Friday, November 19, 2010

Lonesome Sound


How to start writing about In the Morning?

I guess I should start with the end of Things We Would Rather Lose.

The last line of that record is in the song Explosions Below:

"I'm turning the page on the last piece of love that she gave me."

Actually, I can't remember if I originally wrote "on the last piece of love" or "of the last piece of love," and I didn't annunciate well enough on the recording to make out on which word I settled. Maybe on purpose.

One of the reviews of TWWRL noted that I had mixed my metaphors in this line. Which I suppose is true. Or at the very least the metaphor is messy.

But really, it is an example of one of Elvis Costello's anchors. It means something very specific to me, and reality and poetic vehicle happened to intersect in such a perfect way I couldn't help but exploit it: the last physical thing my ex-wife gave me was the writing book in which I wrote Explosions Below. So there I was, physically turning the pages in this book and writing about turning the page on my relationship.

Heavy. Beautiful. Symbolic.

Does disclosing this increase the listener's understanding of this line and song and record? I'd like to think that even without this knowledge, one can figure out what's going on. So maybe it really is a case of what Elvis talked about with respect to these little anchors (for some reason, I want to call them land mines, but maybe that says more about me): they are selfish and solely for the author/performer.

Of course, now you know.

Anyway, on to In the Morning.

During the summer of 2008, we had started recording TWWRL, Andrea and I had just moved in together, and I was aching to start writing again. I was sitting up on our roof one beautiful summer day playing guitar and I stumbled into the chords which eventually became the first song on In the Morning some two and a half years later: Lonesome Sound.

This day in 2008, the song was called Lonesome Town. And it was terrible. Well, the music was solid but the lyrics? Bad. All over the place. Just a bunch of disconnected images.

So bad I got frustrated and set it aside for 9 months. In retrospect, I just had no idea what I was writing about yet. I knew I wanted to write in a different manner from Look Alive (simple, direct) and TWWRL (dense, dark), I just didn't know what that was.

So when I came back to it in the spring of 2009 during my morning writing sessions, I had a bit better sense of where my new material was going lyrically. And the lyrics still sucked pretty badly.

But I finished the music and knew that the music was really good: it had a strong hook and a nice straightforward arrangement that struck me as a great song in the making.

When I initially demoed the songs in late 2009 for Jay, I recorded it (I think?) as Lonesome Town and I anticipated Jay's feedback almost exactly: great music, wholesale rewrite of the lyrics necessary. At this point, the tunes I was writing had coalesced around the idea of morning (go figure), about a true and secure sense of optimism and light after dark. So as I started to dig into the rewrite of (what was by now) Lonesome Sound, I tried to embrace these themes and also strike a balance between directness and metaphor.

I was thrilled with the results, stressing most heavily over the bridge, but eventually finishing what I anticipated would turn into a strong recording.

And a strong recording it did turn into. Or something like that.

I can't remember which day at I.V. we attacked this one, but I do remember feeling an immediate and special energy around it. We dialed in a killer guitar tone on one of the studio's Telecasters, and set around crafting an arrangement with solid dynamics and a backbone. Everybody contributed little touches. Jay changed a bass note in the chorus which led to a nice variation in the motion of the chords. Darren created a wonderfully musical but still propulsive drum track. And Drew's organ playing just cooks in a way that allowed me to play the guitar sparsely and effectively. We even collaborated on what Jacob Slichter called the "Clearmountain pause," two bars of silence before a climactic reentrance of the band for a triumphant chorus.

We got the rhythm tracks all together as a band and Drew overdubbed a piano hook. In the subsequent sessions, I overdubbed just one minor guitar part, and it was on to vocals.

At this point, I could feel that this tune was a strong candidate to open up the album. We even had a Looney Tunes-esque sound of the tape machine starting up at the top of it, giving the beginning of the tune an extra sweep.

After trying a couple vocal approaches, we settled on a more relaxed yet still intense sound and finally Jay added some layered backgrounds and a cool texture with a programming loop.

And, 30 months after first banging out the chords on my roof, we had an opening track to our third album.

Lyrically, this song functions similarly to how More did on TWWRL: it's a topic sentence, introducing many of the themes and imagery that drive the album as a whole. Boxes, rooms, light, moving on... in a sense this song is at its core about putting the anguish on TWWRL to bed once and for all... about letting the sun set on the lonesome sounds that dominated Look Alive and TWWRL... and my life for a couple years.

There are also a couple of land mines. For me. And the person who gets them. Only.

To be continued...



Time's a box of rescued days
So cut the tape and show me what you saved
In our hearts, in these rooms
Beneath our skin it's not too soon
To throw it out and start again

As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound
As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound

We all pray for a flood
To come down and wash away the blood
Which spells our names in the snow
We spent the winter making ghosts
Now kick them out and let me in

As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound
As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound

I'm watching the wave break in your eyes
I'm leaving the broken nights behind
I'm breathing out until I can't
And breathing in
And breathing in

As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound
As the light goes down
On this lonesome sound


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