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Song Sources: Ringing His Bell

August 5, 2022

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, so this song makes me feel nostalgic despite its events being made up and its musical style (70’s blue-eyed soul) being over a decade removed from my childhood. “Ringing His Bell” is fiction, but the places in it are real: Mary Street in the song is Mary Avenue in Hamilton, two streets over from the street I grew up on, and the stream is either Herring Run, which winds through much of northeast Baltimore (past the house where I was born), or Stemmers Run in Parkville. My friends and I would ride our bikes and drop them next to the stream in the summer, and try not to fall in too deep when we hopped around on the rocks in the stream bed. There were a couple spots where it was deep enough to be chest high so we’d wear our swim trunks if we planned ahead. You know, back at the age where you’ve probably never even heard the names of the bacteria that make them unsafe to swim in. But if my memory is reliable, the “no swimming” signs didn’t start appearing until I was in high school.

Written just before “Hold Tight” in February of 2014, this song has made it into many live set lists throughout the years, always sounding just a little different than what you hear here. It was slated to be recorded for the album that became Monsters, and even almost missed inclusion on The Habit of Fear — it was the last song recorded for the record, added because I thought we needed a both positive and upbeat song somewhere in the mix.

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Lyrics

| Fmaj76 |
In and out of reverie
| C6 F | C6 F
What will and will never be
| Bb6 C6 | Bb6 C6sus2
In his mind he’s thirteen
| F |
He’s a king and she’s a queen

| F6 F |
They roll on (ooh)
| | C
Da da da da da da
| F |
Down the hill to Mary Street
| Bb6 C6
On his handlebars his girl
| Bb6 C6sus2
Sunlight in her curls
| F | Fmaj76
And she’s ringing his bell

She’s still a hard act to follow
She’s his today and his tomorrow
They’re waist deep in the water
She’s a queen and he’s a pauper

They walk on (ooh)
Da da da da da da
Down to wade in the the stream
Her fingers laced between
Sunlight on her skin
She’s ringing his bell

| Bb | | F |
Concentrate on the moment
| Bb | | F |
Concentrate on the moment
Be a child at play

People say you always remember your first love, so that’s what this is. I didn’t have a girlfriend at this age, but some of my friends did, and some of them, let’s just say, got in more trouble than they should have, but for the most part this is meant to capture that nebulous moment where you can’t figure out if you’re a grown-up or a child. When we’re children we often wish we were grown-up, and then once we’re a grown-up, sometimes we wish we were children. The imagination of an adult is often little better than remembering things, like here, where it’s essentially remembering being able to imagine things, imagination by proxy.

The centrality of the bike is actually something from something specific: One of my elementary and middle school classmates mentioned riding bikes a lot with one of my best friends. Funny thing was, I never remembered hanging out with her … but my memory for things I went through at that age isn’t always the best. I also often remember people in my childhood differently than they were, since I was awkward and had low self-esteem and often didn’t understand whether people were being sincere or making fun of me. Maybe this made me less likely to think about it shortly after and more likely to forget as I got older.

Music

The music is based around 6th chords, like any good soul song should be. The chords are colorful (major 7ths, 6th chords, and some inversions I’m not going to write out in the chart), but there aren’t any modulations or other tricks — the song owes more to the folkier Van Morrison albums of the 70s than the Stax records of the 60s.

Verse
| Fmaj76 |
| C6 F | C6 F
| Bb6 C6 | Bb6 C6sus2
| F |

Chorus
| F6 F |
| | C
| Bb6 C6 | Bb6 C6sus2
| F | Fmaj76

Bridge
| Bb | | F |
| Bb | | F |

One oddity in the recording is the instrumental, which is only 7 bars instead of 8. The reason is that it started early when I recorded the demo back in 2014, but by the time I got around to making the real recording, it sounded wrong to fix it. The guitar solo is mostly outlining the chords; it’s almost intact from the original demo — in fact, I reamped part of the original guitar parts that were recorded direct to the interface — but I replayed it to clean it up the performance.

Our regular drummer, Tim, loves this song and was really bummed that he didn’t get to play on the recording. I love the part he plays, but I couldn’t get him over to the house during the pandemic, and I also couldn’t remember his part well enough to try to duplicated it. Chris Hamilton had written a completely different part for the song that sounds much more modern, a very sparse part with a heavy kick drum emphasis, which was good in live sets where we wanted something more chill sounding, but didn’t work for the reason I was putting the song on the record (to get something upbeat on there). Chris Freeland was sort of done recording drum parts for this record, and I didn’t want to have to both write a new part and score it out or try to teach it to someone, so that left me. We all play very different parts to the song; the original demo was just me hitting a guitar case and clapping, so there was a lot of room for innovation. (I think the only thing we all do the same is the ride bell after “She’s ringing his bell.”) I did a lot of takes over several days as I tried to get each part of the song to feel right — since I didn’t have an exact part in my head I was trying to get out, this meant a lot of experimentation, especially seeing how sparse I could make the parts. Avoiding the snare completely in the verse does help with the song’s dynamics. Uncharacteristically, I wrote a fill (the big fill in the chorus) that uses a third (high) tom.

With the bones of the song down, I started looking for the right color to add with the electric guitars. The main lead and rhythm guitars weren’t substantially different from the original demo, but the delay guitar in the left ear of the choruses helped pick the song up (taking it out results in a radically different feel), and some quick extra overdubs helped reinforce the hook — the guitar response to “She’s ringing his bell” at the end of the choruses.

It’s been hard to get the band to do the falsetto backing vocals live. Maybe someday!

Recording

The recording process essentially involved replacing the original demo, so there isn’t much exciting to talk about here.

One thing I did that I had never done before was reamp one of the guitar parts — the original lead guitar — even though I didn’t keep most of it. In the demo, the part was recorded to the interface, without even using an amp sim. I sent it back out to the amp and while it helped a little, the original performance wasn’t great so I relearned all the parts and replayed them.

The guitars are the red tele for the the lead guitars, and the Don Quixotecaster for the rhythm parts and the delay-heavy guitar part in the chorus, both always run through the Sakura amp. The bass is direct to one of my FET preamps (it almost always is), and the drums are my Sakae kit with overheads, bass, and snare miced (no tom mics or room mic).

Hopefully this evokes in some other people some of the same feelings it does for me.

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