release and perform music. The Wayne State University student-run label and organization was named after the iconic 19th century academic building located at Cass and Warren avenues.
Earlier this year, Old Main Records hosted a sold-out multimedia launch party with some of Detroit’s most promising artists and creatives. Today, they’ve officially signed Ohly to the label and plan to release his new album (a follow-up to his 2017 self-titled debut EP) this fall.
In March, Ohly dropped his new gleaming acoustic-based folk single, “University,” via all streaming platforms. Meanwhile, McNitt and his Quasi-Bullfight bandmates released their striking indie rock sophomore album, Trampoline Dreams, in 2019.