Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Heights of North Lincoln Ave.

Another fine Sunday morning from the heights of North Lincoln Avenue... Coffee, the paper, Meet the Press... good times. More things happening with the record... album design finalized and in production... final corrections to mixes and mastering this week... I'm ready. Ready to have it in hand and get it out to people.

So... Today's song is Crystal. Crystal was written last year in an attempt to break out of writing songs about winter in Chicago... It's simple and straightforward, both lyrically and musically. The recording of it was also fairly straightforward, although there are two drum kits on it and a really nice layered vocal section, as well as a few little guitar tricks...

I especially enjoy the louder lead parts which Jay and I created on the fly at Gravity, saturated with effects, and then doubled at I.V... Manny further manipulated them in mixing and they sound like what Smashing Pumpkins was before compression and ego made them sound like a band of mosquitoes amplified by a megaphone.

I had initially envisioned this one with quiet choruses and a dramatic build... but Jay and Darren pushed it towards the upbeat... the choruses became all about the power-disco with a wonderful wurlitzer hook... the verses pulse with what I think is some of Jay's best bass playing on an PA tune.

Lyrically... I didn't fret much over these words... they came pretty easily and I really just wanted to capture the feeling of the first time you stop crying. Maybe not the last time, maybe it's not Til I Couldn't Cry where you can't cry anymore... but the first time you feel strong enough to take a breath, look at a situation more clearly... assess other's actions and motives and capabilities... recognize what it outside of your control. I like the sense of acceptance that runs through the choruses and the quiet, unsteady hope that starts to creep into the verses... I like... this song.

CRYSTAL Emptiness abounds The growing summer light I'm sinking into sounds of The city's rush to life Crystal dreams tend to break Crystal hearts, they can't be shaped I walked alone along the lake Until my tears had dried Forgetting all our sins As the blood is washed away Beneath we find new skin That comes back day by day By day Crystal dreams tend to break Crystal hearts, they can't be shaped I walked alone along the lake Until my tears had dried Crystal dreams tend to break Crystal hearts, they can't be shaped I walked alone along the lake Beneath the crystal stars we made And crystal nights and crystal days Are all that's left of what we gave Are all that's left, are all we saved And now my tears have dried Now my tears have dried


Sunday, December 07, 2008

6 of 9

So... It was cold this morning. Like single degree-cold. Although... when we took the dog for his beloved Sunday morning walk, it didn't feel as cold as one might expect. Still... I much preferred coffee, Meet the Press, the couch, a relaxing afternoon watching the Bears game, getting to the gym for swimming and weights, and eating salads from Whole Foods. Not bad for a Sunday...

Four songs left to pick apart here... album details are starting to really come together in ways both concrete and esoteric. The four songs I haven't yet explored are Til I Couldn't Cry, How the Heart Moves On, Crystal, and Skyscraper Hearts. I'm saving Skyscraper for last... I'm hoping my entry on it coincides with having the mastered album in hand... plus it's still in some ways the most mysterious of the songs on the record... I know what it means (to me), but I think it may mean something bigger than my personal meaning... it may be the window into the record that follows Things We Would Rather Lose...

So today... I'm going with Til I Couldn't Cry, which was written in the fall of 2007... I don't often get the chance to "introduce" songs at shows... something about indifferent bar crowds. But at the Gemma Hayes show at Schubas, the attentive audience allowed me to do some talking about the tunes I was playing... And, somewhat surprisingly to me, I introduced this song as a song about my friend Greg's dad passing away in September of 2007 after a lengthy hospitalization. Which isn't what the song is about.

Or wasn't.

At least I don't think it was at the time... it was a song about getting to the point of grief where you just can't do it anymore... where you've cried and cried and you're out of tears... which is pretty much where I was in the fall of 2007.

Although I certainly see the connection to what Greg and his family were likely going through at the time. I remember being sick the week I started Til I Couldn't Cry... I wrote the first verse as I rode home from work on the train. Then, later that week, I was up late with insomnia one night and the smoke from a midnight cigarette downstairs drifted into my living room on Cuyler... so I got out my guitar, and quietly started working with the words I'd written on the train, nearly whispering as I tried not to disturb a sleeping girl and dog in the other room.

I was also thinking about the Hank Williams song I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry... which might be the saddest song ever written... and with Hank in mind, we decided to record Til I Couldn't Cry in as old-timey a way as possible... So I got in touch with Anthony and Drew and we wound up using the "free" day at Gravity to take a shot at getting it in a live setting. I had emailed Anthony and Drew an acoustic version of the song, and they showed up at Gravity ready to go.

Well... hungover... but ready to go musically.

We rehearsed the song twice, with Drew on piano and Anthony on stand-up bass. Jay set us up, Drew in the big live room, and Anthony and me in separate isolation booths. We took a couple of cuts at it, and it was sounding okay. The one piece that wasn't there, was the vocals. I realized I was singing the song too strong... and it didn't fit lyrics that were about being exhausted, being drained, being unable to muster up even the will to cry. So we took another couple of shots at it with me pulling back on the vocals... and it clicked.

Drew then overdubbed a gorgeous organ part, and suddenly it was more of a spiritual... it was a song about suffering, but also somehow a song that looked forward towards redemption... towards recovery. And I think it sits so perfectly in this group of songs...

TIL I COULDN'T CRY I missed your opening and lit the lights As crosses faded into the night On top of copper needles raised Into the sky, and for the saved I'm reminded How I Sat with you and Cried and cried Until I couldn't cry Til I couldn't cry no more The smoke it rose into my room As down below the fires bloomed In tiny breaths the life was passed From lips to lips, from first to last I'm reminded How I Sat with you and Cried and cried Until I couldn't cry Til I couldn't cry no more


Thursday, December 04, 2008


It occurs to me that my last few posts have been exegeses of tunes from Things We Would Rather Lose... So... if it ain't broke... (side note: "ain't" is showing up as a spelling error... which seems strange to me. We've managed to boldly accept split infinitives... why can't we accept ain't? For instance... "I ain't got no swimming in my show.") 

Today's track is the title tune... Things We Would Rather Lose.

This tune... well, it's the title track for a reason. Throughout the album, there's a palpable sense of wanting so badly to get through grief, to get on to the new... but being pulled back again and again, almost (well, not almost... more like totally) against one's will to sorrow and pain.

I wrote TWWRL about a year ago... fall/winter 2007. It was provoked/inspired by a weekend trip Andrea and I took to Madison to visit my uncle. I hadn't been back to Madison in some time... and it was a really wonderful weekend, both in a general sense (beautiful weather, great times) and a more personal sense for me and Andrea. It was also tough in some ways... not exactly tough but... emotional.

Therapeutic. Intense.

It got me thinking and feeling about the past... in a healthy and productive way I guess... it was an instance (maybe the most or second most significant to that point) of me feeling strong enough to consider and come to terms with the past... or at least try to. And to look forward.

Musically, it's a very simple, pretty song. The chord progressions (and this is not by accident) are echoes of two Burn Rome Burn songs... the verse is related to Bottle Boy, the chorus to Wait. The relationship with those two songs... well, I don't know if I need to write about that right now.

But beyond the thematic and place connections (Bottle Boy, especially, was about a drive back to Madison about 5 years ago and the nostalgia it engendered), this was also a period of time when I was dealing with a more concrete end to BRB... which obviously involves its own process of grieving and moving on.

The recording: this is the first song I've written that has been recorded with no guitar. That's right, I play zero guitar on it. During our first sessions at I.V., Darren recorded some amazingly musical drums, and then added some organ. Finally, he put down some Harmonium, an accordion-like instrument you can hear on the Jeff Buckley song Lover, You Should Have Come Over.

At the Gravity sessions, Drew recorded some gorgeous, inspired and fairly spontaneous acoustic piano, which really replaced (and improved on) the acoustic guitar part I had initially written. Jay added some minimal bass (an organ acts as bass for much of it) and we were on to vocals. I'm not sure which vocals Jay wound up using but... we took one swing at it one morning in the B Room at I.V., and another at about 1:00 in the morning the night of our beer-fueled recording of Almost Gone.  Finally, Jay tracked some Beach Boys-inspired background vocals.

So... the lyrics: I know I keep saying this but I'm really proud of these... I wanted this song to be evocative but also concrete and direct. Again, nothing within this song happens by accident... I really strove to make every line mean something, every word important... the Bob Dylan approach of having every line be strong enough to be the first line... not that I accomplished that but that was the goal.

So many allusions... to our trip, to our histories, to songs from previous projects, to songs on TWWRL... Some words and their connections:

*** We dreamt of birds all blue and loud That fly through the night and hang from the clouds *** I have an attachment to the color blue, obviously (vid: the chorus in this tune, Wait, The Blue, etc.), but this line is about the birds. So to speak.

*** And come to us here in these moments of fear As the skyline appears and the road falls away *** A concrete connection and attempt to replicate the first verse of Bottle Boy (Aimless AM radio. spinning through the miles/I'm falling into silence, I've gone another mile/When the feeling of suspense meets the skyline heading north/Going down that road you've gone down many times before).

*** Out in the darkness, I'm spinning in place With my eyes to the sky and my hands to my face *** Somehow, I managed to preserve the rhyme scheme from the first verse, almost exactly, down to "fly/night" and "eyes/sky."

*** Somewhere between all the dead and the dreams You're waiting for me in the static. *** "Between" and "static" echo "live somewhere in between" from Wait, and "I'm in between the static" from Bottle Boy. I was also taken by the somewhat unconventional rhyming scheme of the verses... I think it really helps stress the last line of both verses...

*** Oh, everything dear disappears Into the blue Oh, we're left holding on to The things we'd rather lose *** Allusions to "Fade into the blue" from Wait and others... I also like the ambiguity in listening to "everything dear"... it could also be heard "everything, Dear," if that makes sense... and maybe that's really a better take on it anyway. Eh... maybe not.

*** The highways are burning, the night's at an end But we're still sleeping and dreaming of when The skyscrapers fell, the smoke and the smell Of the dark devouring light and love *** This verse... well... so many things... "highways are burning" is a reference to an unrecorded BRB song... And the last two lines... I'll save the "skyscrapers" piece for when I write about Skyscraper Hearts but something about the sound of these lines... the sibilance of the first and then the consonance of the second in "dark devouring" and "light and love"... and "light and love" is a tie-in to the line in More: "Into every loss, some life, some love is going to come." 

So that's that. All that... And here are the lyrics without my ramblings interspersed:

THINGS WE WOULD RATHER LOSE We dreamt of birds, all blue and loud That fly through the night and hang from the clouds And come to us here in these moments of fear As the skyline appears and the road falls away Out in the darkness, I'm spinning in place With my eyes to the sky and my hands to my face Somewhere between all the dead and the dreams You're waiting for me in the static Oh, everything dear disappears Into the blue Oh, we're left holding on to The things we'd rather lose The highways are burning, the night's at an end And we're still sleeping and dreaming of when The skyscrapers fell, the smoke and the smell Of the dark devouring light and love Oh, everything dear disappears Into the blue Oh, we're left holding on to The things we'd rather lose Oh, we're left holding on to The things we'd rather lose


Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on TWWRL

Can you believe it's almost December... almost the end of the year? Wow... And as if to remind us... I'm looking out our picture window at a perfectly dreary nearly December winter sky which is purported to hold 3 to 8 inches of snow... Of course.

After a great Thanksgiving full of friends, family and food, it feels like a sprint to 2009... I'm still waiting on the final mixes and masters of the album, but we've managed to sort through the results and put together a song order... so I've gotten the ball rolling on the packaging design and the release plan. I know I sound like a broken record with this, but in looking over the 9 tunes that comprise the album, I'm so taken by the cohesiveness of the lyrics... without really making it a priority, we wound up with about as close to a "concept record" as I could imagine ever being part of.

Some of it is obviously that all the songs were written in a fairly narrow window of time... so of course there are lyrical threads and themes that run throughout the 9 we selected and recorded... But it seems like it turned into something a little larger and more significant than just common themes and common words.

And the magnitude and scope of it crept in a bit as I sang the vocals, but really not until I looked over and settled on the song order of Things We Would Rather Lose... which is:

More Things We Would Rather Lose One More Quiet Song Til I Couldn't Cry Crystal Skyscraper Hearts How the Heart Moves On Almost Gone Explosions Below

The thing that got me... was putting More upfront as the lead track. Putting together Look Alive taught me how important a first track is to the perception of an album... I mean, I knew how important it was before but it wasn't until I lived with that group of songs under the name When You Left for a few months and then settled on Look Alive with a new order that I really got how different two orders of the same songs could be... Same with Things We Would Rather Lose.

Once we settled on it as the first track, I went back and looked closely at the lyrics of More to see what they would tell the listener about what was to follow (i.e., the rest of the album). I was more (heh) than a little surprised to find that More functions almost like a topic sentence... that all the other songs fit into the thematic framework put forward in More... like, it's almost spooky.

More was written in July and August of '07, in the midst of the very end of the divorce. So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that it acts as a topic sentence for an album that is about picking up the pieces from loss.

More has a couple of features that I'm really proud of... a couple of things that I've never been able to pull off previous to writing it. First, it starts immediately with vocals and has the chorus up front... something I've admired in other songs, but for some reason have never been able to pull off. Second, it has some slight time changes... nothing drastic, but just a few little variations that keep the listener interested. Third, it has a few small lyrical variations in the chorus... this is probably the most important feature from a thematic "topic sentence" standpoint...

MORE Can you leave the ghost behind Breathe the kindness That echoes to tomorrow Beneath the easy sorrow That's bleeding into blame It feels all like someone Gave more than is good Gave more than one should More and more I'm starting to believe Would you say your skin Covers up an ocean of waiting Of falling without end Would you say your sky Has broken into pieces and pieces Of unrelenting blue Can you leave the ghost behind Breathe the kindness That echoes to tomorrow Beneath the easy sorrow That's bleeding into shame It feels all like someone Gave more than is good Gave more than one should More and more I'm starting to believe Would you say you dream Of embers in the ashes Exploding into someone's perfect flame Would you say you pray That into every loss Some life and some love are going to come Can you leave the ghost behind Breathe the kindness That echoes to tomorrow Beneath the easy sorrow That's bleeding into gray It feels all like someone Gave more than is good Gave more than one should More and more I'm starting to believe More and more I'm starting to believe More and more I'm starting to believe ********

So the thing that really got me upon further thought, is the slight lyrical variation in each of the three choruses... the sorrow bleeding into "blame," "shame," and "gray." I remember I was really proud of this when I wrote it... it struck me that it perfectly summed up this progression in grieving over and dealing with loss... where you kind of go through these phases of being sad (sorrow), angry (blame), ashamed (shame), and finally just numb (gray as it were).

Now... over a year later and in a completely different place emotionally than I was when I wrote it... it resonates even more (heh again). And I also see that every song on the album falls into one of the three categories in the song: blame, shame and gray.

Which is totally by accident... well, not by accident, but... not a conscious feature. I wasn't thinking that when I wrote and when we picked the songs... I was just writing what I was feeling, which happened to be these three different phases of grieving. As I was looking at TWWRL it struck me that there weren't really any songs that represented sadness or sorrow... and then I realized that Look Alive was an album full of them...

Look Alive was sorrow and TWWRL is the sound of sorrow bleeding into blame, shame and gray. And that... it pretty damn cool. And I can't wait for everybody to hear it...


Sunday, November 23, 2008


So we went swimming tonight... trying something new... thinking about working towards doing a triathlon or two next spring. Two years of marathon training with very little time away from running has left me feeling I should find exercise that puts less (or different) pressure and impact on my body... and swimming seems to fit the bill. Although... even just our informal 30 minute foray into the water left me with an appreciation of how much work I'll have to do on the swimming portion of the triathlon to be successful.

Anyway... The record is more or less done... Jay and Manny are making a couple changes to the mixes and we should have the finished product back from mastering in the next two weeks or so... I heard a good chunk of the nearly-final product and it sounded amazing... just amazing. Now I'm busy putting together the packaging and the release plan... for The Things We Would Rather Lose.

It's so nice to not be starting from scratch with this record... I have a substantial media list, the business is already up and running... but most importantly, I have all the things I learned from the first release, and I have a (I think) fairly clear plan as to how this new record (and what comes after it) fits into the big picture.

Because I have a hard time sitting still artistically, I'm considering trying to do a short acoustic EP in the near future... I spent some time listening to the left over songs that we didn't record for TTWWRL... and some of them are really, really good... and I don't know if the subject matter will lend them towards being part of the next record... so they may be more suited to their own little quiet interim project... something along the lines of 5 Songs in Search of a Record...

One tune from the rejects has been especially sticking with me... called Analog Dreams... I've been playing it on our recently acquired piano and really been digging it as a piano tune... I'm also starting to wrestle with writing new material... I've got all sorts of lyrical ideas and music seems to be sitting just below my skin... waiting for some attention.

I'm right at the end of one writing book and have a beautiful new one ready to go... So... things are new and old at the same time... which is how it usually works out. And my fingers look like prunes.

So there's also that.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


(In best Woody Allen voice): I distinctly heard him say mix.

Anyway... It is true: the album is being mixed this week... Tuesday through Thursday. I stopped by I.V. Lab Studios on Tuesday night to sing Skyscraper Hearts, the last lead vocals I had left to record... in fact, the last recording of any sort I had left to do.

It was weird... the Skyscraper vocals are among the most challenging on the record in terms of the range... and coming in cold on a rainy November night... was not the recipe for success. So... we wound up going back to my original scratch vocal track from the acoustic sketch of the tune we recorded back in the summer when we were getting started... and something about it worked perfectly... which is very cool. It just has this vibe that wound up fitting in with where the tune went in the recording process. I don't think I've ever had that happen before.

So... I was also able to hear the final mix of One More Quiet Song... Which was awesome. Manny (who mixed the first record and is mixing this one too) just killed it. It rocks harder than anything I've ever done... it's got two kick ass guitar solos (yes, I was allowed to play some guitar on this album) and it's got a three piece horn section. Yeah... we got a little horny on this record.

Three tunes wound up with a horn trio of baritone sax, tenor sex, and trombone... Back to One More Quiet Song... It's most likely going to be the lead off track of the album. Listening to it, I just can't believe what it turned into... It was written, quite literally, as a quiet song... a whisper... and a meditation on trying to move on from writing quiet songs.

So... is it ironic then that it turned into a burner? A rocker? Musically, it is what my dad calls "A real song." It's harmonically, structurally, and melodically sophisticated. But it's the lyrics that I might be most proud of. There's not a wasted line, not a wasted idea... each line means something.

Something very specific... and it really pulls together a lot of the lyrical themes from throughout the record. I think I posted these when I wrote them but... here they are in context...

ONE MORE QUIET SONG I'm holding on to the first time she looked up and smiled Breakfast in the kitchen and phone calls across the miles I'm holding on to the last time she looked down and cried Dinner on the table, tears and last goodbyes The same moon In the same rooms And one more quiet song The same heart We're falling apart And trying to move on Trying to survive And build it to the sky I'm letting go of the good times that haunt me in my dreams Island skies and Hold on Tight are fading memories I'm letting go of the bad times that bleed me til I'm dry Unpaid debts and When You Left and two sets of bloodshot eyes The same moon In the same rooms And one more quiet song The same heart We're falling apart And trying to move on Trying to survive And build it to the sky We build it to the sky jbg

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Midnight Moon

When the weather turns towards fall, I find myself drawn to Nick Drake's Pink Moon. There is something about that album... among the saddest, most brutal ever recorded... the sound of decay. The sound of giving up. I read somewhere that the whole album was recorded in two two-hour midnight studio sessions... and boy, does it sound like it.  Nick Drake's voice barely rises above a whisper and the gorgeous acoustic guitar playing is augmented by only a simple piano line on the title track. 

So... With that in mind, we spent a late night in the studio this past weekend trying to record one of the acoustic tunes for the Paper Arrows record. The tune is called Almost Gone... it's a song about fall and winter, about sitting in quiet rooms and feeling absence... But in the end, it is more about resolution, faith, and moving on than succumbing to the darkness. More about what you do to get by until you can stand on your own two feet again.

Anyhow... We have been kicking around a couple of ideas about how to approach recording Almost Gone... Jay initially suggested we start with a 12-string guitar part and build it from there. I thought that sounded a little bit too... shiny. Is that the word? A little too harsh. So I suggested we start with a classical nylon string guitar to play the finger picking part around which the song revolves.

I had initially wanted a forlorn solo instrument... like a trumpet... to fill in the 8 bar solo passage in the middle. But as soon as we started embracing the Nick Drake approach, we figured we might as well go all the way and just use some piano.

On Saturday, we popped by the studio at about 7 o'clock. I was playing a solo acoustic show in Wrigleyville later in the evening, but Jay wound up having the large room at I.V. all to himself and a free night. We quickly set up (well, Jay did) some microphones and I found and tuned the studio's beautiful nylon string guitar. After a couple of takes, we had the guitar part where we wanted it. We used a couple room mics to capture the depth of the sound and I managed to work my way through a pretty nice version.

We then headed out to my gig, which was at about 10. After my set, we stopped by the liquor store and headed back to the studio... walking in the door at about 11:30. Next up was capturing the piano solo. I worked out a single note motif that was largely built around the hook from the song Look Alive... some nice allusion, I thought. I also added a lower chord pad.

Then, we started experimenting a bit... Jay had me play an unstructured part on the high notes... kind of the sound of a kid messing around or maybe a cat walking on the keyboard. I also added some subtle ambient sounds by depressing the sustain pedal and playing the strings on the inside of the piano like a harp... something I remember my dad and I doing when I was a kid for a Halloween piece he played for church.

The results were just striking... eerie and evocative. Satisfied, we moved on to the vocals. It was now after midnight and there was a wonderful quiet about the dimly lit live room as I stood in front of the vocal microphone and set my headphone levels... I had had a couple beers and my voice was pleasantly worn from my session on Thursday, as well as the 40 minute set I sang earlier that night.

I sang through the tune once, and it seemed like I was already pretty close to getting the take we needed to make the song work... Another take, and we were even closer. On the third take, about halfway through, I could feel I was there... it felt effortless and I could hear every last nuance of my voice as well as the backing tracks... the piano solo section sounded like the fall wind at the windows... The third verse came and I felt an unexpected tremor in my voice, I felt the weight of what I had written as if singing it for the first time... I felt some presence with me and in me...

The third chorus hit, and without planning to or knowing why, I changed one word. I omitted one letter. Twice. Silence. Silence.

We listened back to what we had created in the small hours. It was after one o'clock in the morning on a quiet fall evening in the city by the lake and the pink moon hung in the cloudless sky. Back at home, sleep came easily. I don't remember what I dreamt, but I can only hope it was about tape and cotton balls.


Words mean nothing to the sea Love means nothing if you leave I'm falling fast and sinking slow I'm leaning in and letting go It's almost gone The life we lived It's almost gone from here Climbed the stairs and sang to walls Dreamt of tape and cotton balls While under winter-painted skies The noise was keeping me alive It's almost gone The life we lived It's almost gone from here Mary rose up from the salt Beneath the highways and the chalk Flowers lay around her feet From all the people who believed It's almost gone The lie we lived It's almost gone from here It's almost gone The lie we lived It's almost gone from here From here From here


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Again, I am amazed at my lack of attention to this little space here... Maybe I'm not amazed... (I guess that was a song title that McCartney didn't use) Almost every hour of every day seems to be promised to something... I'm not complaining.

A lot of it is good... This morning I was in the studio. We're mixing the new Paper Arrows album in less than three weeks, which is crazy... this project, just like the first PA record, seems to have just flown by. A lot of it is that we've again been able to get a lot of recording done in a very few hours of being in the studio.

A good example was last week... in four hours, I was able to knock out lead vocals for three songs as well as do a bunch of background vocals... unheard of production for me. Today, I sang one lead and then we listened back to everything we've done so far... suddenly, it sounded like an album.

We've got 8 tunes with the full band, and all are between 80 and 90 percent done... we spent another hour recording some acoustic guitar, filling in some spaces with textural parts... we made plans to record two acoustic tunes in the next week... quieter affairs with just guitar and vocals, and maybe a little spare piano. Not like the piano is a spare, but the playing is spare.

Anyway... my point is that... the record is basically done. I'm so impressed with how the collection of tunes came together, from the 25 or so we had to start, to these particular 9 or 10 that will comprise the final product. The sounds are miles above Look Alive... not that LA sounded bad... but whereas LA had this low-fi winter attic-vibe to it sonically (which suited the songs), the new record sounds bigger... sounds like it was tracked in studios, like it was recorded in the summer and fall... it sounds like a progression.

Lyrically, it is, to me, the most cohesive thing I've ever done. It's thematic without being repetitive (I hope)... it's mostly personal and direct but still complex... there are words, ideas, and images that recur and are connected but in each context mean something a little bit different...

Which is kind of the point of the record... it's like Magnolia Electric Company's What Comes After the Blues... it's about the process of recovery and claiming yourself again after loss... which I've come to understand as one of the most complex experiences you can have...

The hardest part of doing the record has been the vocals... Not hard technically... I've been very comfortable singing in the studio and my voice has grown in range and depth since Look Alive... the new songs are written with a vocal confidence that I'm very proud of, and Jay has again been an incredible producer in terms of pulling performances out of me that I didn't think I had.

The difficult part has been revisiting some of the lyrics... which were largely written during 2007 and early 2008, when I was in a much different place emotionally... Some of the lyrics are angry... and I've worked so hard to get rid of my anger, that going back to these words and emoting them... is exhausting and complex.

The song we tracked today, Explosions Below... I wrote the lyrics as a stream of consciousness type thing... I think I blogged about it last September... I was on a plane with Andrea coming back from L.A... and I just had this out of body writing experience where all sorts of feelings and thoughts and words I had been just holding below the surface for months... came out.

And I left almost everything about it intact... I built the song structure and the music around the lyrics. And I find it such a profound piece of work... not in an egotistical way, but more personally profound... like the conclusion I drew at the end of the writing of the lyrics... was actually the experience of me drawing that conclusion... I don't know if that makes any sense.

This was not a song that was intellectualized, like some are... written about like an object. This is a song where the process of writing and what is expressed in the song were literally simultaneous. Maybe other people write like this all the time. But for me, it was a revelation.

As gut wrenching as it was for me (and Andrea, I think) it ultimately left me (and us) healthier and better. I think I wrote these out before, but having just spent time singing them this morning... they are burning a hole in my brain so I'm going to type them out again and be done...

EXPLOSIONS BELOW Explosions below and still lingering dreams Of funerals and arguments and trying to breathe As water runs in from impossible seas Saying goodbye never leads where it seems to lead Burning my skin til it peels away And hoping the coast gives me something to say In the end it turned out I was borrowing days And I opened my eyes just a little too late It's drifting away It's fading to grey And I'm watching her go And I'm checking the phone And I'm waiting for love But it's not enough And I'm drying her eyes Like it means we'll survive Like it makes it okay That she's leaving today And taking her things But leaving her rings And I'm missing her laugh It's echoing out In the hollowed out rooms It's echoing loud And I'm sick of the ghosts And I'm tired of hope And I'm tired of tears So tired of tears I'm forgetting the days They're slipping away I'm letting them fade Into shadows and graves And thunder and rain And sunshine and planes And explosions below I'm hiding my face I'm trying to breathe I'm catching my breath I'm ready to leave I'm burning her name With my hand in the flame I'm turning the page of the last piece of love That she gave me The last thing that she gave me The last thing that she gave me The last thing that she gave me


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I swear, I don't know where months go. Where have I been? Oh... right: ducking in and out of the studio and traipsing up and down (mostly down) highway 101, from nearly Canada to San Francisco... Tracing the route Ben and I took during our fateful hitchhiking escapade, some 10 years ago.

10 years ago.

Sometimes that trip seems like yesterday, sometimes it seems like forever ago. This time, instead of hitchhiking, Andrea and I had the services of a trusty Jeep Patriot. And instead of camping on Oregon beaches and in the California redwoods, we stayed in hotels... although two of the hotels were so close to the water, we fell asleep to the billion year old song of the waves crashing on rocks and sand.

The trip wrapped up with a 12 mile run in San Francisco, which was wonderful and really cemented the fact that I'm ready to do the Chicago Marathon a week from Sunday... I'm so much better prepared this year, and with a little help from the weather... it should be a lot of fun. Monday, we rose at 4:00 a.m., caught a 7:00 a.m. flight, landed in Chicago at 1:00 p.m., and were home by 3... after a couple of hours of downtime, I packed up my acoustic guitar and headed over to Schubas, where I got to play a solo acoustic opening set for the lovely and talented Gemma Hayes.

It was one of my favorite shows I've ever played. The crowd was incredibly attentive and I don't believe I've ever connected with my material quiet as well as I did. So... all that made it especially hard to get back into reality this week.

Luckily, I get to head into the studio tomorrow to cut vocals for the second Paper Arrows record. For all two of you regular readers, you may have noticed a lack of lyrics here recently... Well, it's by design. I've been kind of hoarding musical ideas, waiting to see what this new record turns into, before I really start writing the next one.

And I'd like to experiment more with writing an album in a confined time period, possibly in a different locale... maybe check into a quiet motel or cabin somewhere out of the way for a couple days, and put pen to paper.

Intriguing. So...

That's what I've got right now...


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


So... where have I been? Well, let me tell you...

Aside from moving into our new condo, trying to sell my building, and training for the Chicago marathon... we've been recording the new Paper Arrows record.

Good times.

Much more to write, and I promise I will soon.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in the Belly of the Beast


The Paper Arrows project is back in the studio creating what should turn into a second full-length record... Which is exciting.

Whereas the last (first?) record was recorded in an attic in the winter, this one is being recorded in a studio in the summer.

Whereas the last record was quiet and close, this one already feels loud and wide.

Whereas the last record was about loss, this one is about recovery... is about putting yourself and heart back together after loss...

Whereas the last record was comprised of material written before and during the fall (although the material from before was frighteningly prescient, I'm coming to understand), this one will be comprised of material written during and after the fall... all of it over the course of about a year.

Whereas the last record started with 5 tunes and was augmented to 10, this one started with 26 tunes and has been diminished to 11...

Whereas I had no idea what to expect going into the recording of the last record, on this one... well, I think I know what to expect. Somewhat.

We started with two full days booked at I.V. Labs studios two weeks ago... Jay ran the sessions, and both days were dedicated to letting Darren run wild... that is, taking advantage of the fact that he can play almost any instrument more than capably.

First task for Darren was drum parts... I spent a couple hours with Jay laying down acoustic sketches of 9 of the 11 songs we decided to record. As we did for the last record, we decided to build the songs up around these sketches, which consist of just acoustic guitar and vocals. By the time I stopped in on the evening of the first day, Darren had already knocked out 5 full drum tracks. Which is bad ass.

Similar to Look Alive, hearing the first step away from the acoustic demos, the groundwork of adding the drums, is nothing short of exhilarating. On some of the tunes, Darren and Jay made decisions that I expected. On several others, the drums radically changed the approach and character of the songs... all for the better.

That, is the beauty of creating in the studio... the songs become fresh even to the person who wrote them. The second day, I had set aside to spend with the guys in the studio and watch them work/add my two cents... I believe I've waxed poetic about the studio before but I can't do justice to how awesome it is... like a laboratory.

And I.V. has such a great vibe to it... very comfortable and welcoming. By the time I arrived at about noon on the second day, Darren had already knocked out two more drum tracks. The decision was made that the four remaining songs would wind up having little or no drums, so we moved on to recording organ, keyboard, and harmonium. I even got to play a little bit of Wurlitzer on a song.

By the end of the second day, we were in great shape. All the drums were done, a lot of keyboards were done... despite having no guitar, no bass, and scratch vocals, the songs were already starting to sound like... well, songs. Like songs that mean something and need to be heard.

We discussed the next step, and settled on booking another full day at Gravity Studios to record acoustic piano and also to try to record one song, Til I Couldn't Cry No More, more or less live with a fuller ensemble.

We'll be lucky enough to be joined by my friends Anthony on stand-up bass (who played bass at the PA live shows) and Drew on piano (who played keys live). I'll play guitar, Jay will play mandolin, and Darren will play banjo. And we'll be going for an Appalachian/Hank Williams thing... all playing in a circle and recording live.

Then, we'll spend the rest of the day working on more piano and probably guitars. The final sessions will take place back at I.V. for more guitars, vocals, and whatever else we think the songs need. 

So... Good times. More soon.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008



Just too much going on here...

A new place to live, a new album...

New is the new old.

Or so I've heard...


Monday, June 30, 2008


So much to report and so little time for reporting... Things change. Some things don't change.

But it's okay.

People return your calls. Some people don't return your calls... or emails...

But it's okay.

Sleep comes. Sometimes, it doesn't. But mostly it does.

And it's okay...




Sunday, June 15, 2008

Things We Would Rather Lose?

More How the Heart Moves On One More Quiet Song Crystal The Blue Things We'd Rather Lose Hymn Skyscraper Hearts Explosions Below Almost Gone Til I Couldn't Cry No More



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do's and Don't's: Riding the CTA

Do: bathe
Do: exit using the rear door of the bus
Don't: watch a DVD on your laptop with the sound up
Don't: fall asleep and take up two seats on the train during rush hour
Don't: stand in front of the train doors and stare at the subway map while the train is stopped at a station
Do: know how much money is on your farecard before trying to go through the turnstyle
Don't: sit down next me with a giant backpack and a drug addled disposition, ask me what I'm reading, upon learning that it is "A Thousand Splendid Suns" remark that you read "Kite Runner" and are a "traditional American Conservative," and then instantaneously pass out with your head lolling dangerously close to my shoulder
Don't: Apologize for the delay. Your operator is off the train addressing the problem. We are sorry for the inconvenience and will be moving shortly (repeat every 30 seconds for the next 20 minutes)
Do: sigh


Monday, May 26, 2008

Some Things Don't Change

We packed up our winter clothes Made sure the windows were closed Walked to the curb with our bags Knowing we weren't coming back The wineglasses sat on the floor In newspapers faded and torn Abandoned like so many dreams We never forget, we just leave The hands of the clock clasped in prayer The scars of the years that we wear Like a tag on your shirt with a name A reminder that some things don't change A reminder that some things never change A reminder that some things don't change


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Shot the street lights out with a half a bottle of wine and a sleeping pill.

Yes, we will.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Not quite, but almost... So many things buzzing around here... most of them good. Some difficult, but still... More details soon...

Cross my skyscraper heart.

love, jbg

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Analog Dreams

In analog dreams she recedes Into nothing and she's gone Bleeding into birds as they fly Against the pale, pale blue dawn Rain on the windows in the morning Means that summer's almost here And oceans of wine dark water Silently disappear Is this it? Is this it? A broken clock holds quiet hands To a face upon a wall Broken clouds summon ghosts And devils of a long forgotten fall A single tear, the smell of blood among The fading songs of rail cars The lion waits, the lamb cries out In a symphony of stars Is this it? Is this it? Is this it? Is this it?


Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Blue

Full Disclosure: my understanding of reincarnation is derived largely from Apu of Simpsons fame and the song Galileo by The Indigo Girls. So... that being said, I believe that certain songs are reincarnated to be written again and again, until you get them right.

Words, phrases, ideas, themes come back... not satisfied with their bodies... and okay, sometimes whole songs too Sometimes, you write a song and you know there's something there, something that needs to be said, something that demands attention... but you just kind of whiffed on it in that particular attempt and the song fades away and dies... so years later, without knowing it, you wind up writing the same song... it may not sound the same, it may not feel the same... but it's the same song, fighting its way back, sometimes below your consciousness, looking for a new body, a more suitable vehicle... and it's done and suddenly... you can see the connection, you can see what you were after...

So... on this beautiful Sunday, with Astral Weeks blaring, the windows open, and a certain tangible happy melancholy lurking just below Van the Man's unparalleled vocals and Richard Davis' transcendent bass playing... a familiar title, a familiar obsession... a song back from the grave in search of a home... in search of (to paraphrase Lester Bangs on the very album that is forcing its way out the windows into my Northcenter neighbors' ears whether they like it or not) truth rather than fact...

THE BLUE I've wasted all my time On ordinary things Been hiding in the rhymes And melodies I sing No more, no more No more, no more I've wondered what it means To not believe in love Caught living in my dreams When my dreams just weren't enough No more, no more No more, no more The lines of life collide And break us into two The silences divide As we fade into the blue I've wandered through the night In search of quiet sleep Left trying to take flight On the broken wings I keep No more, no more No more, no more The lines of life collide And break us into two The silences divide As we fade into the blue


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Falling Into Days

The skies above are shot through with blue The summer light is bleeding into dusk The Ides of love turned on me, turned on you And burned us into dust And all that remains Of innocence is shame And how we spent the tiny hours awake Falling into days Leaving in the early morning night Silently, lips upon my cheek Believing that that our sacrificial breaths will make it right And blanket us with sleep And all that remains Of innocence is shame And how we spent the tiny hours awake Falling into days 


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The New Economy

Go to casino.
Win $$.
Invest in wine.
Relax in the hot tub.



Monday, March 10, 2008

One More Quiet Song

I'm holding on to the first time She looked up and smiled Breakfast in the kitchen Phonecalls across the miles I'm holding on to the last time She looked down and cried Dinner on the table Tears and last goodbyes The same moon The same rooms And one more quiet song The same heart Falling apart And trying to move on Trying to move on Fighting to survive Build it to the sky I'm letting go of the good times That haunt me in my dreams An island sky and Hold On Tight Are fading memories I'm letting go of the bad times That bleed me time I'm dry Unpaid debts and When You Left And two sets of bloodshot eyes The same moon The same rooms And one more quiet song The same heart Falling apart And trying to move on Trying to move on Fighting to survive Build it to the sky



Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Exhale... Inhale...

Wow... Wowwowwow. That's all I got right now.

Thanks to everybody who made the Paper Arrows record release show so much fun and such a big success... More soon.

Lots more.



Monday, February 25, 2008


Spring is almost here? Really? Man... we fucking get it: it snows in winter.

Okay. OKAY. OH-EFFING-KAY. Why do I feel like Lewis Black? Can we just get some 40's? Upper 30's even? Hell, I'd take freezing without the snow. But... come ON. Whew. I feel better.

Okay. OKAY. Oh-Eff-


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reflections on Music

I made a strange mix today...

A random mix that consisted of the following: I Shall Be Released (The Band w/Dylan-Live) Family Life (The Blue Nile) I Shall Be Released (The Band) Cowboys (Counting Crows) Hey Hey What Can I Do (Led Zep) Stronger (Kanye) 1492 (Counting Crows) You Know You're Right (Nirvana) Pink Moon (Nick Drake) I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Wilco) Ashes of American Flags (Wilco) 

Listening to this mix while going to and from teaching today got me thinking about these songs... so, in the spirit of this selection, I will give you some random thoughts about the random songs on my random mix:

I Shall Be Released (Live from Before the Flood): There's something about this version... it's similar to the one from the Last Waltz musically, but with Richard Manuel (I think) singing it all in a gritty falsetto that is so fundamentally different from the original version that it really sounds like another person... which I guess he was by then, some 6 or 7 years down the road (literally). Still... so haunting and weathered and weary...

Family Life: Is this the saddest song ever written? It could be argued... Doug McBride from Gravity paid me a high compliment last week in comparing Look Alive to The Blue Nile... and it made me go back and download this song. It is so heartbreakingly simple and beautiful and... just so so so... spare. The trumpet (or brass synth?) in the bridge... the crack in the voice... the implied tragedy and desperation of the lyrics.

I Shall Be Released (Studio): Interesting to listen to this out of order, chronologically, from the live version. This take on it sounds much purer... but again, Richard Manuel's vocals supported by gorgeous playing...

Cowboys: This is from their forthcoming record and if it's all like this tune... produced by Gil Norton, who has done a lot of wonderful albums (and I think turned up at the Grammys because he produced the Foo Fighters' album)... this tune is so angry and filled with great guitars and great singing...

Hey Hey What Can I Do: Interesting hearing this tune after a super-modern 21st century mixed/mastered thing... still sounds great. Wonderfully sloppy. I really enjoy Robert Plant singing as much in his lower register as he does in this tune... it's easy to just remember his I'm-falling-down-the-elevator-shaft swoops (which, of course, are present here too) but his lower voice is so effortless and haunting, even on a simple tune like this.

Stronger: Ah Kanye... I thought the performance of this at the Grammys was a little weak... especially in light of the heartfelt and fantastically faulted version of Hey Mama that followed... but shit: the production on Stronger is just sick.

1492: Another tune from the new album... another angry, raging guitar tune. Not quite sold on the lyrics, but the delivery makes the content almost irrelevant.

You Know You're Right: For some reason I always forget about this tune... I believe it was recorded on one the band's last days in the studio. Talk about angry. Scary.

Pink Moon: Kind of a jarring transition from anger to melancholy... more of a fall than a winter song, but still... it worked today. The intimacy.

I am Trying to Break Your Heart: We're going to see Wilco Monday at The Riviera... so I needed to get in the mood... or rather, the right mindset. We watched the movie of the same name this weekend... I guess I didn't pick up in my previous viewings the implication that Jay Bennett was more or less responsible for the first round of mixes of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that got scapped in favor of the Jim O'Rourke finals.

Ashes of American Flags: What a strangely triumphant song... guitar tones? It's got them. Lyrics? In code? So mysterious yet not... and in light of the fact that it seems like the last 5 seconds of this song were the straws that broke the camel's back...

So those are my random thoughts on my random mix.

How... Random.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wander- and Ramble-ings

More snow is upon us. The night is quiet save the intermittent hum of the furnace. There's a dog curled up next to me in about as small a ball as one could imagine a 42 pound mutt getting himself into.

It's 11:11 now... but you know that won't last. And it didn't. My body feels tired in a good way... the fierce cold of the weekend pushed me towards taking a couple days off from running and instead relying on the gym and a Bikram yoga session for exercise.

My head feels as at peace as an insomniac's head can feel after the hour of ten o'clock... meaning I think I'll sleep well tonight, which would make two good nights of sleep in a row... which would be nice.

My refridgerator is stocked with the spoils of a successful trip to Trader Joe's... a week of healthy food and drink.

Jon Voight is a Republican? Weird.

i think i'll write in lower case letters for the rest of this entry... i hear all the cool kids are doing it. it does make me feel much cooler. as cool as the other side of the pillow. i've been looking out my window tonight hoping to see a ufo like the one that's been sighted in texas. the word texas looks weird without a capital t. i haven't seen a ufo yet, but i'm going to keep looking... faith is a strange thing, certainly it is (in paul simon's (the musician not the former senator) words) an island in the setting sun... and quite possibly also in the rising moon. one of my friends described kobe bryant as an "aging rapist." not sure why, but that strikes me as one of the funniest things i've ever heard. i've decided i really like the foo fighters. i feel like steven wright right now. only with more hair.

love, jbg

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Not Going Anywhere

Naked walls and threadbare clothes Quiet nights and silent ghosts The windows breathe, the tile's cracked The faucets leak, the silver's black The light has gone The light has come And I'm still here The light has come The light has gone And I'm still here I'm not going anywhere To the east, the waters break And memory gives what sorrow takes To the south, the buildings rise And sorrow means that we're alive The light has gone The light has come And I'm still here The light has come The light has gone And I'm still here I'm not going anywhere To the west, the river flows Into the darkest hour we've known When promises were taken back Beneath the moon and railroad tracks The light has gone The light has come And I'm still here The light has come The light has gone And I'm still here I'm not going anywhere