Monday, May 21, 2012

Where You Can Go: "it was a pleasure to burn" production diary

Ever had an unhealthy obsession? One that you would follow the ends of the Earth just to stop off the edge? 'Fess up, we all have. "Where You Can Go" is the next track for my album-in-progress it was a pleasure to burn. She was written for a January Song Fight! Like any good, fiery obsession, I begged, borrowed and stole to make her what she is; this essay is my post-modern musical mea culpa.
 Picture by zetson:

oh i look for wisdom
in every word you say
but there is only madness
when you lead me astray
you don't really mean it
your intentions never cruel
but you are made of matches
i am made of fuel

wherever you can go
whatever you may need
whatever you may want
however high the fee

my good friend leo tolstoy
wrote of anna based on me
he said you gotta be perfect
he said you gotta be free
and chuck bent over backwards
that soused up albatross
well, he said much the same thing:
steal away from loss

wither thou would go
i will follow; i am blind
however hard the blow
these are the ties that grind

wither thou would go
i will cleave to thee
however hard the blow
however deep the sea

Songs usually have a specific flash-point for me. "Where You Can Go" was a combination of a cool bass line and my songwriting surroundings. For the guitar riff and overall feel of the song, my main inspiration was the Toadie's "Possum Kingdom."

Turns out that for the bass line I stumbled upon Midnight Oil's riff in "Beds are Burning."

Hey, if you're going to unintentionally rip something off, make it something good!

When not humming to myself on my scooter ride home, I do most of my songwriting in my library. For this tune, all I had to do was turn my head to the left:

Yes, that's Tolstoy's Anna Karenina wedged at the end of all that Tolkein. Anna and her unhappy marriage; Anna and her fatal obsession with sex, happiness and freedom. Since my mind works my association, I lept from there to the Book of Ruth and Ruth's devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth has one of my favorite lines from anything, "Wither thou goest, I will cleave to thee." I love that mixed implication of love and violence. Finally, no post-modern mash-up of mine would be complete without some reference to Charles Baudelaire's Albatross, that melancholic raison d'être for poets. This is more than just a pedantic assortment of borrowings: they come together to highlight the desperate longing that I want to express.

Since this song debuted at Song Fight! I was able to receive some constructive criticism. Originally, the verses were flipped: I opened with the "Leo Tolstoy" line. Many reviews noted "This is a rock song; why are you opening with classic literature?!" Well, the references stay, because they are the heart of the lyric for me and I enjoy the contrast of Pop and "High" culture. However, such a specific reference, especially right out of the gate, can be limiting. The second verse is equally strong, so I decided to lead with that for this new version.

This song always wanted a guitar solo to round out the composition and make it fit better in the rock genre I'm using. I have the hardest time composing solos, which are always more about tone and rhythm than melody. I probably spent more time writing that simple line than the lyrics. Lyrics are easy more me; interesting melodies - no matter the instrument - are hard.

This is one of the few songs I've written with a prechorus. Songwriting competitions have taught me to get to the good part of your tune and don't meander about with the unnecessary. But I've been stretching my composition muscles lately, and from the beginning I knew that I wanted something of anti-chorus, just a pure vocal melody. (Also, Nirvana's "Lithium" is awesome - and there's another thing I've stolen.)

I promised up-tempo songs last week, and Panacea certainly delivered. Technically, "Where You Can Go" is only 104 bpm, but it's much more intense, darker and rocking than the other songs I've finished so far. Plus, it was a good break from the tumultuous time that was recording "Panacea."

Plenty more to come! For the next offerings, I'm planning to head to Atlanta (I wrote a song about Whitney Houston, how weird is that?) and other things southern (Tom Petty stopped by with a guest lyricist).

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