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Song Sources: Most Distant Star

October 2, 2014

“Most Distant Star” is a love story between an aborigine and a meteor.

No one seems to believe me when I tell them that …

(I want to be clear that my use of the word “aborigine” in this post is only meant as a person from pre-history and not the native peoples of Australia.)

Lyrics

A long way from anywhere lions live.

This was one of those songs that came pretty much all at once. I wrote it over the course of a Saturday while sitting in our library, and like the song “Robin” from the Baltimericana EP (which I wrote after this song if you want an idea of how long this has been waiting to be recorded), it was the result of thinking up some slightly odd images to write a song about. In this case, it was an aborigine looking up at a meteor and imagining it was a person falling to earth, so he sets out on a long journey to meet them.

You were the light and the most distant star
And a fusion reaction in the engine for your part

What can I say, I like me some anacronisms … the engine is his p …. uh, heart. The second line was one of the few lines in the song that was tweaked after the initial writing session. There’s a callback to it in the song “Ones and Zeroes” later on the EP. I’ve lost the first handwritten copy of the lyrics, but I know that the word “fusion” was in the original line, but not “engine.”

And I was tired of the dark
I was hungry and poor
An animal desperate to stay warm

Do we rhyme?
Are we together?
Well not all the time, but more often than never

Okay, we’re now firmly back in the most distant past.

And I put faith in my feet, and a thousand miles to bear
There was storm in the silence and a fire in the air
And the august sky was streaked with my grandmother’s hair
And you were aground in the unknown

Neither distant nor a star.

I usually say “meteorite” when I’m talking about the song, but the duration required for someone to walk a thousand miles, assuming our narrator isn’t exaggerating and can accurately measure a mile, indicates that the astronomical phenomenon must be multiple meteors or a comet. “August sky” is a reference to the time the song takes place: in the summer, during the Perseid meteor shower. This also hints at the location, which we’ll pin down  more firmly later, but just know that the shower is primarily visible from the northern hemisphere.

Somehow we talked despite lightyears between
About the prides of lions and the fears of the weak
And even in the daytime I could keep you
First to the right to get home

“Prides of lions” sort of gives the setting. Lions lived in Africa but also the middle east. “First to the right to get home” is a reference to Peter Pan’s directions to Neverland (“second to the right, and straight on till morning”). In Peter Pan, the stars are actually people, but they can’t interact with anyone or take an active roll in the events in Neverland.

There was no moment of panic, no injuring words
No discord, confusion, or imperfect third
And I tried to keep you close
But you kept falling away
And everything burns away
Everything burns away
Everything burns away
Everything burns away
Someday

If it wasn’t clear from the conceit of the song or from the previous stanza in the bridge, there was no way for this story to be anything but unrequited love. If I’m going with a literal reading of the lyrics, then the meteor shower only lasts for a short time. You can go out every clear night for weeks and see shooting stars, and then all of a sudden they’re gone. You could see what looks like one that makes it through the atmosphere and will make it to the ground, but you’re not going to find it unless you happen to be right there, or it simply burns up and doesn’t make it all the way to the earth.

It made no sense to return to the chorus at this point, so the song ends with wordless vocals.

Music

The main riff is extremely close to the one in “End of the World” from our first album. I don’t know if I was practicing that song at the time I wrote this, or if it just happens to be coincidental, but they really are quite close. The music, like the lyrics, came in one sitting, with Jen tweaking some of the chords in later arranging sessions. One thing I had in mind almost from the very beginning was duplicating the lead vocal an octave above. Joe and I recorded the very first scratch track for the song a week or two after I wrote it, and, except for the song being at a slower tempo, it’s very similar to where the song ended up.

The tune is very modal, jumping up to the relative minor but staying very close to a six-note scale common in a lot of Celtic music (no seventh). The chord harmonies reflect this, with most of them pedaling an F note, and the 7th note is only used in chords when some tension is needed. The rhythms are also fairly straight, jumping into a gallop for the first couple lines of the chorus but otherwise sticking to 8th note patterns or big chords.

Recording

Maxiphoned!

For the recording itself, Jen and I did the initial scratch tracks with Chris, who then played the drums against them. We overdubbed everything over the drums during a weekend in late January.

I think what I’m most proud of on this recording is that the lead vocal was the first take, and it’s all one take. I was very sick with a bacterial infection at the time we were working on these recordings, and after I did this take I didn’t get anything else usable for the rest of the day. I did go back and add a couple more “oohs” (for the ending) later.

The piano is Chris Freeland’s upright in the studio, which we decided early on would be on every piano track. Jen and I spent the year before doing this recording playing in her living room on the acoustic piano, so the electric piano just wasn’t going to sound right on any of these songs. The bass is my/Joe’s Epi viola bass, straight into an old Ampeg amp of Chris’s, which is the setup we used for “Silent Little Bells.”

All guitar tracks are using Don Quixotecaster, mostly run through a compressor (my Bearhug) and delay pedal (the Strymon El Capistan) into my Tone King Imperial. The single note parts in the background that sound a bit like strings are the DQcaster run through a fuzz pedal with a bunch of volume pedal shenanigans, while I held the guitar’s headstock to the amp to keep the strings vibrating. Cheaper than an e-bow! There’s also a background track run through a harmonic tremolo that I recorded at home. I was a lot less overdub-happy on this song than in the past, but this song has more guitar tracks on it than the entire remainder of the EP.

I’d also like to say that although I took a ton of gear to the studio, I ended up hardly using any of it. The more toys I acquire and make, the less I feel like writing anything that needs them. Funny how that works.

Here’s how to play it if anyone’s interested:

Capo 3, delay set on quarter notes

Riff
E—8/10—8——————————8—————————-
B—————–8/10——–x–8h10———10—8—6p3—6—
G—5/7—-5————–x—————————————(5)–
D—————–5/7———————————————–3—
A————————————————————————-
E————————————————————————-

Verse
F6     F
You were the light and the most distant star

F6   F
A fusion reaction in the engine for your part

Bb                  C                   F6                    F
I was tired of the dark I was hungry and poor

F6 F      Bb       C                     F
an animal desperate to stay warm

Chorus
F                            Csus4
Do we rhyme? Are we together?

Dm                                                        F
Well not all the time but more often than never

F Bb F
Oh Oh Oh

Verse 2
I put faith in my feet, and a thousand miles to bear
There was storm in silence and fire in the air
And the August sky was streaked with my grandmother’s hair
And you were a ground in the unknown

Chorus
Riff (ending on Dm instead of F

Bridge 1
Bb                                                    F                                                         Bb                                          F
Somehow we talked despite lightyears between about the prides of lions and the fears of the weak

Bb                                              F                                 Bb                                          C
And even in the daytime I could keep you First to the right to get home

Bridge 2
Dm                                                                 F                                    Dm                                      F
There was no moment of panic, no injuring words, no discord, confusion, or imperfect third
Dm                                                                               F                                Dm                                C
and I tried to keep you close but you kept falling away and everything burns away

Bridge 3
Dm                               F         Dm                                 F
Everything burns away, everything burns away
Dm                                F                    C
Everything burns away, someday

(Ending is the riff three times.)

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