Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Love Goes On (Three Year Update)

You know what you can't fuck with?


It just happens.

And what marks the passage of time (for better or worse) more than anniversaries.  A year is an arbitrary time period from the standpoint of actual accomplishment but it does offer a chance to reflect on accomplishments and take stock of what improvements can be made.

Which is particularly relevant because yesterday was the third anniversary of my last day working at Baker & McKenzie, the so-called "day job."

Three years of pursuing a career in music head-on, full-time.

Let me sum up the last three years in one word:


I think that covers it.

While it's easy to get buried in the details and the day-to-day of building success in music (and any career or business I suppose), I try to remind myself as often as possible of how lucky I am, how hard I work, and how far I've come as an artist and a businessman in these three years.

Truly, my worst day as a musician is better than my best day doing just about any other job and that gets lost in the noise from time to time.

The other thing that gets lost in the mundane side of music is the reason why I did this to begin with: the music.

So much of being a musician has nothing to do with music.  It's like any other business: administration takes up a disproportionate amount of time, a necessary evil for any measure of true success.

But at the center of this bizarre ride is and has to be music and my love for music.

One of my favorite songs ever is What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line.  So simple, so perfect.  Captures the common thread of love across so many different things in life, but especially the love for a craft or art, the sacrifices one makes, and the pain and failure one tolerates to pursue it.

That's the song I had in mind when I wrote Love Goes On and the idea of what love means and how it exists has become the subject of this next set of records we're working on.

Recording Love Goes On was a blast.  We changed very little from my demo version... added a little interlude and a double chorus and that's about it.  The core of the tune (including the rhythm guitar) is from the live tracking with the band.  The lead part was done on some weird electronic-infused guitar that was hanging around the studio... it was like playing a live cat.  The thing was just howling in my hands.  So much fun.  The background vocals and hand claps we all did in the big room together around one microphone.  The lead vocals I cut near the end of my sinus infection period (it's like Picasso's Blue Period only with less post-nasal drip).  And the mix was expertly handled, as usual.

As far as the lyrics... I think it's all there.

Love is love.

Love for people, love for music...

Love is going to face the same obstacles, the same challenges.

When you're weary and beaten up, when you're fighting doubt...

Love goes on.

I believe it.

No, I know it.

Because I'm lucky enough to live it every day.



Walking the same roads
In these worn down shoes
Singing these worn down blues
Again and again

Waiting for new light
In a darkened place
With a belly full of broken grace
And remedy spent

But lines are drawn
From night to dawn
And in between
Love goes on

Digging the same hole
With a heave heart
Trying not to fall apart
In front of the kids

Leaving the light up
As the darkness crawls
From the windows to the pale walls
Of the heartache we hid

But lines are drawn
From night to dawn
And in between
Love goes on


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Love, Faith, Light (Out)

The life of a song is a strange, strange thing.

At some point I started to get used to it but even now when I stop and think about the steps of creation it amazes me to no end.

It's possible I'm thinking about this right now because somehow we're already starting to put together the details of our next recording.  And between this new material and our current release I'm managing songs at just about every point in the process.

Which seems apropos for writing about the song Light Out.

Light Out is one of those songs that seems like it took forever to get right.  From a writing standpoint at least.  And then almost no time to get right in recording it.  And then a whole lot more time to get it out for public consumption.

I wrote it (or the first draft of it) in March of 2011.

I went through a couple rounds of complete rewrites (like, everything except the choruses) in July of 2011.

We recorded the song in August of 2011.

It was released as part of our first Slothtrop single in July of 2012 and on the new EP in September of 2012.

The tune was arranged, rehearsed, tracked, and mostly mixed in one day, including the lead vocals.  The only thing added afterwards were the background vocals.  It was the first song we recorded for Days of Getting By and in some ways I think it's the best thing Paper Arrows has done.  It's simple and moving, direct but complex in theme.

The coolest part of the process for me was recording the vocals in one take near the end of the day.  I had taken a couple runs through it and we actually had what we thought was enough to put together a good performance.  But I decided to give it one more shot and see if I could do something a little bit different with it.  And it worked.  Which is really, really rare for me when it comes to singing.  Usually the more I think, the more I "try" things, the worse it gets.  But somehow Light Out came together.  I found the intimacy it needed but also added a little bit of extra muscle for the choruses.  It was a great experience and even more meaningful to do it in front of a group of musicians I admire and respect.

The textures of the recording are very cool.  Luke did some great work blending simple piano and organ parts.  Jay plays a stoic but forceful bass line.  Darren plays a truly beautiful drum part with a nod to Steve Gadd (to my non-drummer ears).  And I added a ridiculously simple guitar part during the choruses as well as a couple of ambient eBow parts.  Jay's backgrounds are typically wonderful and the lyrics he sings for the counterpoint... let's just say they'll be coming back on the next recording and featured more prominantly.

The lyrics...

As I mentioned, these went through some serious reworking... somewhere in this process the song went from being about as vague as possible (just a bunch of images strung together) to being about something specific: the idea that love is faith.

This may sound simple, trite, cliche (all of the above) but for me, for where I was in my life, it was a revelation on a number of levels.

I'm not a religious person.  In fact I have a very uncomfortable relationship with religion both practically and theoretically.  And a lot of it stems from vocabulary.  I realized a couple years ago that I thought I was an atheist namely because religion has co-opted the word "God."  Religion owns the word.  So when I was saying "I don't believe in God" what I really meant was "I don't believe in anything I've heard attached to that word."  Subtle but very meaningful distinction.

And what I found when I started examining my beliefs and my life is that I behave in ways that indicate I do believe in a God.  And the more I dug, the more I realized that the language of faith in God and the language of falling in and staying in love are largely the same.

Here was this huge piece of life, the most important piece and the piece in which I've had the most struggles, in which I was expressing faith on a daily basis.

And so the song became an affirmation of that, of how faith in love (or anything) can be renewed every day, about how it deserves all the reverence normally apportioned to religion...

And this in turn became a kind of lynchpin for the next three records.

But there I am getting ahead of myself in the lifecycle of our music.  Again.




Maybe love is just as strong as we let ourselves believe
And in the days it fades away and leaves us on our knees
So upon the setting sun we lay our hopes to keep
That in the silence we'll be healed while we sleep

Turn the light
Turn the light out on me
Turn the light out on me now

In the dark we built an ark to carry us to land
We gathered all our things around and made one final plan
And in this dream I let you go and the end was drawing near
I was left knee-deep in the water and I was trying to catch your tears

Turn the light
Turn the light out on me
Turn the light out on me now

(One for sorrow, two for tomorrow, three for the show)

Won't you go to the river maybe you can save yourself
If you go to the river maybe I'll see you there
'Cause if love is faith then I'm all out of prayers...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Tell the Kids

The new Paper Arrows record, Days of Getting By, is out and available on iTunes and Amazon.

It's our fourth release but in some ways it feels like a new beginning, owing to the fact that it's our first on Madison's Slothtrop Records, the indie label with which we signed earlier this year.

It's also the first in what I hope will be a new thematic trilogy of records for us.

Our first three record arc, Look Alive, Things We Would Rather Lose, and In the Morning, was so satisfying to me from a writing and creative standpoint, that I'd like to try that conceit again, stretching a narrative or theme over a number of releases while having each record stand on its own.

Because we may now have the opportunity to record our second Slothtrop release sooner than I thought (this winter), I've already done the bulk of writing on it... and I'm really pleased with how it might sit in relation to Days of Getting By.

But that's getting a little (a lot?) ahead of it all.

We have a record to promote, and I'm really, really proud of it.

As a group of songs, Days of Getting By is a little scattered sonically, but that's generally by design.  We recorded it spread over about 6 months.  When we started, I intended to release the songs one at a time as singles with videos, but that plan got scrapped when it proved too expensive.  When Slothtrop got involved, we converted it to a more standard EP format.

For the most part, we recorded one song per studio day, starting in the morning with just my demo, rehearsing until we had a good band take of it, moving on to some overdubs and vocals, and then even trying to get a rough mix of the song to listen to.

Tell the Kids was the third song we did, convening at I.V. Labs in November of last year.
Whereas we had Luke around to play keys on the first two days, this song we recorded just the three of us, Darren, Jay and myself.  Which took me back to Look Alive on which the three of us recorded just about everything.

Jay had it in his head that this song would have no regular bass guitar on it, so Darren and I set up together and banged out a version just the two of us, with me playing acoustic guitar.  Once we had the drums I tweaked the acoustic part and we had a framework within which to work.

I added a couple simple electric guitar overdubs.  Darren added banjo (an inspired choice) and an organ which takes the place of the bass.  He also added a second drum kit.

I cut the lead vocals very quickly and added some low harmonies to the verses on the spot.

We had a working mix.

Then the song sat for awhile as we went through negotiating the record contract and figuring out how we were going to finish up the release.

When we came back and listened to the rough mixes, we liked the song, but felt there were a couple things missing.

The final mix fills in the spaces with some really nice background vocals in the chorus, a shimmery (technical term) programming sound, and what I think is a tremendous job by Jay of adding and subtracting instruments in the mix to shape to the song.

The format of the tune, three verses plus choruses, can be tricky to keep interesting.  There's no bridge, no solo... and all the verses and choruses are identical in length so... the task of engagement falls largely on the dynamics of the mix.

This somewhat bland format was intentional on my part.  I wanted the emphasis strongly on the words and the story they tell.

Their genesis was a misheard lyric from The National tune Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks.

I hadn't looked at the title and I thought Matt Berninger sang "I'll explain everything to the kids" instead of "I'll explain everything to the geeks."

But that got me thinking about how powerful the word "kids" is... how it can stand for so many different things beyond just, well, little people (not midgets, but you get my drift).

And I started crafting this lyric around the idea that every heartbreak has collateral damage, has little innocent things that get swept into the whirlpool that is loss.

So these three releases on Slothtrop are going to be about... love, faith, life... all the mostly good but still complex things that come after you resolve loss and you're left with yourself.

And away we go...


In the end, everyone loses everyone
Our castles come undone
My dear friend, before our glass returns to sand
Let's get out while we can

So go and tell the kids
Explain it all to the kids
He'll stay with me
She'll be with you
So go and tell the kids

When you're done, kill the lights and lock the door
This palace is no more
My sweetest one, we didn't go without a fight
We tried to make it right

So go and tell the kids
Explain it all to the kids
He'll stay with me
She'll be with you
So go and tell the kids

After all, a song still needs a voice to sing
A kingdom needs a king
In the fall, remember me for who I was
When you believed in love

So go and tell the kids
Explain it all to the kids
He'll stay with me
She'll be with you
So go and tell the kids


Thursday, August 16, 2012


Hear and download my cover of Bloodbuzz Ohio here and here.


Well, it's been dark here for awhile... maybe the longest stretch of silence since I started this page over seven years ago.

Seven years!



As usual, silence here is related to noise elsewhere: I've been hard at work in nearly every facet of my musical world.  And that work is starting to bear fruit.  Last week, our new label (Slothtrop) released new Paper Arrows music... a "maxi-single" consisting of three songs: Love Goes On, Light Out, and a cover of The National song Bloodbuzz Ohio.

I'm going to write more extensively about the two originals when Slothtrop releases our EP in September (which will consist of Love Goes On, Light Out, and five other songs) so I thought I would take this post to write a little bit about Bloodbuzz Ohio.

Where to start?

When I signed the deal with Slothtrop in February, we already had four tunes recorded and mixed... which was a great starting point.  After considering a couple of different release plans, we settled around the idea of putting out a seven song EP in the summer/fall, preceded by a three song "single" to generate some advance press and radio.

Eric (owner of Slothtrop) was pretty adamant that both the single and EP should contain a different cover tune, something to tie Paper Arrows to larger bands and turn some new ears and eyes our way.

Which presented a slight problem: after going my entire musical career without recording even ONE cover song, I was being pushed to select and track TWO of them.

Obviously I learned and performed other bands' songs for years... check that: decades.  Going to back to middle school talent show performances of (gulp) Heaven by Warrant and Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison... wait did I just type that?  Yes, I did.  Heck, my first band was essentially just a Guns N' Roses cover band.

But there's a huge difference between covering something live and committing someone else's song(s) to record.  And I initially struggled with both song selection and artistic approach.

I came around to the concept of doing the cover for the single in a spare, stripped down setting, and then ramping up the EP-cover as a full band affair.  Which meant ideally I would choose songs that were the opposite, picking something loud to make soft and something soft to make loud.

So I spent about two weeks getting up each day and learning a new song or two... songs from my iTunes library, songs I was teaching to students... random songs I heard on the radio the day before... songs I had wanted to cover for years, songs I had sort-of covered for years... I learned songs by The Flaming Lips, The Blue Nile, Madness, Fine Young Cannibals (not kidding)... Wilco, Sharon van Etten... a whole host of Motown songs... it was fun as heck but also a bit beguiling.

Finally, after numerous trials, I settled on the quiet tune for the EP:  Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National.  I really like The National and I really like this tune... we saw them open up for  Arcade Fire a year or so ago and they were really, really good.

And Bloodbuzz Ohio had a bunch of things going for it...

1) It was a driving rock tune inside of which I found a quiet fingerpicking pattern, so it satisfied the radical reinvention criterion.

2) The National is the type of band with which Paper Arrows would like to be identified.

3) The lyrics fit nicely next to what we do in Paper Arrows... love, loss, longing... it's all there.

4) The voice... Matt Berninger has (in my opinion) a truly singular and remarkable voice.  Deep, resonant... unmistakable.  He pitches his songs where even lower male rock singers will not (check that: cannot) go.  So that meant I was forced to figure out how I could sing it my own way.

And that meant changing the key, lowering it a whole step into the guitar-friendly key of G but then singing the melody an octave higher.  And that unlocked the magic.

The key of G presented numerous opportunities for me to re-voice the song, stressing harmonic movement that is (at best) implied in the original.  It also put it squarely in the strongest part of my vocal range.  High enough to convey tension but low enough to sing with relative ease and gentleness when desired.  Truly, a lucky strike born (like most luck) out of a lot of work.

So I started practicing it until... an antibiotic-resistant sinus infection kept me from singing for nearly 4 months.

Talk about torture... I sign the first record contract of my career and then I CAN'T SING.  Can't practice.  Can't write.  Can't record the remaining vocal tracks for the EP, which included committing Bloodbuzz to tape (hard drive).

So I did my best to practice Bloodbuzz, focusing on the guitar parts, visualizing (or whatever the sonic equivalent of visualizing is) the vocals ... and result was that I kept finding different ways to play the song... or rather, I kept finding useful variations.  I just couldn't quite figure out how to fit all the variations together into one seamless performance.

But necessity is the mother of invention.  And we needed to get the record done.

So a stormy spring evening I braved the run from my north-shore students to I.V. Lab, and we set up to get Bloodbuzz dialed in.

I knew I wanted to replicate a guitar set-up and sound we used for the song Fight on Look Alive... my 1960's Gibson  ES-125 through a reverb-saturated isolated amp.  Ghostly, mysterious... just right.  And mic'ed acoustically to give it a little more punch.

And I also wanted to cut the whole song live, playing and singing at the same time in one take.  It just felt like the right way to go.

But the live approach also resulted in a lot of pressure: one mistake and the take is useless.  No editing and in this case, no auto-tune.

Good thing I had been able to rehearse so much.

Oh wait.

To make matters even a little more tenuous, my voice was still not fully recovered from my sinus issues.  Better to be sure, but still ragged and lacking in stamina.  I was not going to be able to sing Bloodbuzz over and over and over... this was going to need to come together pretty quickly.

So we got set and I started in, running through it a couple times to get warmed up and used to the room.  From the beginning, we were pleased.  The work I had done selecting and pitching the song was paying off and by the second take, we had something usable.

And then on the third take, the magic happened.

Something just clicked and it was like I was following a map in my head... all the variations I had worked on flowed from one to the next in a way that was so perfect it seemed obvious but had never occurred to me before that take.

And my voice was right on the edge of breaking.  I let myself go places I hadn't been comfortable with before, took some leaps of faith... and they paid off.

I'm extremely fond of the phrase "The machines love discovery" and when I listen to my version of Bloodbuzz, that's what I hear: I hear myself discovering how to play and sing the song the right way in real time.

And all live, one take, no editing.

I'm on a Bloodbuzz, God I am.


Friday, April 27, 2012

The. End. (When You Left redux)

Listen to When You Left

So it's come to this.

Today I'm writing about When You Left, the last song on Look Alive.

Which means I'm all caught up on old Paper Arrows material.

I was hoping that by the time I finished revisiting our older recordings, we'd have some new recordings to share... but it hasn't worked out that way and our next record won't be out until summer/fall.

About the new record: it's getting there.  We (and the record label) have picked a single to push out in advance of the full EP, and the main hold up has been my two month-plus battle with sinus problems, which has rendered me largely voiceless... not a good situation when about 75% of what is still needed to finish the record is vocal-related.  So it's been frustrating.  But I think I have the problems solved and we'll soon be on our way to finishing what is shaping up into something I'm very excited for people to hear.

The title of the new EP will most likely be taken from a lyric in a song on Look Alive.  Which seems a bit odd, but in a way, we're starting over with this new recording.  The first three albums tell a complete story (Loss, Recovery, Redemption) and in ways thematic (what comes after redemption?) and practical (new record label) we're at another beginning of sorts.

Blah blah blah.

Maybe I'm going on about the new recording because I don't have a ton to say about When You Left?

It is the quietest and shortest song I've ever written and recorded.

Look Alive was originally called When You Left, because, you know, I needed to gild the loss lilly.

I actually remember very, very clearly writing this one.  It was the last song written for the project, and we had already begun tracking most of the other songs.

The first Friday in November of 2006, as was my custom on the first Friday of most months, I went to the Baker & McKenzie Happy Hour on the 39th floor of the Prudential Building.  The lobby area on the 39th floor features a beautiful unobstructed view south over Grant Park.  Truly fantastic.  If you look southeast across the lake on clear days you can see Indiana and Michigan.  Until the 50's or 60's, this was the tallest building in the city and highest vantage point, and even now it's an amazing place to view Chicago.  And even better after all the work in Grant Park over the last decade.

I digress.

The first Friday in November of 2006.  At our First Friday Happy Hours, I generally had a good crew of people with whom to drink and celebrate making it to another month.  Other paralegals, my co-workers in the Immigration Group.  We had fun.  We drank.  We hung out until the free alcohol had been consumed.  Sometimes we sought out more alcohol.

This particular Friday, I remember standing apart from the merriment and just... looking out the windows.  Looking at our beautiful city.  Watching the light from the west grow weaker.  Watching the  crowds of people shuffle up and down Michigan Avenue.  Seeing the lake go from bright blue to wine dark.

And maybe for the first time in what was then four months of separation from my ex-wife, I allowed myself to be sad.  I allowed myself the reality that I was alone, that she was not coming home.  I also allowed myself the understanding that it was she who left me.  She who decided not to stay and try.  Or that she had already tried enough.  But nonetheless, she who had gone.

And I remember getting home from First Friday to my house, our house, empty of life save a dog and a cat.  And sitting in my living room and just... playing.  Playing the guitar, holding it to me chest, to my heart, feeling the body fill with sound and then empty into the room.  Sitting in the dark of my living room, alone, playing the guitar, thinking about looking out the window on the 39th floor of the Prudential Building, watching the night grow.

And a simple fingerpicked melody came out.

And I didn't even write any words.

I just played it over and over and over and listened to it bounce off the darkness.

The next day, Saturday, I got to Village Music to teach a little early.  I sat in my little room and played my simple fingerpicked melody from the night before, and words started coming out... started coming out perfectly.  Saying exactly what I had been feeling the night before.

And I scribbled them down, exactly how they came to me.

And I had When You Left, the last song of Look Alive.

A couple weeks later, we recorded it in one take in the attic.

My voice cracks on the last line and is swallowed by the ambient noise of the room, the cars on the highway in the background, and the almost imperceptible sound of me shifting slightly in my chair.

Vulnerable, spare, honest.






Looked across
The water blue
And saw a sea of tears
As darkness fell
I thought of you
And when you left

Couldn't tell
Where the city ended
And where the night began
The buildings sang
Their silent song
Like when you left

I can't believe you're gone


Friday, March 23, 2012

Punctuated Evolution (December Static Redux)

Listen to the demo of December Static:

Listen to the record version:

I'm fascinated with the concept of punctuated evolution.  I'm sure my understanding of it is rudimentary to say the least, but something about it resonates with my experiences as an artist and creator.  I find that I work and work and work at being a better writer and musician and feel like I'm getting nowhere and then suddenly: Breakthrough.  Improvement.  Innovation.  Seismic change.

This pattern extends to trying to make it (whatever the fuck that means) in the music business.  You send emails.  You make phone calls.  You mail CD's.  You pay people to do shit they sometimes do.  You send more emails.  You have meetings.  You pay more people.  You troll the internet looking for opportunities.  And it feels like nothing is happening.  You're still searching for a way to reach a wider audience, to cut through the noise... and for god's sake to create sustainable revenue.

It feels hopelessly static, random, and impossible.

And then.


For me, progress came in the form of signing an honest-to-goodness recording contract this month.  With an indie label in Madison called Slothtrop.  The deal calls for Slothtrop to release an EP of new Paper Arrows music later this year, and has options for two subsequent releases depending on how the first one goes.

The process of negotiating the deal was fascinating and exhausting and deserves its own post (we consummated it at the Belvidere Oasis overlooking I-90 as a wicked spring storm raged all around our glass-encased perch above the traffic)... but suffice to say, I'm really, really excited.

It's not a big money deal, but it is wonderfully realistic and has adequate resources allocated to take some promotional and marketing risks that I haven't been able to take on my own.

Most importantly, it will free me up to focus almost entirely on the creative and performing side of Paper Arrows.

Of course this success has gotten me thinking about the history of Paper Arrows and how far it's come since Jay and I huddled in the attic in the winter of '06 and started making noise.

So it seems fitting that it's time for me to blog about December Static, which is really the first Paper Arrows song anyone heard.  And really the first Paper Arrows song I wrote... in September of '05.

Burn Rome Burn actually sort of played it live once, at Schubas, in the winter of '05 - '06.

When looking back on a song, it's easy to pile all sorts of meaning and significance on it that wasn't there at the time you wrote it.  Actually, that's easy to do with life in general.

But with December Static, I remember knowing I had truly written something different.  I had tapped into a part of myself that I hadn't before.  It was a case of punctuated evolution for me as a writer.  And I think it scared me.  Or rather, I didn't really know what to do with it.

Burn Rome Burn generally played louder more aggressive rock, so the delicacy of the fingerpicked guitar part and the simplicity didn't really fit us.  To wit, when we tried to play it, it took the form of me playing the first part solo and the band joining me for the instrumental swell halfway through.  I'm sure it was weird.  But probably functionally symbolic (does that even mean anything?) of where the band was headed.

In addition to feeling like I had written differently, I also had a clear picture of how I wanted the song to sound in performance and recording.  Or at least a picture of the shape, texture, and dynamic.  And it sounded different in my head than anything else I'd been a part of.

And the lyrics...

I could write another thousand words about the lyrics.

But here's the only one that matters:


The recording was another first for me: there's almost no recognizable guitar until the noise we created at the end.  I had never been a part of a recording that so marginalized the guitar, but it was incredibly freeing.  Darren's piano translation of my original guitar part sounds amazing, and we created an evocative atmosphere of pads and textures from a synth drone to a host of weird percussion sounds... to two feedback guitars that I played as Jay manipulated effects.

I loved it all so much it was the first song on the original promotional run of Look Alive, which at that point was called When You Left... but after living with it for a couple of months, I realized that December Static was better in almost every way as a closing (or nearly closing) statement.

So... in honor of our record deal with Slothtrop, and punctuated evolution past, present, and future, here's where Paper Arrows started...



December static streaks the sky
The streetlights blinked as we walked by
I didn't mean to let you down
But darkness came without a sound

You took the train, it made you cry
I let the how destroy the why
I didn't mean to leave you there
To taste the salt hanging in the air

The winter left us black and blue
And the drugs don't work like they used to
I didn't mean to let you go
To walk alone into the snow


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Without Defense (Fight Redux)


Today's song is Fight, another quiet whisper of a tune from Look Alive.

Fight comes closest to the Joni Mitchell/Nick Drake vibe I had in mind when we started recording.

This is what Joni Mitchell said about Blue:

The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.

I can't really improve on or add to that.

Fight was written in two days, a verse each day.

The second verse originally ended with the line "So go our days until the summer ends."

We recorded Fight in one take, all live. I played my old '63 Gibson ES-125. We mic'ed both the amp (with a sweet reverb setting) and the actual guitar, as well as my vocals, and the result is ambient, eerie, close...

And defenseless.



When the time is running down
And what's lost can't be found
Be it you by my side

And the tears of the night
Are revealed by the light
As silent prayers falling on deaf ears

Anything you do
I will fight for you

Silence comes like a knife
It cuts you up before your eyes
The pieces fall, down and down and down

Empty hears and broken strings
And empty songs for us to sing
So go our days until our story ends

Anything you do
I will fight for you


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pictures are Pictures (Skeletonskinandsky Redux)

Song number 7 on Look Alive is Skeletonskinandsky.


Here's a sequence of pictures that captures what went into writing this song. I hope you enjoy.


November 29, 2005

December 28, 2005

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Writing into the Dark Before the Dawn (Why I Had to Fall Redux)

Listen to Why I Had to Fall

Listen to My Vagrant Heart

Listen to Dark Before the Dawn

It's February.

February of the year 2012.

How did that happen?

I've got 5 more songs from Look Alive to revisit here, and given my snail-like pace of one (or less) per month, by the time I'm done we'll have new music to over-analyze. So maybe that's a good thing?

Yeah. It's a good thing. I'm sticking with that.

So today's song is Why I Had to Fall.

The first inkling of this song comes in February of 2006. Six years ago. How strange is that?

It shows up as the following couplet:

"It will come clear
Why you had to fall"

Over the next week of what was an important burst of writing, pieces of Why I Had to Fall weave in and out of another song, My Vagrant Heart.

And you know what? I'm going to post the demo of My Vagrant Heart above for no reason other than I just listened to it for the first time in about four years. And I like it. And it feels like a companion piece to Why I Had to Fall. The demo is from the living room session I did with Jay in July of 2006 and My Vagrant Heart was part of the original group of songs that eventually became Look Alive. It was (rightly) jettisoned at some point in favor of the some of the stronger material that followed.

How about that. Spontaneous sharing of media.

Anyway, poring over those couple of weeks in early 2006 is informative. I can watch my writing turn a corner from what it was for Burn Rome Burn to a sort of middle state, something closer to what it's become in Paper Arrows, but not quite there. I remember very distinctly feeling like I was writing into the dark, writing about things I couldn't see but could feel... not quite confident or strong enough to turn the light on and figure it out, but more throwing out things that moved me, images that evoked what I was feeling, without really getting to the truth of the matter.

That's what the lyrics to Why I Had to Fall are. A bunch of evocative images that wound up hanging together in the end, almost by accident.

This couple of weeks is also interesting because I was simultaneously writing these "new" "acoustic" songs (like Why I Had to Fall and My Vagrant Heart) alongside material that would eventually become the last Burn Rome Burn EP, recorded in 2007, but never released.

So on March 6, 2006, I have both the finalized lyrics for Why I Had to Fall, and the mostly final lyrics for the song Dark Before the Dawn.

Sometimes I wish I had Dark Before the Dawn back. This one was right one the edge, right before I finally got the courage to write what I was feeling and thinking with the light on. So it sounds like a close call, like something that could be even better. I'm willing to live with the vagueness of Why I Had to Fall, because I think that's actually part of the theme of it. With Dark Before the Dawn, I was writing about something very specific that I couldn't quite bring myself to say in a clear way.

So in the interest of... why the fuck not... I'll post the rarely-before heard Burn Rome Burn recording of Dark Before the Dawn. Which I actually like a lot, even if I just missed on the actual song. We recorded it in largely the same way Jay and I recorded Look Alive: tracked mostly in the same attic, mixed at the same studio. A friend/colleague of Jay's named Lindsay sings on it and it features some of the more restrained and beautiful playing by the whole band.

Speaking of the attic: back to Why I Had to Fall.

I love the recording of this song. Darren, Jay and I congregated in the attic and spent a little time playing through it. Darren was on banjo, Jay on mandolin, me on guitar. Once we had a suitable arrangement, we set up some mics and went after it live, all together, including background vocals. I think we did 5 or 6 takes at most and the only overdubs were Darren and Jay layering another set of backgrounds to fill out the sound.

So it's got a cool old-timey sound with lots of ambient noise (the highway!) and the feel of a bunch of guys playing together in a room. All the lead vocals are live and unedited, which was watershed for me. Things are slightly (but appropriately) out of tune. During the instrumental part, you can hear Jay sing along with his mandolin part on one line.

Very cool stuff.

So there you go... three songs, three different sessions... all from the same couple eventful days in 2006. Nearly six years ago.



And so the waiting begins
And outside the winter settles in
I'm still waiting on my wings
And outside the twilight starts to sing

It's why I had to fall
It's why I had to fall

We've all got something that makes it okay
Seems like it works less every day
So go to sleep and wait for dawn
Or pack your bags and just move on

It's why I had to fall
It's why I had to fall

They say "Sometimes you fly"
They say "Hey, you're still alive"
But while they're singing "hallelujah"
They'll put the nails right through ya

It's why I had to fall
It's why I had to fall


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hope is a Fire (Come Home Redux)

And we're still working our way through the songs on Look Alive...

As a side note, 2012 is off to a fantastic start. We're currently climbing through the details of signing a recording contract with an indie label out of Madison, WI. I'll spare you the nitty gritty but suffice to say we're excited by the prospects of having a bigger team out there pushing our next release (which will be finished in the next few months). In addition, there is interest from a large publisher of Classics-related literature in distributing The Odyssey with more substantial and representative packaging (including all lyrics). Which would be amazing. Still some things to figure out here as well but I'm very happy with the direction it's going.

So... as long as the Mayans were as shitty with their eschatology as they were with their views on human sacrifice, 2012 is looking up.

On to Come Home, the 5th song on Look Alive.

I've written before about the competing sets of songs that comprise Look Alive, and this song is the demarcation of the two: In my notebook I see that on a certain day in July of 2006 I wrote the following:


Solo Record/Project

Look Alive
Why I Had to Fall
Travesty in Blue
December Static
Oh My Vagrant Heart

+4 to 6 More!

(Ode to Billy Martin) >->


No idea what that last thing is, but it amuses me.

Anyway, I'm thinking this was like the day after Jay and I recorded those demoes in my living room, and it was finally starting to dawn on me that I had a group of moving solo tunes with which to work.

But, as noted, I needed more.

So that very day in July of 2006, I started writing with a certain confidence and directness lacking in just about everything I'd written previously.

Not to say that my prior output was bad: a lot of it I still like very much.

It was just... something had changed. Whether it was already the benefits (or prospects) of working with Jay, working on my own... or the fact that I was completely fractured from my week-old separation from my first wife... something had changed.

It was Dylan that said "When you have nothing, you have nothing left to lose" and while that might be a bit dramatic (I still had my dog, for instance), that's what it felt like.

It felt like I had nothing to lose by dropping all the bullshit constructs and cleverness and just... saying what I meant.

So instead of writing with my typical allusive- and illusive-ness, I started writing exactly what I felt.

And the result was Come Home.

I don't think I need to explicate the lyrics. They say exactly what they mean, clear as day. Maybe the only subtlety is in the "chorus" at the end, with the variation of "I know that you're coming home/I know that you're coming home/I hope that you're coming home/Come home."

I'm really proud of that. It seems small and inconsequential but I think it so perfectly captures the incremental steps of doubt that creep in to loss... from "know" to "hope" to just... "come home."

When we went to record it, we actually started with a Radiohead tune as our guide. Whether or not that's obvious from the result, I don't know. But I love everything about the recording... the guitar tone, the hook, the background vocals, the mandolin, the two drum kits... I remember hearing this song come out of the speakers at mix and thinking "what the FUCK is that?"

And it might be my favorite song to play live.

It feels like an open wound.

But one that is being confronted full on and, because of that, is ultimately allowed to heal.

Some day.




It's been barely a week
Since you left me to fight alone
So I face down the night and then
Watch the sun again, again

And I sing myself sick
Lose my voice to the swollen sky
When the rain hits an open wound
The pain lets you know you're alive, alive

I know that you're coming home
I know that you're coming home
I hope that you're coming home
Come home
Come home
Come home
Come home