The first thing you’ll take note of on “What I Don’t Need”, the first release from Understudy, is the unmistakable voice of Bruce Peninsula’s Neil Haverty. It’s also the last time you’ll think of Haverty’s better known musical project. While there’s clear similarities between Bruce Peninsula and Haverty’s new solo work as Understudy (due in large part to Haverty’s songwriting style), Understudy is music in its own lane, with attitude and groove embedded in its electronic arrangements.
Haverty says that Understudy is “the name I’ve given to the time I’ve spent making music with my computer,” a practice that became more frequent in the last seven years after Haverty was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia and began a rigorous round of treatments. “What I Don’t Need” is an acknowledgement of all that Haverty has had to reckon with since his diagnosis as well as the support of those who cared for him.
Initially, the song’s lyrics sounded like the standard, automatic responses that I imagine people in the midst of a serious illness resort to when they repeatedly hear the same questions and statements over and over (“How are you feeling?” “I can’t believe this news!”). But as Haverty tells me, his caregivers play a bigger role in the emotional life of “What I Don’t Need” and the other Understudy songs he’s working on. That comes through on repeated listens, as the minimalist musical setting allows Haverty’s voice room for nuance and introspection.