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