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Song Sources: Hold Tight

August 5, 2022

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.”

This song has an odd — possibly even embarrassing — genesis, one I’ve kept secret for years, based on a TV show. I never even told people in the original liner notes during February Album Writing Month in 2014 when I wrote it! (Oooh, mysterious!)

The official story was that it came from one of the “muse tools” on FAWM, which describes the structure of a story. The generated structure was that it’s told in the first person, there are two characters, and they’re in a moving vehicle.

Since this is a song where one character is driving his brother to the hospital after being shot during a drug deal gone wrong, and it takes place in the desert, you might suppose it was inspired by a 5-year-long critically unassailable show involving a pair of drug manufacturers taking place in New Mexico, but you’d be wrong. (At the time I’m not sure how much of that show I’d seen, and I’ve never watched all of it.) Instead, it came from the characters Merle and Daryl from The Walking Dead. And since that show was continuing its slow but noticeable decline in its 4th season at the time, this might seem especially lame, but in my defense, I had only just started watching the first and second seasons (still good), curled up on the couch dealing with a stomach problem for most February. Merle’s character has a history of selling (and using) drugs, and he calls Daryl “little brother” all the time, and that’s where the chorus and part of the story came from.

I did think it was worth an honorable mention in my 2014 FAWM wrap-up …

This could have been a Midway Fair song in 2009, but now it would probably be out of place. There are a couple lines that need a tweak or two, but overall I think it’s strong, especially for how few words I used. It’s about a drug deal gone wrong, and the older brother is rushing his younger brother to the hospital, but they’re out in the middle of nowhere.

My 2014 FAWM wrap-up

… but I cooled on it afterward and didn’t pick it back up on my own. Then Joe asked to cover it, and I was jamming with someone else at their house one time and they said they wanted to play it, and then eventually, maybe a year later, Joe asked if we could add it to the Midway Fair setlist. So I thought maybe I was wrong to sleep on it. Audience members liked it, and it’s become one of our most popular songs. And in a way, since Rick and Joe loved singing the harmonies so much, they made it one of my favorite songs of ours.

Want it on iTunes, Spotify, or somewhere else instead of Bandcamp? Try here.


| G |
Keep both eyes on the road
| C | G
There ain’t much farther to go
| C | G D/A
I think I got him in the gut just before you were hit
| D | G
Somewhere out in the desert

| C | D | G |
Hold tight, little brother, hold tight
| C | D | G |
Hold tight, little brother, hold tight

Keep one hand on your wound
Don’t worry the blood’ll stop soon
I saw a sign for an exit and it’s not too far to town
Keep praying we don’t break down

Keep your head in the game
I can’t have you give up on me
I’m sorry you’re involved and I went back on my word
But I swear I won’t touch it anymore

The story is self-explanatory from the lyrics: The older brother (the narrator) is driving his younger brother to the hospital. The narrator reveals in the first verse that he killed the man who shot his brother. There’s a subtle shift in “blame” in the last few lines: Up until then, most of what the older brother has said feels like instructions, even an indication that the younger brother is partly to blame for getting shot, but we find out that the younger brother was only ever in this mess because the narrator got him into the drug business. He ends by promising that he’ll give it up for good. Whether that’s true I don’t know.

The chorus becomes more urgent throughout the song: It’s more desperate after the second verse, when we discover that the younger brother was shot in the stomach. This is a difficult wound to survive, and the fact that he’s still bleeding after they’ve been in the car a while (they seem to have been quite a ways from civilization) is a bad sign, but of course, if he hasn’t stopped bleeding it does mean he’s still alive. After the third verse, the chorus is even more desperate, but in my head it’s less because the narrator is worried about his brother dying than he is that his brother won’t live, which is a subtle but important distinction.

Despite what I said about some lines needing work (referring to the last verse), in the end I kept it how it was first finished, because I liked that as the narrator gets more desperate his speech sounds less planned (as indicated by the abandonment of the rhyme scheme in the last verse).


The chords are simple (see above), and the instrumental breaks are just the melody with some flourishes. The song has no bridge, so there’s not very much to say about the music here. Sometimes you need songs like that, though.

The music started its life very much in the vein of Springsteen’s Nebraska album, with acoustic guitar, mandolin, and harmonic accompanying the vocals. The original was slower, and more melancholic. (The recording still exists, but it’s not on Soundcloud anymore.)

Once we decided it was a Midway Fair song, I ditched the harmonica (although I have played harmonica very prominently on a Midway Fair song, I’ve never considered it to be part of the band’s sound), then I transferred the mandolin part to an electric guitar. Chris Hamilton wrote the drum part with the girl group beat in the chorus, one of Chris’s typical little creative flourishes.


Like several other songs on The Habit of Fear, the bones of this song were recorded at Chris Freeland’s studio in a weekend session in 2016 with Joe, Rick, and Chris Hamilton. I overdubbed some lead guitar the day after we recorded the rhythm section, but the only part I kept was the tremolo guitar in the chorus, which is also typically how I play the song live now.

The electric is my red telecaster through the Sakura amp; the acoustic is my Crafters of Tennessee copy of a pre-war D18, played by Joe at the studio (we brought it specifically for this song, but he ended up playing it on every song we recorded that weekend). Rick’s bass is going through Chris Freeland’s old Ampeg, miced with an RE-20 that I repaired for Chris, one of the few songs on the record where the bass isn’t direct. Chris Hamilton played the drums on it. When I was first learning the drum kit over the pandemic, this was one of the first parts I tried to learn hit-for-hit.

As bizarre as this sounds for such a simple song, it took me multiple sessions and many takes to get a guitar sound and solo I was happy with for the song. The song can easily get repetitive since the instrumental breaks just quote the melody, but I couldn’t get too clever without it sounding wrong for the song. And most importantly, I wanted the guitar sound to capture the feel it has when we play live and the emotion of the song, so it needed to sound a little wild and, dare I say, just a little unhinged. The best lead take I did at Chris Freeland’s place garnered the description “adventurous,” which I’m sure Chris meant positively, but I was immensely unhappy with the performance. Also we were recording a two-amp setup with the Don Quixotecaster, and the tone was too “polite.” Once I took it home, though, it still took many takes to get to where I ended up.

Joe and I did the vocals at our respective houses. Lamentably, Rick wasn’t available to do vocals during the pandemic and couldn’t get a good spot in his house to record, so I had to do my best with his baritone harmony.

Now for the really fascinating bit about this mix: There is no reverb whatsoever on the vocals, and possibly no added reverb on the other tracks either. Chris forgot to add it during the mixing process, and we liked how it sounded so much that when we discovered this that we seriously considered remixing some other songs with no vocal reverb just to see what happened.

The only further changes we made after we had started mixing was Chris asked me to add the mandolin to double the riff and an organ in the chorus to round off some edges.


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