There was something sort of enigmatic about this song from the beginning. It’s unlike any other song on the record, and it’s unlike any other song I’ve written (or will probably ever write). It sat as a 40 second demo for years, and I could never figure out what to do with it. I thought it might be a cool song with which to start the record off. Matt Baker (producer) thought it felt more like a transitional track, so we split the difference, kept it short, and made it a transitional intro track. I like that it comes and goes so quickly, leaving some mystery and intrigue for the rest of the record. The guitar riffs that Trey Hill (electric guitar) came up with, mixed with my simple bass line, create this conversational vibe that carries the song in a cool way. Interesting note: from its moment of conception years ago, up until the moment I drove to the studio to record the vocals, this song had no lyrics other than the main riff “Hold on to me”. I wrote the verse lyrics and melody minutes before going into the studio to record it. Apparently, I worked well under pressure, because it’s an interesting melody and part of the lyrics actually ended up finishing out the narration in my Kickstarter campaign video.
Used to Know
Matt Baker (producer) had a vision for this song to be a sort of “independent radio rocker” tune. I was a little leery considering the demo was so laid back, folky and hushed. However, I trusted Matt and we went for it. It ended up being this really catchy tune that has more meat than a pop song would usually have. The lyrics are obviously on the bummer side, so it’s still sort of funny to hear this mostly upbeat background music accompanied by such bitter, melancholy words. The chorus might be my favorite on the record. The harmony keeps it interesting, and as sad as the lyrics might be, there’s a sense of freedom and releasing of pain. It’s not just pointing out the problem, but it’s also finding the solution, which in this case, is letting go and moving on.
Found My Way
This was the “freshest” song on the record in every sense of the word. It was the most recently written (January 2012), whereas all the other songs have been lingering for at least 3-4 years now. It was also fresh sound-wise, having a very different feel than the rest of the songs on the record. It was the first song I attempted to record in the studio; this experimental feel directed the rest of my time in the studio. Matt was feeling “tribal drums” on this one, which became a recurring inside joke (my being Middle Eastern and his suggestion of tribal drums). Another interesting note is the fact that there’s no bass in this song. I played acoustic guitar, banjo, and melodica. Most of the electric riffs were done by my friend, Trey Hill, who ended up playing 80% of the electric guitar on the record. Me and Matt recorded the claps in the hallway. I love how the verses have a hushed sound and almost act as bookends for the song, while the middle section has this biting edge with big claps that makes it feel more like an old slave song than a modern pop song. I always joke that it would go great in a car commercial, so if you know anyone in A&R for the automotive industry, hit me up.
I always refer to this song as my “ditty”. It has this child-like innocence, with the lyrics being sort of “folksy”, in a way that Sarah Palin might use. I had a vision for it to be this grandiose orchestral pop song with strings and bells and all the whistles. But when we recorded it live with the full band, it had this natural country feel, so we took it there instead. I layered the vocals so it sounded a little more “me”, and some of the harmonies have this Simon and Garfunkel vibe, which is never a bad thing. Overall, this is probably the most “folk” song on the record, and I think it’s one that holds its own, whether it’s just me and an acoustic guitar, or a full band. I tend to write lyrics more topically rather than in story form (not because I prefer topical writing, but because I’m not very good at telling stories), but this song has a very linear, narrative feel, which I think is one of the reasons it’s near and dear to my heart. It’s simple and honest, with no frills and nothing up its sleeve; just a good, old fashioned, sweet tea-lovin’ ditty.
Ah, love songs. You can’t go wrong with a good love song. For me, writing a happy love song is like finding a needle in a haystack of unicorns and lock ness monsters: it’s rare. I think it’s rare for me not because I don’t find love to be inspiring, but because it’s difficult to talk about love in a genuine way. It’s something so special and hard to define that its almost better off left alone sometimes. They say it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile, and I feel the same way when it comes to songwriting. There’s so many ways to talk about pain and darkness, while happiness, beauty, and love are so simple and wonderful that they can sometimes be far more difficult to express. Musically, this song has a really good vibe. I know I use that word a lot, but I think this song requires that word. The piano was a late addition that gave it this Norah Jones feel, and the tremolo electric guitar mixed with the plucked nylon guitar give the song a very “warm and fuzzy” feeling that I think compliments the simple lyrics nicely. As cool as it is to be poetic, there’s something to be said for the simple truths in life, especially love.
I Wanna Live
This one was another anomaly on the record. The big choppy hits, waltz time signature, slap-back delay vocals, and big band feel make it feel like an indie side project by M. Ward and Sinatra. I didn’t really know how to end this song. The vocal effect was a mix between a toy megaphone, as well as some post-production studio magic. We tracked it with a live band, and we decided to sort of play through it and fade out. Matt had the great idea of making the ending feel like we were playing live in a bar. What you’re actually hearing at the end is a microphone we had in the studio that captured the sounds going on in the room; the end result was gave the song this ambient bar feel. I can’t decide for myself what the mood of the song is. It’s not quite happy, but it’s not really a bummer. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
This song is sort of in its world. It’s like the weird cousin you know you’re related to, but you also suspect was adopted and possibly emotionally scarred as a child. I think a reason it’s so different is because it doesn’t have a chorus, but rather a tag that ends each verse. Also, Matt decided to experiment with the drums, making them feel more “affected” and electronic rather the live drum set feel we started with. One of the reasons I hung onto this song for so long was because of the ending. I love the sort of epic harmonizing riffs that end with this beautifully sparse harmonizing piano. The wind sound you hear at the end was actually from turning a knob on the Nord keyboard slowly. If you listen closely to the end build up, you can hear a distorted voice. That’s actually me reciting lines through a megaphone from “The Prophet”, a book written by Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. It’s a very inspiring read, and we decide to try something different and more experimental with this one. I like the linear lyrics of the song, as it travels from future, present, and past tense as the story continues on.
This is the only instrumental song on the album. I don’t why, but I was so drawn to the beautiful sparseness of just having banjo and piano, almost in conversation with each other. I wrote and recorded this as a demo with my friend Daniel Dennis, who played piano on it. Matt wanted to record it on keyboard to save time (no acoustic piano at the studio), but I knew it needed to be on an acoustic piano. I decided to just go back to Daniel’s house (where we originally recorded it), and record it myself. It was a scary endeavor, not being an engineer and all, but it ended up sounding cool. I put a mic right by the piano pedal so you can hear the thumps if you listen closely. Musically, it has this sloppy, lazy feel, having no click track or metronome to follow. The percussion you hear is actually a desk drawer and a bottle with spare change inside. The big slam you hear in the chorus section is the drawer being shut, while the soft swoosh that follows is the bottle being shaken back and forth. It felt like a good song to put towards the close of the record. The verses are a little dark, while the chorus, and especially the ending with it’s pleasant harmonies, carry this “light at the end of the tunnel” type of hope.
Home (I Am)
This is my “composition” piece. It’s very linear in nature, and has this dream-like vibe that takes you to another place. This was definitely the most difficult song to record. It’s the longest track on the record, with many instruments and many different sections with different tempos, or sometimes no tempo at all. The instrumentation is interesting, with the ukulele anchoring the song. My friend, Sammy Dent, did the orchestral arrangement, which was entirely necessary for the bridge and for the general grandiose feel for a closing track. I like dynamic of the song, as it has big, epic moments, as well as sparse, “lonely” moments. The ending leaves the record on an uplifting, positive note. Making this record, in part, was my way of trying to escape the cynicism I’ve lived in for so long now. Therefore, I took great precaution in making sure I never left the audience feeling more cynical than when they came. I’ve realized it’s easy to be cynical and pessimistic, yet it’s incredibly hard to hopeful and optimistic. There’s a theme of wandering in these songs, and this last track hopefully helps the listener find their “home”, whatever or wherever that may be.
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