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Song Sources: Out of My Mind

July 9, 2020

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.”

Looks and sounds 50 years old.

This classic country song was one of my 2017 February Album Writing Month compositions. The song was really born out of the desire to use the ambiguous wording of the phrase in the title: Because while most of the time it refers to someone being crazy, it can also just mean that you aren’t thinking about something. So a breakup song it was.

Lyrics

Once I had the title, the lyrics came fairly easily. One of the only lines I remember struggling with was the second line — I wanted to reuse the word “worry” from the first line in the sense of the potentially physically damaging act of “worrying” something.

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Song Sources: Now We’re Gone

December 1, 2019

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 a few origins: An online friend from the Madbean DIY pedals forum, an NPR story, and the Britcom Coupling. I usually just tell people it’s about my friend to avoid the last one. Not because Coupling isn’t one of the best shows that ever aired, mind you …

This is the nadir, emotionally, for Monsters. There are other sad songs on the album, but none as heavy as this one.

Lyrics

An online friend broke up with his girlfriend several years ago, but they were on the lease together for the apartment and neither could afford to move out. He was an oil worker and work was sporadic. Weeks in he was willing to do almost anything if it meant he could get the money to stop having the constant reminder of a bad breakup in the next room.

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Song Sources: Somewhere Between

September 7, 2019

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.”

I wrote this song in my head during a run a few years ago. I started it somewhere around the half mile mark and had everything but the bridge in my head by the time I finished the third mile. Sometimes they really do come to you that quickly. I was playing with Stephen Lee during his brief stint in Baltimore and I definitely owe him for the dark tone and twang in the song.

Lyrics

This is your classic boy-meets-girl, boy-has-job-that-keeps-him-traveling-all-the-time-and-considers-his-entire-life-a-mistake story.

A friend of mine in San Antonio — someone who was a professional musician all their life — was telling me about the time they met a really well-known songwriter, who was still living in his car into his 50s. Someone who had written one or two hits for other people but was still just scraping by, working like a dog their whole life just to do something they love. My friend said that he didn’t want to end up like that — and he hadn’t. He’d sobered up two decades before and had a wonderful son who was also a musician. Another friend of mine is getting married this year, and I remember her telling me how angry she was that she’d spent years living out of a van putting in as much work as people with less talent (my words, not hers), and she was approaching her late 30s with nothing to show for it, whether from music or “real” life. She’s having success on both fronts now.

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Song Sources: Firebird

September 1, 2019

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.”

800px-firebird

Image from Wikipedia; illustration by Ivan Bilibin.

Back in 2013, Joe Scala was doing his first February Album Writing Month and asked me to co-write a song with him. We brainstormed some ideas, one of which involved the Slavic folk myth of the firebird, a creature that is a “blessing and a harbinger of doom to its captor.” We didn’t end up writing a song using the myth, but I filed it away and went off on my own to write a song vaguely based on it, which became this little piece of magical realism on Monsters.

Lyrics

The story takes place during the second world war, in Finland. (The firebird also appears in Finnish folklore.)

Finland has an interesting but complicated World War II history; they sided with Germany (though not as an axis power), and had been put in a difficult position in part because of the threat from Russia. But they did not permit genocide to take place in their country, and sheltered Jewish refugees from other German-occupied areas. Nor did they give up being a democracy, unlike all of Germany’s other allies in the war. Despite being massively outnumbered by the Russian forces that attacked them, Finland never fell and Helsinki was one of the only capitals of Europe that was not occupied at the end of the war. And they gave the world the polttopullo, the Molotov cocktail. They lost territory to Russia (still a major sore point between the two countries) and were hit pretty hard with reparations after the war.

In the song, a young man is going  hunting, and his mother gives him some extra ammunition warns him to return before nightfall. After he chases a deer into the nearly-frozen stream, snow starts to fall more heavily, and he gets lost, unable to see his footprints and trace his way back to the road until an approaching column of Russian soldiers reveals its location. While hiding from them he succumbs to sleep but is awoken by a vivid dream. He rushes home ahead of the soldiers and leads his mother from their house just before it’s destroyed.

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February Album Writin Month 2015 retrospectacle (cross-post from Jon’s blog)

March 7, 2015

New music from me as of 3/1/15! Here’s my 2015 February Album Writing Month wrap-up post. You can stream the 12 tracks I wrote on my own below (or download them from Bandcamp for “name your price”), but be sure to check out the blog post for the writing and recording details, as well as my epic-length collaboration with Joe and Mosno. Joe Scala’s playlist is also in the blog post, as well as some people I discovered through FAWM this year whose work really stood out to me. Go check it out!

Song Sources: Most Distant Star

October 2, 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.”

“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.”

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Song Sources: “Gone to California”

October 2, 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.”

“Gone to California” is written as a letter from an estranged father to the son he left at birth. I had been delving into writing some songs where characters did unsavory things for what might be good reasons, and “Gone to California” was one of the best results of that experiment.

Lyrics

The last inch of land. (You are here.)

The first verse simple sets the stage and provides the frame:

Well, I’ve gone to California
to the last inch of land
Someday you’ll understand, son
When you grow to be a man

Since I was specifically writing the song to elicit a conflicting reaction on the part of the listener, it was important to figure out a way to make the narrator (the father writing the letter) if not reprehensible at least a obviously disgraceful. The “Well” at the beginning is a bit more than just an extra syllable in this case. There’s a slight flippancy to it that I thought fit the character. The character’s cluelessness is also on display in the condescending last line of the verse.

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Song Sources – “Ones and Zeroes”

October 2, 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.”

This is the song I wrote after seeing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Maybe I should go to the movies more than twice a decade …

Lyrics

Unfortunately, I’m still playing a different game from everyone else, and mine doesn’t give me a cool flaming sword. But everyone else has one. #pleasehelp

The lyrics read as if it’s a breakup song, but they’re actually about how I don’t get along with some types of technology. On my personal blog, I wrote a post about what it was like to spend an entire year without owning a phone and without touching Facebook and the like (though 6 months I cheated and posted to Twitter). I still don’t own a phone, not even a ‘dumb’ phone. Shortly before embarking on that experiment, I wrote a few lines and verses trying to get into words what it felt like to have the world start to require electronic interaction at the expense of basically everything else. This set of lyrics is what I came up with while thinking a bit about the Scott Pilgrim movie. The aesthetics of the movie are sort of built around technology intermingling with organic life. It’s like we were all turning ourselves into cyborgs.

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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.

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If you squint, our summer schedule almost looks like a tour

May 12, 2014

We’ll be hitting some of our favorite spots in Baltimore, as well as DC and Frederick. Looking at them in a list, it almost looks like a tour! Of course, they’re separated by weeks or even months between each show, and I get to go home and sleep each night, so of course it’s not.

One of the highlights for me is that we get to share some stage time with our friends Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray again, on August 8. Now those are some real road warriors … Erin and Chris have lived most of their married life out of their van, putting down some roots briefly in California and the DC-Baltimore-Frederick area. This official video of the first track off their new album is a sunny representation of that:

Of course, five days in the car and you’re desperate for a real shower, cramped and cranky from sleeping upright, and starting to question the validity of your meal choices. But it’s honed them into a far better band than they were a few years ago, and I loved their music even when it was a lot more prototypical.

Touring is one thing I never got a chance to do, so it’s something that’s “missing” from my musical education. I don’t travel well: I dislike driving, I really dislike flying. Even when we played in New York (well, Brooklyn), I drove home at 1:00 in the morning. I don’t recommend that. When I lived in Texas, I didn’t have a problem traveling four or six hours to play shows, but gas was cheap then, and you must be a lot tougher when you’re only twenty, because 2:00 a.m. when you’ve been up since 6 in the morning isn’t painful at all. And, of course, I was in the military at the time, so I couldn’t just pack up and take off.

I can pinpoint the moment I knew I could never be a touring musician: I was sitting around listening to a conversation between some friends from a jam session in San Antonio; many of them had toured, a couple had even been roadies for “name” bands going back forty years, and one of them made a comment about one of his favorite musicians being fifty and living in his car. There was a lot of derision in the way he said it, and this came out of a musician who had been on a label and had a minor radio hit in the 80s, did his time with alcoholism and a broken family (his son played drums with him, though, so they had patched things up years ago), and hadn’t had a job other than playing his guitar in decades. I thought about whether there was anything I’d rather do than play music at any given time, and once I realized that there were other things I enjoyed doing, I scratched off “go on tour” from my to-do list.

It’s funny how you can regret something that you know you’d hate, but then again, one of my neuroses is that I live in a state of constant self-doubt, embarrassment, and regret no matter how happy I am with a decision I’ve made.

Anyway … here’s our summer shows:

Friday, May 30, 2014: Joe Squared for the dinner set, 7:00-9:00.

Joe Squared
133 W. North Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: 410-545-0444
7:00-9:00

Sunday, June 8, 2014: World Folk Music Association showcase with IONA and Laura Dungan & Aaron Fowler.

El Golfo Restaurant
8739 Flower Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20901
7:00 p.m.
For reservations, call 301-608-2121

Sunday July 13, 2014: Todd Walker’s Sunday Songwriters’ Songfest at Frederick Coffee Co. and Cafe.

Frederick Coffee Co. and Cafe
100 N. East Street
Frederick, MD 21701
4:00-7:00 p.m.

Friday, August 8, 2014: Joe Squarednight show with the Katie Bowers Band (that’s Katie and Joe Scala) and Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray.

Joe Squared
133 W. North Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: 410-545-0444
10:00 p.m. showtime

Saturday, October 4, 2014: Teavolve with Beggar’s Ride. Details TBA.