Just made a little video of Running Fast from my This Was Tomorrow album using footage from driving on tour and my front yard. Nothing too special, just a few hours in the afternoon to kill....and I certainly killed them without malice or afterthought.
I rarely blog with an intended purpose, because I assume a more stream of conscience approach to them, hence their apparent randomness and sometimes delusional state. This time however, with my new album release eminent on April 22nd, I wanted to talk a bit about the album and the process of it's inception, to the final post coital cigarette stage. *exhale*
It all began when I had a farm in Africa...no wait. Call me Ishmael. No...wait. When I begin an album or write a song, I begin because I have a vision for it. A title...imagery, a movie in my mind. Blank pages daunt me. I feel if I write before I have a direction, I feel like I'm spinning to nowhere. This vision is my compass point where I can at least feel I can start. Perhaps I might change direction, but once I've started, the momentum has begun. Or maybe I'm just tricking myself....hmmm...
I thought about my past work and how for the most part I would avoid writing love songs, or songs pondering love. I initially rationalized not doing them, because there were enough songs about love. True or not, I've come to the conclusion, it's not how many songs there are about a subject, but what I feel I need to explore in myself.
The first song I wrote for this vision was "Hey Now". It came rather quickly and surprising. When I finished it, it was hard to sing. There are only two chords in the whole song and it just builds and builds. The lyrics were uncomfortable for me. I knew I was on the right track if I was feeling that. If nothing bothered me, then I didn't dig enough. "Hey Now" for me was like I was talking to Love itself. Telling it...acknowledging to it the power it wields over me. Very uncomfortable...but really nice to sing now. Now that I've come to terms with it.
Reacting from the heaviness of "Hey Now", I wanted to do something more dreamlike. I keep a journal with titles, nothing but titles I like. I saw one..named after a vintage shirt I bought in a little shop in Santa Monica...it looked like a "Green Lollipop Forest". This title while very interesting to me, was a problem because...what the hell is a Green Lollipop Forest song gonna be about? *laughing* Then I thought about it and came to the idea of myself simply watching my lover dream while she dreamt of being in a green lollipop forest. Whew! That will work! Recording it was difficult because of all the very high falsetto harmonies in it. Being a baritone singer...choir boy harmonies can be ummm...hard. My testicle vice was in heavy use that day. The solo in the instrumental part of the song, I had originally wanted a flute. A real 60's sounding flute part. While waiting to find a flautist I whistled the idea and I had so much fun whistling it, I kept it. It reminded me of my father and I watching spaghetti westerns and all those Ennio Morricone soundtracks I love so much. So it stayed.
"Just a Dream" was actually the very first song I wrote when I began singing. I was 23 years old. It was originally was titled "Confessions of a Thief" and never recorded. It was kinda country sounding in waltz time. 20 years later I had some different ideas for it. Getting rid of the country thing...changing it 4/4 time...there was no real chorus...and "confessions of thief" was just too heavy for itself. I wanted to make it lighter...to make it fly up...adding slide electric helped that a bit. Anyway...it is MUCH better than my original version. I was really happy to finally have it on an album of mine. It took 15 albums for that sucker to make it!
At this point I was at a standstill with my album. Uninspired. Drudgery. I was fortunate to go on tour with Steve Poltz to recharge my battery, to soak up my sponge that was dry. During the tour I befriended via Facebook and guitar luthier Art Davis. We geeked out about guitars as geeks do. When I got back to San Diego, I went to his work shop. He made beautiful guitars. I played a few. Then I picked up this one and I went "Whoa! What's this?!" It was a weird, alien, yet from my planet...my alien planet. Art said it was a baritone acoustic guitar. Baritone?! I'm a baritone! Holy shit! I don't have to sing UP! I can sing and let it rest and nestle right into it. Wow! Inspiration! So I wisely spent all my tour money on it. Yep...all. It hurt so good.
I took it home and songs started pouring out. "Picasso" and "Tilt-A-Whirl". They have always been linked together so I kept them together. I began using open tunings, which I've never done except when playing slide...I came up with an open C tuning... C-G-C-F-C-E. With a baritone acoustic, since it's so much lower than a traditional guitar this tuning is a breeze to tune to. "Running Fast" came after a night on the couch trying to relearn this new tuning while watching "The Last Picture Show"...there's this scene with Sam "The Lion" (Ben Johnson) reminiscing about swimming naked with a girl. Fucking amazing scene. It stirred me. The recording took a while. The downside of doing everything yourself. The bridge was not happening...it didn't build like I had envisioned it. I must've redone that bridge 15 times until I got it right. It's just drums (from my amazing friend Matt Lynott), guitar, and vocals. That's it. Having a baritone guitar, you don't miss the bass as much as a traditional acoustic guitar. The drums were difficult too...Matt had to play against my track with no click as a guide and it wasn't matching up. It didn't sound flowing. So we do what we always do when we come to an impasse. We go to the movies. We went out and saw "Machete". Wow. You know it's a good movie when one of the first scenes has a naked woman pull a cell phone out of her vagina. A high adventure we had! We came back, and on the very first take he nailed it. Wham! Matt...you fucking rock.
When truly inspired, lyrics aren't hard to come by. I was a lightning rod and the words were the lightning. Not hard to come by, but still hard to sing. I was really trying to touch on the parts of me I rarely let get touched. It's easy to grab your cock, but so much harder to grab those vulnerabilities...real nakedness. Ummm...can't we just do a head shot? Or...even better...not use my head either and use someone else entirely? *laughing*
"This Was Tomorrow" was initially just an little instrumental. Then Matt had to go and put a real nice drum part on it and we looked at each other and said...oops...now I HAVE to write some lyrics on this song! Damn...all these songs have a price. It costs to make. I was getting empty and exhausted. I thought about my timeline...my life...things I thought about being a kid...what was love then? What is love now? Has it changed really? Do I just have more words and excuses for love now? Am I full of shit? What would my 8 year old self have to say? What does my 44 year old self say now?
One of the things about rules is that they must be disobeyed every once in a while to give them more meaning, to keep them strong. I never have lyrics written before I have the vision. But by chance I had written a little doo-dad and posted it on Facebook. It was a while ago. A FB friend asked what about that song lyric I posted? When do they get to hear it? Oh...yea...I forgot about it. I pulled out the lyrics and matched it with a strub-ba-dub chord thingy I came up with, being high on a magic cookie. Presto Chango! "Walking Snow White". I didn't think it would work for the album. It was my least favorite of the songs...but the energy was needed. Lust. Lust was needed. You can't have a love album without lust. So...weakest song or not I kept it. Sometimes the arc of the album as a whole is more important than just the individual songs. Of course this is an old idea now-a-days. Fuck it, it's how I like it. I like it that. *grin*
One morning I woke up. Most mornings I wake thankful. Grateful for my life. I sleepily and instinctively picked up my guitar and wrote a thank you song, "You Held Me". A thank you for Love. I don't want to sound all sappy and shit but I cried that first time I sang it. Not because it's a great song, but because I meant it. This is why I did this album. I fucking meant it.