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.