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



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