Ep. 66: Song “Based On A True Story” (Influenced by Radiohead)

Today’s episode is about a song I wrote back in high school called “Based On a True Story.” It’s influenced by a Radiohead tune, “Bulletproof… I Wish I Was” from their album, The Bends.

My goal was to create the same type of atmosphere with the acoustic guitar strumming and a softly plucked electric guitar part. Here’s a clip of my high school band, Made In The Shade playing the song at one of our early shows in 1999.

After a while, we wrote other songs and phased this one out so it sat on the shelf for several years. I finally recorded it in 2012 for my 50 songs in 50 weeks project. I kept it pretty true to my original vision. In addition to acoustic guitar and vocals, I added an electric guitar part with a “flange” effect to give it a washy sound. There’s also an electric guitar part played with an ebow, organ and tamborine.

Never thought I wanted you so much
And every wish I’m longing for your touch
There’s else for me to see, yeah

Never thought I’d run and jump the gun
Now I’m left and staring at the sun
What else is there for me to be, yeah

I must pretend in spite of who we are
I must pretend and go about in my own way

I am not here, how can this be
I wish you’d all go away from me
I am not here, how can this be, yeah

Any moment I have felt the pain
Seeing you with only me to blame
There’s nothing left for me to be, yeah

Never thought I’d run and jump the gun
Now I’m left and staring at the sun
What else is there for me to be, yeah

I must defend in spite of who we are
I must defend and go about in my own way

I am not here, how can this be
I wish you’d all go away from me
I am not here, how can this be, yeah

Nobody knows the pain

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Ep. 65: Song Challenge with Mike Fjerstad “Be Right Back (The Time Warp Blues)”

I’m joined by professional guitarist and friend, Mike Fjerstad. We challenged ourselves to “write a song based on an abbreviation.” We chose “BRB” and came up with an epic story about a sci-fi romance involving a time warp. Hear our conversation writing the song and process of recording it in this week’s episode.

Full disclosure: Our entire conversation was actually over 3 hours but I edited it down to an hour because no one wants to hear a 3 hour podcast.

For the recording, since we both have home studios with Pro Tools, we decided it made sense to track our parts separately on our own and transfer the files to each other as we worked on it. Mike started with acoustic guitar and lead vocals.

After hearing what Mike did, I recorded a percussion part, which includes cajon, hi hats, ride and crash cymbals and a tamborine. I also added a harmony part.

After I added those parts, I passed it back to Mike and he recorded some a bass line to go with the beat I laid down. He also added a couple electric guitar parts, including the lead line he came up with while we were writing. He also added a vocal adlib at the end, with some additional harmonies.

With those parts added, Mike passed it back to me and I added an organ part to fill out the sound a little bit.

With everything tracked, Mike and I got back together and edited and mixed the song to get it sounding just how we wanted it. I think it turned out really awesome and I’m excited to share it with you.

Ferris wheels swirling and cotton candy twirling at the county fair
Holding her hand and watching as the fireworks explode in the air
Well the night was getting cold and they didn’t want the moment to end
So he ran to the car to grab her coat and no one ever saw him again

Til the day he stumbled up the steps to her door
He said, “I came back with your coat but the rides and fireworks aren’t there anymore”
She said, “Don’t you tell me that,
It’s been 25 years and you told me that you’d be right back”

It’s quarter past midnight, the kids are asleep and I thought you were dead
You look like a fool in your letterman’s jacket, gray hairs on your head
He said, “I know you won’t believe this and honestly neither can I,
I was gone for five minutes and suddenly now time has left me behind”

On this day where I’ve stumbled up the steps to your door
We can have a second chance to pick up where we left off before
She said, “I don’t know about that,
It’s been 25 years and you told me that you’d be right back”

Since then I’ve lived my life
I found a lover, for a while I was a wife
But things didn’t turn out like I planned
And I’m scared to begin this again
But I’ll try, but I’ll try

Cause this day you’ve stumbled up the steps to my door
We’ve been given this chance to pick up where we left off before
He said, “I’ll believe in that”
She said, “Whatever you do just don’t tell me that you’ll be right back”

I’ll Be Right Back

Visit mikefjerstad.com to learn more about Mike.

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Ep. 64: Song “Night Sky” (Influenced by R.E.M.)

This one is another oldie written during high school. At the time, I was digging the mandolin sounds on R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” It’s kind of surprising to look back and think that a song with a mandolin was such a big radio hit in the era of grunge.

As I started writing my song, I didn’t have a mandolin but I tried to approximate the sound of one by playing my acoustic guitar with the capo on the 4th fret.

Several years later when it came time to record, I added mandolin to supplement the two acoustic guitar tracks. I also recorded one vocal track, two tambourine tracks, and a shaker.

The lyrics tell the story of someone lost in the woods and being chased by wolves while a search crew attempts to find them before it’s too late.

Night sky approaches on the horizon
Fading underneath the hill
I know the temperatures are dropping
You know the wolves are out to kill

Deep in the woods you find a shelter
Deep in the woods you try to hide
You hear the thunder and the lightning
I don’t wanna die, I’d much rather hide

Be gone and then appear to you
I’m sending out the search crews
I finally found what I need
Now bring’em back to me

Night sky approaches on the horizon
Fading underneath the hill
You hear the footsteps and they’re coming
I don’t wanna die, I’d much rather hide

Be gone and then appear to you
I’m sending out the search crews
I finally found what I need
Now bring’em back to me

Download “Night Sky” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 63: Song “Somebody” (Depeche Mode Cover in the Style of Blake Shelton)

This week’s episode is kind of a unique project. Someone approached me about recording a cover of a Depeche Mode song for him to sing at his wedding. The song is called Somebody and here’s the video.

The twist is that he wanted it recorded in the style of the country artist, Blake Shelton. As a reference, he sent me a link to the song “Mine Would Be You” so I could hear more specifically what he had in mind.

Before this project, I had never heard any of Black Shelton’s music. I tried to copy the style of drumming and guitar playing from the reference track and I think I landed somewhere in the ballpark. As I mentioned, he’s planning on singing this song at his wedding with this recording as a backing track so there won’t be any vocals in his version but he had me record a version with myself singing so that he could practice along to it.

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Ep. 62: Song “Lounging Around” (Influenced by Bossa Nova Music)

This song was written several years ago during my college days. At the time, I thought it would be fun to create a song in a Bossa Nova style. Probably the most famous song in this style is The Girl From Ipanema, which was made popular in 1964 by Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz.

Over the years, the song has a developed a reputation for being sort of the default for cheesy elevator music. So I decieded to give myself a little liberty and try some ideas in the mix that are sort of considered cheesy.

First, I started with my old keyboard on the “bossa nova beat” setting. Super cheesy. The sound of the drum machine by itself was lacking so I added some real percussion to fill out the sound and give it a little groove: a wood scrapper block, some maracas and a jembe.

To fit the jazzy, bossa nova sound, the guitar tone is much warmer and bassy then I normally would play.

Next, I added a cheesy organ sound to tie it back to the elevator music sound.

The ending has a series of “ohs” for the harmonies. With each time the phrase a repeated, a new layer of harmonies is added so that by the end there are 10 voices singing.

This song was a lot of fun to put together. It’s a style I’d never really done before so it was an interesting challenge to try something new.

I can’t celebrate when I know that your heart aches,
But we can turn it around,
I know that it’s late but there’s no time to debate,
Cause every minute counts.

Thinking of you like I do every year,
Just lounging around wishing that you were near,
So many obstacles stand in our way,
Just wishing that you would stay.

The promise that we made I am never gonna break,
When you are out of town,
I’m picturing a scene staring you right next to me,
And we are lounging around.

Thinking of you like I do every year,
Just lounging around wishing that you were near,
So many obstacles stand in our way,
Just wishing that you would stay.

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Ep. 61: Guest Camille Nelson (Fingerstyle Acoustic Guitarist)

For this episode, I’m joined by a special guest, acoustic guitarist and violinist Camille Nelson. We talked about how she got started making music and she shares some of the stories behind the songs on her new album, Lead Me Home. She also performs three tunes: Nearer My God To Thee, Patterns of Light, and Silent Night.

Check out her video for “Be Thou My Vision,” her collaboration with Alex Sharpe which we discussed during this episode.

For more on Camille, visit camillenelson.com

camille nelson and jake haws small

Ep. 60: Christmas Song – Little Drummer Boy

When my wife and I first married, we started a tradition of recording Christmas songs every year. Sometimes it’s just one song and other years, we’ve recorded as many as five. We’ve kept it up for 11 years now, totaling 24 songs. This year, we recorded “Little Drummer Boy.” I sang lead vocals, played acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin, tamborine, and cajon. My wife, Melissa sang harmony vocals. Our three kids joined in and played cajon and sang backing vocals. It was a fun song to put together. I hope you enjoy it and have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Our Christmas Songs on Soundcloud

Ep. 59: Favorite Music of 2017 – Top Ten Albums

I’m back from taking a little bit of a break from the podcast. These last few months, I was in the thick of building our new house. We were doing a lot of the work ourselves and trying to get everything done so I was just too busy to record any episodes. But it’s now finished! We’re all moved in and I have my home studio setup again, which is where I’m recording this. I still need to do some acoustic treatment on the walls but here’s where it’s at so far:

jake haws studio

Here’s my favorite music that came out this year. There were a lot of albums I really liked but I’ve narrowed it down to top ten.

10. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Jason IsbellJason is known being a member of The Drive-By Truckers but he’s released several solo albums over the years. This is his sixth and this time, he’s recorded with his backing band, The 400 Unit. He’s got a very pleasant sound that falls somewhere between alt-country and maybe more traditional americana (somewhere along the lines of Ryan Adams). The songwriting is top-notch. It’s a great album. Essential Songs: Last Of My Kind, Tupelo, Molotov

Stream: Spotify

9. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

spoon hot thoughtsThis is their ninth album and they still manage to keep it interesting. This is one of the more experimental releases they’ve done. There are a lot of interesting sounds like distorted drums, vibraphones and synthesizers. It’s even a bit messy but I think works for what they are going for. There are song great, catchy tunes on here. Essential Songs: Do I Have To Talk You Into It, Hot Thoughts, Pink Up

Stream: Spotify

8. Morning Teleportation – Salivating for Symbiosis

R-10654833-1501776806-2976.jpegThis is a pysdeclic rock band from Kentucky, which are signed to Glacial Pace Recordings, a label owned and operated by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. This is their second album and they have come up with an adventurous batch of tunes. The arrangements are pretty complex; there’s a lot of guitar noodling recalling minus the bear and also brass hits and other interesting sounds. Despite the complexities, the melodies on several of the songs are great and stand on their own. Essential Songs: The Code, Rise and Fall, Calm Is Intention Devouring It’s Fraility

Stream: Spotify

7. Iron & Wine – Beast Epic

Iron_&_Wine_-_Beast_EpicSam Beam (AKA Iron & Wine) is back. This is his sixth Iron & Wine album (although he’s recorded several EPs and collaborative recordings with other artist). Over the years, his music went from being very sparse and whispery to increasingly complex, incorporating more and more instruments. For this record, he’s stripped it back down to a sound similar to his second album, Our Endless Numbered Days and maybe with more of an Americana twist. The songwriting is strong and it’s a great, relaxing album to listen to. Essential Songs: Call It Dreaming, Claim Your Ghost, Summer Clouds

Stream: Spotify

6. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

LCD_Soundsystem_-_American_DreamAfter calling it quits in 2011, James Murphy and company are back and sound as fresh as ever. He continues to do what he does best, which is finding inspiration from retro synth and rock sounds and putting his own modern spin on it. His songwriting is top notch and holds up with the best of any of his other records. Essential Songs: Oh Baby, I Used To, Call The Police

Stream: Spotify

5. Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

This_Old_Dog_Mac_Demarco_coverOn his third album, Mac continues with the chilled out vibe he’s created on previous recordings but he’s gotten tighter with his songwriting and approach. He’s also added a few new elements like an occasional drum machine and some minimal synthesizer. It’s a great, consistent batch of songs. Essential Songs: For The First Time, My Old Man, This Old Dog

Stream: Spotify

4. Ásgeir – Afterglow

afterglow-webOne of my friends showed this artist to me. He’s from Iceland and this is his second album. He’s got a great voice and I love the atmospheric production. He reminds me a little bit of Bon Iver and James Blake, especially on this album. Essential Songs: Afterglow, Unbound, Stardust

Stream: Spotify

3. Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last

togetheratlast_jefftweedyThis album comes from the lead singer of Wilco. Now, he’s put out a solo album and done other side projects before but this one is a little different. This release is very stripped down, solo acoustic recordings of songs spanning his entire career so there’s not actually any new songs here. It’s the first of a series called the “Loft Acoustic Sessions” and recalls the same sort of sound and feeling from his solo live shows. It’s a nice, pleasant relaxing listen and proves that his songwriting really stands on it’s own without the full band productions. Essential Songs: Laminated Cat, I’m Always in Love, Muzzle of Bees

Stream: Spotify

2. Dan Auerback – Waiting on a Song

220px-Dan_Auerbach_Waiting_on_a_SongThis is the second solo album from the lead singer of the Black Keys. He trades in their trademark lofi, gritty blues rock sound for a mix of sounds inspired from 70s soul and breezy folk rock. He’s at the top of his songwriting game here, especially compared to the slow, psychedelic haze of the last Black Keys records. The songs are upbeat, catchy and joyful. He even produces the recording himself, which is all the more impressive. Essential Songs: Waiting on a Song, Shine on Me, Never in My Wildest Dreams

Stream: Spotify

1. Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion

220px-Dr.DogAbandonedMansionI got into Dr. Dog back when their classic album Fate came out in 2008. They’ve recorded several albums since then but this is the first one where I feel like the songwriting is back at the top of their game from stated to finish. On this album, they downplay their 60s psychedelic and classic rock influences and go for a more stripped down, straightforward folk rock approach will still retaining their warmth and humor. I keep returning to this album over and over because the songs are so relaxing and comforting to listen to. Essential Songs: Ladada, Jim Song, Could’ve Happened To Me

Stream: Spotify

Spotify Playlist of 25 Favorite Albums of 2016

Favorite Songs of 2017

Spotify Playlist of Favorite Songs of 2017

Ep. 58: Song “The Showdown” (Influenced by Tapes ‘n Tapes)

For this week’s episode, I’m sharing a song I wrote and recorded several years ago called “The Showdown”

The creation of this piece of music was originally inspired by the song “Insistor” by the band Tapes ‘n Tapes. When I first heard it, it was real different from what was happening with indie rock at the time. The sound borrowed from Johnny Cash and the rockabilly tradition but with kind of a darker twist. It was a little heavy but not quite punk. I liked the rolling beat, and off-kilter strumming and the type of story telling they used. All these elements played into the creation of my song.

I wrote the music and lyrics to my song around 2007. It’s fictional story about a kidnapping set in the desert. I tried something a little different this time by having a shifting point of view but mostly from the first person perspective. The first verse is the kidnapper leaving instructions to drop off ransom money.

Waiting at the truckstop of an old abandoned town
You better have the money when we get there
Leave it in a suitcase set it just behind a garage can
And walk away and never look back
Don’t you try and test us cuz you’ll push us to the limits
We will end this showdown in a minute
If you wanna see your son alive then follow our directions
And comply with our every request

The second verse if a conversation between the kidnappers and the hostage, who begs to be let go.

Left me on the street for nearly half a dozen weeks
It shows that this ain’t working something’s changing
You can keep your fingers crossed the county police have never lost
The sheriff’s gonna crack the case and
All the way to stateline you’ll be begging for you life
Unless we get the ransom from your father
If you let me go than I will make it worth your while
You can negotiate a higher price

The chorus is from the Sheriff’s perspective trying to convince the kidnapper to give up.

Hey, you know that this ain’t worth your time now
Hey, we’re gonna catch you any day now
Hey, you know that this ain’t worth your time now
Hey Hey

The third verse shifts between the mother, sheriff and hostage, where things are kind of at a standstill and the sheriff and his men are have their guns drawn, ready to fire at any moment.

Mother’s on the phone says if you got it in your soul than you will
Let my son walk free tonight but
Keep your pistols drawn because we’re gonna call his bluff
I got the suspect in my line of site
They’ve got the kid in ropes I think they’re gonna break his bones
Unless we get the ransom from your father
It’s kinda hard to talk when you got a pistol down your throat
And any minute they could set the trigger off

I decided to leave the ending unresolved so we never find out whether the hostage is set free or not. I think having that sort of uncertainly adds to the tension, which is what the song is about.

I recorded the song about a year later with my band, Declaration. For the instruments, we used electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and organ. Here’s a clip of the original version, which was also featured in the film Scout Camp.

Not long after the release of this recording, two members of the band graduated college and moved away. The drummer, Dan Smock, and I started a new band with the intention of going for a more folk rock/alt-country kind of sound. We called ourselves Adding Machines. Most of the songs we played were new songs but The Showdown is a tune that we carried over from playing in Declaration.

We decided we would re-record it but this time with a different approach. We started with acoustic guitar and bass. We got a friend of ours, Matt Weidauer to play the mandolin part. He later joined the band as a permanent member and I continue to perform with him in my Beatles cover duo, The Fab Folk.

Next, we recruited a violin player who used to perform at Muse Music named Mike Wong to play the fiddle part. He played an electric violin, which I thought was kind of cool. Pretty much the whole thing was improvised. I remember the first take he played was too busy. I asked him to played it again but more simplified. He ended up over-compensating and it was too simple. So for the third take, I told him to split the difference and it ended up perfect so that what we used in the recording.

For the percussion, we used a suitcase as the kick drum and various pots and pans and random objects we had in the cafe for the extra rhythm parts. We also layered several handclaps to go along with the percussion. Last, we added several layers of group vocals on the chorus to really give it a hoe down type of feel.

I’m pretty happy with the overall results. I think we landed somewhere between bluegrass and gypsy music and it has a really good energy to it. It’s very different from anything else I’ve recorded to that point or even since. Here’s the final mix.

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Ep. 57: Bleachers “Don’t Take The Money” (Folk Rock Remix)

For this episode, I remixed a track by Bleachers called “Don’t Take The Money.” Bleachers is the project of Jack Antonoff. He is also a member of the band Fun and has written songs for some pretty big names in pop music including Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Carly Rae Jepsen. His new album, “Gone Now” came out earlier this year. Here’s what his original song sounds like.

The remix I did was for a contest put on by indabamusic.com. I was given 13 isolated tracks from the original recordings. The rules were that I had to use at least part of the vocal tracks and I couldn’t incorporate samples from other songs for copyright reasons.

I began by trying to program a new beat using a drum machine application in Pro Tools but I wan’t satisfied with anything I was coming up with. Typically most remixes are electronic but I decided it was better to play to my strengths and take it different direction by going with a folk rock sound. I ended up keeping the keyboard track and 4 vocals tracks I was given and adding 2 acoustic guitar tracks, 3 electric guitar tracks, bass, organ, 3 cajon tracks, tambourine, and handclaps.

I’m pretty happy with the results. I think the existing vocals fit surprisingly well with the sound and the new instruments keep the song upbeat and high energy.

Vote for my remix on Indaba Music

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