#35: Bigger Plans December 29th, 2008
Hella Gems is a music weblog wherein each contributor posts new original music on a daily rotating schedule. There are twelve contributors, which means that if you are one of them, you get to write, record, and publish a song every twelve days. Now, I’ve been writing songs for six years or so, and in that time I’ve come up with, oh, ten or twelve that I think are good. And, y’ know, I’m happy about those. But at the rate that they’ve been going, a Hella Gems contributor would have written 180 songs. How dare I call myself a songwriter in the face of such prolificacy? These people put me to shame. Yesterday morning, though, I was given the opportunity to redeem myself: our good friend E. Robert Frank called up Alex and me and asked if we wanted to help him record an as-yet-unwritten song which was due on Hella Gems that night. “It’s sort of like Shoebox Full of Tapes,” Rob said, “except we update it more often.” Oh, snap!
I said we’d be happy to help, on the condition that if we liked what we came up with, I could also post it here on SFoT, and Rob readily agreed. (Of course, I was bluffing. I would be elated to rock out with Rob at any time without precondition.) So, around 7 p.m. last night, he showed up with a car full of instruments, and we brought them on in, set up, and futzed around for quite a while. To give you an idea of what a class act we were at that point in the evening, our idea of a “good” keyboard part was one that could be played with the backs of one’s fists while simultaneously flipping the bird at one’s bandmates and (notional) audience. Keepin’ it classy, us. Eventually, and without having actually recorded anything, we decided to go get Chinese food. At a restaurant a mile and a half away. On foot. This was all very enjoyable, of course, but by the time we got home again at 10 p.m., we had still made exactly no progress on our song, which had to be done by midnight Pacific time, which was now five hours away.
But then Alex picked up Rob’s acoustic guitar and started alternately playing E minor and D chords while Rob and I noodled on the drums and keyboard. And then I discovered that the pitch bend on Rob’s keyboard made a sound like a high-tech outer-space pedal steel, and somehow, from there, the whole thing began to come together. I spent about twenty minutes in the corner with a notebook (this is 180 degrees to how I usually operate when I write lyrics, and I don’t love what I was able to come up with in twenty minutes, but it had to be good enough, so here it is), and we played and played and sang and sang and mixed and mixed and with an hour to go before the deadline, we had finished the whole thing. Rob has already written about the process at length over on the Hella Gems blog, so I refer you to his post for most of the details.
I know I’ve missed a few months of updates this fall, and I’ll probably be calling an official hiatus pretty soon here, now that I’m in school and have less time to devote to things that are not directly related to getting my Ph.D. But I wanted to leave SFoT with something I was proud of, and here it is. If you’ve been listening to SFoT in 2008, thank you!