Sunday, November 25, 2018

Awake, Alone, and a Mess - the breakdown

For those who, like me, are interested in how a song came about, here's a pretty detailed breakdown of how "Awake, Alone, and a Mess" came about. This one was pretty involved.

Word of warning: there are no songwriting tips here, nor even songwriting approaches - just an insight into what I was thinking, why I did things the way I did. All of this might only apply to me, or maybe only to this song... still, it might prove of interest, so here it all is! Beginning with a work tape of the song itself:


Chicago
Didn't really play a part in the song as such, just that I started writing it on a train in Chicago, heading to the airport to fly back home to Nashville. Always have a pen and paper handy at all times!

About to board the train in Chicago (and start scribbling down the song)

Threesome
The title came first for this one. Awake, alone, and a mess. It takes those three things. If you are awake, alone, but not anxious, not a mess - well that's ok. If you are awake, with someone, and a mess, that's tolerable too. If you're asleep, well none of the other two count one way or the other. It's that threesome that adds up to trouble.


Nashville
I grew up in a small town in Scotland, and when you heard a siren, it was time to pause and wonder just what had happened, and hope that everyone was ok. Since then I've moved to larger and larger places, and those wails became more common, common enough that you didn't really think of them any more.

The seashore in the town I grew up in

For whatever the reasons, here in Nashville I hear them more than ever, so often in fact that I've begun thinking about them again. For one thing, it made me think how unusual the word "siren" is, because a siren was originally a female creature that would draw sailors to their deaths with a sound so alluring they could not resist but turn their ship to follow it.

Ironic, I thought, as the sirens of this day and age are in no way a pleasant sound, and they are the kind of sound you are more prone to run away from than toward.

  The sirens of the city serenade the night time streets
  No seductive song, but some shrill scream that wakes you from your sleep


Insomnia
I normally fall asleep darn fast, and once there I stay there, til the appointed hour arrives in the morning and I wake up as promptly as I nodded off. For a few weeks though, I'd been finding myself increasingly prone to insomnia, and would lay there for an hour or two, sometimes even give up and get up, and then not wake promptly in the morning either.


Thoughts are never smooth, shiny and pleasant as you toss and turn and try to find the doorway to the realm of dreams, so it was never a fun time.

  And as your staring at the ceiling listening to those sounds recede
  The shadows on your soul outweigh any darkness you can see


Brought to you by the letter "s"
I noticed how I was writing this. Everything was s's, either genuinely or phonetically:

The SirenS of the City Serenade the night time StreetS
No Seductive Song but Some Shrill Scream that wakeS you from your Sleep

.. and so on. This gave a certain rhythm and emphasis to things, something a little staccato, something a little uncomfortable - which fitted the theme and feel I was going for (so it was more than a mere literary affectation to be clever, and I only noticed I'd done it after writing a few lines and realized it was integral to the feel).

S is for "skull"?

I wondered how I'd continue that in a second verse, as there was no way to "s" my way through a whole three verses. A bit of a dabble (there on the train in Chicago) convinced me I could "p" my way through the second verse (yeah, I know that sounds odd, but there you go!)

It was only later back home that I'd wrap up verse 2, and wonder what the heck to do with verse 3, and found to my relief I could "d" my way through that one. Again, this was because it was integral to how it sounded and felt; I couldn't abandon it and had to follow that pattern that I'd set down in the first verse, to keep that sound and feel going.


Tuning Up
I had something of a melody to go with the words, especially "The sirens of the city serenade the night time streets", so that kind of just wrote itself. For the chords, I went with the same staccato feel that the words had, something that felt a bit "on edge", just like I did when restless and unable to sleep. The notes of the melody of course dictated what the chords would be.


Crosstown Traffic
Not the Hendrix song, actual crosstown traffic. Confession - I never learned to drive 'til I was 42 or something. That must sound weird to those born and bred in America, where everyone learns to drive by the time they are 10 (or so it feels). However, growing up and living in the UK, it wasn't necessary to drive - trains, buses, taxis, sidewalks (pavements, they are called back there), all were readily available.

Flash forward to being in a smallish town in East Texas, and there were no sidewalks, and taxis were rarer than gold dust. Eventually being forced by circumstances beyond my control into an office job 30 miles from where I lived, driving was a must.

Dallas by dashcam (when it was pretty quiet)

But I never liked it. It was ok on those East Texas roads, even for someone like me who was naturally nervous of driving (the reason why I started lessons in the UK, but quit before taking my test), and only when I had to head into Dallas with its "four lanes in one direction" did I find it unpleasant. But that was a rare event.

Here in Nashville though, it's a different story. Roads are built for a lot less traffic than they have to support, and it seems like there are a lot less left hand turn filters than I'd expect. Upshot - driving makes me really anxious once more.

Nashville (from an Uber - panic not, I am not taking photos while driving!)

It gave me a lot of things to think about. For one thing, all the other drivers on the road with me did not feel this way - to them, this was a non-event; to me, it was an act of bravery just to be going from A to B. I wondered how many times I was doing something ordinary, that for someone else would take monumental effort. Also, how fortunate those others were, that they could just slide into their car and go about their business without a second thought!

I also decided to turn it into a writing experience, to try and capture how it felt, that level of anxiety... butterflies in your stomach was not even close. This was something much fiercer, bigger, something that snarled; something that sat not in the pit of my stomach, but up in my chest. Hello chorus.

  Tiger clawing in your chest
  Can't find no peace, can't get no rest
  While others sleep like they've been blessed
  You're awake, alone, and a mess


Heart beats
One thing you notice, in the dark in the early hours of the morning all by yourself, is the sound of your heart. Normally it sounds like a nice Precision bass, a steady deep thump; but anxiety changes it, to a short, sharp, higher pitched, percussive retort, firing off in quick succession.

   …poor heart popping like a pistol


The Pressure Is On
And anxiety feels like a weight, a pressure; only it's not constant, not like carrying a large concrete block on your shoulders, it comes and goes, easing off only to come pushing back down.

  Panic presses down on you, pounding like a piston


Who Turned Out The Lights?
There in the dark - even when you have the lights on in your apartment, you are still acutely aware of the dark all around out there - you are just wondering how you will make it through, as each minute drags by slowly. If only day would break.

  Praying you can pull through 'til the pale pink light of dawn


Thanks, Memories
For whatever reason, that time of the early a.m. makes you reflect on things, from way back in your past even. Makes you doubt them, and wonder about the choices you made, second guessing yourself, even if those aren't relevant to your current daily life - back you trot into those times gone by. Thanks, memories, for making a rough situation worse.

  Pleading for some pardon for the paths where you picked wrong

(Aside: initially I thought this would be "for the people that you've wronged", but it didn't sit right with me; not everyone feels they have wronged someone, and the thoughts that flit through your mind to torment you are more general than that, and are about screwing up - took a while to find this variation that I felt captured it better)


Guitar Solo
A kind of odd place for the guitar solo, but it just was where it wanted to go. Wanted something hard, aggressive, rough. On the one hand, kind of like the anxiety itself - but also, kind of like the spirit one gets when determined to fight it and not give in.

These guitars are not solo (since there's more than one of them)

Throw Me A Line Here
Ok, so while it's a song that sympathizes with someone going through a very negative situation, and aims to comfort by showing that they aren't alone and hey others are out there feeling this way too, I did want something positive in there, some active words of encouragement.

  Don't drown in your despair...


Cavorting
It always felt like these thoughts were dancing around me in a circle, mocking and teasing, like imps.

  … those devils dancing in the dark night


More Hope Please!
Back to being encouraging! Remember, it will all seem better in the light of day!

  Seem determined to endure, but they'll dissolve under the daylight
  Dragged down by your doubts, dogged by an all pervading dread
  Dig in deep, you can still defeat, those demons in your head


Bit Of A Breather
I don't normally do bridges, but this felt like it needed one, a bit of a rest from the staccato rhythms, something softer and more gentle, a time to rest a bit and with a reminder that "this too shall pass". And a reflection on the fact that all this comes from our own minds - in some way, we are doing this to ourselves.

Also, most of us who have been through insomnia and/or anxiety have been through it more than once already - on a logical level, part of us knows we will get through this. Never hurts to remind ourselves of that, though it is a hard one to actually take onboard whole heartedly.

  Your mind tells you lies that you can't disbelieve
  But you know you'll survive and be able to breathe
  Clearly
  Once you're free


The Home Stretch
I actually had this variation on the chorus as the only part talking about how you can get through it, before I figured a bridge would be good this time. I liked it, though, so kept it as well as the bridge, and it seemed a good way to come out of the bridge rather than into the regular chorus. Also, wishing it would pass twice as fast was an actual thought I had one night... "I know this will go away, I just wish it would go away faster; now would be nice!"

  You know that this will always pass
  You just wish it could be twice as fast
  Until then I can only guess
  You'll be awake, alone, and a mess

And then one last repeat of the regular chorus after it, because I sympathize and I know that hearing a song, or realizing it's your own mind conjuring these devils to torture you, is not going to magic it away.


The End
That's it. After that it was playing it, recording it, mixing it - but that's a different story for another time.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

With the Rider Came the Storm



So, as planned, finished up two in-progress songs this weekend, here's the first. I always loved the soundtracks created by Ennio Morricone for 70s Westerns, so I headed off to recreate something similar (all without going back to listen, so just from the impressions in my memory).

Got a chance to put the new Aerodyne Jazz bass through it's paces, and used both the Strat and the Tele for the guitars (and the Ovation for the acoustic of course).

After some consideration, I did decide to add brass and some "nonsense sound" vocals, as those were part of my impressions I had floating about and it wouldn't have seemed right to try without them!

To turn mp3 into mp4, added a couple of screen shots from Red Dead Redemption 2, another part of the inspiration for diving into this too; one screenshot run through the excellent FotoSketcher for extra atmosphere.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Enya Morricone

So last weekend I added Omnisphere to my collection of soft synths, which sparked a weekend of instrumental stuff. I called the weekend Enya Morricone weekend, as I had one Enya style track I started, and one Ennio Morricone style western track.


Through the course of the week, I started another Celtic-style instrumental, though purely guitar based. I also revisited "Awake, Alone and a Mess" thinking it was nearly done, but totally disliked the recording of it, even as a mix tape.

So this weekend I slowed it by 10 bpm and re-recorded it from the ground up, and it's much better now. Still want to wait til I can give it a bit more polish. A song about insomnia, which I seem to have been cured of this last week and am sleeping peacefully and often!

And I also picked up and worked more on the western-style instrumental, have it all mapped out and recorded, will just wait a bit and give it some polish before calling it done.

Writing and recording ain't very photogenic - so here's a shot from Red Dead Redemption 2, through FotoSketcher
The western instrumental goes by the name "With the Rider Came the Storm", still playing with it this weekend, we'll see if it gets to a point that is somewhat done - I'm optimistic!

Since both "Awake..." and "With the Rider..." are going to have a fairly prominent feature of bass, I decided it was time to upgrade my bass. Not my main instrument, so I didn't need anything flash, just a good, solid workhorse, with the Precision and Jazz pickups in it. After some consideration I went with...


… a Fender Aerodyne Jazz bass. Made in Japan, so solid workmanship if "nuthin' fancy" and just in the sweet spot of quality vs price, with the right range of sounds. Looks pretty snazzy too! Picked it up on Friday Nov 16th from the Guitar Center in Nashville, as wanted to try it out before purchase, not being familiar with it. Already it's in use on "Awake.." and "Rider.." so maybe y'all will get to hear it soon!

Have a good one!
   Tom

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Echoes of travelin' times 4

Sure has been a lot of travel in recent months! Which means I am still catching up with some photos from those trips - only up to Vegas (I think I mentioned Chicago last time, but Chicago is coming up next). About to add more this coming week, with a trip to Venice.


I kind of expect to see Batman somewhere in this photo (yes yes, I know, Gotham was his stomping ground and not Vegas, but still).

Been doing a lot of writing lately and just going with the flow, where the flow seems to be mostly coming up with choruses. For sure I plan on stopping to add verses, bridges and more to these, but new ideas keep popping up that seem too good to lose so I make sure I get those recorded in the rough.


Titles - or working titles at least - include "Seatbelt Light", "Cowboy Summer", and then a few with no lyrics and just melody / chords so they don't have titles yet (always hard to know what to name the files on the computer when the song doesn't even have a working title! "Hit song" is at least a positive outlook when saving the file, I guess :) )


I do have to tear myself away from writing though, to take care of other business aspects of things - I still have to follow up with potential co-writers from the co-writer speed dating event at NSAI, so I must do that; the itch to pick up the guitar and create will have to wait for a short time while I do that. There's more to songwriting than, err, writing songs!

To wrap up, for those interested, I used the free program FotoSketcher (https://fotosketcher.com/) to add a bit of extra interest to my Vegas snapshots. Check it out!

Cheers!
   Tommy

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Echoes of travellin' times 3

Still playing catch up with some photos from recent travels, this time some shots from Vienna. We've got Vienna from the air as I flew in, the Metropol theater, the hotel street, the B72 bar, and a restaurant I forget the name of. I'll just intersperse those amongst the post!


Been a busy few weeks here too. I've been enjoying heading down to the NSAI weekly workshops, the one just over a week ago was the very intensive "speed dating for songwriters" night which was a cool way to get to say hit to some 20 or 30 people - but boy it moved fast! Next up will be saying hello to some of those folks to see if anyone wants to co-write :)


Last week's one was Genre Song Feedback Night, with the genre being Americana this time around. it was hosted by Elizabeth Elkins, one half of Granville Automatic, and as ever it was an awesome and useful experience to hear all the songs that were played and to hear the feedback given on all of those (as well as the feedback on my own song too - just that there is much more value to the feedback nights than that!)


There was a lot of good general business info in there too as well as specifics about each song, like some stuff about licensing, and the inevitable discussion on just what Americana is anyway! Worth going along to these, even if you don't have a song to play that week.


Meantime I've kept on changing the lyrics to "Awake, Alone and a Mess", fixing up a few little things that didn't sit right with me. I am still hunting for the lyrics for the bridge, though I have the melody now (unless I change my mind ;) ). Seems to be a hazard in writing a song about insomnia, that you may end up having a few sleepless nights yourself, but there you go!


The next one to catch up with will be the Chicago trip photos - and then I'll be having a new set of photos from Venice as heading there in a little over a week (don't expect canals though, ironically!)

Cheers!
   Tommy

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Echoes of Travellin' Times 2

Catching up on some of my recent travels! Back in August, I was over to Europe and back via Vegas, so we'll start in Sofia, Bulgaria.


I was only there for about 24 hours - should have been more like 48, but the first leg of my flight to Chicago was delayed and delayed, and eventually I ended up leaving via a different route on the next day (which got me there faster than leaving via Chicago on the same day as planned).


Had the chance on the one evening there to catch some live music, a fusion of jazz and traditional Bulgarian music. Not often I see a Telecaster and an accordion in action together :) There were also samples of the traditional music being triggered up-front there, to make for a unique sonic palette!


Getting around in these other cities often seems much easier than here in Nashville ;) I do love public transport in all it's forms! This is a flash forward to Vienna, more on that next time.

Lots going on musically of course - should have some new work tapes soon ("Diamonds and Pearls", "Wild at Heart" which are pretty much finished I think... then "Awake, Alone and a Mess", "She's All Woman", and "No Problem With My Problems" - the last one having arisen from my travels as I'll mention when it's finished and posted!)


I do love gear and sounds! This last week, the folks over at Soundtoys had a sale on Crystallizer, which I'd tried out on demo some time back but was a bit too pricey back then for quite a specific effect - but was perfect at the sale price! May make use of it on "Awake, Alone and a Mess" as it happens. It's kind of an echo / reverb with pitch shifting, so you can get the shimmer reverb for instance, as well as a range of other unique and creative effects.

Have a good one!
    Tommy

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Travellin' Times

Busy couple of weeks, and more coming up!

I'll be off over to Europe, then back via a few days in Vegas, starting tomorrow, so will be out of commission for the next 10 days or so. So I have crammed in a bunch of stuff before heading off!

Friday Nights Live

Headed down to The Listening Room, on the advice and invite of Randy England, and caught Stephanie Owens, Phil Barton, Victoria Banks and Lance Carpenter performing. Each is an awesome songwriter, and awesome performer!


New Songs

Two new songs done to work tape level, "Wild at Heart" and "Diamonds and Pearls". Co-writing a blues track at the moment, but that won't get completed til I get back from my sojourns!

Software

Since I am still making use of TuneSmith, I did the right thing and purchased Rhyme Genie - maybe I could have kept on using TuneSmith for free, but heck, if I am finding it useful, the creator deserves their payment!

After some frustration with reverbs that come with my amp sim software / with Cubase, I demo'ed lots from Valhalla, and settled on the awesome Valhalla Vintage Verb. Amazing price at only $50 for such high quality reverbs, and was hard to choose just one - will likely add more to my arsenal later on though. It got used on "Diamonds and Pearls" :)

Then just today I purchased Reel ADT from Waves as it was on sale at $29 - vocal doubling / thickening is another thing that I've never quite got to my satisfaction, and was something I particularly wanted for the work tape of that when the time comes around. I tried out the demo and really liked it, once again it solved something I'd always wanted to do but hadn't found a way of doing!



NSAI

A week ago on Thursday, went down to the weekly NSAI workshop where Shelly Peiken was sharing her experiences in the world of songwriting, though heartfelt and funny anecdotes and also songs too! Was great to hear "Bitch" performed by the songwriter themselves, as just one example of the cool things in the show. Picked up a copy of the book while there, will take that along on my upcoming travels :)


And that's it for now! Got to go pack :)