Friday, November 22, 2013

Wrap Your Arms Around

So Good News for Love has been out a month today.

So far, so good.

And not a bad time to consider the song from which the album takes its name: Wrap Your Arms Around.

This one takes the prize (if we're giving prizes?) for "Song that Changed Most in the Recording Process," as you can hear in the demo

compared to the final version

So yeah... this one went in a little bit of a different direction.

Which is great.

The freedom to take different approaches and change up tunes in recording is one of my favorite things about Paper Arrows... and that's been there ever since the very first song we recorded, Look Alive.

It's fun for me for a couple reasons.

First of all, it allows me to write without considering production.  I can focus on good chords, good words, good melodies... all the while knowing that once I get the song with a producer like Jay or Darren and in a room with guys like Miles and Dan, as long as the fundamentals of the song are good, things will turn out well.

Second of all, it allows me to have an almost third person relationship to my own material... which in turn makes it more exciting for me to work on and hear in finished product because it's new to me.

And that's pretty much how Wrap Your Arms Around unfolded.  We had worked it a little bit in pre-production, but the final recording was largely a product of getting good music minds in a room and playing the tune until it clicked, not being afraid to follow it somewhere different.

When it came time to mix, we followed the sound completely and wound up with something of which I'm really proud... organic but produced, roots but modern.  Good stuff.

The lyrics...

Well, of course the song from which I took the album title (or rather the song in which I PUT the album title) would be important.

3/4 of it was written pretty quickly, in a day, and attached to the chorus, which was written a week prior.  The last verse (which is actually the third verse of the song: "He was grieving in the morning") wasn't written until just before the sessions and was just about the last lyrics written for the record.

While the "good news for love" line is big (wrote about it HERE), the most important line on the whole record is "love is not an answer or a battle to be won."

That's really the best news Love has gotten in a long, long time, and it's what I'll continue to wrap my arms around each and every day.



He was working on a novel and sleeping in the days
With a cigarette companion, going page by page
But somewhere in the years, he got out of the game

She was dreaming of a painting and working in the days
Looking out the window and bleeding blues for grays
But somewhere in the years, she got out of the game

What are you gonna wrap your arms around?
Who is gonna hold you safe and sound?
Who is gonna keep your heart
From sinking in the dark
You're not alone

He was grieving in the morning and leaving in the days
Singing til he whispered and nothing was the same
And somehow it was clear, so he got out of the game

What are you gonna wrap your arms around?
Who is gonna hold you safe and sound?
Who is gonna keep your heart
From sinking in the dark
You're not alone

He was hoping for a daughter, praying for a son
But love is not an answer or a battle to be won
And somewhere in tears, he got back in the game

What are you gonna wrap your arms around?
Who is gonna hold you safe and sound?
Who is gonna keep your heart
From sinking in the dark
You're not alone

Good News for Love


Monday, November 11, 2013

What Changed

I love the recording studio.

Everything about it.  The energy, the people, the collaboration, the ups and downs... The feeling of walking into a studio in the morning with literally nothing but some songs in demo form and ending the day with nearly fully-realized versions? Amazing.

It wasn't always that way for me.  I used to be downright terrified of the studio.  Maybe not terrified but apprehensive at least.  Afraid of making mistakes.  Afraid of failing.

That changed around the time I started writing and recording as Paper Arrows.  The shift towards embracing and relishing the studio environment had to do with improvements in my writing and singing, but also with a change in how I thought about the process.

I used to think: "What if I make mistakes? What if I suck?"  I remember figuring out while we were recording the first Paper Arrows record Look Alive that the answer to these questions was pretty simple: "Erase what you did and try again."

Sounds obvious, right?  The studio is consequence-free risk-taking.  Where else does that exist in life? Actually, let me tweak that.  The studio is consequence-free creative risk-taking.  There is, of course, almost always a financial risk and consequence you take when you go into a studio to record, but on the creative side? Freedom to make mistakes and try again.

Part of what helped me to embrace the recording process was that we recorded Look Alive in an attic, not a proper recording studio.  Making it more informal and also working with Jay in this setting was key in helping me turn the corner, gain confidence, and love recording.

We recorded subsequent Paper Arrows records in more formal studio settings, mostly at I.V. Lab Studios, with primarily the same crew of musicians and engineers (and, most importantly for my comfort level, with Jay producing)... so it was pretty easy for me to bring the feeling of comfort I found it the attic during Look Alive into the sessions for Things We Would Rather Lose, In the Morning, and Days of Getting By.

Which brings us to Good News for Love.

For a number of reasons I made a number of changes to how, where, and with whom we recorded.

How: after four records with Jay producing, Darren took over the captain's chair.

Where: after four records done largely at I.V. Lab Studios in Chicago (and the attic and a little bit at Gravity Studios), we went to The Midwest Sound in Rockford.

With whom: after four records built around me (guitar and vocals), Darren (drums/keys/etc.), and Jay (bass, backing vox) with liberal doses of Drew and Luke on piano/keys, we signed up Miles Nielsen for bass and Daniel McMahon for guitars.

All these changes were exciting but a little intimidating to me.  All three of the other musicians are not only great at their respective instruments, but also accomplished writers, arrangers and producers... so I felt a little bit of that old anxiety work its way into my preparations...

Well, I needn't have worried...

Here's a little photo synopsis of the setting and personnel...

Live room, live drummer

The crew

Setting Up

Things with which to make noise

More timpani

Control Room
Sure, why not?

Our elusive engineer

Back into the live room

Set up

Wall of something

Everyone needs one

No leftovers

Improvised equipment

Miles and Dan

More preparations

Still more preparations

Pretty much ready to go

So the studio is setup throughout an old farmhouse-type building, which immediately made me more comfortable because it reminded me of recording in the attic.

Darren and I arrived Friday night and we hung out and talked through the sessions with Dan.

On Saturday morning, Miles showed up and we got to work.

We set up in a circle in the live room and started playing through the tunes.  We'd work each tune until the arrangement felt good and then track until we got a good take.  Then on to the next song.  Some songs came a little faster, some took more experimentation, but in general we worked quickly and had basic tracks for five of the six songs by just after dinner time on Saturday.

I can't remember where we dropped What Changed, but I remember being a little bit nervous about how it would go.  We hadn't done a ton of pre-production on it... I knew I wanted to try and preserve the strummy acoustic guitar part (I think I referenced the song Sweet Thing when we were talking sonic approach) but that was about it.

In the blur of recording activity, one moment stands out:

While we were tracking What Changed, Miles muttered under his breath: "I don't even know what key I'm playing in."

I thought that was awesome.  Because when I wrote the tune, I had the same experience.  I had my guitar in drop D tuning with the capo on the third fret because I was learning the song "Never Going Back Again" by Fleetwood Mac for a wedding I was playing.  My hands found a couple of the chord shapes from that song, added the little walk up pattern, and What Changed was born.  And because I was in an alternate tuning with a capo, I never really processed what chords I was playing... I just followed them to where they sounded like they should go and more or less wrote the entire song that way.

I love the idea that we weren't thinking about the technical/theoretical aspects of the song, we were just playing it.  Listening, reacting, and playing.

Anyway, the arrangement is really excellent.  It feels super organic to me, very honest, and not overly thought-out.  I think Dan played the piano on it and Darren added the other key pads later on.

I got some nice coaching from everybody on this one as I recorded the vocals and I'm really proud of how it turned out.

Lyrically... there's been a tune on each album that has a special lyrical significance to me, which usually means I'm more excited about it than other people get... and I think this is the tune.  It's generally because it seems more intensely personal and I feel like I've somehow captured something really close to basic, really elemental, some truth I've been working through that I finally figured out for myself.

For What Changed, it's this: when you've been in a relationship and you've said the words "I love you" and then the relationship ends in spite of that... how do you say the same words again to a new person in your life and not be afraid it will also end?  When "I love you" wasn't enough once before, how do you know it will be enough when you try again?  What's different when you say the same words to a different person?

I think my take on it is pretty plainly spoken in the song... and there's another nice layer: I appropriated the lyrics from the song Fight from Look Alive as well as the melody and dropped them into the chorus.

Here's the tune from which I took:

So I'm indeed using old words and melodies and recasting them in a new song for a new part of my life...

And if you're going to do that, if you're going to use the same words and succeed, what needs to be different is you.

And that's what changed.

I also made a video for the song with a couple of stuffed badgers... some people like it, some don't but I think it's fun and somehow appropriate to the sentiment of the song...


Laugh in the night and out the front door
Sing in your sleep and let the song soar
In the name of love and truth
And all the things you couldn't see but sang before
In the hope that they'd appear

Anything you do
I won't fade into the blue
I've gone back to the start with the same words
And some old melodies
So what changed?
It must be me and you

Dream in the day and let the dream stay
Love in the light and let the love fight
Until it bleeds and fades
And then you lift it up again and make it right
And live your life for something more

Anything you do
I won't fade into the blue
I've gone back to the start with the same words
And some old melodies
So what changed?
It must be me and you


Monday, November 04, 2013

Sing It Out

Another week, more progress with Good News for Love.  More college radio stations have added the record to their playlists and play is building.

The song that we're pushing as the "single" is Sing It Out, which is track 2 (unedited) and track 7 (radio edit).

It's the first song I've ever recorded that has a swearword in it.  For whatever that's worth.  I guess I can check that box.

Actually, I do keep a semi-formal list of words I'd like to use in songs... some curbed from other songs, some I come across in reading... some that come up organically in the process of writing.

Sing It Out has one such word: buckshot.

On September 6, 2012, I made a list of the songs that might be a part of Good News for Love...

Noticeably present are Almost Maybe, Love and Light, and Forever, which were all subsequently jettisoned.

Noticeably absent are The Counting Song and Sing It Out.

On the facing page, I started a stream of consciousness burst of writing that lasts about 45 lines and contains the seeds of what became Sing It Out, including:

"beneath my skin"
"this song is for me and you and her and him and every single voice that whispers or shouts"
"every mouth, every face, every body"

It was like an explosion of ideas with no shape.

The week of September 10, 2012, I decided I would try to write one song a day for the whole week.

And on September 10, I started to play around with these words and phrases from my September 6 burst.  By the end of that day of writing I had the first two verses of  Sing It Out in exactly the form they appear on the record.

The chorus at that point was simply me singing the phrases "Say it now" over and over, and that was what the song was called.

On September 11, I wrote a song called Let It In.

On September 12, I wrote The Counting Song.

On September 13, I made another list of the songs for Good News for Love:

So that one week of writing more or less defined the final shape of Good News for Love.

In December, as I revised the songs in advance of our recording session, I took a good portion of the words from Let It In and put them in Sing It Out as a third verse and also shaped the chorus a little bit better.

This whole development, the way a group of songs grows and shrinks, is pretty typical of how I write.  When I'm writing for a new record, I write a handful of songs without even really considering how they fit together... just to get something out.  At some point, when that handful becomes two handfuls, I look at what I've written and try to ascertain what it is I'm writing about... and then I take those themes, which I hope have bubbled up somewhat organically, and try to write the rest of the record around them.

I think of it as writing my way into a project and then trying to write my way out... and this particular week I've chronicled above seems like the nexus of these two approaches for Good News for Love.

When it came time to record it, Darren had a couple really cool ideas for vocal harmonies and arrangement and we hammered out the band tracks of it pretty quickly.  The song only has three chords so attention to detail and dynamics are really, really important.  The chorus turns on a shortened version of the verse progression, and we did some really neat and subtle things with the accent patterns in the drums and bass throughout and added a couple small but important variations in the form.  I played acoustic guitar and Dan destroyed the guitar solos.  Just wonderful playing.  We rehearsed the background vocals all together live but I think we wound up individually tracking them... some tough stuff there, very very rangy.

All in all it seems to be the track people are most responding to from a radio and commercial standpoint...

(A personal note and plea regarding the economics of the music industry: I'm going to post a stream of the final version of each song in each blog post.  I feel like if you make the effort to come to my blog and read it, you should get to listen to the song and I hope it enhances the experience and meaning.  That being said, if you like the song, I would highly highly highly encourage you to go download it from iTunes/Amazon/CDBaby.  It means a ton to me and has real and lasting impacts on my music career.  And I would extend that to ANY song/artist you enjoy: buy the music if you want to support them.  Recorded music is now nearly virtual in its existence thanks to the digitalization of the business so it's becoming easier to forget that each recording is a THING that people worked on.  A lot of people spent a lot of time and money on making and releasing this album (as is true of almost every recording you hear) so I hope if you like it you'll support it and me by purchasing it like you would any other product that brings you value.  Of the $.99 you pay per track on iTunes/Amazon/CDBaby, a minimum of $.65 comes back directly to the artist, and (I cannot overstate) means so much to me. /rant)

So about the lyrics: I like that they retained some of the features of that first bit of stream of consciousness writing... the words just kind of pour out, the ideas and syntax are connected but sometimes only loosely... I think it gives it a feel of urgency and investment.

I also know that when I started these words I thought it was going to be a song about anger but by the time I got to the end of it, I was writing about love.

And I like the hopefulness in that.

It's not an accident that every song on this record has some variation of the word "love" in it.

Love is a much, much better word than buckshot... although Good News for Buckshot... hmmmm...


Words beneath the skin like buckshot
Sinking deeper in 'cause they're not
Ready to begin, ready to come out in the light
This is for me and you and him and her
And all the voices whisper
Shout into the dark from any mouth on any face
Of any body without grace

Sing it out, sing it out
Sing it loud, sing it loud
If you fail if you fall sing it out
Sing it out for love

I'm not scared to sing this song
To close my eyes and soldier on
until All of this shit is gone except the pale bones
And if I go before my time in simple chords and simpler rhymes
I'll leave an open code behind
To tell you who I was


The waters rise in city streets
The buildings fall we can't believe
How silence fills an empty heart until it cannot beat
I will light a light for you
And pull you close and see you through
And fight until I'm black and blue



Monday, October 28, 2013

Why We Work

The release of Paper Arrows' Good News for Love is off and running and running well.  Very, very pleased with the launch and first week.  I'm prepared for the long fight when it comes to pushing this record so I don't want to get too excited, but in general everything felt right about the digital release and beginning of radio promotion last week Tuesday.

To start, it's available on iTunesAmazon, and CDBaby.

Which of course is the minimum amount of success required for an actual release but having gone through a number of projects compromised by a number of administrative challenges... I'm always happy when a record shows up in the right places at the right time with everything spelled correctly.

Also, we've hit 300 college radio stations with the album and are getting some nice rotation adds and spins after less than a week.

And we have a silly but (I hope) heartwarming video out and an awesome more straightforward fan-engaging video in production.

And, probably most importantly, I have tentative but elaborate and substantial plans for how I want to work the record over the next six months, starting with a weekly song-blog post every Monday for the six weeks it will take me to write about each song on the album.

Which brings me to this week's appropriately-titled song: Why We Work.

Over the years I've done a dedicated post on every recorded Paper Arrows song.  One of the things I enjoy the most about these posts is digging back through papers and demo recordings to find the genesis and trace the development of each song.

Sometimes (actually, usually) I remember each step of how a song has come to be fixed in its final form... every word I agonized over, every "Aha" moment, every rewrite and key change...

So it kind of surprised me as I went searching this morning in my writing journals for some background on Why We Work... that I couldn't remember anything about when or how it began.

I found the earliest words back in November of 2011, written on the same day I finalized most of the words for Tell the Kids, which actually makes sense: the original version of both songs are in the same slightly-altered tuning, drop D.  So I'm guessing I was working on Tell the Kids and stumbled into the picking pattern that became Why We Work.

At that point, the song was called (I guess?) I'll Stay Lonely and had no chorus of which to speak but on November 16, 2011, the verses are there and basically identical to what was recorded 15 months later.

The next development is what fascinates me the most...

On February 3, 2012, I wrote this:

On the left I list the tracks for our previous release, Days of Getting By (which wouldn't come out until almost three months after this entry), and all alone on the facing page I write "Good News for Love."

I've figured out that this is the Huffington Post article that gave me the name of the new record.  It's nowhere to be found on the site now (damnit), but when I clicked on it, "Good News for Love" was the title and it's dated February 2, 2012, so it makes sense I would have seen it the following day and appropriated it.

I think what was happening at this time was that we were getting close to finishing the recordings that became Days of Getting By and I was stressed that I didn't really have much new material written... by the time an album wraps up and is released I like to have the next one well underway and at this point, it appears I had been struggling to write anything of note.

So on February 9, 2012, I wrote:

That's right:

This shit ship won't right itself
This shit won't write itself
That's why we work

What started as an admonition to myself to write more "shit" became the theme of the album: Love is work.

Or rather, if you love something, you had better damn well be prepared to work for it.  And that can be love of music, love of a person (like in the Huff Post article), or really love of anything.

And if you keep working, the love is amplified.  Often slowly and in ways you don't expect or perceive.  But it grows.

So the song became this:

(Eventually the "shit" would disappear altogether although a number of people have picked up on it as a ghost presence...)

And on February 10, 2012, I wrote this:

It seems like I had an inkling that Why We Work would be the starting point for Good News for Love from the very beginning... (side note: the other song listed there, Forever, was not recorded for GNFL but is currently serving as backstop for the NEXT Paper Arrows recording which... okay, my head hurts even starting that line of thought)

Here's a demo of the verses and choruses recorded in September of 2012, which is a little sketchy in quality but has something in its hushed hiss that I like.

When Darren and I sat down in late 2012 to plan the sessions for what became Good News for Love, Why We Work was included from the start with very few changes.  I wrote a bridge which is simple but connects the concept of work to love.

My memory of recording this is that it was pretty easy and straightforward.  It was the kind of song that dictates how it should be recorded in how it is written.  I played my beautiful ghost-filled 1963 Gibson ES-125 and kept the fingerpicking pattern intact.

The rhythm section is spare but propulsive.  We took the basic tracks of rhythm and lead guitars, drums and bass and added piano (played by Dan) at The Midwest Sound.  I cut the lead vocals and then Darren took the song and added (I think) accordion, banjo, and background vocals.

It's simple but layered especially as a headphone listen and builds nicely.

A couple little things I love... the squeak of the piano bench at the beginning, the way I locked the word "distance" near the end of the first verse with the kick drum and bass, the banjo part under the second and third choruses, the little bit of unexpected dissonance near the end of the third chorus before the tags... so many lovely touches.

Here's the final version:
(A personal note and plea regarding the economics of the music industry: I'm going to post a stream of the final version of each song in each blog post.  I feel like if you make the effort to come to my blog and read it, you should get to listen to the song and I hope it enhances the experience and meaning.  That being said, if you like the song, I would highly highly highly encourage you to go download it from iTunes/Amazon/CDBaby.  It means a ton to me and has real and lasting impacts on my music career.  And I would extend that to ANY song/artist you enjoy: buy the music if you want to support them.  Recorded music is now nearly virtual in its existence thanks to the digitalization of the business so it's becoming easier to forget that each recording is a THING that people worked on.  A lot of people spent a lot of time and money on making and releasing this album (as is true of almost every recording you hear) so I hope if you like it you'll support it and me by purchasing it like you would any other product that brings you value.  Of the $.99 you pay per track on iTunes/Amazon/CDBaby, a minimum of $.65 comes back directly to the artist, and (I cannot overstate) means so much to me. /rant)

When it came time to do the track order for the record, both Darren and I listed Why We Work as the first track so it seemed like the message was clear: Good News for Love should start, like most good things, with an ode to work and love.

Hope you enjoy.


Now the dust has settled and the light is in the western sky
And time is slowly creeping 'round the corners of our tired eyes
And faintly in the distance someone's calling out in hopeful song
That all will be forgiven when the shadows fade into the dawn

This ship won't right itself
This ship won't right itself
This ship won't right itself
That's why we work, why we work

And the winter's coming to the city by the lonely lake
To cover up our autumn fears and wrap us in a silver haze
The streets are quiet as we walk into an empty room
That used to hold our secrets when all that I could breathe was you


Don't you be afraid
Of following the broken way
Get back to a place
Love is waiting



Friday, October 18, 2013

Good News for Love

Well, there you have it.

The longest lapse in publishing this blog since I started it in 2005.

Six months.

Even in the haze of 2006/2007 I would still find the time and energy to post something every once in awhile... a song list, some lyrics, an obtuse sentence.

But not now.

Part of it has to do with the how the character of this blog has changed over the years... it started out as a chronicle of my life (which included music) and morphed into a chronicle of my music (which has become more my life).

And there hasn't been a lot of concrete music stuff about which to write this year.  To be sure, there's been a lot of work on music, just not the kind of work that lends itself to blogging.

I've been writing songs here and there, I've been playing wonderful moving shows of my Odyssey, I've been teaching an ever-changing but always wonderful diverse group of students...

And I've been wrestling with Paper Arrows.

As regular reader of this blog will no doubt already know, Paper Arrows is the name under which I've been writing and releasing music since 2008.

Jesus!  I can't believe I just typed that sentence that way!  Like a fucking press release!  And now I'm pretending I can't erase it and using it as a rhetorical device!  Gah! Now I just typed "gah!" What the fuck?!

Really, what I'm reacting to is how hard a time I have saying Paper Arrows is ME.

Of course the sounds on our records aren't me alone... I've been lucky enough to work with super-talented musicians and producers on every recording we've made and they have shaped the sound of Paper Arrows' music immeasurably...

But the Paper Arrows songs are me.

And the project, the name, the content, the successes and failures, the strengths and shortcomings of it... they're all uniquely me.

And some days that's fantastic.

And some days that sucks.

And the last 6 months or so, it's been a struggle.

Last year I signed an actual honest-to-goodness record deal with an indie record label.  The label put out our last record, Days of Getting By, and gave me money to record another EP almost immediately, which played right to my strengths: I've developed great relationships with guys who work for modest amounts of money (by industry standards) and do incredible work.  I write quickly and have, I think, a pretty good head for putting a cohesive record together.

So in February of this year, I booked time in a studio called The Midwest Sound in Rockford, IL.

On each previous Paper Arrows recording, I've worked with Jay Marino acting as producer and Darren Garvey as the drummer and multi-instrumentalist.  It's been us three, going back to when we recorded the first Paper Arrows album, Look Alive, in the attic above Darren's apartment in 2007.  These guys have meant more to Paper Arrows than anyone.  Their talent and friendship and generosity... truly something special.

On this new recording, we changed things up a little.  Darren acted as the producer.  Jay's role was limited to mixing the record.

So Darren had the idea to go out to The Midwest Sound in Rockford, where he's worked before, and bring a couple new musicians into the fold.  These were: Daniel McMahon and Miles Nielsen, who are co-owners of the studio and excellent writers and producers in their own right.  Dan would play lead guitars and Miles would play bass.

The studio is contained in an old farmhouse-like building in a rural area of Rockford.  Totally away from everything.  And in this solitude, we recorded almost the entirety of a six song EP in one weekend.

I'll write more about the weekend, the band, and the specifics in future posts, so all I'll say here is that it was a fantastic experience and I couldn't have been happier with the results.

I was even happier once I heard the final mixes.  This was a record I had wanted to make for a number of years, in style and substance... and I finally had.

So I sent the mixes off to the label and...


So after negotiating an unexpected severance of my record contract, which was supposed to take my music career to another level, I was left with an unreleased record I absolutely loved (the new one), our previous EP (Days of Getting By), and having lost almost all the momentum I thought we gained with our 2011 release In the Morning (licensed on 10 separate episodes - and counting - of TV shows, licensed to an indie movie, written about, and led to us being named as a Chicago band to watch in the Trib, etc.).

That's not to say the experience was a total failure.  I learned a ton about what the record business is, about how capital impacts it,  and about a number of things that I'm sure will help me down the line if another label ever comes into play for me.

And I feel comfortable saying that we made a phenomenal sounding record on a small budget in what would count as a heartbeat by music industry standards.

But for all this knowledge and experience I gained, the reality of it was that I was not expecting to have to coordinate a release logistically or financially in 2013: I thought someone else would be doing it for me.

And even more, the whole thing left me exhausted, empty and questioning what we had created... questioning my ears and my taste.  Subsequently it's become clear to me that I was right in trusting what we had created, trusting the musicians around me, and trusting myself.

So I've got that going for me.  Which is nice.

The other thing I have going for me is that I've successfully put out three other Paper Arrows on my own.  And I should be proud of that.  I've gotten notable college radio play.  I've gotten press. I've gotten licensing.  All on my own.

So after sitting on this finished EP for a number of months, I'll be releasing it next Tuesday, October 22, 2013, on the label I started in 2007, Quell Records.

Releasing it digitally and to college radio.  I've partnered with a prestigious and wonderful college radio promoter that I'm really, really excited about.

And these sounds that I've been listening to for months will be available on iTunes and the other usual digital partners next Tuesday.

As far as a release show and physical availability... I'm still fighting that.  As good as I've been at writing, recording and releasing material, I've been that challenged at making Paper Arrows a viable and consistent live band.  For any number of reasons both logistical and creative.

But I'm okay with that for now.

So if you're reading this, I hope you'll support me and Paper Arrows by checking out the release on iTunes or Amazon next week and picking up a copy if you dig it.  Every download is meaningful to us, especially in the absence of live shows.

Our record is our business, which is pretty old school and flies in the face of everything the current music industry tells you but you know what?

Fuck them.

This is how I'm doing it for now.

We have a record for sale, I'm proud of it, and I hope you'll pick it up if you like it and tell your friends and enemies about it.

It's called Good News for Love.

By Paper Arrows.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Just Another Man, Man

Listen to Just Another Man

So it's come to this:

Writing about Just Another Man, the last song on the Paper Arrows' record Days of Getting By.

Somewhat ironic in that just this week we rereleased Days of Getting By through Quell Records.

It's available here.

We have another record that's done and ready to be released.  Not sure when that will happen, but likely by the fall.  In the meantime, I'll be playing out on my own quite a bit, learning the ropes of being a touring musician, splitting my time between playing the ever-expanding Odyssey and trying to crack the code of bringing Paper Arrows to the masses.  Or at least the crowds.  Or at least a couple of enthusiastic listeners at a coffee shop in Canton, Ohio, on a Friday night.

With one such mini-tour under my belt, I've discovered the following:

When in doubt, Super 8 over Motel 6.  8 is great than 6 so this should be a no-brainer.

If you want to take a jog in Erie, Pennsylvania, make sure you have use of a car to drive to a place you feel safe jogging.

If you like the smell of sadness, go to a casino in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Or just Erie, PA, in general.

Man cannot live on hotel continental breakfasts alone, but he can damn well try.

I drink less on the road than I do at home.  Hmmmm.

AM Radio may be the bell lap of human decency.  Holy shit.  The AM stands for "All Morons."

It's lonely on the road, even for a couple of nights/days.  It's just you (or rather, just me) and hotel rooms and the car.  And a couple of hours of performing (if I'm lucky) a day.  And a whole bunch of logistics.  Logistics everywhere.

Even for a couple days, it gets a little strange being alone with your thoughts and especially alone with your material.

This is maybe the most important thing with respect to the song Just Another Man.

Just Another Man is essentially about... well, about the material of being human.  Recognizing faults.  Recognizing your own faults and your own errors and your own idiosyncrasies and doing your best.  And being honest about when you're doing your best and when you can do better.

Which is really about all anybody can do.

Recording this one was interesting (it always is).

It started as a quiet fingerpicker and we revved it up pretty good with a band arrangement.  I played the guitar during the verses (which I'm really proud of) and Darren actually played the guitar on the chorus, which was cool.  Luke's playing is typically tasteful and Jay stepped up with some more muscular bass playing than is typically found on the Paper Arrows stuff.

If memory serves, I cut the vocals very very quickly and we all gathered around one microphone to sing the backups as a group.

Love the way it turned out and love it as an album closer.

Back to the idea of being human...

The Paper Arrows catalog has been and always will be a reflection of me and my humanity.

Part of what (I think) keeps me from playing out behind the Paper Arrows name more often is the rawness and immediacy of the material.  I write it to get it out of my system in some ways, to record it and sort of forget about it, and playing (playing it well at least) requires me to revisit some of the stuff and feelings that motivated me to write it.

And that's just something I have to embrace and get over or at least embrace if I ever want this thing to go anywhere.

So here's to Paper Arrows, the road, and being just another man.

For better or worse.

But lately more better than worse.


I want it to work
I want it to last
I want to find out what happens next
But I don't want to go too fast

I want to hear your voice
I want to touch your skin
I was to hold your heart in my hands
But I don't want to let love in

'Cause I found
Staying underground
Is easier than facing the day
I hope you understand
I'm just another man
Just another man

I want to feel the prayers
And I want to see the light
I want to know where we go in the dark
But I don't want to put in the fight

'Cause I found
Staying underground
Is easier than facing the day
I hope you understand
I'm just another man
Just another man

I want to fill up the sky
And sing into the blue
I want silver and gold in my soul
But I don't want to tell the truth

'Cause I found
Staying underground
Is easier than facing the day
I hope you understand
I'm just another man
Just another man


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Days of Getting By

There are two more original songs from our last EP about which to write...

Which is interesting because just yesterday I heard the final mixes of our next EP (out soon on Slothtrop Records, natch).

So that means we're either really fast at recording or I'm slow at writing about what we've recorded.  Or most likely both.

But hey... things get done at their own pace and it seems kind of fitting to tackle the title song from one project as you start to figure out how the next one fits into the bigger picture.

Or at least that's what I'm going to go with here.

One of the benefits of waiting to write about these songs is that my ears and my brain (and my heart I suppose) get a little distance from them... which is almost always for the better.  When you wrap a project, you've heard the songs so many times, thought about them, obsessed about every detail, that you have zero objectivity in your assessment of how they sound and what they mean.

So this morning when I put on the song Days of Getting By it was probably the first time I'd listened to it in its entirety in 6 months.

And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I liked it more than I remembered I did.  I was on the fence about even recording this song and then once we committed to recording it, I never felt like I was on firm ground as we pieced it together.

I changed the key a number of times, changed the approach, thought about using the band on it, decided against it... sang it one way, sang it another, went back to the first way, recorded a couple other instruments that didn't make the final mix.  It's definitely a tribute to the mix that it turned out as well as it did.

So why did I name the album after a song about which I was trending ambivalent?

Because the creation of it somehow captured the whole record both in substance and style.

When we started recording this group of songs, I had a grand vision of doing 11 of them, making a video for each, and then releasing them one at a time last year as something called "11 for '12" (11 songs for 2012).  At the end of the year we were going to collect them all with their videos and release them as an album entitled "11:12."

Which is a great idea in theory but then... the reality of making 11 videos (that is, the cost of making 11 videos) scuttled that.  Luckily, this was about the time Slothtrop came into the picture so we wound up having an outlet to release what we had recorded so far.

Because we had envisioned this group of songs as singles, we were recording them one at a time rather than as a group.  Which meant they had a little less cohesion than, say, In the Morning did, when we recorded all ten songs with the same 4 people in 3 days.

So when it came time for naming the record... it wasn't as obvious to me as it had been in the past with Look Alive, Things We Would Rather Lose, and In the Morning.

I've written before that I see the first three Paper Arrows records as having a thematic arc of loss, recovery, and redemption.

So naturally this record felt like the chance to start a new arc... but after listening to the seven songs that became this record, I had only the vaguest idea of what I was writing about.  I could tell I was wrestling with what comes after redemption, what comes after you work through loss... but I couldn't quite tell what that was.

And then, when I started writing the next record (the one I just heard yesterday for the first time), it clicked: I'm writing about love.  What it is.  How it is.  What it means.  How to shepherd it into the world and how to keep it close.  Not destroy it.  Fight for it.

Because love is what we're left with after we get rid of loss.  Love is what we're looking for when we're trying to get through loss.

And on this record, I can hear myself building the confidence to write about it in a more direct way.

So the tag line going forward for Paper Arrows (thanks to Slothtrop) is "Literate Love Songs."

And, as will become clearer with the release of the next EP, that's what this project Paper Arrows has come to be about.

(ed. note: for the first time I'm using Paper Arrows as a front for and synonymous with me, Joe Goodkin.)

If we have entire world religions dedicated to the concept of love, can't we have a middling midwestern rock band?

Sure, why not.

So Days of Getting By...

The second verse is where I'm seeing the truth of the matter.  After a quick telescoped run through loss and its ramifications in the first verse, we get to love is the second.  And then we get to the last line...

"Wait for spring like we used to sing in the days of getting by."

The "spring" is from "Look Alive" and the "days of getting by" is from "Skeletonskinandsky."

Strange how that comes full circle.

And speaking of strange, man, it's a weird sounding song.

The main instrumental track is three classical guitars with similar fingerpicking patterns played on different parts of the neck all layered over one another and then run through a rotating leslie speaker.  I think.  There's also some (heavily edited) glockenspiel played by me and some (heavily edited) piano played by me.  And then a high falsetto lead vocal with the lower octave  "harmony," also me.  At some point, I think the vocal gets run through a leslie speaker too.

The result is something weird, beautiful, and pretty striking I think.

And maybe just maybe almost by accident I captured exactly what I was supposed to on this record.


The ice is grieving and what remains behind
This winter armor wrapped around a heartbeat, a pair of lowered eyes
The price of leaving is what remains ahead
This summer shame is thick as smoke and hangs about our bed

Take me

Love is seeing what stays in the dark
Is autumn's breath and midnight's blood, a sea of silent hearts
Love is needing to stay in the light
And wait for spring like we used to sing in the days of getting by

Take me


Friday, January 25, 2013

Only One

It's winter in Chicago and winter makes me think of quiet songs.

Every Paper Arrows album has had at least one quiet song.

Look Alive (the quietest of our albums) has Again and Again as well as Fight and also When You Left.  And you can even throw December Static in there.

Things We Would Rather Lose has Almost Gone (and an ironically titled One More Quiet Song).

In the Morning the most polished has Near.

And Days of Getting By has Only One.

The thing about choosing to record a song sparely is that you are essentially telling the listener that the lyrics are the most important thing.  There's nothing to hide behind, nothing to distract so the lyrics are front and center.

And that's appropriate for Only One.

Every once in awhile as a writer you go some place so far under your skin that it makes you uncomfortable.  But in a good way.  Because of the honesty.

Every once in awhile you get right down to the bone, right to the heart of what you're feeling and trying to say.

Jesus, maybe I could use one more cliched image involving the human body.

Fuck it.

Only One is that song for me.

I recorded the guitar part on a capo-ed 12 string acoustic.

The vocals are hard for me to listen to but, again, in a good way.

I can hear myself believing everything I wrote, which isn't always the case.

So here's to songs that capture the truth.

I guess even the loudest ones should be quiet at their cores.


She's out on the water
Wondering where he went
And if he's coming back again
And why she never left

But I am not a drinker
And you are not the one
Who walked away from what was made
Who turned your back on love

I am the only one
I am the only one
For you

He's out on the wire
Wondered when he fell
How he wasted what she gave
If he knew he'll never tell

And I am just a dreamer
But you are not a dream
Flesh and blood and skin and sky
And everything in between

I am the only one
I am the only one
For you