Archives for posts with tag: songwriting

From the defunct homophonic Toronto trio Bass is Base to the woofered-out lowriders of the West-Coast, everybody loves bass! When I make demos, the bass part is the most challenging since I’m least familiar with the rules-of-engagement of the “dad guitar“. I know there are principles out there that tell you to pair it with the drums or the rhythm guitar to help hold down the foundation of the song. Regrettably, I don’t really know what that means so I tend to approach arranging a bass line like I do any other instrument I’m adding to the mix: it’s just another melody line that complements the main melody…just lower. That approach seems to work well enough and at the very least it makes the song a lot more interesting than if I just relegated the bass to being your flatulent sounding “braaap!….braaap!” of beer music tuba fame. So with my self-deprecation and fart-references out of the way, here are three songs with effective bass lines that stand out in my mind. (bass comes in at 0:52) (bass really comes in at 1:15) (bass comes in when Noel says “get a little bass”(?): 0:45) Oh what the hell…one more legendary bass work from the 80’s!: (it’s subtle…you’ll have to watch for it. “It” being the hot pink bass guitar) Blue Blue Satellite

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Still with me? We’re trudging towards the end of the track-by-track analysis of my 1-year-old debut album The Learning Days. Will there be a reward at the end like those three-second hidden scenes after half an hour worth of credits at the end of superhero movies? Test your endurance over a few more insipid blog posts to know for sure!

So if I HAD to choose one song that I felt could be excluded from “The Learning Days”, it’s probably Science and Progress. I’m pretty open with the fact that many of my songs have very specific influences but Science and Progress takes it to a whole new level:

  1. The title and lyrics are directly based on Coldplay’s The Scientist
  2. The huge swell at the end is very much based on the huge swell of this very obscure song.
  3. The scream-y part during the swell that Dean wisely brought down in the mix was very much based on Glen Hansard’s much more capable scream-y part in When Your Mind’s Made Up
  4. The drum beat is very much based on the Verve’s litigious 90’s masterpiece Bittersweet Symphony.
  5. I used to say that this song is a sequel to Coldplay’s The Scientist. Song sequels themselves being a concept I stole from Metallica.

So what I’m saying is that I probably thought I was very clever creating this Frankensteinian monster of a song from stolen bits of mostly mainstream songs and included it on the record as a “hey, look how clever I am”. But if I remember my Frankenstein, which I don’t but am quite capable at looking up Wikipedia articles, it don’t end too well for anybody. The old timey-hot Bride of Frankenstein notwithstanding.

Untitled-2

Chicks with their hair on fire. Marriage material for reanimated corpse monsters and singer/songwriters alike apparently.

Blue Blue Satellite

Next on our track-by-track tour of The Learning Days…. “Blues’ll Always Be the Blues”.

This is probably the strongest song I’ve ever written. It weighs in at an accessibly bite-sized 2:52, it’s got a nice, moving pace and melody to it while still keeping it wistful, the verses and choruses are tight and succinct without losing any lyrical impact and Anders Drerup’s work on the pedal steel just crushes it…particularly on the solo. Producer Dean Watson also made some great suggestions to Blue Rodeo-ify the track once the solo comes in and I love the pause of anticipatory bliss at 1:48 just before the track really opens up.

“Like stones a-skippin’ on the water / we bounce along but eventually we falter / pick yourselves up sons and daughters”

This is probably one of the best lines I’ve written. Yes, “water/falter/daughter” are far from perfect rhymes but the analogy was truly inspired and is spot-on apt. I feel masterful lyricism needs at least four elements in perfect balance: something that sounds poetic, fits thematically, isn’t predictable by the listener and of course, rhymes. That’s why “girl/world” couplets are such a pet peeve to me; that rhyme is so prevalent in songwriting, it loses much of its poetry and it’s highly predictable so you’re already down 50% in Blue Blue Satellite’s 4 Steps to Lyrical Perfection. And that’s why I humbly submit that the above lyric is a gem because the four elements are at least 81.2% represented.

Now before my head explodes from self-congratulatory arrogance and I start humblebragging that this song made it to the semi-finals of the 2012 Unsigned Only competition and was covered twice in public by two Ottawa area artists, I will leave you with a link to listen to my untouchable brilliance for free: Best. Song. Ever……Ever.

Your move, Gallagher.

Blue Blue Satellite

Students, for this post please review Track 2, “(Never) Let It Go“.

This is the actual opening track of the album since Track 1 is a brief, instrumental intro. “(Never) Let It Go” may be my favorite track of the album. I feel the songwriting, music composition and arrangements come together tremendously well and I’m especially proud of the piano and dark sounding tom-tom drums in verse 2.

From a lyrical standpoint, I was experimenting a bit with this song. I was trying to emulate what many rappers do, namely switch up their rhyming schemes mid-verse. I think it works…even without the typical rap “uh-huhyeah boyeec’mon“‘s and of course, references to Lord of the Rings.

This is the first of four tracks that Anders Drerup, of the Ottawa-based band The Claytones, plays pedal steel on and anybody who tells me that the steel work on the song doesn’t just bring some serious beauty can get beaten by a bar of Dove soap in a pillowcase.

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The inspiration of such rappish rhyme schemes such as “See that setting SUN, another day is DONE just like the other ONES / I wish that it would LAST, the PAST becomes my FOE, but I’ll never let it GO.”

Blue Blue Satellite

For many moons now, I’ve always claimed to be a songwriter first and foremost. Not a singer, not a guitarist, not a CD pushing self-promoter, but a songwriter.

My Ottawa CD release made me realize that this is a false claim.

Almost all of the elements that made me very satisfied with the Ottawa CD release were not song-related. For example:

  • Taking the stage to a projected visual intro with an accompanying instrumental piece.
  • The uninterrupted, three-song, no banter set of songs to kick off the show
  • The un-amplified mandolin song while walking into the audience
  • Having a backing band for Thieves but having them take the stage halfway through the first chorus:

    (impatient? go to 1:26)

There were more but I can’t reveal all my performance secrets now can I(especially since most of them are stolen)? But therein lies the keyword: “performance”. It turns out that while I still consider myself a songwriter, the performer in me is just as strong. Maybe even slightly stronger. And this can be heard on the record as well. Every element, every transition, every nuance that pushes the CD or live show beyond a simple collection of 14 songs: this is performance.

So why is this important to me? I guess I’ve become very aware of my audience whether they’re at a show or reclining with headphones  on at home. As a songwriter, my job is to write a song. Ok. Check. But as a performer, my job is to give the audience a fresh experience that will resonate with them; make them come for the music but stay for the experience…which I hope I succeeded in doing at the Ottawa CD release.

I’m still very much a songwriter. But now I’m adding the performer aspect. I suppose it marks an evolution in me, but it begs the questions: what is it that I am evolving into…?

An artist.

Thieves

Thieves @ Gallery Studios

Blue Blue Satellite

Side of a Bullet by Nickelback

Yes, Nickelback. This song legitimizes the band for me because it features a lost guitar solo by the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel and was fully endorsed by his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul. The song does a great job striking a delicate balance between a revenge fantasy and a song about loss. The imagery of sitting and scratching someone’s name on the side of a bullet, I feel, is quite powerful and leaves a lot to the listener’s imagination.

We’re Off to See the Wizard by Harold Arlen

Not only did composer Harold Arlen find rhymes for the word “Oz”, but he does it repeatedly with different words and clever puns through the chorus while capturing the essence and whimsy of the scene quite brilliantly.

Victory by Megadeth

You know you’ve had a nice, long, distinguished career when you can write a four-minute song that’s composed almost entirely of the song titles of your back catalogue. A fun, gimmicky and surprisingly catchy song by veteran shredders and 1/2 born-again Christians Megadeth.

Lose Yourself by Eminem

The best way for me to feel inadequate about my songwriting is to listen to and analyze an Eminem song. Structurally and thematically, they are nothing short of astounding. Lose Yourself features so many advanced rhyming techniques that it makes my head spin. Not to mention that this song is epically inspiring, faithfully captures independent musician life, and just pumps me the hell up.

Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven

I’ve been starting to brand my style of music as “melancholy folk-pop”. This is the 18th century version of it. Except a lot better. This is the kind of piece you hold your breath listening to. Dark, beautiful.

Dr. Snuggles theme song

A melody you can whistle along to is a sure indicator of a good song. And this melody just struck me as I listened to it on college radio driving home in the wee hours one night in Toronto. I subsequently stole it for a song of my own.

Part of Your World (reprise) by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

First of all the swelling string intro is gorgeous. And it continues into another fantastically lovely melody. I just have a tiny beef with the lyric “I don’t know when/I don’t know how/but I know something’s starting right now”. Doesn’t “starting right now” answer the “when” question?

Whiplash(live version) by Metallica

One thing I lament about being a singer/songwriter is that I’ll never really be able to really rock an audience. I mean really just wield my guitar like it was an adrenaline-spewing über weapon. That’s ok though…the boys from Metallica do a mighty fine job with this song that’s good on the album but killer live.

What a Wonderful World performed by Louis Armstrong

A study in simplicity. A 2 minute song whose melody is essentially the alphabet song. When doing a ridiculously optimistic song, you always run the risk of going into cheeseball territory. This song didn’t, probably because it was kept simple and due to the sincerity and believability of ‘ol Satchmo’s singing.

Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind by Max Steiner

The main theme is so deceptively simple…just a pattern of four notes repeated in variation four times. But it’s so rich and just absolutely full of emotion. I haven’t even seen Gone With the Wind but just from this theme you can get a sense of the epic scope of the film.

Violin concerto allegro moderato by Pete Tchaikovsky

Yes, simplicity is good, but sometimes a showpiece will bring the house down. As well as my estimation of myself. If you’re impatient, you can fast-forward to 5:36 where you can watch a nerdy-looking polio surviving violiner do some serious badass pwn-age.

If you bought a copy of my newly released debut record, “The Learning Days”, you’ll see a little name in the credits and hear a big voice on the record: Sara Melson.

Although not a household name, Sara is an exceptional L.A.-based songwriter and singer who has had some notable success including having a song on Grey’s Anatomy and singing backup for Moby on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Moby and Sara

Pictured: Moby, Sara, other white clad singers. Not pictured: Jay Leno, Jay Leno's chin.

This blog post will be less about how I got her to sing on my record, but more about what her being on the record means to me.

So let’s begin. And we will begin with…

Neil Halstead, my bearded musical raison d’être:

Neil Halstead

Full beard = extra realness

My bread and butter as a musician is fingerstyle guitar and finding beauty in the melancholy. And I learned how to do both from Neil’s songs. Specifically, this song and this song respectively.

Now then. Neil has a band called Mojave 3 and in 2006, their lovely bassist and co-vocalist, Rachel Goswell, fell ill and couldn’t tour in support of their new album. So as a young Blue Blue Satellite sat and listened to his favorite band on the highly influential Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show, I was saddened to not hear Rachel Goswell, but was gladdened to hear a more than capable replacement.

KCRW

Click to enlarge. Witty captions ensue.

The DJ said it was “Sarah Nelson”. After some intense research on internet search portal Google(Google, the verb, had yet to be invented), I realized that it was Sara, no “h”, and Melson, not “n”. Sara Melson. It didn’t take her long to gain me as a fan because her gift of melody, her bold, brave lyricism and her killer wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing voice made becoming a fan a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Mojave 3 had posted a blog about their bass player’s health woes:

Mojave 3 blog

Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace...and Tom. (Click to enlarge and read).

Did you catch that? Let’s take a closer look…

Two magical words

Capitalize the "s" and you've got yerself a song!

That’s right…it was this blog post and those two words, “Sister Rachel”, that inspired me to write my poppiest song to date: “Sister Rachel”. It has since been a mainstay in my setlists and always manages to be quite a crowd pleaser. And when Sara Melson graciously agreed to provide some vocals on my record, there was no doubt in my mind: it had to be on “Sister Rachel”. And it couldn’t have worked out better…the way the second verse comes in, the key and vocal range, the harmonies…it’s like Sara’s vocals had found their way home. Every time I listen to that track, I break into a big dopey grin when her vocals enter.

So in summary, here’s serendipity Blue Blue Satellite style: Sara sings on “Sister Rachel” which was inspired by Rachel Goswell of my musical heroes Mojave 3, whom Sara stood in for when Rachel fell ill while Mojave 3 blogged about their “sister Rachel” which inspired me to write my song “Sister Rachel” which Sara sings on.

Too convoluted? Ok then, I’ll put it in the form of  a lame poem:

I love Sara Melson
I love Mojave 3
Sara sang with Mojave
and now she sang with me.

Blue Blue Satellite

p.s. despite her cool success, it ain’t easy being a full time musician in L.A. and Sara needs help to raise funds for her next album…lend a hand here. Tell her Blue Blue Satellite sent ya…

The Learning Days debut album from yours truly, Blue Blue Satellite, is trudging steadily to completion. So, I thought I’d throw out some fun facts….

Number of tracks: 14

Number of tracks less than a minute long: 2

Album length: 50:55

Longest track length: 5:24

Shortest track length: 0:38

Number of tracks with parentheses in the title: 4

Number of tracks with the king of all instruments, the pedal steel, on it: 4

Number of guitar solos: 2

Number of pick slides: 1

Number of “girl” – “world” rhymes: 0

Number of ooh sha la la la la la’s: 0

Number of ooh la la la la la la’s: 2

Weirdest instrument used: plastic screwdriver handle bouncing off guitar strings

Densest vocal harmonies: 9 layers

F-bombs edited out: 2

Number of guitars used: 5

Off-colour jokes told in the studio: 1,543,442

Time wasted in the studio: 1,543,442 minutes

Oldest song on the record: circa 2001 – Don’t Cry (Tonight)

Newest song on the record: circa 2011 – Melancholia

Best misheard lyric after listening to it too much: “Sister Rachel” = “Interracial”

Hearts worn on sleeve: 1

Inspiration hit this weekend and I wrote one last song for the record. It’s a little risky to put it on the record so soon after writing it, because I could just be suffering from the songwriting equivalent of beer goggles. But at the very least it’ll be a different kind of song. In fact, it’s different from any previous song I’ve written mainly due to one factor which I will leave for you to discover when the record comes out in who-knows-when. The song will probably be the album closer and I wrote it with that in mind and I do think it’ll give the album a nice sense of finality.

Anyhoo, after a brief African hiatus, I head back to the studio for a few sessions this week to hopefully turn the who-knows-when to Wen-knows-when. I’ll tell you this though…that original November 26th I hoped for was waaaay off. There’s much work to be done and now that I’ve got the new Coldplay on my mind, I’ll no doubt be asking my producer for the Enofication of my tracks. So, soaring choruses about skies and birds with tons of ambient effects and a lot of “whoo hoo”‘s and “whoa oh”‘s. I can just see him sadly shaking his head when I start singing in a falsetto.

Blue Blue Satellite

So I’m rushing this post out so that Technorati.com can verify the following code: 2T6EWHYJTWW5. Did you get that Technorati robot blog crawler? I said 2T6EWHYJTWW5.

Moving right along…

Of all the songs I’ve written, there are about 40 songs that would be album-worthy. The rest…well let’s say I’ve written my share of songs that were all kinds of suck. Probably worth putting on display as cautionary tales as to why you don’t want to short-change the songwriting process. But of the 40 keepers, the challenge I now face is which ones I’ll include on my first album(probably 10 or so).

Without knowing it, many of you have already helped me in this task. Etched in my brain(read:ego) are the many positive comments people have made on my songs. Whether polite offhand congratulations or soul-baring cockle-touchers, these comments give me a good idea of which songs pack the goods. So I already do have something of a shortlist.

From there I’ll need to figure out if any of the songs just don’t belong thematically or musically. Whenever I would prepare a setlist for a live show I’d always try to have a nice, smooth musical trajectory so that the audience is taken on a musical journey rather than yanked from one song to another. Same with the tracklist…need to make sure they all fit together both as a whole and as a sequence.

Have you ever watched those deleted scenes with the directory’s commentary on a DVD and they’re like “I really loved this scene but I had to cut it for the sake of the pacing”? My next thought is usually “man, how do I turn off this pretentious jackass’ commentary?” but now I kinda understand it. I already know I won’t be putting in some songs on this record that I’d really love to record. I’ll reveal the final tracklist once it’s finalized but for now I’ll end this pretentious jackass commentary with a few tracks that won’t be making the cut…or will they?

  • Let the Pieces Fall (i.e. Dr. Snuggles)
  • Reckless and the Gun
  • Let Heaven Come Down
  • La Danse (i.e. the French song)

Blue Blue Satellite