Genesis of a Song – Las Vegas

June 29, 2011

 

Las Vegas

As the title suggests, this song was inspired by the week or so I spent in Vegas in the summer of 2007.

Elie and I were sent over there to learn how to pretend to be Italian while rowing a gondola and singing cheesy Italian songs like “o Sole Mio,” or worse, cheesy Italian-American songs, like “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”

So already, this was a pretty surreal experience.

Add to that the fact that the gondolier training took place from about 10pm to 4am.

So Elie and I would spend the days wondering around the desert in search of food.   We didn’t have a car and it’s FAR too hot to walk for more than three minutes, so we would take the bus.  Here’s a tip if you want to really get a feel for a place: take public transportation – there’s no easier way to experience the essence of a city, in my opinion.

So, if I had to describe Vegas in a few words, these are the ones that would come to mind:
LONELY. DESOLATE.  FORGOTTEN.

Now maybe I missed something – but Vegas seems to just be Casinos, strip malls with chains or Chinese food, and housing developments.

There’s a very specific light in Vegas at a certain time of the evening – and walking those broad, empty streets, waiting by a bus stop with shattered glass on the ground, was very evocative for some reason.

Being approached by meth heads trying to sell us their food stamps every time we went to the store also added to the charm 😉

I apologize if I’ve offended any Vegas lovers, I realize that everyone has their own experience of everything, but that was mine.

The first two verses came to me suddenly and I started singing on top of a chord progression I had previously used in one of the embarrassing early songs I wrote (which no one will EVER hear).   As often happens, I got stuck and had no idea where to go so Elie came up with the progression for the B section.  I didn’t actually finish the song until we returned from China, seven or eight months later.  I think I have a slight phobia of finishing songs – so they hang around open ended and full of possibility until I have some sort of motivation to “finalize” them.

The piano solo in the middle was originally just a place holder for a guitar solo – and to this day it’s the only time I’ve attempted a piano solo…hence the reason I play the same exact solo at every show 😉

You can read the lyrics here

I came across some lyrics which didn’t make the cut and I had completely forgotten about:

“Las Vegas, where’s your soul?  They built a city upon your dusty bones, but I can feel you when the sun sets low over your city of gold.”

Reminds me of this feeling of ruin I experienced being there – and a feeling of the city being completely out of place.

Las Vegas seemed to me to have inherited the desolate, ghostly, quiet feeling of the desert despite the fact that its a massive, garish city – as if the city is just an illusion which could disappear at any second; a tiny, inconsequential moment in time.  Like everyone there is alone in the middle of the desert, both figuratively and literally…but they’ve got an obscene and unsustainable amount of water being funneled in, and air conditioning, so they forget – but they are in the desert, alone.

That’s what Las Vegas awakened in me, anyway – and I think the song captures that vibe.  Come to think of it, I must have seen some kind of sad, lonely beauty in the city in order for it to have inspired me.


Eleanor

The Genesis of a Song – Go Call the Captain

June 16, 2011
YouTube Preview Image

We just released our new video for Go Call the Captain, so I’ll talk a little about the inspiration/process behind the song.

I started this song in the fall of 2008.  Elie and I had been watching a lot of documentaries like Food, Inc. and The Future of Food.  This was also right around the time of the financial crisis, and about eight months after returning to NYC from China…by which time we’d spent all our money and had to start working for the man again.

Needless to say, it became more and more apparent to me that the people in “power” are out of their fucking minds.

These people are like feral animals.   They’re in survival mode.  I mean, they must have such a crazy, fucked-up, scary, ass-backwards view of the world in order to do the things they do.  They must believe that it’s necessary and/or okay to cause harm to large amounts of people in order to survive and flourish (survival of the fittest!).  Or they’re in denial.  Or they are just sociopaths.

They are the worst of the worst, really.  Because they harm people for money, like assassins.

Yet they are not shamed, they are not outcasts – in fact they are usually respected and revered.  They are the people your parents would like you to become.  They’re the kind of “successful” and “upwardly mobile” folks that people try to associate with and emulate, instead of avoiding at all costs.

Where’s the online database listing these criminals? Where are the laws protecting us from them? The registries designed to alert the neighbors that there are dangerous people nearby? There are none….and they make the laws.

People shake their hands, people are honored to meet them, pull out their chairs and take photos with them.

It’s like people’s ability to reason evaporates in the presence of money – why do most people feel more comfortable with people  who cause suffering on a global scale than they do with some homeless guy on the subway?   The homeless guy might smell, but is probably not dangerous, and I’m pretty sure he’s never made a decision which caused a hunger epidemic, or done anything on par with releasing tons of untreated hog excrement into the environment every day without repercussion.  We should feel more comfortable with the homeless guy, but we don’t…

Anyway, here are a few of the people I was referring to when I wrote the song:

Monsanto – and anyone who has ever done anything to  further their agenda.

Smithfield Foods, in particular Joseph Luter III – I know most of you probably support these sociopaths every time you fry up your morning bacon, but in your defense you probably aren’t aware of what you are doing…now would be as good a time as any to find out.

Goldman Sachs – “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” – Matt Taibbi.  Yup, that about sums it up.

I could keep going, but focusing on these severely disconnected people makes me feel severely disconnected…and depressed – so I will stop there.   But those are some of the people who’s behavior inspired Go Call the Captain.

I lied, one more – the Pharmaceutical Industry – okay, done now.

So that gives you a pretty good idea of where my focus was when the inspiration hit – now for the good part:

I was working at a maritime law firm, digesting a deposition for a case in which someone was injured on board a ship.

In the transcript, after the incident occurred a crewman yelled “Go Call the Captain.”

The simplicity of that phrase and the certainty with which this crewman called upon the chain of command, superimposed upon my heightened awareness of the injustices of the world hit me suddenly. The first verse and melody popped in to my head:

“Go call the captain and hold tight the rail, this ship is sinking and we need some help, someone please save us from these wicked men, who rule the world, rule the world, rule the world.”

This was by far the best thing that has ever happened to me while at work.  I didn’t know it was possible to be inspired inside a cubicle, and was under the impression that my spirit checked out every time I entered the building, so you can imagine my surprise.

“Land of illusion and sleight of hand, land of delusion and suffering, false prophets, liars and thieves rule the world.”

I had been listening to Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations a lot during this period of time (I mean A LOT, it was a really long ride from Inwood to the financial district and the A train takes FOREVER,  if it’s running at all, so I had some quality time with that album) and had originally imagined some kind of grand, Muse-ish rock opera crescendo for the song.

Elie came up with the backing vocals and the chords for the verse based on the melody I was singing, and then I think we wrote the B section chord progression together.  Then we just played around with it and let it unfold.

The B section lyrics were pretty painless, but I had a hard time coming up with the lyrics for the third verse, and I settled for something which I still don’t think is very good – lazy writing on my part 🙂

“Their lips are moving, tongues smooth as knives, well versed in confusion, subversion and lies, guided by nothing but greed and pride, they rule the world.”

Yeah, I feel like the first half of that verse is slightly awkward, oh well.

For the final verse I wanted to touch upon the fact that we aren’t powerless.  That we may have temporarily handed our power over to someone else, but that we are perfectly capable of reclaiming it and creating any kind of world we desire – which is really what I meant when I said “we can rule the world.”  I didn’t mean “rule” as in wield power or control over others, I meant being in control of our own lives and the creation of our own realities…if that makes sense.  Yes, I’m a big Abraham-Hicks fan.

So that’s basically it, my big “holy shit this world is fucking bonkers” song.


Eleanor

By the Side of the Road – The Making of

June 9, 2011

Since Eleanor started this great series about the songwriting process (http://www.thewhisperingtree.com/blog/the-genesis-of-a-song-by-the-side-of-the-road), I decided to start an accompanying series about the arranging/recording part of the album making.

I find that very few artists talk about this part of the creation of an album, and I love when artists create inspired remixes of their tracks, or share technical aspects of what happened in the studio, and all the “behind the scenes” type of things.

So here we go, “By the Side of the Road – the making of” 🙂

As Eleanor mentioned in her post, we originally envisioned somewhat of a tribal feel for this song, with percussion and didgeridoo playing a drone the whole way through. However, due to production constraints (budget + time), we never got the chance to record it this way. We did have a percussion track that did not make it in the final mix. Here’s a snippet of the percussion track by itself and the same snippet of what the mix would be with the percussion in:

Percussion Track

Mix with percussion

We decided that the the percussion didn’t sound like we wanted it to and that the mix was more interesting and less cluttered without them. However, nothing is lost, we bring you a video of our drummer Chris Schultz improvising on the track when we were experimenting with percs!

http://www.thewhisperingtree.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/ByTheSidepercRec.f4v

I really hope one day we’ll do another recording of the song with our original instrumentation idea (and for that I’ll have to find a didgeridoo in F#, which is really not easy to come by!)

In the mean time, while playing with the stems to write this post, I found that listening to the whole song with just the piano and the vocals had a really good feel about it. So just for you, those who made it to the end of this article, here’s a gift: a downloadable mp3 of “By the Side of the Road” with vocals and piano only (which sounds pretty awesome if you ask me!)

By the Side of the Road - Vocal + Piano only

Download link : By The Side – Piano + Vocals only.mp3

Enjoy!!!

Oh and here’s a video of me tracking the acoustic guitar. I think it looks cool so what better place to share it than this post?

http://www.thewhisperingtree.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/ByTheSideAcouRec.f4v

 


Elie

The Genesis of a Song – By the Side of the Road

June 6, 2011

By the Side of the Road

A few people have asked about my songwriting process so I decided to go through Go Call the Captain and our previous EP song by song, describing the process/inspiration for each one as best I can.

Generally it goes something like this:
Inspiration hits and out comes a little snippet of some combination of melody/lyric/chord progression.  Then the initial inspiration fizzles out and the “work” begins.  I’m not much for work, so this part takes awhile.
In the best circumstances, when the  inspiration hits it produces something that doesn’t even feel like mine, something that feels like it came from some universal translator or wavelength that I just happened to tune into for a minute.  If all goes smoothly, I can tap back into that wavelength when I revisit the snippet, and more will flow.  If not, the snippet sits around for months or years, while I scramble around trying to make the rest of the song sound as natural and effortless as the inspired part.  I can’t tell you how many awesome snippets I have lying around, just waiting to be finished.  On a side note, I wish I had a better word than “snippet,” it’s starting to sound really weird to me.

I’ll start with “By the Side of the Road,” the first track on Go Call the Captain.  I actually wrote a blog about this one a while back, explaining my interpretation of the song.  I say “my interpretation” because despite the fact that I own the copyright and technically wrote the song, I don’t feel like I own it.  I feel like I was just transcribing something which came from somewhere else.  So whatever you feel, or don’t feel, in response to the song is as valid as anything I could ramble on about 🙂

Here’s what happened:

Back in the Spring of 2007 I was riding my bike  home from the YMCA.  I passed a golf course in my home town of Pelham, NY, called Mt. Tom.  Near the road there was a small mound of dirt, like a child-sized grave.  As soon as I saw it, the first verse and melody popped into my head.

“They buried me by the side of the road, my mind grew distant, my body got old, so they dressed me up in my favorite clothes and they buried me there, by the side of the road.”

and I thought “holy shit, this is fucking awesome,” (modesty is so overrated) and proceeded to sing it the rest of the way home.

As I imagined the song unfolding and the arrangement, what came to mind was a didgeridoo and tribal drumming, maybe a little Paul Simon-ish.  What you hear on the album is not what I had originally envisioned for the song, but  we didn’t have the time to really record it the way we wanted – I would love to record another arrangement at some point in the future.

So after the initial verse came into my head I  let the idea and lyrics marinate a little while, coming back to them from time to time.

The chorus and rest of the verses seemed to flow really effortlessly as well, I was in the zone for this song.  This was one situation where having a limited musical vocabulary was actually helpful, the few chords I can play on the guitar fit perfectly with the initial melody and helped inspire the chorus.

I find that being in awe of what comes out, holding onto the pure excitement of creating something without worrying about what to do next, is the best way to go forward.  As soon as I start stressing out about where to go with the song, or feeling incapable of completing it, I am pinched off from the inspiration and the song is dead in the water.

I think I completed the song while we were in Macau in 2007/2008…it always reminds me of that specific period of time.  I first played it to a bunch of fellow performers in a grimy Best Western in Taipa.

You can check out the lyrics here 🙂

 


Eleanor