Thursday, May 06, 2010

Fading Days

In February, I was really struggling to put a capstone on the material for the new record... I had a solid group of 7 tunes culled mostly from my 2009 early morning writing sessions.

I had a re-written version of Lonesome Sound. And I had Smoke and Ash, which finally came together after a year of lurking in pieces and various failed attempts to pair a strong chorus with a commensurately strong song (say that 10 times fast). But still, the group felt incomplete... and I really wanted to wind up with 10 tunes.

Enter Fading Days. I've mentioned here before that the last two groups of songs I've written have had turning points where I'm able to see the context of the record as a whole and then write to that context... I unconsciously (or subconsciously) write myself into a group of songs and then very consciously try to write myself out of it.

But this group... I never really had that moment. Sure I could see what the record was going to be about, I could trace the themes and overall tone... but I wasn't really writing at these themes the way I had previously.

Interestingly, if I had one complaint about the 9 tunes we chose, it was that they were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Which was a double-edged sword... as the third record in the tried and true trilogy formula (introduction/crisis/resolution) this one had to be positive and hopeful... and frankly, my life is so positive and hopeful right now (knock on wood) that the material was, as previous records have been, just an honest reflection of me and my daily existence...

Buuuuttttttttt... I really like material that even at its most positive has a dark edge or three... a little twist or contending strand that balances it out... 'cause reality, even at its best, still has thorns. One of my favorite examples is any love song of the "''til death do us part" variety... sweet and beautiful, but, if done right, also a reminder of mortality... if that makes sense.

So in February, I lost my voice for a couple of weeks... a sinus infection was to blame. Very frustrating. But one day at the gym, a disembodied lyric from a verse I had scrapped months before crawled back into my head, this time in the form of a big hooky chorus...

** Do the echoes ever keep you up at night? Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right? It's okay to still have fading days I know you do... **

Later that day, I sat down and hashed out the music I heard in my head... and even tried to sing the chorus in my best Tom Waits voice... and then got to work at wood-shedding out the verses... Jay had pushed me to really work on my imagery and metaphors for this record and I took that to heart for this tune especially... very quickly I had all the verse lyrics and music and set the song aside until my voice healed.

Once I could sing it, I realized that I needed a bridge... and what was more, it seemed like the entire record was turning on this one particular passage... these 3 or 4 lines of lyrics. I've had that happen with a song before, but never with an entire record... it's a bizarre feeling... you feel like whatever content you put in even one line will be the line through which the whole group of songs is refracted...

On an even more specific level, I got down to literally the last line I needed to write and I STILL felt like the record was up for grabs... Amazing. Writing never ceases to take my breath away. Or frustrate me. Or both.

Anyway... after a week or so of trying line after line after line for this oh so important moment... I finally got it. As usual, it was way simpler than I was making it... Of course the postscript to this is that after Jay and I met to do some pre-production work, we decided that Smoke and Ash needed a bridge and I had a similar experience with those lyrics, but Fading Days still feels like the lynchpin... So... with much ado...

FADING DAYS If I could take your scars I'd lay them in a line And fix the skin with needle and thread Like the thread that runs from your life to mine And pulled us in until we met If I could live your days I'd put them in the ground And work the dirt until the colors bloomed Like the red that runs in rivers in these rooms Within my heart as it beats for you Do the echoes ever keep you up at night? Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right? It's okay to still have fading days I know you do If I could catch your tears I'd pour them in the sea Where they would mix and finally disappear When they were gone you know our lives would be as clear As the lights on the lines that lead us here Do the echoes ever keep you up at night? Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right? It's okay to still have fading days You know I do Where there is none Don't look for pain You can call it love 'Cause all love's not the same If we can stay then we'll both be saved Do the echoes ever keep you up at night? Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right? It's okay to still have fading days I know you do 


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Return of that Joe Guy

So we've picked the 10 tunes we're going to attack for the new Paper Arrows record... which I'm calling "In the Morning." Very tentatively.

Jay and I got together last night to do some pre-production and tweak some of the arrangements, but the songs are about 95% there. I've made a conscious effort to avoid playing these tunes a lot on my own, so this session was a little like discovering someone else's work... which is a nice if not peculiar feeling.

I'm super-proud of the material already and excited about taking a slightly different approach to the recording sessions... we're going to (gulp) rehearse and then do a lot of the tracking in more of a live band setting, hoping to knock out the bulk of the tracking in two two day sessions in the big room at I.V. Labs... then do some overdubs if necessary and make the mixing process a little less burdensome and more geared towards a live sound... If the pre-production is any indication, we're on the right track.

I'm ready to buckle down, make the minor revisions we discussed last night, re-demo all the songs in final form, and get them to Drew and Darren with a eye towards booking sessions at the middle/end of the summer.

It's a little self-evident to say that the third album will complete a trilogy, but on top of the simple numerical descriptor, this new record feels like it will close the loop on the thematic arc that began with Look Alive and was furthered with Things We Would Rather Lose... that classic narrative of introduction/conflict/resolution.

If only the title of the first record started with an S, the second with an M, and the third with a P, well... that would be uber-nerdy.

I've got a large scale conceptual writing project in incubation right now, which I'll start on in earnest once I wrap up the loose ends of this record... but it's a little different in scope and approach... it seems like a logical step forward (or at least some away from) the material on LA, TWWRL, and this third record while still being a suitable follow-up but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

Better to focus on the task at hand, the third record, or my "Return of the Jedi" Just without Ewoks.