Jan 30, 2009

New Tune, In spite of Stanley Steamer

As I promised (I like living up to my promises), I posted a "brand new" song today. You'll find out why the quotation marks are necessary later. The tune is called "Only Apart". (I know you're anxious. ;-) Listen to it in the player in the top right of the page.)

It's safe to say that this song has been a-round. These words first appeared in my original black Moleskine and were dated 4/20/05:

We're only apart/Not broken or torn/I'm only away/Not gone not far

They sat there, all by their lonesome (their only friend a catchy guitar riff that I couldn't stop playing) for who knows how long. The rest of the page was a myriad of crossed out words and phrases that came much later, just before the song reappeared in black book #2, which was dated 7/10/07. This entry came after the unsuccessful attempt to make the song a part of Now Transmission's repertoire, only months before we split. Good friend and guitarist Ray and I hashed out many different lines for the non-existent verses and chorus and the one thing that really stuck was Ray's line "blow me away".

That line became the creative starting point for all of the chorus lead ins for the whole song. As for the rest, it wasn't until 5 days ago that the song finally saw it's final, written down form. Stuck together from random phrases and ideas that lingered between the multiple versions, as well as some new ideas that I had been waiting to pop into my head for 4 years.

But once the song finally existed as a complete tune, the issue was recording. That's where Stanley Steamer comes in.

I decided that Friday the 30th was going to be the day I sat down and finally recorded the song. I'd been procrastinating for 2 weeks. Actually, it had been since I wrote the message "New Year, New Goals, New Tunes?" So Friday morning I said the hell with any work I should be doing, chilled out with the Wii for a half hour or so and then sat down with Siggy and started recording.

I planned on doing it in pieces. So I got the first chunk done. Then all of a sudden I hear this low, drone in my headphones. I have nice Bose headphones that block out most sound, but this one cut through like a knife. I ripped the headphones off, ran to my bedroom and looked out the window to see a bright yellow Stanley Steamer van parked across the street. If you've ever heard one, those mothers are loud when they are doing their deed.

Honestly, I was pissed. There's no sugar coating it. I had procrastinated so long only to have to wait at least another hour before I could get going again. I don't exactly have a fancy, sound proofed recording studio with all that expensive equipment. This room is my office and I record using the internal mic from my girlfriends iMac G5 and GarageBand. Not exactly high tech and it comes through in the final product, but I deal with what I have. Needless to say, the mic picks up everything, including everything that I don't want it to, whether it be the heat kicking on, the dog snoring, or the annoying drone of the Stanley Steamer van across the street.

So I fired up the Wii again and rocked some drums with Guitar Hero to settle myself down a little. Once Stanley left, everything else fell into place; section after section, layer after layer (I love layers!). I got on a roll and laid it all down within the next 3 hours, minus any drums of course, something I'd love but I don't currently have that skill. (A couple more months of Guitar Hero and I'll be set.) The recording isn't perfect and being the perfectionist that I always consider myself, it's hard to call it done, but if that were the case I'd never finish a song and that's no fun at all. That way I could never share!

So that's the creation of "Only Apart" in a nutshell. A very tiny nutshell. So make me happy and listen to the song already. Let me know what you think. Rock on to the next!

Jan 26, 2009

"This song is about..." Hold on , shut up!

As a fledging lyricist, I know that behind every lyric I write there is a special meaning. Whether the lyric deals with world hunger, American obesity, love, or heartbreak. That's the point of writing a song, conveying a meaning behind a specific thought, or maybe just trying to tell a story and doing it in a creative way. No matter how important or trivial the thought behind my lyric is, that thought can be interpreted in many different ways by the end listener.

For me, self-interpretation of song lyrics is one of the most interesting aspects of listening to other people's music. I get to put myself behind the words and in the shoes of the writer, imagining myself in countless situations that I've never encountered or reminding myself of all the hard or great times I've had throughout my life.

When I'm on the writing side, that special meaning is something that I usually like to keep to myself. I like leaving it open for people to make an interpretation of what I was trying to convey without having their ideas destroyed by another meaning, though important to me, but completely different from what might have been imagined by them.

For the most part, I like to let my songs speak for themselves. If I really need to sit there and explain the song in complete detail, did I really do my job? Probably not. If a person can't find a single thing that they can use from their experience to relate the song to themselves or something they feel strongly about, in my mind I failed.

I know not all artists are going to have the view point that is close to mine. I know their are a lot of songwriters out there that will tell you what the song is all about every time they play it. To them, it seems like it's just as important for them to explain what the song is about then for them to perform it.

But to be honest, 90% of the time I just don't want to hear it. If I wanted to hear the details of what a song was about I'd watch VH1's Storytellers or I'd seriously listen to the song and get the meaning that's important to me. When I'm standing there at a show and a lead singer insists on reading the novel that's he has carefully crafted to explain the meaning behind each song I just want to yell, "Shut up! Play the song already!"

There's nothing worse than falling in love with a song because of the personal meaning that is has for me and having it tainted by knowing that it's about the writer's love of pork. After that, that's all I can think about when I hear the words that before tugged the strings of my heart and had me floating in some dreamland that I couldn't quite capture on my own. It may not ruin the song, but it will forever be different in my mind.

I think I'm being picky. Way too picky. Or irrational. Whatever the word is, it sounds kind of stupid as I read back and think of my reasoning but it's just one of those things that's always bugged me and probably always will. It's also why you'll rarely get an explanation of what one of my songs is all about. There's the rare exception like my post "In The Mood For A Climate Change" back in November '08. But if you expect me to divulge, be ready to let me know what you think the song is about first or my lips are sealed, my friend.

Jan 22, 2009

The Roll-Off-Your-Tongue Factor

What makes a song a good song? Is it the lyrics, the music, the hook(s), or the feel? Or is it a good song because it's by your favorite artist, you can sing along, or it's structured well?

I guess there really is no one reason why a song is a good song. There are many factors that can weigh in but when it comes down to it, don't you like most songs simply because you like them? You can't describe why you like it, you just can't help but listen to it over and over again.

Besides that, there is one factor that I like to include into the mix that you might not even think about. It's the roll-off-the-tongue factor. What is that? Simply stated, it how the words of a song just seem to make your tongue do a happy dance when you sing along. Even before you truly know the words, you can feel your tongue doing the samba in your mouth in perfect fluid motion worthy of a spot on Dancing With The Stars.

I discovered the roll-off-your-tongue factor when my girlfriend and I were driving from Maine to Kansas in June of 2008. It was about a 1,500 drive which ended up being a 3-day trip, and since we both had a car we were stuck driving alone. There was a lot of music blasting and belting along in those 3 days.

A couple of months earlier I had purchased the new solo album from my fave band Our Lady Peace's lead man, Raine Maida called A Hunter's Lullaby. At the time I was really digging the track, "Yellow Brick Road". Oddly enough, it kinda fit our situation as we were moving to Kansas, home of Dorothy, Toto, and twisters that use houses to attack witches.

I must have listened to that track at least 30 times on that trip. (That and "King" by Weezer.) Each time I sang along I couldn't help but concentrate on what my tongue was doing. (While I was concentrating on the road of course.) I mean, how often do you really think about your tongue? It does so many things on a daily basis without you even thinking about it. It really blows your mind if you think about everything it does while you're sitting at the computer, eating a Nutty Bar, or singing.

"Yellow Brick Road" was the song that made my tongue dance a cha-cha inside my mouth everytime the track blasted out the speakers of my Corolla. Aside from the great lyrics, music, and outstanding performance by one of my favorite artists out there, for me, it's that dance that my tongue does every time I sing along that makes the song so great.

Take a listen to the song in the video below. It's set to footage from our drive from Maine to Kansas as taken by our cell phone cameras. Not the greatest quality, but I think we did a darn fine job if I do say so myself.

"Yellow Brick Road" by Raine Maida courtesy of Nettwerk Records 2007.

Jan 19, 2009

The Peanut Butter Cup Analogy

We've already discussed my obsession with peanut butter in regards to Nutty Bars in my earlier post, "The Rock Star Rider". Following a very close second to the Nutty Bar would be the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. The delicious combo of creamy peanut butter and chocolate is truly a gift from the Gods. Even my favorite shirt is a bright orange, retro Reese's shirt.

So, you're probably thinking, "what does that have to do with songwriting?" Actually, it has quite a bit to do with songwriting when you consider the killer analogy I'm about to drop in your lap. More than anything this analogy is probably more of a chance to show off my homemade peanut butter cups that are currently rocking my world. (Check out the recipe here, so good. Saw it on the Food Network a while ago and couldn't resist.)

In this mind blowing analogy (this is sarcasm rich, try to keep up) I'm using my homemade peanut butter cups to represent a song. A rich chocolaty, peanut buttery song if you will. Like a song, the peanut butter cup is made of multiple layers, without one of those layers the whole thing just wouldn't work.

We'll start with the idea. This is the whole concept behind what the song is going to be about and be based upon to keep it cohesive from the first note to the last. This will be represented by the paper muffin cup that holds my delicious confection. It's cut to size, specifically catered to hold the form. Without the cup, there can be no cup; without the idea, there can be no song.

Next comes the chocolate which will represent the verses. That first line and whole first verse is the first impression as that top layer of chocolate. Along with that thin layer of chocolate that has taken on that rippled muffin cup shape, spooned in to fit the idea as smoothly as possible, they sandwich the peanut butter filling, which you guessed it, represents the chorus. That melodic hook that is oh so memorable and has you coming back for more. Without the chorus where would the song be; without that peanut butter, the cup would be just that, an empty chocolate cup.

Now since my analogy is kind of falling apart here I'm going to have to improvise when it comes to the bridge. The part of the bridge will be played by the ever so important glass of milk. That glass of milk wraps everything up together and adds something new, bringing things together and cleansing the palate for that next bite, or that next climactic rise of the song which will include that powerful ending. Without the milk, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the richness and utter confusion of the party that just took place in your mouth. The bridge gives the song an opportunity to get out that last bit of information that really gets the point across.

As far as this analogy goes, I'm out. But anytime I have the opportunity to add my two loves together, songwriting and peanut butter, I'm going to jump on it. I also realize there is much more to a song than this, but forget the technicalities and revel in my cleverness, or lack thereof.

I only hope I can be as proud of my upcoming songs as I am of my beautiful peanut butter cups. (Spoiler alert: my first "new" song is going to be done by next week!)

Anyway, if this hasn't made your mouth water then I don't know what will. And if you're allergic to peanut butter, I am truly sorry for your loss. You are missing out on one of the best creations known to man. If you prefer, you can call this the Mallow Cup Analogy and substitute the recipe accordingly.

Jan 16, 2009

Songwriting Ain't Easy

I've never said that songwriting was easy. In fact, most of the time I see songwriting as a long, arduous task that takes time, patience and massive amounts of creativity. This is all in a good way of course. I revel in the task of starting with a blank page in my old Moleskine and building from the ground up. Some songs will take weeks, months, or even years to see their final form. (Example, my song "Take Me Home" took almost a full year and saw a complete rewrite before finally being finished just in time for my sister's wedding. Listen in the player in the top right.) In fact, the majority of tunes that start off with the grandest of intentions end us as just another page.

It's just so hard! But I wouldn't have it any other way. It's like you hear all the time, if it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. If it were easy to hit a 100 mph fastball, everyone would be a Major League baseball player. If it were easy to paint, would we ever have heard of Van Gogh, he'd just be another dude that played around with paint brushes.

Though difficult, overall, I don't make my songwriting a complicated task. I either start with a guitar riff or a title and go from there. I never really do it exactly the same every time. Sometimes I have a cool chorus idea then I work in a first verse, a chorus lead in, the second verse and so on. Sometimes I start from the beginning, working through a verse and then busting out a hook. But for the most part, my writings stick to my Moleskine, becoming a messed up array of crossed out words and arrows pointing this way and that.

I'm definitely not Rivers Cuomo. For those who don't know Rivers is the lead singer and primary songwriter of Weezer. He has such an interesting perspective on writing music. Not to say it's odd, like his personality at some points, but refreshing and complete. I came across a lot of his view points in a YouTube series in which he enlisted users to help him write a song. Really, he's just one funny dude.

As if his incredible music didn't showcase it enough, I found his songwriting even more intriguing when I watched a video of him explaining how he wrote the song "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" from Weezer's latest release, "The Red Album". It really would take a Harvard grad to understand what was going through his mind when he was putting this thing together. (He is a Harvard grad, by the way.)

Who knew that songwriting would involve so much paper, scotch tape, random stains, and half of a hotel room floor. (And you thought the Word Box was weird.) It really is amazing how he conceptualized this song and put it together to be the masterpiece that it is. You could pick a much much worse songwriter to model yourself after and take advice from. Just an ounce of his songwriting know how would take you places unimagined.

You can check out the Rivers video at the KROQ site by clicking here. It really is a treat to see how professional musicians do what they do. Be prepared, it's close to 20 minutes but well worth the time. And if you ever thought that writing a good song was easy, this video will make you think twice, maybe even three times.

Jan 15, 2009

Under The Cover of Rock

Are you ever scanning through the radio while driving along the highway and you can't help but stop and listen to the atrocity that is considered pop music these days? You're sucked in because you can't help but imagine how some of this stuff makes it onto the radio and into the brains of millions of impressionable teenagers.

No? Ok, maybe it's just me. So, now you're probably thinking, "Hey Eric, why don't you tell us how your really feel? And leave my Britney alone!"

But as much at it seems from that first paragraph, I'm really not that much of a prude. Yeah, some of the subject matter when it comes to pop music today is just gross. Somehow it went from the classic days of pop music when it was like "gee willickers, it would be right dandy if you'd let me hold your hand" to numerous unnecessary analogies about milkshakes and lollipops; some slightly steeped in innuendo, others plain out straight forward.

But I like a clever line as much as anyone else, regardless of what the subject matter may be. As a songwriter I can't help but have respect for all forms of music because of the sheer fact that it's music, which is truly an art form no matter how you look at it.

(By the way, click the links to hear and see the songs I mention in action. I spent a whole 5 minutes researching on YouTube, have some respect and click! I'm just kidding of course, but seriously, click the links. And don't forget to hit the back button.)

I think my major problem is my deep roots in rock that just can't fathom how this kind of music can be popular. I know there is what is called pop-rock, bands likes Nickelback and 3 Doors Down (whom I both love by the way) but I'm talking the rap, r&b kind of stuff that I just can't seem to stomach.

I mean, it's not like I don't listen to Hinder or Theory of a Deadman, with their songs like "Get Stoned" and "Bad Girlfriend". I'm sorry, but they both just rock and I can't help but like it. (They both play a decent live show as well.) These songs are probably as dirty as it can get and still be on radio but I can't resist the the slamming guitars and the screaming lyrics.

So, as disgusted as I am with most of today's pop music, what if you were to take it and turn it into my most beloved rock? You'd get gold in my eyes. (Or my ears..I don't know.)

Plenty of bands have made a name for themselves covering other musicians songs. It's hard to forget The Ataris with their cover of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer". That was on the radio every like 5 seconds back in 2006. I can't say I minded too much. There was also the roughed up version of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm in 2001 that I can't help but like especially because of the Michael fun-poking they do in the video.

But these tunes were already classics and great examples of songwriting. (In my opinion of course. But seriously, quit ripping on Michael, he was good in his time.) However, as of late, it's been a common trend for bands to cover more recent hits, especially ones that are very far from rock based and actually make me want to listen to the song.

One that's huge right now on alternative rock stations is the song "Lollipop" as done my Framing Hanley. (This video ain't for the kiddies.) I still can't say I'm a fan of the Lil' Wayne lyrics, they are disgusting as it gets. (Lollipops are for kids, man. Just don't go there!) But as I wrote before, when you add on a couple cranked guitars, a bellowing bass, a slamming drum set, and belting vocals that make you want to scream along, it's really hard to resist. It makes me feel awful that I get those lyrics that I so loathe stuck in my head.

There's also a new song that I discovered that actually inspired this post. The video is embedded below. I just had to share it. It's a cover by All-American Rejects of "Womanizer" by Britney Spears. I can't say that this version is really rockin' but it's done to perfection by a rockin' band. This video actually makes me think an old country band with a glam band lead singer . You'll see what I mean when you see the overalls, bowler hat and tight pants. How the toy accordian fits in, I have no idea, it's just awesome, plain and simple. I've watched it at least 10 times today and I'm sure they'll be more. (UPDATE: 1/16/09 - I've watched it about 15 times now.)

Overall, I can't say I'll ever be a fan of pop music as a genre or for the contrived lyrics that you tend to find, but I'll love it for the fact that it gives the rock bands that I love to crank the opportunity to turn up the volume and rock the hell out of those poppy pieces of crap.

Enjoy the video, be prepared to giggle.

Jan 10, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The New...Strings That Is

So step one is complete. Like I wrote in my earlier post, "These Old Strings", it was about time for a string change and for good 'ol Siggy (Yes, my guitar's name is Siggy.) to get some much deserved tlc. So, last night, while watching an old episode of "How I Met Your Mother" I peeled off the old strings one by one. The first thing I managed to do as I pulled #6 E off was to jam the end into my finger and send the blood gushing. I think it was Siggy's way off getting back at me. I definitely deserved it.

So after bandaging myself up, I continued, only taking three strings off a time. I applied some of Dr. Stringfellow's fret board conditioner, rubbing the rose wood to it's glorious luster and in the process scrubbing off the dirt from 6 months of my grubby hands.

I also took my soft yellow cloth and gave her a good rub down for old times sake. After stretching out the strings and tuning her up she'll sound like new again. Well, aside from that occasional buzz, but that only gives her character. I mean, give her a break, she's 31 years old!

Step two will be putting her in action once again. Laying down some tracks and letting the world hear what she's made of, and hopefully what I'm made of.

On a side note, my finger still hurts. I stuck that string deep! I might have hit the bone!

Jan 8, 2009

The Word Box

The Word Box came into existence in late 2003.

I think.

It started as an old Whitman's Sampler box and it slowly filled with words. These words came from random magazines and newspapers (mostly issues of Sports Illustrated at the time) and soon after the box itself became covered with words and countless rolls of tape. (As pictured left.) Unaware of it's purpose, you make think of it as a creepy looking ransom note writers letter box with the different sized letters and random fonts along with the pair of very sharp scissors I've always kept inside.

But the idea came from less creepy sources, a random website (sorry, I can't give credit to the writer, but thank you whoever you are) as an idea to get the creative juices going. At the time I was still a young songwriter (I still feel like a young songwriter) and I was always looking for new ways to come up with creative ideas.

My problem was that I always wrote my lyrics from personal experiences. I needed to something get me out of that funk that had me writing about being bored in class and not knowing what I was going to do that weekend. I didn't live the life of a rock star, drinking and doing drugs and I lived in Maine. I felt like I had nothing to write about. But it wasn't that, it's just that I wasn't being creative enough.

So when I was stuck for an idea I would reach into the word box, pull out a word or two and figure out how it made me feel. Sometimes the word or phrase would become the title and the song would form from that idea. Or sometimes it would become a simple line and the song would build around it. No matter what, a good couple of words would get me thinking about other things, most likely helping me build a story that had nothing to do what I was going through or maybe giving me a creative way of portraying something I was going through.

The first song that came out of the box was a song called "Lost In The Fray" which you can listen to in the player in the top right corner of this blog. Oddly enough, the lyrics for that song didn't come from a word or phrase that was pulled out of the box, but the idea behind the box and using these random cut out words as lyrics as a way to finally create a song. As the song goes:

"When the crowd comes crashing down/When I'm out of things to say/All my clipped out words get lost in fray/Hey now someday, someway, my god, my words will crash in."

The most obvious phrase being "All my clipped out words get lost in fray". It doesn't have to be literal in context with the song but that's originally how it came about.

Many songs and many years later, the box has been with me, being used sparingly. The last evidence of the box's original purpose is the bottom which displays the the nutrition facts of some tasty chocolates. The inside no longer smells of the sweet confections but of creativity (or old paper, however you want to imagine it.).

I continue to add to the word box every once and a while just to keep things fresh. I actually cut a word out of an old Pepsi 12-pack box the other day. But as I wrote in my earlier post, "New Year, New Goals, New Tunes?", 2009 is the year for the song, and I think the word box will be playing a major role in many songs to come.

And since my last post I came across something inspiring that's made me think, you know what, screw resolutions! As John Lai says, "Don't make resolutions, make actions. Resolutions are just thoughts. Actions you actually go do." Check out this video here, simple but inspiring words. Definitely a code to live by.

Rock on everyone!
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