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Song Sources: “Be What You Like”

October 1, 2014

This is part of an ongoing series about our recordings. To read more in this series, click on the category “Song Sources: Stories behind the recordings.”

Jen and I co-wrote this one after I had bits of a song and a block to finishing it.

Lyrics

I wrote about the verse lyrics back when Jen and I first finished writing this, so I’ll just summarize what I said there and then move on to the recording:

Jen and I talked about what kind of relationship between the characters was implied by what I had already written years ago, and then something really fun occurred to us: we made it a duet, which is not something we’ve done ever.

Male character:
I know you were the kind
to be always one branch higher
Anything to be at the top of the tree

Female character:
When I finished my climb
I knew I was a flier
My heart wanted much more than you and me

Chorus
Be what you like
Be what you like
Be what you like
Everything else is a lie

Female character:
Always biting your tongue
You played helpless and quiet
Clinging to restraints you were chained to the ground

Male character:
I was the tongue-tied boy
Rooted and grounded and bored
Maybe a broken arm was all I need

“Miscommunication” is good fodder for stories. There’s a disconnect between the characters, some breakdown in compatibility and their basic ability to even understand each other to work past it. Jen is better than I am at actually saying what “she” (or her narrator) means, and also seems to have a much easier time being completely open and honest about her own personal experience, so it’s a good foil to my tendency to be oblique sometimes to the point of obscurity.

Music

Musically, this is probably the simplest song in our catalog. The song is either in F or Bb, depending on your view of things, but the verses are based entirely around a vamp between the Gm and Bb, and the chorus has a similar vamp with the F replacing the Gm.

We play around with swapping who’s doing the lead, but there are few surprises.

This was one of the guitar solos that I worked out ahead of time. I wanted something that was very different from what you could get out of the piano, so it starts with some country-style bends, and the second time around is mostly double stops and Wes Montgomery-style octaves. Jen’s piano part is a little less swung, but I think it was pretty much improvised in the studio.

Recording

We did a few unusual things on the recording. Chris’s drums are a loop (they’re live but it’s pretty much the same 4 bars with a few deviations here and there). Jen added some hand drums to fill in the space, and Chris added a really cool shatter delay on the snare drum that filled in even more space in a way that simple ghosting probably wouldn’t have.

For the vocals, Jen and I sang into a two-directional mic (a custom tube microphone Chris has). This proved a little problematic since my vocals are so much louder than hers, but that’s easy enough to fix in post production. We did have to record the choruses separately, though, to keep me from overpowering Jen’s vocals.

I decided to do something a little clever with the vocals to emphasize the collaborative nature of the song: I start off with a rock voice and end up doing my best Jen impression by the last chorus.

No real cleverness gear-wise. I used the red Sheraton through a compressor into my Imperial, Jen used the upright, and Joe was straight into Chris’s Ampeg bass amp.

This is a pretty fair departure from the band’s style. There’s nothing “folk” about it. I intentionally gave up as much creative control as I really thought I could on it. It’s a cool recording, I think, even if it’s not exactly what I would have done left to my own devices. I played it live a couple times at a blues jam before Jen wrote her verses, and it was much more of a rock song with a bit more funk to it. Her it ended up being more jazzy.

I’m bringing this up not because I’m disappointed in the song or the recording, but it does occur to me that this is one direction the band possibly could have gone if we were doing this sort of thing the whole time and we were in the same musical place. It’s like an alternate universe Midway Fair.

Here’s how to play it if you’re interested:

Verse:
Gm > Bb

The rhythm is a little tricky, so here’s here things fall in the count: The bass note of the Gm is on 1. Two is a staccato strum of the chord (down stroke then muted). The bass note is plucked on 2 AND and 3. On 3 AND play the chord as an upstroke. The change to the Bb falls on 4 AND (upstroke) for the guitar (and I think the bass and piano actually change in a different spot). In the second bar, the Bb is on 6 (downstroke), 7, 7 AND, and 8.

I play the chords in a few different places. The simplest way with least movement is these two chords:

E——-
B-3–3–
G-3–3–
D-5–3–
A——-
E-3—-

This frees you up to play fills over the Bb. The root for the Bb is left up to the bass. The guitar can’t play the Bb that’s below the root of the Gm anyway. You can slide down to do the Bb chord barred at the first fret if you don’t want any fills. Sometimes I’ll substitute the 5th instead of the root on the Gm (meaning 5th fret of the A string) and let the bass handle all the roots in a cycle. Feel free to skip beats, too, and do a couple fills based around the Bb blues scale or Gm pentatonic. What you DON’T play matters and you can certainly funk it up way more than I did. Behind the piano solos, I tend to play these two:

E-3–6-
B-3–6–
G-3–7–
D-5–8–
A-5–8–
E-3–6–

The whole chord is fretted, but I only play the low E and the D, G, and B strings most of the time. (Remember, I’m not using a pick.) If you leave the bar down, you will get a cool slide going that adds a bit of extra funkiness.

Chorus:
F > Dm > Bb

The rhythm is subtly different. The F is played with two down strokes on 1 (quarter note) and 2 (staccato) (with some swing). The Dm is on the 3 (downstroke) and 3 AND (upstroke), and the Bb falls in the same place. There’s a little mute that happens on the 4. Basically the line follows the rythm of the words.

F   F    Dm    Dm     x       Bb
………..be      what   you   like

The second measure is the same as the verses. The last line of the chorus is then just Bb > Gm.

I’ll tab out the first guitar solo, since it’s probably the more interesting one and has some tasty steel guitar-flavored licks (this isn’t necessarily exactly what I played on the record because a couple spots still had some improvisation):

E———6——————–6——————–8——-8h10–8h10r8-\-6———–
B—6b8—–8r6-x————6——3—-6b8—8r6————————–8-6~–
G———————x-5b7——7r5–3—————————————————–
D————————————————————————————————–
A————————————————————————————————–
E————————————————————————————————–

E——x-13/15–15–13—————–13-13—————————-10—————————————
B—x—-13/15–15–13p11–13b15—-(15) 13b15r13-(11)——10b11r10–8\6———————–
G-x——————————————————————————————————7\5—————
D—————————————————————————————————————-5/8~——
A——————————————————————————————————————————
E——————————————————————————————————————————

The fingering on the last bar is a little tricky even though it looks and sounds fairly simple. I play it with the ring finger on the 10th fret of the B string (doing the bend), pinky on the 10th fret of the E, then index on the slide from the 8th to 6th fret, then I fret the 7th fret of the G string with my middle finger such that it’s TOUCHING (but not yet fretting) the D string. When I slide down to the 5th fret, I just roll my hand forward and fret the D string naturally. Nice and smooth and no gymnastics that way.

Also, the Gm chord bend (6b8) in the first bar can be a little tough on the B string depending on your string gauge and scale length, since you have to bend father on the string. If you don’t mind moving your hand a lot, you can do it at the 11th fret on the G string (pinky plays the 11th fret of the B string), similar to the Bb chord bend in the second bar. Part of the reason I tracked it on the Epiphone was because the short scale made this bend a little less work. (I had done a lot of tracking at that point and my fingers were getting tired … that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

Cheers,
Jon

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