Monday, June 18, 2012

Broken Doll: "it was a pleasure to burn" production diary

I'm a compassionate, generous person by nature, ironically to the point of selfishness: I collect broken dolls in order to fix them. Some times, though, it turns out that the collector is the one that needs mending.

By Joelk75 :

Crafting a story about a voyage can be a journey unto itself. I published the lyrics to this last Fall. The entire song has since undergone some substantial changes.

the stage was small; the billing, too
it was still the show to end all shows
you take your coffee black but a little sweet
these things stick with me even still
like morning traffic through a dirty pane
waking you from fevered dreams
like letting go while i kicked and screamed
(like letting go with a kiss)

i am letting too much slip away
seems there's nothing left to hang on
just a voice on a distant plain
echoes of things pretending
you are my mirror; i am thine
it's still not - no not the same
there's a hole where you used to shine
(spots on the sun feel no shame)

how do you do it? i 
wanna know
this broken doll that you take home
how do you do it? i wanna know
this broken soul you make whole

in that forest of steel and stone
we fought our dragons and we lost
we played at love to bind our wounds
never noticing the cost
lamb or lion it's all the same
i am your shadow ever hence
this lullaby a searing flame
(i am too long hunting this)

how do you do it? i wanna know
this broken doll that you take home
how do you do it? i wanna know
this broken soul you make whole

One of the first things I noticed when I came back to "Broken Doll" is that the melody is rather samey and the verses are long. To keep things interesting and create more dynamics, I decided to double-time the melody in the second half of the verse, making a kind of pre-chorus. I then reduced the choruses from three to two. I even though about making that part a bridge but it's the core of the song, lyrically; so I decided it would work better as a refrain.

I rearranged the verse order for a better narrative: opening with an identifiable setting that establishes the spatial and thematic relations of the characters. I seem to have a tendency to write the ending or the middle of a story first. Even here, the second verse is a kind of flash-forward, the present-tense narrator's point of view on the past events he's ruminating. There are also some modifications to pronouns (well, several). The original story was the intersection of two love triangles but that wasn't really coming through in the verses and it works better to focus on the single, strong relationship.

Like many of my unprompted creations, the recording of "Broken Doll" was a rather organic process, taking the better part of a week. My original plan was for something very minimal: a pair of hard-panned guitar parts, a piano and some very light percussion (like an egg shaker), and maybe - maybe - some electric guitar holding down the low end. Alas, I don't have an egg shaker, and the samples I have are too busy for the low-key vibe of this song. Fine, skip the shaker bit. Oh, maybe a cello would be good instead of a bass guitar. Hrm, no. Organ? Yes. (I am far too enamored of this wonderful little VSTi...). And that chorus, it just has to build. Best thing for that: drums! over-driven guitars! bass! The end product doesn't match my original intentions at all, but I'm still very happy with where it goes.

I always knew that this song would be part of it was a pleasure to burn because its lyrics matched the theme so well. Sonically, she's become something of an outlier: the end product of my development over the past few months. A closer sibling would be my last Song Fight! submission: "Wish You Would," with its E Street-style backing parts and 70's rock vibe.

But outliers are good: proof that I'm stretching my musical muscles, exploring new places and learning new things.

This weekend was unexpectedly productive: studio work is done, I've pretty much settled on the track-order and the lyrics booklet is 90%! Come back on Wednesday for the final production diary entry, and the story behind my take on a song by The Books.

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