Greetings & Salutations!
So, we ran into a little productivity snag on the Baker’s Dozen project during the second quarter of the year. Between preparations for the 2013 Homecoming Gig (which really was a tremendous blast – if you happened to miss it, here’s what we played and here are some live pics) and real life taking precedence (congrats to Matt and his wife Nicole on the birth of their son!) things slowed down a bit on the recording front.
At the moment, we have two tracks which are mostly completed, and a further three in earlier stages of development. Some re-recorded originals, some covers. We’ve fallen short of our initial goal of releasing a single every month, but we’ll catch up. As long as we deliver thirteen by the end of the year it’s still a win in my book.
The latest addition is Matt’s original demo of “Nowhere To Go,” and we’re going to spend a little time today blogging about it, as well as the Sweet Marie-enhanced version of “Thursdays,” which we released back in March.
THURSDAYS (feat. Marie Estrada)
This one started with a bet. Several years ago, Matt and I fell into conversation about days of the week being used as song titles. In tallying up as many as we could think of, we realized that Thursday was the most neglected when it came to that practice. Not to say there aren’t a ton of songs that utilize it – there clearly are – but compared to Monday, Friday, Saturday, etc it seemed to come up short, and we thought we should help balance the scales. Matt tasked me with writing a set of lyrics, and …I choked. Hard. It just wasn’t coming. I had an idea that I wanted to get across, but no concrete structure to hang it on. We even contemplated sticking the title on a song which didn’t actually feature the day’s name in the lyrics just to have the itch scratched, but ultimately decided that would be cheating. The Clarity album came and went, and the song remained unwritten.
Then, in the Summer of 2007, we cracked it. Writing lyrics is usually a long, meticulous trial and error fest for me – I can count on maybe three fingers the number of times that a song has arrived fully formed – but in this case, all it took was a random reminder of the great Arthur Dent quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “This must be Thursday, I never could get the hang of Thursdays,” and once I decided to incorporate a paraphrasing of that line into the song, it was all I could do to get out of the way as the rest of the lyrics came spilling out. Though we might have tweaked a word or two when it came time to record the vocals, the bulk of what I handed over to Matt was my first draft. It’s a sort of gestalt breakup song – the subject matter a composite of several real life situations – and even though breakup songs came to be a running theme on Green & Grey, it still stands out to me as one of the better ones.
Matt was responsible for the musical end of things, and that came together almost as quickly. The original treatment was a more plaintive, minor-key take which was good but didn’t quite capture the feeling we were after. Then Matt hit upon the idea of giving it a Jeff Lynne quasi-power pop treatment, and things fell into place nicely. There was a lot of back and forth about specific overdubs and arrangement issues as the recording went along, but we knew we had the core of a very cool tune from the start. I love that for as hooky a song as it is, the chord changes are both unusual and plentiful, and the bass line is one of my favorites on Green & Grey. I still have vivid memories woodshedding it while marathoning the second season of LOST.
The lead vocal was a challenge for Matt. Although I think it turned out great in the end, for whatever reason he didn’t feel like he was achieving what he wanted to hear, and didn’t enjoy the process of recording it. When it came time to do the album release party and we wanted to hand off some of extra vocal duties to Marie Estrada, “Thursdays” was near the top of the list. To no one’s surprise, she absolutely killed on it, and has sung it live at every subsequent gig we’ve played with her. Eventually, folks in the audience began asking if we were planning to re-record the song with her voice on it, and when the Baker’s Dozen project started up, it seemed like a no-brainer. We had considered re-recording the song altogether, but in the end we thought her voice sounded good against the original recording, and thought it would be better to put the single out sooner than later. So, here it is!
NOWHERE TO GO (demo)
This song is a great example of what I mean when I say that as far as the creative partnership between Matt and I goes, he married far below his station. A good 95% of the song that ended up on Clarity is represented here: all of it written, played, sung, and produced by Mr Meldrum. No way I could have done something like that entirely on my own. The band took it on gamely and added some extra flavor and texture, but the core of what makes the song work is pretty irrefutably on display here, and Matt himself was never quite as happy with the version that ended up on Clarity as he was with this recording.
It may be the production geek in me, but I enjoy hearing demo versions of songs and comparing with the final versions. It is always interesting to hear what the artist changes (or not). The other interest I have in our original demos, particularly the ones that I fleshed out, is that they tend to capture more of the initial energy of the writing process for me, which is also why I tend to try to adopt as many early takes of parts as possible. Each subsequent attempt at a part may polish it, but it may also polish out the edge and excitement that the earlier takes have.
In the instance of ‘Nowhere’, I always had a soft spot in my heart for the demo, it being one of the first (if not the very first) of mine that I handed over to the band. Apart from the (name that Pink Floyd song!) filler lyrics, the song came together quickly and I was able to capture the energy that I wanted. While the guys (and girl) did a terrific job of fleshing it out more on the Clarity recording (I particularly enjoy the color that the saxophone added), I always felt it took just a slightly different direction from my original intention. Something else that may have added to the mystique of the demo was my inability to recreate the chimey strat guitar tone due to having sold the guitar that it was recorded with. Never sell a guitar. You’ll just end up spending twice as much money trying to recapture the tone. Lesson learned.
I’m also fond of the alchemy brought to the finished song by the presence of the other band members, but I do see his point. Certainly the re-write I did on the lyrics (at Matt’s request) only granted the song a limited amount of favors – I think the choruses were improved a bit, but the verses became weighted down with a lot of extra syntax, and it’s largely thanks to Juli Holt’s sweetly melancholy vocal performance that the final lines come across as naturally musical as Matt’s original lines do here. Ironically, I think my proudest contribution to the song was in persuading Matt *not* to change the repeated “no no no no no” in the first chorus, which he had planned to fill with “real” lyrics later. To me, that sort of discreet quirk just makes a song. But in any case, “Nowhere To Go” arrived more or less fully formed and was one of the first songs we recorded for the Clarity album. Listening back, I’m now realizing that we never did play it live as often as we should have. Perhaps we will remedy that sometime in the near future.
Regarding the subject of the song, it originally started out as a complaint about a certain local Senator based on some comments of his which I felt were ill-informed. The first couple lines of the song stemmed from that, but that topic was abandoned fairly quickly and morphed into yet another tale of self-loathing (sadly a recurring theme for me), this one with some fairly specific references to divorce and my own experience of feeling trapped at the end of my first marriage and not feeling that I could even leave the situation for lack of another place to go (hence the name).
I guess I should make my own editorial note here, considering the fact that I don’t think we’ve ever released a lyric of mine that had a particularly upbeat message. It is not because I live a life devoid of joy. Those just simply aren’t the parts I choose to write about. I always refer back to the old quote “happy people don’t write”, which in my case seems to lead to me only writing on topics that aren’t particularly upbeat. This also explains my decrease in production since getting married and facetiously referring to my wife as “writer’s block”. Luckily, getting older means I can find more and more things about the external environment to complain about, so there is still plenty of lyrical fodder for me out there, just not as much on the relationship front. Here’s to broadening our horizons!
Both “Thursdays” and “Nowhere To Go” can be streamed or downloaded from our Bandcamp site right now, along with the first two songs from our 2013 Baker’s Dozen project (“Atmosphere” and “Head Over Heels”) We’ll be back with more new goodness sooner than later. Thanks for your patience, hope you enjoy the tunes!