Ep. 87: Song “The Last Waltz” (Influenced by Arcade Fire)

For this week’s episode, I break apart a song called, “The Last Waltz,” which was released last December on my album, Good Grief, and influenced by Arcade Fire.

I started writing this song back in 2013. This is one of the few song I’ve written in a 6/8 waltz time.

I was inspired by the Arcade Fire song, “Crown of Love” from their album Funeral. It’s also in waltz time and there’s strings and a sort of doo-wap piano so I was really going for something with a similar sound.

I start recording the song on September of 2015 and the arrangement kind morphed as I worked on the song off and on for a couple more years. I went back and counted and there’s actually 49 tracks of instruments on this song.

Instruments include drums, bass, 9 guitar tracks (3 of which are played with an ebow), tambourine, sleigh bells, piano, and organ.

The final touch is the strings. I had the part in my head from the begging but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off. I first started with trying to do midi strings but it just didn’t sound right. I had actually played violin growing up in middle school and stuck with it through high school but even so, my violin skills aren’t the best. But I knew how I wanted it to sound so I dusted off my old violin I hadn’t played in years and give a shot.

Luckily the parts aren’t all the complex to play, even though there’s lots of layers. At some points, there are 7 different parts playing all the notes of the chords, along with some melodies. But each part is actually played three times and stacked up so you really hear about 21 violins playing together, so it gives the illusion of sounding a like a full orchestra and I should also add that I shifted the pitch of some of the violin parts down to sound like a cello.

The lyrics of this song are written about a former classmate of mine who committed suicide. The perspective kind of shifts so it’s a little confusing to follow but the first verse is an imaginary conversation of talking to the grief stricken parents about what happened. The second verse is kind of like imagining going back in time and having a conversation with the person before they commit suicide. Kind of the conversation I wish I could have had. And the final version is them expressing how they feel. So the whole song is basically looking back at what happened and understanding what I maybe could have done to show more empathy and be the available to help.

The title is borrowed from The Band’s concert film of their final live performance called, “The Last Waltz.” I felt it was fitting.

I’m super proud of this song. I’m happy I was able to pull out all these ideas I had in my head and create something meaningful out of it.

One of the things I’ve found in life is that we’re all going through something. And it helps if we can talk to each other and be there to listen. So, if you need someone talk to, reach out to me through social media and I’d be more than happy to have a conversation.

Lyrics:

I read in the papers about the sad news of your son, my condolences
The world lost a great soul and now all the rumors you heard have been put to rest
He struggled to find a good reason to keep moving on in this broken world
The future looked bright but somehow he lost sight of the goal, least that’s what I heard

It’s one, two, three steps away and he’s back again
I keep lying awake up all night again
Up all night again.

Everyone told him you’re gonna get through this somehow, they’ll be brighter skies
And all of the voices that went on inside of his head told him otherwise
Now I can’t describe what you’re feeling inside but I know they’ll be better days
There’s nothing exciting so it’s no surprise that I keep these thoughts out of play

It’s one, two, three steps away and you’re back again
I keep feeling the weight of the world again
All the weight pulls down again

It’s been a while since I’ve really been true with myself or with anyone
I struggled to find a good reason to keep moving on, so does everyone
And it goes on and on and on

It’s one, two, three steps away and I’m back again
I am feeling this more I ever have
But it’s more than I can do or you can say


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Ep. 86: Song “Make It Up To You” (Influenced by Wilco)

In this episode, I break apart a song called “Make It Up to You,” from my album Good Grief, which came out last December.

This one’s a piano ballad influenced by the Wilco song, Reservations. I love how murky and disjointed everything sounds so I tried to bring some of that atmosphere into my song.

I had the basic idea for the song kicking around for a few years but wrote most of the lyrics and finished the song a couple months before the album was released, on a weekend when my wife and kids were out of town. We didn’t have a fight or anything but I wrote the song from the perspective of someone who had been in a fight and was waiting in their empty house for their loved one to come home.

The instrumentation is fairly sparse so there’s not a lot to break apart. Besides the piano, vocal and bass, there are 4 guitar tracks in the background, which come in towards the end of the song. Three of them are played with an ebow and the other is played in a tremolo style with a delay pedal. I tried adding drums and some other things but I felt like the song stood better on it’s own with a sparser arrangement. Sometimes less is more.

Lyrics:

I was just guessing what you’re thinking
But I know I’m often wrong
My good intentions fall to pieces
When I’m wandering down that road

I need you here with me
Like you promised you would be
And as far as I can see
You’ll get through and I will
Make it up to you
I can make it up to you

Walking in circles I’m pretending
That these empty walls can talk
I keep on waiting for the moment
When I finally hear you knock

I need you here with me
Like you promised you would be
And as far as I can see
You’ll get through and I will
Make it up to you
I can make it up to you

I need you here with me
Like you promised you would be
And as far as I can see
You’ll get through and I will
Make it up to you
I can make it up to you
I can make it up to you
I can make it up to you

Download “Make It Up to You” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 85: Song “Only In Your Head” (Spacey Piano Rock)

This episode, I break apart a spacey piano rock song called “Only In Your Head,” which is from my recently released album, “Good Grief.” Influenced by The Walkmen and Radiohead.

The song began in 2014 as a little piano piece I was noodling around with. It’s really just three chords, two of which are Major 7 chords, which have kind of jazzy quality to them. The rhythm is also syncopated, meaning many of the notes fall on the off-beat. I recorded a lofi demo on my phone back in 2014.

A week later, I had a night where I had a hard time falling asleep, so I went down into the music room, probably around midnight and worked out another demo, this time with more of an electronica approach. There’s drum machines, a bass with distortion, tambourine, and lots of synths sounds, some of which came from an ipad. I gave it the working title of “works for me.” Here’s what that demo sounds like.

About year later (in 2015), I started putting together the songs for my album and I began to have a different idea in my head of what this song could sound like. I decided to lay down some drums and give it more of rock approach. That drums I recorded (along with a very rough scratch vocal and keyboard part) actually sat untouched for almost 3 years, as I got busy working on other songs and doing the other things I had going on in my day to day life.

In July of 2018, I got a little more serious about finishing the album up and got back to work on the song. I took that drum part I recorded and filled out the core parts to the song, which are the main piano part recorded on our upright piano, bass and some tamborine. To give it a little variety, I played the first part of the piano with just holding out the chords for two bars.

So, I was liking this direction but felt like more could be done to make the piano part more interesting. Maybe even a classical type of influence. So, I started playing the same two chords as the main piano part but at different octaves so each beat, I was kind of hitting a different part of piano with the same chord. Then, to give it sort of a spacey sound, I added a delay, echo effects along with some extra kind tickley sounding embellishments on the high part of the piano.

To give it even more texture, I layered a tremolo style clean guitar with an echoey delay effect to give it kind of a spacey sound. I kept that same sound going in the chorus, but with distortion added to it for more of a bite, as well as a second guitar playing the chords with distortion.

As if I didn’t have enough layers already, I added some synth parts to fill it out some more. First, there’s a harmonium, which is really kind of a carnival instruments. It supposed to sound something like an organ meets an accordion.

Then next, a synth with a sort futuristic sound.

For the ending, I had another idea for the piano. I took the chord and did what’s called arpeggiating, meaning I played each note of the chord one by one. I came up with the simple part that loops over and over and the same part on top of that but an octave higher.

Then I added a track of synthesizer which is set to play each note of the chord at random, given it a really spacey, sort of unpredictable sound.

There’s only one vocal track with no harmonies.

The lyrics are written from the perspective of someone wrestling with reality and with the what’s being told to us by the media in all it’s different forms. I tried to reflect some of that chaos with the denseness of the arrangement.

Here’s final mix of the song (download it for free):

Lyrics:
I know I’m dreaming but nobody’s sleeping this early in the morning
Public relations and my expectations are spinning round my head again
Your own existence don’t give you permission, your time is up, you’re out of here
The baggage we claim is the thing that remains there’s no way for us to fix this mess

I can’t believe what you’re telling to me
Yeah, it’s only in your head
I can’t agree, what you’re asking of me
Yeah, it’s only in your head

Fooling yourself with the cards you’ve been dealt you can only take it so long
This information and my situation are spinning round my head again
A matter of weeks they’ll be playing for keeps and they’re counting up the votes
It’s too close to call and I’m telling you all that it doesn’t matter anyways

I can’t believe what you’re telling to me
Yeah, it’s only in your head
I can’t agree, what you’re asking of me
Yeah, it’s only in your head

I can’t believe what you’re telling to me
Yeah, it’s only in your head
I can’t agree, what you’re selling to me
Yeah, it’s only in your head

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Ep. 74: Brother Chunky – Interview and Song Challenge “Ode To Nashville”

This episode, I’m joined by local blues legend, Brother Chunky. He plays a few tunes, then we talk about how he got started making music, the ups and downs of playing in a band and recording his new album. After that, we even write a new song together about going to Nashville.

Here’s Brother Chunky’s Chicken Pot Pie video:

For the recording of “Ode To Nashville (You Gotta Strum),” Brother Chunky sang lead vocals and played the guitar parts. I filled things in with percussion, bass and harmonies.

Lyrics:
When you drive down, to that place
You won’t come back, ever the same
Music playing, on the street
Pickin away now, in that heat

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

Head to the Honky Tonk, guitar on my back
I talked to the manager he said, you don’t stand a chance
I got twenty others, ready to play
My advice to you son, you best be on your way

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

I finally got my shot to, get on that stage
I started pickin, and blew them away
People were dancing, and having a ball
They threw their money, at my guitar

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

Brother Chunky Links:

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Ep. 49: Song “Friday Night” (Influenced By Dave Matthews Band)

Today’s episode is a song from my “50 songs in 50 weeks” series.

This is one of my first songs I ever wrote, written back when I was 14. It’s about a time when I went to a school dance and the girl I went with pretty much ignored me the whole time so I was pretty bummed. They said, write what you know, don’t they. Come I was I was 14.

I tried to copy a little bit the style of Dave Matthews Band, particularly the song, “Jimi Thing.”

I decided to just keep the production sparse and just do an acoustic guitar and a single vocal. Honestly, I’m a little embarrass by this one because it’s kind of corny song but I felt like sharing something the represented my early songwriting. Well, here it is.

Lyrics:
Asked a girl to a dance
She said sure, then things were quite alright
I brought her flowers and I dressed up nice
Took my luck and I rolled the dice

We were dancing, weren’t having much fun
She felt sick and her day was done
I got a drink and she went with her friends
Tried my hardest to tie the loose ends

Hey, don’t go away
Hey, don’t go away

Soon it came, the last dance of the night
Suddenly she’s out of sight
I went searching see was lost in the crowd
Should have seen my standing around

Hey, don’t go away
Hey, don’t go away

Now I know she didn’t want to go with me
Now I know she didn’t want it to show but I can see

It’s getting dark it’s time to go
I waited right outside of the door
We talked a little and said so long
I’m glad some came but now she’s gone

Hey, don’t go away
Hey, don’t go away

Download “Friday Night” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 47: Song “Descent Into Madness” (Influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate)

For this week’s episode, I break apart a song from my “50 songs in 50 weeks” series. This one was written back in high school. I originally planned on playing it with my band at the time, Made in the Shade, but it didn’t quite come together when we jammed on it. When I wrote it, I was heavily into the band Sunny Day Real Estate. They came out of Seattle in the 90s and are considered one of the godfathers of emo. They’ve been an influence to hundreds of artists, including myself. Here’s their song, “Pillars” from the 1998 album, “How It Feels To Be Something On.”

I wanted to try to capture the some mood as Pillars. I began this song with just the guitar riff. For the recording, I’ve doubled it up to it’s two guitars playing the same part, just to help it sound a little fuller.Next, it needed a beat. I didn’t have a drum set available so I opted to use drum machine loops from my computer. It almost gives it sort of an industrial quality, which I kinda liked so I went with it.The guitar part and the drum machine and played a bit mechanical so I added some groove with the bass line.

The song needed some more texture to it so I added some ebow parts. If you’ve been listening this podcast, you’ve probably heard me talk about the ebow, which I used a lot during this era. Basically, it’s a little device which you hold up to your guitar and it makes the strings vibrate without actually touching it and sounds a little bit like a cello. There 4 ebow parts, which played together make up the main chords of the song. It’s purposely played just a little messy because I like the swelling sounds it makes when you get too close to the pickup.

Next came the vocals. The melody lines kind of overlap so there are two tracks for that, plus another track for harmony. I added distortion to the vocals, which make a messy “static” sound during the parts where I am not singing. I liked the direction of the messiness so I look a few of these static moments and ebow parts, looped them in reverse and added some strange sounding effects. I think it gives a real sinister and creepy feel fitting for the song.

I think the whole thing came together in kind of an interesting and unique way. It’s sort of a different sound than my other songs but I like it.

Lyrics:
Hold me down, take away my pain
Let it go, show me your apathy
Washed right through, diseased soul to stay
Empty space, no one understands your place

Hold me down, release my consciousness
Think it out, concentrated thoughts remain
Sending me on my own
You’re sending me on my own

You’re so alive it’s killing me
You’re so alive it’s killing me
So unclear, so afraid
So unclear, and so diseased

Hold me down, take away my misery
Enter now, open doors you await
Sending me on my own
You’re sending me on my own

You’re so alive it’s killing me
You’re so alive it’s killing me
Able minds, Lost at sea
Endless ways, so diseased

Download “Descent Into Madness” on Bandcamp

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