This is the fourth song Kate and I have written based on characters from her novel in progress. Her post about it is here.
Kate brought this song to me much less finished than the last few. There was a melody, but she didn’t like it. There was no chorus. The verses weren’t finished. I agreed to start coming up with ideas.
I knew I wanted a more driving, aggressive feel for this. So I started by creating an a thick amped sound for the ukulele. Playing parts using different sounds can have an amazing effect on the writing process. A part that seems awesome when played acoustic might be completely wrong for electric.
At first I was going back and forth between two melody ideas — one with more space between verse lines, and another which was more rapid fire. It wasn’t until I played them both to Kate that I realized they could work really well together, and create a progression of drama and tension through the verse. Once we agreed on that, Kate was able to write all three verses to match the new melody and rhythm.
With the verses settled, it seemed like maybe there didn’t need to be a chorus at all. It was Kate’s idea to have a sung “ooh” part, and once I came up with a new chord progression underneath it clicked into place. It’s not a chorus from a lyrical perspective, but it does provide a hook and a change of focus in the song. An interesting thing happened while recording — originally I was going to sing that part with Kate doing some harmonies. I really struggled with it, since it is at the top of my vocal range and I didn’t want to go into falsetto. We spent a long time doing multiple takes trying to get it right, but when we listened back it was clear that it sounded so much better with just Kate’s voice. After all that work, I only used my part at the very end of the song, during the final build up.
Production and arranging
This ended up being the most involved arrangement I’ve done so far, and there were two things I had at top of mind while creating it.
One idea that I wanted to try was having more parts that weave in and out throughout the course of the song, instead of a few parts that play through the whole song. I also wanted to try creating more contrast - building up sections, then quickly dropping back down to something more stripped down.
The other idea was about incorporating some specific influences. I recently heard a Song Exploder episode where Spoon talk about trying on different musical influences when working on arrangements (I highly recommend all episodes of that podcast — it’s amazing). I liked that idea a lot, so my starting point for this song was patterning it after Josh Ritter — especially songs like “Hopeful” from The Beast In Its Tracks and “Rattling Locks” from So Runs the World Away, which feature a driving electric guitar and rapid fire vocals. Also, I love the part in “Hopeful” at the end where there’s a counter melody that comes in over the chorus, so I wanted to try something like that.
There were a few other specific influences that also made their way into the arrangement. In Johnny Cash’s “I Hung My Head” from American IV: The Man Comes Around, I’ve always loved how the piano just plays hard octave notes under the guitars. It’s so simple and so incredibly effective. There were also some ideas that came from various Damien Rice songs — the strings under the vocal harmonies, the interplay of male and female vocals, and the stripped down electric piano part at the end.
The revelation from the Song Exploder episode was that you don’t need to run away from your influences or worry too much about sounding like you are copying something. Hopefully that worked here — the goal was to embrace those influences, but let them be filtered through my own voice.
- All tracking was done in Cubasis.
- There are two ukulele parts, both recorded direct from the uke’s pickup into the iPad. The distorted ukulele was processed using ToneStack, and the acoustic ukulele (double tracked) was processed using JamUp.
- The bass was recorded direct into the iPad and processed using JamUp.
- Percussion loops (cajon and snare drum) were created in DrumJam.
- SampleTank was used for most of the other keyboard sounds - piano, strings, organ, musette and synth.
- The electric piano sound is from KORG Module.
- Mixing was done in Auria.
- Finally, I ran everything through Final Touch for some mastering.