Sunday, October 2, 2011
This Time Around - Behind the Scenes
(Reposted from September 2010.)
Some of you have already purchased the album and have it in your hot little hands. I thank you for that. Your support means a ton to me. This album took years to complete. There were ups and downs, delays, scheduling conflicts, songs written and re-written to get things right. During all of this, there were budgetary considerations (footing the bill for all of this is no small task.) But here are some behind the scenes stories and facts that might interest you about the album.
The original album started years ago with four songs. I laid down the skeletons of "As You Wish," "Astronomy," "What's Inside," and "Kids Playing Guns In The Street." I knew I wanted "As You Wish" and "Astronomy" to link together in some fashion, so I went with the feedback in F# at the end of track 1 into the beginning of track 2. (Note: Most of the album is played 1/2 step down. At times capos are used to go higher, but in general, I use 1/2 step down because it creates a fuller/grittier sound and it also gives me more vocal flexibility.) (Other bands that use 1/2 step down regularly- Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, and The Killers.)
After the basis for these four songs were laid down, I continued on. I recorded three more skeletons using my drum machine as the backing. These songs were "This Time Around," "For Better or For Worse," and "Dial Me Up." The latter two songs did not end up on the record because I didn't think the recordings/arrangements were all that great. Even this initial version of "This Time Around" was scrapped and re-done. I changed the click track from 105 beats per minute to 136. That improved the groove immensely. That session was not my best use of cash to say the least.
I took some time to re-evaluate which songs to use on the record. I tested some out at shows and received good feedback. Eventually, I went in to record "Neon Sign," "Shallow Water Blackout," "Saturday Boy," and "50 Stories." These came together quickly and nicely. I also wanted to re-record "Second Rate Song" because I felt that song had so much more to offer than the acoustic version from "Tonight I Confess."
Later, I went in and laid down "So Far Away" (this was after it was requested by a high school friend at a Pyramid Show- I wrote the song in 1997) and "What's The Past Got In Store?" The final track, "You're Not Just Another Girl" was done in one day and didn't take terribly long. I wanted to make sure there was one track that brought the "Tonight I Confess" vibe to the new record and bridged the gap between the two.
Once the skeletons were done, I brought in Bart van der Zeeuw to lay down the drums. He knocked out something like 9 songs in one day. He laid down the remaining songs during a separate session. We did multiple drums on "Saturday Boy," "Shallow Water Blackout," and "Kids Playing Guns In The Street" and put them together during production. This is how we had a much heavier sounding drum kit that comes in during the second verse of "Shallow Water Blackout."
Eventually, I realized my bass skills were not exactly what I needed for some of the songs and I recruited Dusty Miller to lay down some bass tracks. He did a fantastic job. He saved "As You Wish" in my opinion. He also took "50 Stories," "This Time Around," and "Second Rate Song" to new heights. The rest of the bass on the record is played by me.
The other fun and challenging thing that added a lot to this record were the backing vocals. I had never been great at harmonies and with the help of Karl Metts the back up vocals are great. Bart did back up vocals on "This Time Around" and Karl helped here and there, but mostly it is me singing along with myself. Some days were quite challenging (by the sixth hour of a session, my harmonies would turn to crap) but it was totally worth it for the end result.
When it is all said and done, there is probably less interest with the process, and more about the songs. So here is a track by track listing of some facts on each song. I reserve the right the omit whatever I want about the songs, but I'll try to be as forthright as possible. (Note: I realize many of the influences mentioned may be hard to hear within the songs, but that's what makes this so interesting, I suppose.)
"As You Wish" - The obvious reference in the song is to the movie "The Princess Bride." At some point I decided to work in that saying into a song, and in the end, I built a whole song around it. Musically, this song was influenced by "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" by Wilco. I was fascinated by how they wrote a song with three chords but still made it interesting by building the song up, tearing it down, and using a lot of interesting layers the whole way through. Thematically, this song is first about getting rejected after putting yourself out there to someone. It could be at a bar asking out someone you don't know, or even at a marriage proposal. Any level in between. It switches gears at the end to talk more about a break-up (so just a different flavor of rejection.) I love the uses of piano during the last portion of the song.
"Astronomy" - I actually wrote this song out of nowhere. I had opened up for a few bands and seen unusual usages of minor chords within a few songs. I wanted to write a song placing a minor chord in an unusual place. The second chord of the song/verse should make your ears perk up because it is a minor fourth in a major key. I'm hoping the lyrics are subtly clever but they aren't about a specific person or time in my life. Oddly, the overall famous musicians that I would credit with influence on this song would be Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Jason Mraz. I have no idea how this song even sounds decent (but I think it does!)
"Neon Sign" - This song is heavily influenced by Bright Eyes and (oddly) Mitch Hedberg (the last chorus was influenced lyrically by one of his bits.) I wrote this during the period in my life where I was playing at the G St Pub in Davis each and every Sunday with Adam Donald. I got to know the bartenders, door people, regulars, etc. I guess you can think of it like a "Cheers" atmosphere or something like that. Those Sunday shows helped shape my craft in a major way, so I'm glad there is a song to carry those memories on.
"Shallow Water Blackout" - I credit my best man Sean with giving me this idea. He is a scuba diver and he came home one day and told me about shallow water blackout. It's essentially a way for people to hold their breath longer under water. (DO NOT DO THIS) You hyperventilate before going under and it expels the carbon dioxide from your body. You have less of a need to breath because of the lack of CO2 in your system. The catch is, that most people quietly pass out without realizing it, and it leads to you drowning. I took that concept, applied it to a love metaphor, and gave it a piano base. If there is any musical influence, it would be DJ Shadow's "Blood On The Motorway."
"50 Stories" - I wrote this song soon after meeting Mrs. B. I was through the moon in love with her and wanted to write her a song (I still am through the moon in love with her- I'm more referring to the "spark" stage of the relationship.) I was unimpressed with the song at first, but decided to play it for her anyway. She really liked it and encouraged me to keep playing it. Good thing too because I get lots of compliments on this song from people at shows. Musically, I think Muse's "Starlight" and The Smiths in general probably influenced this song.
"What's Inside" - After purchasing a new guitar (which I subsequently returned to get the one I have now), and having recently opened for Matt Costa, I wrote this song. I thought about writing a song that girls might gravitate to (like a Jack Johnson song or something) and I don't think I accomplished that in this song. It's a pretty dark love song. However, the result is still pretty good even if it was unintended. My favorite part is the harmonica solo in the middle of the song.
"Saturday Boy" - This song came out of doodling during some sadness. Years before I met my lovely bride, I was allowing myself to be more or less a booty call for a girl on many Saturdays. This girl didn't deserve my time or attention. This song adds sweetness to that situation along with an almost romantic view of it. The song is too good to change but I don't recommend getting yourself into that situation. The funny thing is that one of the lines was actually given to me by a different random girl who wanted me to make out with her friend after one of my sets at G St. She said, "Do you want a girlfriend or a wife?" And I said, "No." So she said, "How about just for tonight?" I laughed it off, but it led to a pretty good line in the song.
"This Time Around" - I literally wrote this over a period of years. I had the verse and chorus for quite awhile, but it never felt finished. The slow bridge during the last half of the song completed the song years after it was started. It was initially written about the "grass is greener" scenario of liking a girl, but she doesn't like you and vice versa. Not a terribly original concept, but I think it works within the framework of the song. Also, it's probably the most fun song to play live. I don't remember exactly who influenced me on this one, but I have a feeling Sacramento artist Jackie Greene had something to do with it.
"So Far Away" - Written in 1997 about a girl from basketball camp. This has Oasis influence written all over it. Half the time I start playing it, people think it is "Wonderwall." The first two chords are similar, but the timing is completely different. I used to play this song my our high school band, and it still stands up today as a decent song. I'm just glad to finally release it!
"What's The Past Got In Store?" Influenced by Wilco and Death Cab For Cutie, this song exceeded expectations once we started recording it. I love the recording and recently the band has put a new spin on the ending which should give it a new level of awesomeness. This song is pretty much about repeating the same mistakes even though you have past history and should know better.
"Kids Playing Guns In The Street" - Another Bright Eyes influenced song, though some of the backing vocals add a little Soundgarden influence to it. This song is about as political as I get with my songwriting. The layers of percussion are well thought out and were fun to track. The second verse is actually inspired by visual images of me playing in the driveway in Napoleon, OH (520 Buckeye Ln in the house!) and my mom calling me in for dinner.
"Second Rate Song" - This song was obviously on my first album, but in much different fashion. This version is much more dynamic and falls into the Alternative Rock genre. I really like how much this song has grown over the years. I'm not exactly sure of the original musical influence, but I can hear some of The Killers and Muse in the bass line that Dusty laid down. It totally adds another great layer to the song.
"You're Not Just Another Girl" - I wrote this around the same time as "Last Train" from the first album. This song needed a little more time to mature and develop some extra nuances. I think there is actually a little Bruce Springsteen influence (from "Devil's and Dust") and maybe a little Ben Harper. This song is really not so much a love song, as it is about telling a person who can't see their own greatness how much they mean to you. It could be a significant other, a parent, a friend, etc. One last fun fact, I edited out the F-word from this song and from "Saturday Boy." Both songs dropped F-bombs in the original lyrics. I decided against recording it that way because I didn't want to keep alerting people of the profanity when I sold the CDs at gigs. I occasionally curse during the songs live.
So there is some extra insight into my brand new album. There are definitely some things I wish I could've done had I had a few extra thousands of dollars, but overall I'm very proud of the effort. If you haven't purchased it yet, get on it! You're sure to enjoy it and you'll be helping out a struggling artist continue to make music!