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Posts Tagged ‘lyrics’

The (whole) Wave

May 15, 2010 4 comments

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You can see the high-water mark.

 

The Wave

I got two damn cars

Both need baths

One don’t start

I like to wait until dark, drop the top down and look up at the stars

The highway wind

The highway sounds

I could keep on driving, get the hell out of town

But I know there’s no escape from this place

It’s optimistic, it’s down in flames

 

You know love it’s hard to say

We search the city for a complicated truth:

the water mark from the receding wave

that left the wreckage that we all sift through

 

The years fly by, it’s true

You climb in a cannon

You light up the fuse

And right before the big boom

We realize just how much we stand lose

The highway winds

The highway sounds

We could keep on driving, get the hell out of town

But we know it’s just another mirage

‘Cause you’re still you in camouflage

 

 

Strange memories on this nervous evening

Seems like an era since we left San Francisco

And as we watch the great wave receding

We realize history is hard to know

We realize history is hard to know …

 

So less than five years on

We climb up the hillside and look beyond

To see the high-water line

Where the wave rolled back and left us behind

The highway calls

The pull of the road

You could redline the needle

Set a course for home

But you know that could never go back

Just comb the desert for artifacts

 

The Wave

May 15, 2010 2 comments

I relied heavily on Hunter Thompson's notion of Vegas for of this song.

 

I know … I know …

It’s not that I haven’t been playing music, it’s just that I haven’t been writing about playing music.

But fear not, friends, fans and followers! Here is a taste of my newest song, tentatively titled The Wave.

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I got two damn cars

Both need baths

One don’t start

I like to wait until dark, drop the top down and look up at the stars

The highway winds

The highway sounds

I could keep on driving, get the hell out of town

But I know there’s no escaping this place

It’s optimistic, it’s down in flames

You know love it’s hard to say

We search the city for a complicated truth:

the water mark from the receding wave

that left the wreckage that we all sift through

A Few Ideas, Pt. 5: People in Picture Frames

April 4, 2010 3 comments

All done! I sat down this morning and finished the song. I’ve decided it’s called People in Picture Frames. Here it is with lyrics below. Rock on!

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Sometime he’s jealous of people they sell us in picture frames

With their picture-perfect lives

And their picture-perfect smiles

On their picture-perfect days

 

Is it ironic that I Photoshopped myself into this frame?

He knows they’re not real but he hates them just the same

Sometime he’s jealous of people they sell us in picture frames


Sometimes she’d like to just go and set fire to her magazines

With the Photoshop faces and digital waists on the fashion queens

She knows better than to believe it

‘Cause it ain’t reality

Sometimes she’d like to just go and set fire to her magazines


You and I – we’re real tonight

What you see is what you get

And this big old world seems ruthless sometimes

But it won’t change us

We’ll change it


You turn on the TV, there’s nothing to see but fake tits and ass

Put ‘em on prime time and give ‘em some wine

Watch ‘em fight for cash

It’s a high price for fame

For ten minutes that don’t last

Put ‘em on prime time and give ‘em some win watch ‘em fight for cash


You and I – we’re real tonight

What you see is what you get

And this big old world seems ruthless sometimes

But it won’t change us

We’ll change it


All our lives are for sale you can order by mail and be satisfied

Any slogan will work if it fits on a shirt

Even if it’s a lie …

A Few Ideas, Pt. 4: Scrap it, start over

March 28, 2010 1 comment

Sometimes you've got throw something away and start a new draft.

 

Sometimes, you just have to scrap it and start over.

That’s what I did this morning. I fiddled with the new song in its former version on-and-off all week long and most of Saturday. But it wasn’t going anywhere. In the meantime, I got the idea to rearrange the verse chord progression to make it less monotonous. If you’re going to go that far, you might as well start from scratch.

The demo below isn’t done, but I already like it much it better than any of the previous iterations. I sped it up noticeably and did some drastic rearranging. The old bridge section is gone, replaced with a solo over an extra verse section. The chorus is the same progression as before, but I play each chord for twice as many counts, so it’s stretched out. I like it. It gives it a real power ballad feel!

I came up with a subject matter, too. Finally. The song is definitely going to be about the stupefying of society-at-large by mindless popular culture. I’m not done with words, especially in the chorus. But one line that’s sure to stay (mature language warning!):

Turn on TV and there’s nothing to see but fake tits and ass

Put ‘em on prime time and give ‘em some wine

Watch ‘em fight for cash.

Here it is:

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This took me from 10 a.m. until about 5:30 p.m. today. In addition to finishing the words and vocals, the drums need some work. Some of the guitars will be re-recorded (or maybe just additional guitars added) for a fuller sound, too, I think. And of course there’s more mixing to do. The next upload should be the finished version.

Rock on!

C

A Few Ideas, Pt. 3: Painfully slow progress

March 22, 2010 4 comments

 

Get an Apple. Rock out in your bedroom.

 

Still working on my new little tune. As promised, I’ve been diligent about saving different versions so I track and share my progress. This song has been a little slower in coming that most. Don’t know for sure, but I may be unconsciously trying too hard, knowing that the process is going to be immortalized on the World Wide InterWeb. But who am I kidding? Nobody reads this blog anyway!

Since I last checked in, I’ve started to think more about structure and arrangement – where the verses go, where the chorus goes, the bridge and transitions, etc. I wrote a few different lyrics, mostly to have something to sing at first. I only wrote enough for one verse, which I sing twice; you can tell I didn’t bother memorizing it very well on the second run-through. By the end, and particularly in the bridge section, I am just making up sounds as I go.

(I you missed my previous blog about vowel sounds and nonsense lyrics).

I’ve also started layering and adding flourishes to different sections, building character and distinguishing the different parts. There is still much to add, including a bass part and probably some subtle synths. I usually do those parts last, right before the final mix. After the bridge section will be one more half verse and full chorus. At least, that is the current plan.

If anyone’s curious, there are currently 16 distinct instrument tracks in this version. That will probably grow to 20 or 25 by the time the process is done. They aren’t all playing at once, of course. The fullest section, near the beginning of the second verse, has six or so tracks playing simultaneously, including four guitar parts.

Enjoy the latest version:

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More updates as they happen. Until then, rock on!

C

Where Ideas Come From, Pt. 4: First thing’s first

March 9, 2010 4 comments

This is a question I’m often asked by pretend fans: Which comes first, lyrics or music?

Usually, I take the time to answer politely. That is, unless I am in the middle of dinner and do not want to be interrupted – stop doing that, pretend fans! It is rude!

Which comes first? Music or Lyrics?

 

But when I do answer, my standard response is that, for me, the music tends to come first. More often that not, I’ll begin a song having no idea as to what it’s about, lyrically. I have to figure that out along the way.

But the words do influence the music as I go. If, while I’m writing, I stumble upon a turn of phrase that I like and want to repeat, that might become the chorus, or an intro section that gets me to the chorus. If there’s a section that I want to emphasize because the words are emotional, I can tweak the arrangement of the song to do that, adding a different guitar part, say, or fading the instrumental tracks into the background for to emphasize the vocal.

The point is, even though I typically start with a musical component, the words always play a role in shaping the song. The which-comes-first question tends to mischaracterize the nature of songwriting, because it implies that the music and lyrics are separate from one another, independent things that exist in respective vacuums until the moment the song is made.

I never finish all of the music before starting in on the words. Sometimes, I have a concept for what the song is about and maybe even a few phrases I know I want to use before I start writing.

But that is rare. Trying to reverse engineer a song by fitting lyrics to music is hard for me. I’ve only done it one time. It was for a tune called Low Bidder that I wrote for an NPR songwriting project. The deal was this: NPR, as part of a series of stories about the ease of making music at home today, challenged listeners to write a song in a weekend. To keep people honest, there were certain lyrics one had to include. The required key words included dog, firecracker and NPR.

It was a neat exercise in songwriting. Never had I thought about building lyrics or a song around random, pre-selected words. I tend to be pretty earnest in my lyrics – overly earnest, sometimes; I just can’t help it. So beginning with even minimal lyrical content that didn’t mean anything at all emotionally was challenging. Here’s the song:

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Because I used pre-determined key words in the verses, I used for a chorus a line that was pre-existing also. The bit about my soul being auctioned off came almost verbatim from a comment I’d made to a coworker after attending an embarrassingly cheesy corporate awards ceremony a few days prior. I liked the line when I said it, so I remembered it and stuck in the song.

The end result is a tune that pulled a lot of disparate parts together. It’s not cohesive, and it’s far from my favorite song I’ve recorded, but the process was interesting. Since writing Low Bidder, I’ve been much more willing to let songs be whatever they want to be; I don’t feel the necessary urge to tie every loose end lyrically into a nifty package.

So, pretend-fan-who-is-interrupting-my-dinner, I hope that answers your question. Now leave me alone!

Rock on!

C

Where Ideas Come From, Pt 2: Churning, yearning & burning for good lyrics

March 2, 2010 4 comments

 

The first, scrawled lyrics of A White Sand Beach; I've a got notebooks full of this stuff!

 

In case you couldn’t tell from the title, this is the second of a series about the songwriting process and where ideas come from. In Part One, I wrote a bit about how little musical lines or progressions evolve into full-fledged songs. I also wrote about someone named Kevin who fended off an attacking bear with a walking stick. You had to be there.

Getting a musical idea cemented in your head is great. For me, it’s how most songs begin. But the music of course is only part of the equation. Every pop rock song has to have lyrics.

They don’t have to be great, either. Many songs have terrible lyrics. I was in a work meeting last week – a sort of pep rally for colleagues who’d finished a leadership-training program – and there was a photo slide show presentation set to music. It was an old Garth Brooks song. As I listened, I focused on the lyrics, which were wretched:

There’s a love that is burning

Deep in my soul

Constantly yearning

To get out of control …

And so on. Here we’ve got some love – the burning kind – oh so deep in Garth’s soul. What’s it doing? Why, it is yearning, of course! It is out of control! Ugh.

Now I am no country fan – Tom Petty summed up modern country music, I think, when he described it as “bad rock with a fiddle” – but it’s also not fair to pick on Garth too much. For one thing, the song (it’s called Standing Outside the Fire) helped propel his album In Pieces to a whopping 8 million in record sales – I checked the Web site. Does Garth care that the song has now become a cliché tune used in corporate meetings? Probably not as long as the royalty checks keep coming. In any case, bad lyrics aren’t limited to country; rock music has its share, too. Remember Lenny Kravitz’s big hit, Fly Away? Here’s how it started:

I wish that I could fly

Into the sky

So very high

Just like a dragonfly

Really Lenny? I wish that I could sigh. Or maybe cry. No I won’t lie. Perhaps I’ll even die. (And the song doesn’t get any better. The next verse rhymes trees with breeze, degrees and please.) But this tune was a hit, too. Why? Because in pop music, lyrics don’t necessarily matter.

When I write songs, I try not to get too hung up on the words; it’s helpful to keep in mind that artists such as Lenny have hits with sappy lyrics like the ones in Fly Away. So I don’t over-think it. For me, writing the actual lyrics typically isn’t too hard after I decide what the song is actually going to be about. Once I have a direction, even a vague one, I find that the lyrics come pretty easily.

Often, I’ll start with a particular phrase that I’ve heard somewhere or which has occurred to me, and I’ll begin building around it. For the song A White Sand Beach, I started with the partial line, “sand between my toes.” I had been a few days earlier to a concert at the Mandalay Bay beach, where we stood in the wave pool surf and in the sand as we listened to The Wailers rock their reggae style.

So that is what I started with – the sand between my toes. Then I began thinking of rhymes: toes, old, told, roll, gold, toll, and so on. It’s not rocket science, obviously. I’m sure it’s pretty much how Lenny got high, fly and sky. I looked back through my notebook at the original scrawled draft lyrics of this song. The first lines, as I initially wrote them, went like this:

It’s time to get away mama, before we’re old

I want to feel a little sand between my toes

I want to do what I want, don’t want to do the things that I been told

I want to crank it up loud and play a little rock n’ roll

That is pretty close to what finished up as the first verse. In the process, I changed a few words and tweaked the phrases a bit to fit the melody better. Here’s the song:

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This song, from beginning to end, took about four or five hours. It was fast. I don’t write everything in order. In this case, based on my notebook, it looks like I wrote all of the verses first. Then the chorus (or what passes for one in this song – we’ll talk specifically about choruses another time), and finally I wrote the the little transition part, almost an afterthought: Don’t you dare try to tell me what to do. This is my life … that’s right.

I don’t dwell and go through rewrite after rewrite. But I don’t keep everything either. For this tune, one early verse that’s in my notebook goes like this:

Oh let me get a good look, ‘cause to me you look like solid gold

Red hot figure and blue eyes that pierce through me ice cold

That one didn’t make the final cut. Happily, it got replaced with this:

Let’s get outta here mama, before it’s too late and we’re too old

Keep the car between the lines and keep the pedal down to the lock n’ load

That is not a bad lyric. Certainly, it beats eyes that pierce because they’re so ice cold! That little gem stayed in my notebook and out of the song. I’d be willing to part with it. Mr. Kravitz, if you’re reading this, feel free to use it! You too, Garth. But if I’m in some business meeting and I hear that lyric as part of a sappy corporate presentation, I’m going to come a-calling. And you’ll want to sigh. Or maybe cry. Or even die.

Rock on!

C