Singer and songwriter Mando Saenz was in the fifth grade when he went to his first concert: ’80s metal band Dio, on their 1984-’85 The Last in Line Tour, at the Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Me and my brother convinced my mom to go,” the artist recalls, later praising the band’s live theatrics. “It was like we’d rather go there than Disneyland.”
He was immediately in, then, when his producer, Ken Coomer, floated the idea of recording Dio’s 1983 single “Rainbow in the Dark.” ”I’ve known that song as long as I’ve known most songs,” Saenz says, calling it a “metal standard.”
Coomer suggested the song not knowing Saenz’s love of Ronnie James Dio and company; Saenz, meanwhile, had never recorded a cover, let alone considered that song as an option, but the chance to re-work it into “a Texas, folk-y, Celtic style … in the vein of Townes Van Zandt” offered a new view on the track.
“I didn’t realize how good those lyrics were until you actually slow the song down and just pay attention to the lyrics,” Saenz admits. “Dio always had cool lyrics that seemed to work with his sorcery rock-metal, but those lyrics are just timeless …
“Everybody takes that song for what it is, and that’s a metal song,” he adds, “but you talk about the light vs. the darkness, and that’s what songwriters talk about a lot … disillusionment with life and the universe and space and everything around.”
Saenz and Coomer stripped “Rainbow in the Dark” down to its bones — its lyrics and its chord progress – slowed it down and “let it breathe a little more” as they built their version of it. A rearranged solo became an “almost kind-of dream sequence,” and Deiderick Van Weisneer added strings throughout to add to that feeling.
Saenz’s version of ”Rainbow in the Dark,” premiering exclusively on The Boot, concludes his new album, All My Shame, his first solo record in eight years. “Sequencing a record’s always, to me, one of the hardest parts of making it,” he reflects, but “there’s no direct reason … other than it seems to keep you in a state of longing, maybe, towards the next thing” that it’s the last song on the record.
The musician worked with Wilco co-founder and ex-drummer Coomer on this project, which follows three previous solo albums: 2005’s Watertown, 2008’s Bucket and 2013’s Studebaker. Saenz had been sending Coomer his newly written material for years, but at first, they only planned on making an EP; things were going well enough, though, that they kept going.
“The songs were dictating what we were doing, in a way,” Saenz says, later adding, “Coomer’s great at taking me out of my own head. I thought I was pretty left-of-center, but he makes sure I am in the studio.”
Saenz has been working in Nashville as a songwriter and musician for 15 or so years, and has earned cuts from Midland, Hailey Whitters and more. He considers Texas his home state, and honed his craft in Houston in the early 2000s, but, as an “Army brat,” he spent his childhood living throughout the United States.
All My Shame is due out on Feb. 26. Find more information at MandoSaenzMusic.com.
Listen to Mando Saenz’s “Rainbow in the Dark”:
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