Take cover!

by Leigh-Ann Worrell

coverdriverelaxedIt’s around 11:40 a.m. when Cover Drive’s Amanda Reifer, Thomas Ray T-Ray Armstrong and Jamar Harding pull up in the carpark of Shak Shak complex.

Casually dressed in sandals, flip flops and tees, they invade Soul Touch tattoo parlour with their youthful, magnetising energy. It turns out they were multitasking that Tuesday morning – Jamar was getting inked for the third time and the gang, joined by Barry Hill a few minutes later, came to support with some tough love and hardcore teasing.

“We do everything together. I don’t know if that’s good or not, but we do,” lead singer and lone female Amanda tells me later.

Expert tattoo artist Jonathan Foster puts on his baby blue gloves and starts the tattoo machine. The teasing was just as loud as the steady buzz of the machine.

“Are you ready for this? Are you ready for the needle to penetrate your pores and scar your skin?” Amanda chided.

Jamar stays calm, preferring to play games on his iPhone than retort with a smart remark.

This gang of four is as fun and carefree in real life as the jive-talking/mermaid collective that gave All My Love, the latest single from the debut album, Bajan Style.

Just over four months ago, Cover Drive returned to Barbados to soak up more island vibes and inspiration for material for the second album the band hoped to release this year.

“We have written have written 30 songs so far,” Amanda told Bajan Vibes.

Sadly, only 10 songs will make the cut – 12 if they decide to produce a deluxe. “We love all but we have to pick our favourite babies…,” T-Ray continued. “If we cannot make a decision, we will ‘rock, paper, scissors’ it.”

Fresh from a five-date arena tour opening for former American Idol darling Kelly Clarkson, Cover Drive revealed it was hard to write an album on the road and knew it was better to come back home to write new music.

“Playing is all about performance but it is not good for writing songs for an album,” T-Ray conceded.

The positive, upbeat “Carib-pop” the two-year-old band has become known for the world over (All my Love is a number one hit on two radio stations in Indonesia) will remain its signature sound.

“We want our music to make people feel happy,” Amanda said.

“…Yeah, like a musical vacation,” T-Ray added. “We want to leave a positive impact on the world and spread the feel-good energy and the Bajan style… When we started the band, even though we had different tastes [in music] what naturally came out of us was Carib-pop music. I think generally we are just positive happy people and we have a genuine love for the arts and that comes out in the music…”.

It has been a surprise how fast the vibes has been spreading – even to them.

“Our momager/manager (Kerry Armstrong) said the success we would have would happen in five years. It happened in a year. No one could have expected that,” T-Ray explained.

“You know on a roller coaster you are leading up to the drop? We did not have that. We just had to jump in and do it, which was kind of good in a way because we had to step up,” Amanda finished.

In 2011, Cover Drive signed a publishing deal with Sony as well as a recording contract with Geffen Britain. They are currently represented by CherryTree Records.

As soon as the ink dried – on T-Ray’s Caribbean Examination Council’s test papers that is, the band went across the pond to start an international music career. There have been highs of performing at Wembley, the Freddie for a Day tribute concert, hits to Lick Ya Down and having a song on United States President Barack Obama’s inauguration playlist.

They have also worked with Tony Kanal, the drummer of their favourite band, No Doubt, legendary 90’s rocker Linda Perry and can list Ed Sheeran, Rihanna and Jessie J as celebrity fans and “CD fielders” scattered all across the globe.

Highlights like these make up for the lows of British weather, trying to rock a red carpet in minus zero-degree weather and Amanda’s unfortunate incident where, in a moment of exuberance, she did a high kick which resulted in a busted lip.

What’s worse? Dealing with people who are trying to change them.

“We have been really blessed to have each other because we have been able to stay true. We do not compromise on a lot of things: we don’t compromise on our music. Guys are saying that we should go out partying more, but we are those guys who stay home and play monopoly,” Amanda asserted.

“It is also hard trying to keep grounded when people are in your ear telling you things to make your ego explode, but we have each other and parents as managers help to keep us humble,” T-Ray added.

With the rigours of travelling, recording and touring, it is easy to think Amanda would have it the hardest as the lone female.

“I feel so bad because it is probably harder for them dealing with me as it is for me dealing with them!” the red-haired beauty said with a laugh. “They are my best friends and they keep me on point and motivated and I am sure I am more stress.

“The hardest thing for us [the boys], is moment when Amanda says, ‘do you want to paint nails and have girl talk?'” T-Ray playfully interjected.

“We’re like no, we are playing video games!” And then she’s like, ‘I want to play too!'”

Amanda proudly pointed out she bested Barry in one game of Dragon Ball-Z.

Games aside, Amanda, T-Ray and Barry agreed some of the group’s biggest arguments were about washing dishes.

“I have a different way of washing dishes. I believe the dishes should marinate in water… and sometimes I let them marinate for a day or so,” T-Ray said of his dishwashing “routine”, which judging by the “stupse” that followed, was a habit that annoyed Amanda.

“Deep down we get along with each other, but we prank and tease each other a lot.”

As a show of love, the boys make sure to protect their queen.

“I haven’t been on a date in three years because they don’t let anybody talk to me,” Amanda revealed with faux despair, “If we are at an event or a party they are always protecting me.”

The one time she angrily decided to venture out by herself, T-Ray explained, she was stopped by nine men in a mere 60 minutes. Yup, she’s that hot.

Diet and exercise is another aspect of the band’s lives that can take a bit of a backseat while on the road. They try to amp up training while on break and search for healthy eating options wherever they are.

“We perform at night, so we finish late and the good restaurants are closed, but there’s this place we love and we always talk about it, it’s called Nando’s,” T-Ray told Bajan Vibes.

The South African-influenced restaurant served mostly grilled meats with a Portuguese flair along with offered salads and healthy sides. For a taste of home, some good, old-fashioned Bajan seasoning is always packed. Curious for the secret behind Amanda’s enviable physique, it may be a shock to hear her declare she “ate like a pig.”

Budgeting and saving is not something she and her bandmates compromise on, however.

“We try not to live by the laws of YOLO (you only live once),” T-Ray said frankly, “we are on a tight budget because we want to be responsible. We don’t want to live like a rockstar for two years and then be broke.”

Each member has their own weak spot, though. For Amanda, it is shoes, while T-Ray has a weakness for guitars and shoes. Barry is more of a techie, but Jamar loves to fill his tummy.

On the roller coaster of a life, Cover Drive’s main regret was that they did not spend enough time on the rock they represent.

One of their biggest breaks was opening for Rihanna at the LOUD concert in 2011. They were also featured at the Shine concert, the recent dance4Life HIV and AIDS awareness show as well as a mini school tour.

Amanda revealed Cover Drive hoped to expand the school visits, in hopes of spreading more feel good vibes across the island.

“When we were done, other schools started calling us up and asked us to come to their schools. It felt good to be that up close to the fans at home. It does take a chunk out of the day, but if we can continue we would love to.”

The band is gearing up for a promotional tour of France in June, followed by a US tour in June and July.

Bajan Vibes was curious to see the end product of Jamar’s latest ink, but after spending most of the early afternoon hanging out with the band, we figured we should reluctantly return to the office. In any case, they were preparing for a 2:00 meeting.

Their infectious and bubbly personalities are sure to take them to their ultimate goal: world domination. Or a collaboration with No Doubt… whichever comes first. leighannworrell@barbadostoday.bb

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