I love my friends. Jeremy Styles wrote this song with me today. I went to his house in Brooklyn at 12 pm. We started writing at 12:30, and I left his house at 5:00. So, overall, a really productive afternoon, and I’m really happy.
Writing: Jeremy and I had the beginning of a different song I thought we were going to flesh out when I got to his house today, but he played me fragments he had of this song instead. He had the first two verses and a chorus. After hearing them, we sat on their meaning, taking out and putting things back until we felt like we were capturing the story we wanted to tell. At first listen, this song seems to address a moment between two people, a man and a woman, seemingly in a relationship either in the present or past. The truth is, meanings in this song are many for both Jeremy and me: capturing probably several thoughts at once, though we did use a storyline of sorts to build the song. In listening back to it, only speaking for myself of course, I can hear what I wanted to say and actually see who is present in the words for me. So, trying to explain it to you out right is complicated, and probably unnecessary. It’s more important what it means to you anyway.
*Of particular note: Sam McCormally introduced me to a site called The Online Etymology Dictionary which I have used for a few entries now. I’m not even sure if I’m using it the way it was intended, but it has assisted in finding many a lyric! I encourage all to peruse! (An etymology use for today: The line “It is Being.” came from looking up the word sin. “…like a breath”, from looking up ghost. Again, not even sure if that’s how it works, but whatevs! It’s a song! Not a doctoral paper.) I’m also finding myself with tendencies towards numerical hyperbole. (Thousand, millions, Ka-jillions) And how’s this for AP English analysis: the title “Such a Fool”, in the way the lyrics are written out here, comes right in the middle of the song.
Arrangement: Jeremy and I actually wrote this song on his guitar. The plan was to record it on his guitar, too. However, as we worked and struggled through the lyrical process, we found certain clichés to be unavoidable without stressing out about it. So, we eventually decided that if it was going to be cheesy, let it be cheesy, and someone might like it. This is a great lesson actually. I spend a huge chunk of my writing time trying to avoid cheese writing, when perhaps if I just relaxed about it and just finished the damn song, I could figure out alternatives then. In our case, we finished the song and almost started setting up to record when I had a sudden thought: I wanted to hear this song with just voice and cello pizz. Specifically, I wanted to hear Jeremy’s voice with cello pizz only. (I’m selfish that way.) Jeremy has one of the most crooney voices: beautiful and low when he wants it to be. He has a solo song I make him perform for me on a regular basis that captures the amazing color of his low range. When I tried this on cello, I tuned the strings down: The A – F#, D – B, G – F#, C – B. This tuning made forming chords a little more difficult but not too bad, and the color ended up really nice, I think. I’d like to rework how I voiced the pizz in each chord change: it’s a bit redundant, but it will get there. And, somehow, when Jeremy and I ran through this version of it, we were struck how it changed the meaning of the song almost totally: the cheesiness of the lines we were worried about seemed to disappear.
I do want to point out that in the chorus we sing, “You got that wall up in your heart again” which we discovered sounds like “You got that wallop in your heart again.” This was a part of Jeremy’s original chorus, and I asked if he thought we shouldn’t change it to just “…wall in your heart”. He was pretty adamant that it stay (he loves puns and is a master at finding them in any situation). And now, listening to it, I realize that it is appropriate. For me, it helps to not take ourselves too seriously: this is, after all, a short work of fiction, though based on real events or people every now and then. I like that it represents a little playfulness within a work of such serious things. (Also, I’m not totally happy with my lyrics on the bridge, but I can rework them later if it bugs me forever… )
I want to talk about an aspect of collaboration I have yet to address specifically. I can talk about this comfortably on Jeremy’s song because he is one of my best friends here in New York. We’ve toured together, we play music together, and we write regularly together with Jocelyn Mackenzie as a part of Pearl and the Beard. I think this is the first time we’ve written a song together without Jocelyn (a part of me feels like I was cheating, but Joc will do a 365 with me soon, so it’s okay).
I wonder if you have felt this, too, if you’ve done any kind of collaboration with someone else. It’s an interesting phenomenon: the connection between two people when they’ve created something from almost nothing. In our case, with this song, we sat for a while talking about who the man was, how he functioned in his own sphere, what kinds of things he wanted. Is he selfish? Or selfless? Is he even aware? Who is this woman? What does she want? Etc. So, in this process, talking about personal experiences is inevitable and you end up sharing very personal, private things with someone you might know very well or not at all. Certainly, this isn’t always the case with every collaboration, but when it happens it’s uncomfortably wonderful. The most interesting thing for me as I’m collaborating and recording is that audio footprints are being created: lasting as long as there is sound, and it is a record of a moment in time when two people communicated on a level not that many people get to experience. I consider myself blessed.
Recording: This recording is probably the third take of three. We recorded this live while I played the cello. We positioned the mic facing the two of us sitting. I didn’t want room noise, so we did a little experimentation with positioning, but it didn’t take long. I’m pleased with the sound we got. I actually put down an arco (bowed) cello line to see what that might do by way of supporting things and creating color, but in the end, the two voices with the one cello just seemed more appropriate. Another thing that’s struck me just today is the vocals in these 365 recordings. They are completely unpracticed and raw. I’m finding that I have little vocal quirks that I’ve never noticed myself do before (like a weird breath, pick-up kind of thing before “And you’re keeping me in,” for example.) These realizations are good so I’m always aware and can fix them or leave them if I like them. (Maybe you didn’t even hear it, but I’m lame, so I did.) These kind of idiosyncrasies are the kind of thing I was taught in school to listen for in my cello playing specifically. Stuff this picky might sound OCD, however, but I really appreciate my education and how it’s helped me form my ear, though I still wish I was better at it.
Jeremy: you are the man.
Thank you for listening. I hope you’re alright today and that you find a twenty dollar bill just laying there in the street so you can buy yourself and a friend lunch with it.
Can I stay Just tonight? I want to kiss your face In the morning light I feel I’m home Like I’ve arrived I’m where I wanna be You I can’t deny You got that wall up in your heart again my darlin’ Don’t you feel at home with me? I’m alive, Though like a breath. It is Being. Like a thousand threads. Such a fool A broken causeway Strength of a jealous man Veins to strip away You got that wall up in your heart again my darlin’ And it’s keeping me in I know what I should do I know what you will do Can I stay Just tonight I want to kiss your face Let me stay the night You got that wall up in your heart again my darlin’ And I’m keeping you in