Saturday, April 13, 2013

Believable Fiction - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown


"Believable Fiction" has been one of our most popular tunes to date, racking up hundreds of plays in its first few days! So, it is with extra excitement that I write about this tune, which is the final track on our debut record Within a Reverie.


Lyrics:


The lyrics in "Believable Fiction" are interesting in that, while fairly specific in the type of content, they are open to interpretation in terms of degree. In a nutshell, the song is about what we choose to believe in our lives. When I originally wrote the lyrics, I started from the simple idea that a lot of people choose to believe things that simply are not true. Now, I don't want anyone to jump to any conclusions as to what those things are, as it is likely that a consensus on what is real or not real cannot be easily reached (if at all). But, regardless of what any specific self-deceptions are, I wrote the song about my experience witnessing that phenomenon in myself and others.


So what do I mean by interpretation in terms of degree? Well, a lot of songs can be interpreted in many different ways--someone might think that a particular lyric is about a bird whereas another person might think its about a baby, or a date, or a murder, or a bowl of fruit. Some lyrics almost beg  for this ambiguity while others do not  need any sort of interpretation because all the meaning is laid out on the surface level.

As it relates to "Believable Fiction," I think the content of the lyrics is fairly obvious in lines that refer to "conviction" and "rewriting what we'd like" in relation to history (be it personal or an established historical narrative). Some of the more obvious lines are:

In the classroom of life
Where conviction is born
A veil is drawn that blinds us all but
Remains unseen
Until one comes of age 
It is here we conform

and


Rejection, or incorporation, is only a matter of time...


The reference to youth ("until one comes of age," etc.) was used for two reasons. First, believable fiction is something that is a part of our lives from our earliest days, in both what we are taught as young children and in the way our own imaginations construct the world around us. Second, the transition from youth ("the classroom of life") to adulthood is essentially an ideological battleground where we decide if we should conform to beliefs however big or small that we doubt or have doubted or come to question in our lives.


The wiggle room for interpretation is found in how you want to interpret the magnitude of what constitutes something like a piece of "believable fiction." For example, is it that you choose to believe you and your spouse love each other after the passion has gone? Is it that you keep doing what you do everyday because you believe it will change or believe that it is for a greater purpose? Or is it something world-shaping like revisionist history? Is it a "white lie" or a Watergate scandal? Where is the truth, the non-fiction of our lives, to be found among all of this?

I suppose as the song developed my attention tended to gravitate toward the larger meaning, found in the high-consequence lines like:

Behind transparent walls                (the limitations setup by belief in falsehoods)
Within the fight of our lives             (how these decisions delimit the potential of our lives)
Believable fiction                            (the variable that is causing existential trauma)
 
Composition:

"Believable Fiction" is one of my favorite compositions. It truly takes advantage of Within a Reverie's 3 guitar + bass makeup. Dynamics are a huge part of this song, and it is something we tried to maintain throughout the mixing process. The third guitar sneaks in during the first chorus, and continues through until the end of the track.

One of the most striking aspects of this track is the bass-and-drum-driven rhythm of the verses. It not only makes the verses and pre-choruses groove, but it adds a nice fluid contrast to the driving, wall-of-sound choruses that rely as much on the melodic coloring of the two leads as they do those beefy power chords and undulating bass lines.

Much like the solo section in "Romance, Meet Real" (around 4:00 - 4:27) and the leads in "A Blind Beginning" (around 2:49 - 3:45), the interlude in "Believable Fiction" (1:30 - 2:35) has two lead guitars working in counterpoint to provide a denser musical experience. Weaving in and out from one another, I tried to create a melodic passage that was equally grand and pensive--like being lost in a wonderful idea (be it practical or not).

While I am happy with the outcome compositionally, I have to admit to a bit of disappointment in terms of the lead guitar tone there. I originally used a warm tone deliberately to get the pensive effect I was going for, but in the end, I think a more brazen, hot tone would have befitted the song a bit more.

Lastly, I think that "Believable Fiction" is one of those Within a Reverie tracks that displays the potential that is left in terms of new sounds with the same old ingredients. It annoys me to no end when people say that it is no longer possible to write music that is truly new. It certainly may seem that way when what most people hear is a radio-defined cut of the music world. But for just having a few guitars, a bass, some vocals, and drums, I think that "Believable Fiction" is a nice little gem that proves there is still lots of originality to be explored--and this is despite the fact that it is still largely a verse/chorus song!

 
Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles:

-Key: E minor

-85 bpm

-Listen for the third guitar filling in the rhythm during the first chorus and solo sections, and then how it beefs up the second verse and second pre-chorus with it's lower, gritty harmonies.

-Once again, I want to say that Andy's drum playing really shines through here. He is such an asset to this recording, and his seemless shifting between verse grooves, crushing choruses, the double-time rock feel in the interlude, and odd time signatures in the pre-choruses is a testament to his talent. Once again drummers, twirl your sticks for Andy!




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fresh Eyes - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown




This is one of the most diverse tunes on our record in terms of self-contained mayhem! Are you gonna salsa to the verse groove or mosh to the coda?! Lots of goodies to discuss with Fresh Eyes, so let’s get to it!!

Lyrics:

As often as the subject of perspective is covered in music, you’d think I’d consciously try to avoid jumping on the bandwagon. Well, I thought I could do something a bit unique with it. That novelty comes from the specific combination of lyrics and very intentional constructions within the music. Before getting to the combinatory effects, though, let’s cover some lyrical ground.  

Until I walk 1000 days
From my home, pointed away
I will not know my true strength
For until that day, it will be
But a tenth

The lyrics in the intro, which is more of a theme really, simply states that one of the ways to enrich your own worldview is through experiencing that which is outside of your comfort zone. I make use of the word “strength” because, in my personal experience, developing the self through this sort of experience (intentionally or accidentally) goes a long way in terms of developing strength of character and personal independence.

Staring at the same thing that I look at everyday
Feeling safe in this place where I know that I am sane
Can’t venture past my known boundaries
Fear mystery like a disease

The first verse basically lays out the concept of what many people are like before broadening their perspectives—that is, not only is one hesitant to go beyond their at-the-moment boundaries because of a certain existential apprehensions, but that it is often the perceived universality of one’s own situation that lets us feel our world makes sense, or that we “get” how it all works.

Try just once
For once just try

As we’ll see in later parts of the song, this is the first of several instances of playing with, and sometimes reversing, meaning within the lyrics. Here, it’s a difference in degree as far as one’s willingness to philosophically relocate themselves or their attitude. 

Try finding your way
To a greater understanding
See more than one side
White is not the absence of
Light that claims itself
As the purity of
Every joined, fused
Color

The chorus’ meaning is pretty straightforward, so I won’t get into it too much here. It does, however, get more interesting in the second chorus.

Staring at the same thing that I look at everyday
Heads becomes tails and I know not what to say
Sight beyond my last known boundary
Former mystery now a part of me

The second verse essentially explains the initial shock and ultimate value in shifting one’s perspective in the effort to better understand the inner, or self, and outer, or that which exists outside your native perspective, upbringing, or worldview.

A rebirth of perception
            A rebirth of perception
            Or a perception of rebirth

In the same way the lyrics comment on the willingness of someone to “for once just try,” these lyrics point out a pitfall that a lot of people are victim into. More specifically, the “rebirth of perception” is the definite goal, but without really stepping outside your perspectival comfort zone—without giving yourself fresh eyes—one may merely feel that they’ve experienced some level of rebirth without actually reaching that goal.


Composition:

The Theme of Perspective:

One of my goals with this song, since it covers the somewhat worn out—but no less valid—topic of perspective, was to make the composition as intertwined with the lyrical content as possible in the hope of providing something original as a whole to the vast array of music on this subject. To that end, I tried to reflect the lyrical theme in the song over and over again in the music. This ranged from minutia that perhaps no one would notice without pointing it out, to more obvious things.

One of the most basic ways to make this specific lyrical theme manifest itself in the music is to create variations. In the world of rock, I think good variations are all too absent from the rhythm section anyway, so I think it adds to the overall composition on both levels. Anyway, in the intro section and the bridge preceding the guitar solo, we have two very different takes on the same piece of music. Originally, the music for each section was identical except for the added vocals, but we took it a bit further when it came time to record the track because it seemed to not only make the whole song a bit more interesting dynamically, but drove home the point of including a variation all the more starkly.

The above is what would be a typical “variation” in musical terms (and, honestly, one that is perhaps arguably more than a simple variation because of the number of differences between instances), and in addition to this and the lyrical variations, there are what almost need to be called “methodological variations” that help drive the point home even more, including symbolic use of parallel modes, a sort of rhythmic inversion (if that is even a thing), and symbolic use of multiple voices.

The guitar solo, for example, shifts in parallel modes from measure to measure. In essence, it’s a new perspective on the same Bb chord every 4 beats. I know that’s not something that will be beat-you-in-the-face obvious to most, but I did this intentionally in the hope that it would help with the authenticity of the song, and, hey, it made for a cool solo!

For the coda, I crafted a riff that seems to invert on itself every two repetitions. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect inversion, like a palindrome or anything, but the constant switching between 8th note +16th note and 16th note + 8th note rhythms, comes off a bit like a riff played one way and then playing its reflection, and it is meant to represent the twisting of perspective. If anything, it makes a great 5/4, 5/4, 6/4, 6/4 pattern (with a lead melody maintaining a strong 4/4 vibe on top of all that!!) into a headbang-able rock groove.

In both the bridge before the guitar solo and the post-solo section, we make use of what amounts to a “collage” of vocals. This, much like basic variations, was meant to take simple phrases and present them in a variety of stylized performances. Falsetto, raspy low voice, plain speech, shouting—they all present a different take on the very same utterances, and I wanted to include that not so much to represent multiple perspectives, but to lend that sort of feel to the piece and let the lyrics infer that representation onto those parts.

Lastly, the second chorus vocals were meant to be the most symbolic point in the song. While the lead vocal line remains the same, the backups vocals present an alternative message that was hidden in the lead line from the beginning. If one notices how the backup vocals align with the lead, specific words were taken from the lead lyrics to present a condensed version of the message.

Instead of the lyrics:

Try finding your way
To a greater understanding
See more than one side
White is not the absence of
Light that claims itself
As the purity of
Every joined, fused
Color

We simply have the supporting phrase:

Try to see white light as every joined, fused color.

The original plan was to simply have the backups say “Try to see white light as every color,” which is a bit more succinct. In the end, harmonizing “joined” and “fused” did not affect the meaning or highlighting effect, and sounded stronger from a compositional standpoint.        

Chorus

After far too long messing with the chorus and being unhappy with it, Andy Hector stepped in and wrote an amazingly catchy and badass melody for the chorus lead vocal. Great work, if I do say so myself!

Feel Changes

One of the things I love about this song is the unending mutation of “feel” from section to section, which I think comes off incredibly organically. From straightforward in the intro, kind of latin-flavored in the verses, funky in the post-verse riffs, decidedly stiff in the pre-choruses, heavy rock in the post-solo riffs, to
quasi-djent for the coda, this song really runs the gamut in terms groove, all while moving fluidly from low to medium and high dynamics.

Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles:

-Key: Bb minor

-Writing Credits: Dilley/Hector

-Guitar solo is in parallel modes that shift each measure — Aeolian, Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, Phrygian, Lydian, Locrian, and finally a bluesy lick that could technically be in one of a couple different modes—at that point it didn’t matter, and I just wanted to channel my inner Dimebag for the final bend.

-For the octave effect on my guitar in the coda, I used an old BOSS GS-10 Guitar Effects System with COSM. That little tank of a sound machine traveled forward in time from the 1990s (I’m guessing…though, it could be early 2000’s as well), and played an awesome part in making the coda to Fresh Eyes sound HUGE!

-For anyone who was wondering just how awesome Andy Hector is on the drums, I think this song proves that most drum kits would tremble after a mere glance from Maestro Hector. I am immensely proud of Andy’s drumming, both composition- and performance-wise on this song. Everybody twirl your sticks for Andy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Ivory Stepping Stone - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown



“The Ivory Stepping Stone” is the 8th track on our debut album, Within a Reverie, and, despite its seeming simplicity, it has plenty to offer those who like their music a step removed from normal. Including everything from odd subject matter, to quirky harmony and catchy odd time signatures, this tune has plenty to discuss!

Lyrics:

Yes, I wrote a song about higher education. At the time it seemed like a good idea, okay? And you know what, I am still happy with the message!

The title “The Ivory Stepping Stone” is a play on the idea of “the ivory tower,” which, as most are aware, is a reference to a person’s separation from the “real world” and used in particular reference to the non-pragmatism of academia. That being said, the gist of these lyrics is that what once may have been an “ivory tower” for the intellectual elite is now merely an empty symbol of what it once was, and, moreover, used as stepping stone for many people to get a “higher” education as a means to an unrelated end, or just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do.” So, all in all, the lyrics really address the various issues with the way people abuse/uphold/glorify higher education.

Before I start, I should disclose that I have relatively close ties to many people who work in higher education, as well as those who never had the opportunity to attend. While this is song is undoubtedly a critique of some of the issues pertaining to higher education in general, it is not a critique of all people who are or are not involved in it. So, any references to those in attendance or those administering, are made with the understanding that no single mold describes every student or professor. This song was written from the perspective of unsettling trends in the academic system that really should not be a mystery to anyone, and that should be addressed with objectivity and resolve.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Take for granted a precious gift, it’s your life right?
You take a tool and abuse it, now justify
The reason for being here is not based much on learning
Praised for tradition, my institute of higher earning

The first verse, quoted above, refers to those who enter this phase of their life merely because of the promise of financial gain. This isn’t meant as a critique of people who desire to improve their financial situation—especially through education—but, speaking from experience, I’m sure most people have met those students that make you think, “what are you doing here?” because of their utter lack of regard for the beauty of bettering oneself through learning; that is, those who are there to get a degree, but not there to do what earning that degree should entail.

Locked out from your tower
The disqualified seek their place
To them, your prison is
But a stepping stone

The first chorus sets the imagery of the title in motion, while preparing the listener for a reversal of perspective in the second verse. The reference to “tower” is obvious, but by “the disqualified” I am referring to two groups. The “disqualified” in this song refers mostly to those who are accepted into higher education but lack the desire or ability to reach the level of the “ivory tower,”[1] but also to those who do not have the academic ability to be admitted into an institution in the first place.[2] For those who don’t ever get the benefit of attending college, the “tower” is an alienating force to be sure, and one that engenders resentment. For those who actually get the opportunity bestowed upon them but abuse it and not live up to its potential, the oft-hallowed “ivory tower” becomes merely a transitory stage (“stepping stone”) in their life, where if one scrapes by with intentional (or sometimes just ignorant) neglect, they still receive the same degree of accomplishment as the classmates that truly engaged with the opportunities before them.

Your pale fortress crumbles down right before your eyes
So much for higher worth, this you cannot disguise
The reason for being here is not based much on teaching
Praised for tradition, my institute now never reaching
Out

One of the saddest things I have encountered in my own past experience are those professors who have become alienated by some aspect of their profession, only to take it out on their students (or, in the very least, develop an apathy toward their students’ well being). The first two lines of the second verse describes how that estrangement disintegrates the fa├žade of higher education “worth”—that is, the idea that to be better or achieve higher, one needs their service. The second couplet refers, again, to reasons for participating in the charade not being what they seem, and the failure of institutions to truly reach out to many of those they have convinced need their enlightenment.

Locked out from your tower
The disqualified seek their place
To them, your prison is
But a stepping stone
            Open you door to
            The outside and let it flow in
            Succession of towers
            And of stepping stones

The second chorus, an extended one, carries in its first half the same lyrics as the first chorus. The second half of this chorus is a prediction. When writing these lyrics, I could not escape the imagery of an ivory tower being trampled upon by countless initiates as they climbed the tower only to abandon it after reaching the top or forcing their way through in some other manner. In the end (this image actually played out like a daydream many times), the tower was worn down into a stepping stone—crushing those inside of it who simultaneously tried to glorify the “worth” of the institution while laying the groundwork for its demise by admitting hordes of uncaring people, and becoming something that no longer offers the power it once did. It had become a simple momentary tool, a stepping stone, rather than a stronghold for enlightenment. As I saw this image over and over, the word “succession” continually came to me. But it is in the environmental sense that I use the word, which for me carries the image of that gradual change that is almost unperceivable, but so devastatingly powerful in its effect. Eventually, because of its state, both the “tower” and the “stepping stone” that it is becoming, will weather away.

As stated up front, I am very enthusiastic about this subject (I guess I’d have to be to want to write a song about it!), but from a strictly critical standpoint, I still find that there is something to be desired in these lyrics. To be clear, I actually think the lyrics are well-written, but they suffer from one thing that many lyrics are afflicted by, which his that they attempt to summarize a subject that is far too nuanced for a song that is only a few minutes in length. In all honesty, this would be a great topic for concept album!

I love the imagery, I love the symmetry between verses, and I love it when choruses get extended with new lyrics (it won’t the last time you hear that from us)! BUT, I have to admit that the lyrics tend to gloss over the specific problematics within higher education’s functionality that I wished to state with more clarity. So there ya go.

Composition:

Okay, I have wanted to talk about the composition of this song for ages. “The Ivory Stepping Stone” encompasses many of the things that I try to incorporate into every song—odd time signatures that groove smoothly despite frequent changes, altogether weird tonality that doesn’t seem off when all the parts hold each other together, variations on themes, and lots of lead work despite the absence of solos!

Since the song begins with what remains a predominant theme, let’s start there!  Written in 6/4, this theme is both catchy (almost obnoxious) in its melody and interesting in its song-long evolution. What I find most refreshing about the theme is that the variations it goes through are almost totally variations in technique, rather than variations in melody, which is what most would expect in a “variation on a theme.” It goes from straight-picked eighth notes to bent eighth notes, then from alternating phrases of raunchy dyads on each guitar (rather than the harmony split between them beforehand) to trills (which is the one exception to the melody being constant, although it does seem to come across as the same melody because of how it ends).

After the opening theme, the time signature shifts with Andy’s tasty fill, which sets the stage, but doesn’t quite prepare the listener, for verses that operate predominantly in 5/4 (with an added beat at the end: so 5/4, 5/4, 6/4). The bass line that holds down the verse is one of my favorite ever—fun to play, catchy, and it proves that “anything/4” is groove-able time if you compose hard enough! In addition to the bass line, the vocal melodies (both lead and supporting) do a great deal in terms of holding the feel together.

Lastly, the chorus: I love this chorus for so many reasons. Not only does it showcase more than a little disregard for diatonic music, it demonstrates that it can be done without overt dissonance. It begins innocently enough, but by the 3rd bar, shenanigans ensue with the introduction of the Bb5 chord. I suppose mixing Bb5 and F5 into Eminor was inspired by the thrash stuff I listened to in my younger days, but this use varies entirely. Here, the Bb5 is distinct in both its extended emphasis in a key to which it does not “belong” and in its beauty, which is no doubt due in part to the melody that floats above it. 

Additionally, the emphasis on the C, B, and A power chords in such proximity to the Bb, lends the flavor of melodic chromaticism to the section. Another instance of this can be found in the vocal melody that occurs during a surprising bar of 3/4 during the otherwise completely 4/4 chorus. During the lines “but a stepping” and “and of stepping” I took advantage of the ambiguity of power chords’ tonality (as I did throughout the chorus) and treated the C5 as if it were a minor chord, rather than a major chord, as the key of E minor would typically dictate. The result is a haunting melody that tugs at the listener’s ears much in the same way the melody over the Bb5 does earlier in the chorus, but with a little added darkness to it. What I love most about this song, on a general level, is that despite its quirkiness, and all the things that might derail it, it works. And in “working” despite these traits that are abnormal to rock, one of its greatest attractions, for me, is its originality.

Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles:

-Standard tuning one half-step down

-Key: Predominantly Eb minor, with a lot of exceptions!


[1] Those who would, quite honestly, probably not have made it into university-level studies based on merit a few generations ago.
[2] I personally believe that, barring any sort of intentional atrocities, human dignity is inalienable and universal. I have, for most of my life, been appalled by people who assume that another person is stupid simply because they did not attend a university or college. Aside from the huge number of history-making “uneducated” people, common-sense should be all that’s required in discerning not only the plurality of “sorts” of intelligence, but also in seeing the fallacy in arbitrarily and non-empirically attributing stupidity to people one has never met.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Blind Beginning - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown



“A Blind Beginning” is the 6th track on Within a Reverie and has much to discuss from its seemingly stream-of-consciousness arrangement, ballad-esque introductory lyrics, and harmonic play, to its wide range of dynamics, variety of playing techniques, and quasi-symbolism. That being said, let’s get down to it!

Lyrics:

So the story goes that there was a group of friends
Who wanted to create

If one follows the lyrics, it’s relatively easy to tell that they tell the beginning of a story. What you are hearing, however, concerns something a little more concrete than the at-times ambiguous introduction lets on. In fact, the song is literally about the recording project that it is a part of.

So they set out blindly for journey’s end unknown
To find some truth, simple or profound
They set out blindly…

The title refers not only to the fact that this album is the first for us, a “beginning,” but also to the lack of direction within which our group worked when we started crafting these songs so many years ago. And while, by the time we finally got into recording this album a second time, we had a bit more direction stylistically, the songs themselves stand as a testament to the diversity that manifests itself when one limits themselves to just “trying to write original music.” 

We put forth this declaration
This art will find manifestation
Trial, error, inspiration
One or varied destinations

We also attempted to lyrically capture both the intellectual stimulation of wholeheartedly deciding “to create” and the almost indescribable experience of putting all one has into the creative process and watching as that effort fails, meets, or surpasses one’s expectations.

At the precipice of beginning
Vision blind but mind’s eye grinning
Anticipation and trepidation
No words for these expectations

Additionally, one of the events in the song that I particularly enjoy and consider a “quasi-symbolism” of sorts, is the way the last line quoted above (“No words for these expectations”) announces the following lengthy instrumental passage. This is intentional, and the music afterward is intended to represent the ups and downs (and the excitement of both!) of the writing process when going off of just influence and intuition.

Since the song is literally about writing all the others, it might go without saying that this song was added to the recording project much later than the other tracks. It served as a way to both keep the project interesting for us (it is so difficult for musicians to keep playing the same songs over and over!), and to pay tribute to the process that brought it all to light.

I could go on forever about the lyrics as there are a few more talking points in these highly meaningful words, but the composition and production is just as rich in meaning, so let’s move on!

Composition:
“A Blind Beginning” is predominantly in 4/4 time, but has an intro that grooves in three-measure phrases, which lends it a solid, yet startling feel. Vocal lines that are not strictly diatonic make the intro even more out-there in one sense, but, to me, give it a “fairy tale” feel. This only serves to heighten the story-telling mode that the third-person narrative voice establishes in the intro.

Shortly after the tune gets heavy, there is a switch from the third person narrator to a first person plural voice at 2:13. Compositionally, my first intention was to have a 3-part harmony, with each of the current Within a Reverie members taking a part, as in the second verse of our song “Romance, Meet Real.” After much experimentation, a three-part unison arrangement ended up being the most poignant, and I found that it 1) hit harder sonically, and 2) more successfully drove home the point of the lyrics at that point that sing about “doing something as a unified force.” AND we did this all without sounding like a Def Leppard or Bang Camaro gang vocal.

Now, as I stated in the discussion of lyrics above, this song contains numerous ties to the past, and in addition to lyrics, we’ve made many compositional references—and we are totally aware that they may remain on the esoteric level of an “inside joke,” despite being crafted in all seriousness.

There are traces of old compositions laced and interwoven all throughout “A Blind Beginning.” For example, the first heavy rhythm section of the song (1:44), where production suddenly cuts to a superior clarity, is from an old song of ours called “Change,” and the rhythm guitar riff from 2:45 to 3:14 is from an old acoustic composition of ours titled “The Other Side of Town.” The harmonized octaves on the guitars at 3:41 were lifted from a thrashy tune we used to play called “On the Loose” and the drum groove in the intro is reminiscent of one of our earliest compositions, “The Parting of Two Friends.”

The inclusion of these sections were done with the utmost attention to making them “work” in a new context, but also with the hope that they would lend a greater authenticity to the gesture that “A Blind Beginning” makes as a composition. It certainly works that way for us, but that is to be expected. For the listener with no background knowledge of the original music we used to play regularly, I hope that the fact that they were composed either concurrently or earlier than the music on this album solidifies the “sound” of what “early” Within a Reverie will be when we’ve ventured past our first few recording projects.

Of additional symbolic value is the cassette tape introduction and related production choices. Only a handful of old friends would recognize the audio snippets, but we deliberately used cassette sounds and old jam tapes from high-school as additional songs on the “tape” which begins this track. The cassette idea itself is merely used as homage to our early days when everything we did was on tape. THANK GOODNESS for computers!!

Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles:

-Key: E minor

-Writing Credits: Dilley

-A tambourine, though subtle, was used in second half of solo section (from 3:16 to 3:31) which helped make the heaviness of the section into a deadly groove!

-“A Blind Beginning” is one of my favorite vocal performances by Joe Marx. The introduction alone shows what a versatile singer he can be, and when one compares this song with all of the others from the album, it is only more evident.

-Special Gear: We used an old-school Yamaha tape-deck to run the intro section of the song through multiple generations of cassette-wear. We then used tape-hiss, generously provided by our tape deck, to overlay on top of the intro of our song, to symbolically represent “just another” demo.  

Now, for your visual stimulation, here is Andy rehearsing the drum groove to the intro of "A Blind Beginning"!


Stay tuned for more SongTalk stuff in the future! Just to give you a preview, our next track upload will either be the epic “Believable Fiction” or the quirky “The Ivory Stepping Stone.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Midnight Meditation - Composition, Gear...The Lowdown

"Midnight Meditation" has a fun backstory, so I have been chomping at the bit to get this out to everyone. Enjoy!



Composition:

Midnight Meditation is a short instrumental with a fun creation story. This composition came out of an exercise that I invented (at least, I've never heard of anyone else doing this before) where I would sit in thought, and oftentimes silence (meditation, get it?), and completely think out a melody before playing it. So, I would imagine a melody mentally, and figure out how to execute it without playing it first, and then play the melody. Once I did that, I thought of the next line. I didn't give myself a requirement for length of notes or dynamics or anything. It was a completely organic experience. What you hear here, originally took me about 20 minutes or so to mentally compose and then play. It was such a great experience, and I've done it many times since then. I did this exercise for the first time years ago, and the music you hear here is the very music I wrote that night, but I condensed it down time-wise to the length of a short etude. But, what you hear is exactly  how it sounded except for the extra space being removed between melodies.

When I did the exercise it was in the middle of the night; some very wee hours actually. So, when naming the piece, I added that aspect of the composition session to the idea of this meditative practice. The first time I did it produced, by far, my favorite output and it's something that I've looked forward to sharing with people for a very long time.

Recording and Gear:

This recording was actually done during a separate session several years ago, and we thought it sounded right just the way it is, so we decided to use it on this album instead of re-recording it. The guitar I used was my trusty Gibson Marauder, middle pickup; the sweetest of all tones! At the time I was playing through another guitarist's Fender amp, which is also just what the doctor called for for this piece!

We decided to overlay some crickets underneath the track to stress the "midnight" aspect of it. And, we added a little studio magic to the echoing guitar track that you hear. Because I like the original so much, I am inclined to think at some time, it might be cool to release just the clean recording. For now though, we wanted to have fun!

Fun Facts:

The crickets were recorded at Lake Sylvia in South Haven, MN. A little Minnesota countryside cricket action is always awesome! Oh, how I love the lakes! If only there was a loon to really give away the location, ay!

We've also got a short video in the works for this track that walks the line between performance video and traditional music video. We'll keep you posted on its development!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Dawn of Dark Skies - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown

The Dawn of Dark Skies is one of our older songs and this slightly revamped version was a ton of fun to revise and record for your listening pleasure. There is a lot to discuss here compositionally and lyrically, so let's get started!



Lyrics: Being one of our older compositions, the lyrics are arguably a little less original topic-wise, but I feel like the other characteristics in the lyrics make up for this possible failing. In a nutshell, the overarching topic of the piece is finding that proverbial comfort zone where one can truly be him- or herself. Included in this theme is the idea that we have multiple selves--a public self which is donned in order interact with a disapproving (or diversity-sterilized) majority, and a private self that is hidden from others except when one is in places (literal or figurative) where it is safe to project or live out that identity. This message is delivered symbolically, through equating "the light" with public places, where one is expected to meet certain social, cultural, or ideological expectations, and using "the dark" as a symbol for the locales wherein a person might live out their true self free from the probing critique of others.

One of the things I dig about the lyrics in this song is the successful mixture of standard rock-style lyrics in the majority of the song and very prose-like lyrics in the interlude.

Add to this the poetic and descriptive depth of both the interlude and the coda lyrics (quoted below), the song's message seems to come alive in a way that describes an oft-covered topic in a more poetic, meaningful way:

Interlude Lyrics:
Watercolor skies dissolve into inky hues
The masks we wore…
The warm veneer of our published selves decays into
What only moonlight can excuse


Coda Lyrics:
So let's meet at our secret place
At the dawn of dark skies
To set free
Our nocturnal desires


Composition: One of the most striking aspects of The Dawn of Dark Skies is the contrast between the verses and choruses, but the purpose of of these changes are intentional and are done in concert with a few other purposeful arrangement and compositional choices. All of these decisions were made in the interest of providing musical symbolism to accompany the imagery of the lyrics.

The first example of this is the musical theme introduced in the song's introduction. In order to set the mood for the lyrical theme of hiding one's true identity, I chose to compose a theme that gave the distinct impression of "sneaking around." Pink Panther jokes aside, I think this was done successfully, and particularly so in the unified quarter-note catch/rest before the theme turns itself around. Very sneaky-sounding! In addition to this, the odd harmonies between the two guitars lends a bit of a haunting, if not confused, musicality to the theme.

The verses are fairly straight forward, but the alternating guitars, continued use of unified and quick full-band rests, and whispered back ups that concentrate the meaning of each verse all serve to support the introspective feel.

There are two key properties to notice in the choruses. First, I took the opportunity to make use of an ever-evolving chorus as a way of heightening the effect of each, and as a way of doing something new with the standard verse/chorus song structure.  To that end, each chorus boasts something different than the last. Aside from the obvious addition of vocal lines to each, the first chorus is completely instrumental (and actually sounds more like a passing movement that operates in response to the verse lyrics), and the lead work on the guitar is made more intricate with each successive chorus. Secondly, The arrangement in general for the choruses is meant to be dense--full of emotional lines that speak to the attempt to maintain one's composure as well as the failure to do so. It's meant to sound frantic, somewhat involuntary, and hard to contain. I personally love the arrangement of the instruments--so much question/answer, so much energy weaving in and out!

The interlude features an octave-down version of the intro theme, which allows the dense vocal arrangements to breathe a little easier over the rhythm section's melody, as well as allow room for a killer keyboard part! The group vocal arrangement for the interlude is meant to evoke a community, in a sort of Greek chorus sort of way, by expanding the spotlight from the lead vocalist onto a group of like-minded lamenters who have found comfort in "the dark."

The subtle keyboard solo featured in the interlude was written by our drummer Andy Hector. His writing contributions have largely tended to be in the form of arrangement suggestions up until this point, and this marks his first major melodic contribution to a song. It is a great touch and really helps bring the song to another level.


Writing Credits: Dilley, Hector, Marx

Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles: 

-Standard Tuning / Key: D minor 

-The coda section, where you hear an arrangement of lead vocal, whispering, and solo bass guitar, was originally a single guitar (playing the same voicings) and lead vocal. The older version sounded fantastic, but in the end we decided on going with the bass guitar because its lower range lent itself more to the somber tone of the song, and because I am always looking for a place to highlight the often underused melodic abilities of such an under-appreciated (in the mainstream) instrument.

-One of the key mixing characteristics of this song is the hard panning on the vocals. I love it, and the reason we did this is two-fold. Mostly it was a conscious choice to get a semi-choral effect from all the vocal parts in the song. Second, it really helped balance out this incredibly dense piece of music at its most intense parts.

-To get the right sound for the drums in the verse, Andy utilizes brushes rather than sticks. Listen and be seduced by their plushy softness.

Below is a quick video of Andy tracking parts of "The Dawn of Dark Skies" on his kit. Enjoy!