Skip to content

Song Sources: I Am Not in Control

September 9, 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 is a love song on an album about fear, and so you’re correct to be a little suspicious of it.

On the one hand it provides some relief from the heavy subject matter surrounding it — the track before it is “Hold Tight,” and the song after it is about a couple being separated by war. But the genesis of this song is something very serious to me, which is my deep fear of not being in control of myself. (I’m perfectly happy not being in control of other things. Freedom from responsibility is the best.) I’ve never been drunk, for instance, for much the same reason. I was prescribed Valium one time when I hurt my back, took one, and decided that I should probably avoid ever doing it again.

In this case the song is about not being in control of yourself because of your love for someone else. It’s both romantic and dangerous.

I used “yourself” and “your” in that last paragraph as a defense mechanism. I mean myself and my.

Despite the popular depiction of fears having some traumatic origin, I doubt there’s anything that ever happened to me to trigger this. It’s not a phobia or anything. I have had jobs where I had to watch what I say, but I remember in high school being in … well, social situations where other people did not share the same fear and even sought out ways to lose control of themselves. So it goes back further than my adult life. I wasn’t tied up in a box by some kids and thrown in my locker at school or anything like that. Maybe it’s just my general level of anxiety.

The spark for this song wasn’t this particular aspect of my anxiety but rather the kind of paradox that loving someone deeply presents: that you can’t imagine your life without them, but you still have to be your own person. Many people are scared of some aspect of this. Some people of commitment, some people of rejection, and in my case simply of the proposition that you have to somehow let go of yourself.

I kept using “you” in that paragraph, too. Of course I mean “I.”

No regrets of course. It’s just a description of a fear, set to the prettiest and most vulnerable sounds I could muster.

I made a video for this one, but of course you can still get it on Bandcamp or elsewhere.

The yarn handwriting lyric video.

Lyrics

Verse: | D Bm | G
My hands are not on the wheel
My hands are not on the wheel
You’ll be the one to steer

Chorus:
| Bm | F#m
I am not in control
| Bm | F#m
I am not in control
| G | D
When you’re near
| G | D
When you’re near

Your hands are drawing the thread
Your hands are drawing the thread
You’ll be my soul and breath

Chorus

In a river muddy and wild
In a river muddy and wild
Give in and shake like a child

Chorus

The final lyrics are close to the notes I started with when brainstorming metaphors. The wheel is a ship’s wheel. The second verse refers to the Fates of Greek mythology of course, which is as clever as things get here. I don’t record many songs that aren’t story songs, especially not songs that end up on Midway Fair albums; sometimes the story is not readily apparent, but in this case, the lyrics aren’t meant to convey a narrative but are only literal statements about not being in control. My English professors might argue that there’s a character here and that character is story, but I won’t pretend.

For contemplative songs, I’ve always liked the blues lyric form: It gives the sense that a thought has occurred to the narrator, and they have to repeat it before they can complete the thought.

The chorus was intentionally as simple as I could make it to get the point across.

Music and Recording

The lyrical style is unusual for me, but singing an entire song in falsetto wasn’t even something I would have considered on previous albums, especially a Midway Fair album. It doesn’t have much of a precedent in folk music (except some blues singers), and in indie folk, it generally invites comparisons to Bon Iver. In this case the influence was “Who Was That Masked Man?” on Van Morrison’s Vedon Fleece.

I was about to write that discussing the subtle difference here between falsetto types might be boring, but exhaustive detail is kind of the point of Song Sources. There are a few different templates for famous falsetto voices to pull from:

  • Bon Iver has a very modern, and even messy, take on it, where he sings with a very open and round sound to me, and he makes heavy use of autotune.
  • Brian Wilson was the benchmark for a very pretty sounding falsetto, and he clearly took a bit from doo wop artists and from Frankie Valli, who has an edge in his voice.
  • Van Morrison falls into this latter category, although it’s hard to tell if it’s intentional or if his voice just always has this edge. I prefer it to sound a little harsh, as I think it adds a little depth.

For the recording, I stacked the falsetto to add a little more depth; aside from my general distaste for obvious autotune, it’s intentionally avoided here not just to discourage the comparison to Bon Iver but because autotuning stacked vocals makes them sound smaller. You want the buildup of little mistakes, it’s what makes it sound like “more.”

This is a rare recording that was fairly complete when the drums were laid down. I had already done the guitar, bass, and piano, and Chris picked this one out of a pile of demos and added the drums. They spruce up the recording quite a bit. He’s playing surprisingly hard during the verses, and the snare echo was a very interesting style choice. (It also makes the song in some ways: It’s so important that during live shows, Tim will play the snare with a faked echo to duplicate the effect.)

We made sure to leave as much space as possible during the choruses, and I redid the bass and electric guitars after Chris finished the drum part. The piano and rhythm guitar, uncharacteristically, were good enough to keep from the demo.

There’s a sliding part on the bass in the verses, typically when the bass is switching from the D to Bm chords. It adds some nice subtle movement, and I suppose every once in a file I can find something cool to do on the bass that almost qualifies as one of the song’s hooks if someone is listening on something they can hear it on.

The technical bits are substantially the same as other tracks on the album: One the electric guitar is the Don Quixotecaster through the Sakura amp, miced with a ribbon, and with the Cardinal Harmonic tremolo on (in harmonic mode). The other electric guitar is the red telecaster through the Tone King imperial, also miced with a ribbon. The delay is from the El Capistan. The acoustic was the Crafters of Tennessee D-18 copy played with a pick. The piano is just the default patch in my Roland FP5 — I didn’t record it as midi during the demo and didn’t rerecord it. It’s doing its job is the best I can say. The bass was direct to the interface.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Steve Patton permalink
    September 9, 2022 8:22 pm

    I see what is building in this album as you begin revealing it. So far i am seriously impressed and considering what you think of your work aside from being your father, a totally unbiased opinion is that i have no idea from where your degree of talent originated, but i have a real good notion it had to do with keeping in control. Success only comes from hard work and dedication you prove that more each new album you release. It’s high time the world gets clued in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: